Nissan Murano started life in 2003. For four years it was America's only crossover SUV. Japanese owned and built, it was designed in La Jolla, California by the Nissan Design America team. The name commemorates a neighborhood in Venice, Italy known for hand blown glass.
The first generation Murano sported a 3.5 liter 245 horsepower V6 engine. It's the same engine used in several other Nissans, but was specifically tuned for the Murano. The engine was coupled with either a six-speed manual or a Continuous Variable automatic transmission.
The Murano is one of the larger vehicles to use the Continuous Variable Transmission (CVT). The CVT differs from most transmissions in that it does not have a specific set of gears. The infinite variety of gear ratios helps the car run at the perfect rpm for any situation, improving gas mileage without hurting power.
The look of the Murano is a combination station wagon and SUV, hence the term crossover. It is lower and sleeker than the traditional SUV, with a better ride, but has more room than the station wagon. One thing it shares with traditional SUVs is an increased risk of rollover compared to a sedan. Otherwise, the Murano is a very safe ride, with a full compliment of airbags, anti-lock brakes and fives (out of five) on the NHTSA crash test everywhere except the rollover categories, where it gets fours.
The Murano gets about 20 miles to the gallon in the city and 24 or 25 on the highway, depending on whether it has front wheel or four-wheel drive, respectively. That's not bad, especially in the city. But, its 2007 starting price of $27,750 is on the upper end of the spectrum for a mid-size SUV.
2006 saw some minor changes in the Murano. These included LED tail lamps and turn indicators, available back up camera and GPS and a new look on the front end. However, the first big changes came in 2009.
Nissan skipped the 2008 model year to get ready for the second-generation release. The new Murano is boxier, but somehow more aggressive looking. It keeps the 3.5 liter V6 engine and the CVT transmission, but now with 265 horsepower. The manual transmission is gone.
The interior is better laid out and of better quality. There are three trim levels: S, SL and LE in ascending order. The SE performance model is also gone. Best of all, perhaps, the starting price has dropped to $26,330.
With their great safety features still in place and even more goodies, the new Nissan Murano seems likely to be even more popular than the original.