(First Posted November 24, 2013) The merger between Nissan and Renault seemed to spawn more adventurous styling on the part of Nissan, with one of the first results in the US being the Murano. Since the first commercials played on the TV featuring one in kind of a Metallic Orange color, my wife had said she really liked it…
I asked her what she liked about it (the way it looked, and I agreed, it did look fabulous and very distinctive when introduced) and said that maybe we should go drive one. The response to that was along the lines that she did not care what it drove like, she liked the way it looked and presumably it would drive like any other car. I’m sure an army of engineers and technicians had painstakingly developed this new model and weighed various powertrain choices etc., if they only knew.
Anyway, the date of this story is a couple of years after the Murano was introduced and we were thinking of replacing the Land Cruiser at that time, having moved and not really needing such a large truck. My boss happened to have a Dark Blue Murano with Black interior which was precisely the color combination that Allison said she liked the best. I approached my boss as he was known to switch cars even quicker than me and had sold several to others at work.
He was receptive and we struck a deal – I recall paying around $17,000 for the car which had about 22,000 miles on it and less than two years old. The price was significantly less than fair market value at the time and one of the few things that worked out well in that job. I gave it to my wife for Christmas, she had an idea it was coming but nothing definite. She was pleased to say the least.
The Murano was Nissan’s first “Crossover”, introduced in December of 2002 as a 2003 model. They were only available here with Nissan’s ubiquitous 3.5liter V6 producing 245hp and 246lb-ft of torque and a CVT transmission, with either FWD or AWD. The basic platform is the Altima, but you can’t tell.
My boss was not one to deny himself anything on an options list, so ours was fully loaded with AWD, leather, navigation, power everything, even power adjustable foot pedals (the first time I had seen that in a car). I can’t think of any options that we did not have.
The outside of the vehicle is certainly distinctive, with that wide sculpted chrome grille at the front and the upswept rear end with the glass that has a little cutout where the Nissan logo goes on the metal right below it (the Buick Enclave now does something similar). Wheels were 18” and were quite large for the time, giving it a look that was certainly not lacking in the wheel to body ratio.
My wife liked it, I drove it a fair bit but was never really enamored of it. A lot of people say they dislike Continuously Variable Transmissions but I thought that aspect was fine. Nissan did send us a letter telling us that the warranty on that component would be extended to 100,000 miles after some people apparently had issues. That warranty extension goes a long way toward me being confident that CVT’s should work fine.
The engine was powerful enough, the sound was not bad, but it was just not inspiring to drive around town. I felt that the wheels and tires kind of pounded over bumps and the ride was sort of jiggly and not smooth at all. It did not handle very well either, I just seemed to slide around in the seats while the car went around corners not very happily. On a longer distance trip it was better but not anything to look forward to.
Many things can be solved with a new set of tires and the standard Goodyear’s were starting to look fairly ragged after our first year. I was surprised to see that there were exactly two tire options available in the size needed, either the same Goodyear’s again (very pricy) or a Kumho Solus tire at a much lower price point. I gave them a shot and while they were no worse than the Goodyear’s they were not any better either.
While it looks fairly compact on the outside, on the inside it is quite large. The back seat especially felt extremely wide and I recall had a fore/aft adjustment as well which was nice. (Looking at the pictures again I now think maybe I was thinking of the recline function instead, if anyone has one, please enlighten us).
This is the car that we brought our first son Max home from the hospital in, NO problems with the car seat in this one and it was a good car to take passengers in, lots of people space. Cargo space behind the rear seat is not bad either but a bit strangely shaped. Fine for groceries or other stuff, not great for the dog though. We did take to carrying the cargo box on the roof for trips to give more space for our stuff.
The inside has a bit of a different look as well. Ours was black (as mentioned) with metal accents. The metal (brushed aluminum) was actually real as we dinged one of the pieces on the console somehow. The instruments were in a motorcycle-style binnacle that was perched on the dash ahead of the wheel.
The passenger side had a fairly large expanse of plain plastic/vinyl/mystery dashboard material ahead of it. I’ve never been a fan of orange instrument lighting and this was no exception. It just looked sort of cheap to me, even when the lights are off it wasn’t much better as the instruments were still orange.
Overall it was very reliable, the only thing I recall is the battery failed while parked at the local train station which was easy enough to rectify. There had been no sign of battery issues prior to this which seems weird. It started fine that morning, we drove down the hill to the station, took the train into San Francisco and when we came back, the only thing we heard after turning the key was the solenoid clicking. I guess I expect the battery just to seem weaker for a while before failure but then again this is the first battery I’ve had to replace in a long time.
My mother visited to watch the kids for a week while Allison and I went on a trip somewhere, when we got back it turned out that our famous downhill spiraling driveway had claimed another victim. Somehow Mom had backed down it and swung wide while turning and instead of stopping and trying again, apparently said “Damn the Torpedoes…” or something similar and kept going while the front bumper took out some juniper plants and ripped the bumper itself apart and off its mounting brackets.
Then, a couple of weeks later, I was getting gas and when I pulled out from the pump decided to make a hard right turn to go behind the gas station building. I did not notice the large concrete bollard and nailed it with the passenger side rear door, continuing until I had crushed the rear wheel well also. Not good. Somehow I convinced the insurance company to handle it all as one claim and it spent about a week in the body shop before coming back in pristine condition again.
When we sold it my wife was sort of sad to see it go, I myself was very ambivalent about it but very happy that I sold it for quite a bit more than we paid for it. I can’t say it was a bad car at all (it was not), it was competent but just not a standout in any way (except for the styling). It looked great and ten-year-old examples still look fresh when I see them around but there was just not that much character beneath the surface. Sometimes beauty IS only skin deep, I guess.