A 4×4 to flaunt
IF YOU’VE got it, flaunt it. That’s the message exuding from every pore of Nissan‘s new Murano, the sort of potent, sculpted 4×4 calculated to set senior executives slavering with desire.
Parking it outside a five-star hotel in Berkshire was enough to get several of the guests drooling, and it’s not hard to see why.
Designed in California and already a huge hit in America, this is the sort of vehicle which disproves the claim that all modern cars are characterless clones.
It’s muscular without being aggressive, boasting sleek, sweeping curves and a highly individual, sculpted bodyshell that’s futuristic without being eccentric.
But what sort of car is it? A “cool crossover”, says Nissan – in other words, a vehicle that combines 4×4 functionality with the lines of a sports car.
Like the new Micra and the sleek 350Z convertible, the Murano is designed to look sufficiently different to be a real attention-grabber on the road.
It’s powered by the same 3.5-litre V6 engine as the 350Z too, so there’s no shortage of performance on tap, seamlessly harnessed through a six-speed continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Inside, there’s a similar lack of compromise. Leather seats, bi-xenon headlamps, a colour rear-view camera for reversing and top-quality Bose sound system and Birdview satellite navigation set the theme.
From the outset, the aim was to produce a highly individual urban 4×4 with a character and style all of its own, rather than effectively producing little more than a four-wheel drive estate.
It’s got a long wheelbase to maximise interior space and the big 18-inch alloys are pushed out to the corners of the car, giving it a “planted” stance on the road that’s accentuated by the short overhangs front and rear.
It boasts a high waistline and a raised seating position which gives good panoramic views of the road.
The engine is smooth and powerful to begin with, but allying it to the belt-and-pulley style transmission aims to match smoother acceleration with better fuel economy and lower emissions.
The 4×4 system is electronically controlled. Derived from the Skyline, first seen in the X-Trail and further refined for the Murano, this means that advanced electronics take care of all traction needs, switching from normal front-wheel drive only when wheel slippage is anticipated to apportion drive between the front and rear axles instantaneously.
Off-road, the car can be locked into permanent four-wheel drive if required.
The reclining rear seats fold flat to open up the load area for bulky items, and stowage space is ingenious, ranging from a lockable floor console big enough to hold a laptop to an underfloor storage area beneath the boot and flip-out door pockets.
Distinctive, potent and luxurious, the Murano arrives in the UK at a time when demand for prestige sports utility vehicles and crossovers is expanding – 42,000 sales in 2004 compared to 16,000 in 2000.
Named after the island near Venice famed for its glassware, this executive crossover aims to offer a “best of both worlds” package for well-heeled free thinkers who like to stand out from the crowd.
With cars like BMW’s X5 in its sights and a price tag that slips in beneath the £30,000 threshold, Nissan hopes 1,000 Muranos could hit British roads this year, boosting total 4×4 sales close to 25,000 now the company has such en extensive range, spanning Pathfinders and Patrols, X-Trails, Pickups and Terranos.
Early indications are that the model’s innovative appearance and sheer sex appeal should give it a fighting chance of success.
Dynamic and agile, versatile and comfortable, it combines all the ingredients needed to win converts in the boardroom, luxurious fittings being matched with proven technology to make it a relatively low-risk investment.
Helpfully, early indications from the experts are that residual values could be as high as 46 per cent after three years, making the sub-£30,000 price tag all the more appealing.