Nissan's next-gen Murano continues to be what the crossover is known for-sporty drive and stylish cabin, all wrapped in a quirky shell. And, even though the sheetmetal is all new (there are no panels shared with the 2007 and there's no 2008), it looks much like the original. Visual changes include a new chrome-heavy front end, well-defined fender flares, optional 20-inch wheel and tire package, and the new taillights, which are now horizontal and triangular instead of vertical strips.

The new D-platform provides a much stiffer foundation, giving the Murano a tighter, more buttoned-down feel. There are noticeably fewer vibrations in the steering wheel and seats, and cabin noise has been dramatically reduced. The basic suspension design is intact, but it now uses more aluminum components, reducing mass. Dimensions stay essentially the same, but aerodynamics have been improved. The Murano comes standard with VDC with traction control, speed-sensitive power steering, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, ABS and Brake Assist, EBD, tire-pressure monitoring, and six airbags. Buyers can choose from S, SL, or LE trim levels, and the optional all-wheel-drive, upgraded for 2009, is available in all three. This newest version uses the VDC steering-angle, yaw, and wheelslip sensors to determine how torque should be distributed.

Its 3.5-liter V-6 and continuously variable transmission are similar to the first gen's, but Nissan reduced friction in the six, improving efficiency. The updated VQ now puts out 265 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque (up from 240 and 244, respectively), and the new CVT is more efficient and more responsive. The new software has made the transmission quicker to react to driver input, making it feel closer to a traditional automatic. Performance improved at the track, where the new Murano reached 60 mph 0.4 second quicker than the 2006 we tested, and finished the quarter mile at 91.6 mph, compared with 87.2. Throttle response is much quicker than in the previous crossover, and the ride is more comfortable. For those who like their crossovers sporty, this one's still a blast on a canyon road, but it's now better equipped for long freeway rides as well.

Nissan made dramatic improvements to the cabin, skewing it more toward luxury and refinement. It also wisely resisted the temptation of having three-row bragging rights and didn't try to cram another bench seat where there just isn't room. Materials are soft to the touch and are of higher quality than before, the center stack is more elegant-and, thankfully, more streamlined. Unlike other value-skewed midlevel interiors, our SL tester was well appointed and didn't look cheap. Some cool features are available, like a power-up rear seat, power liftgate, and foldable cargo organizer that make toting gear a snap.

Those who liked the old Murano will love this one. Nissan stayed true to what the crossover is known for. But other than the new front end, it takes a sharp eye to see the difference between new and old.


2009 Nissan Murano
Base price $29,000 (est)
Price as tested $31,500 (est)
Layout Front engine, AWD, 4-door, 5-pass
Engine 3.5L/265-hp/248-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
Transmission Continuously variable automatic
Wheelbase, in 111.2
Length x width x height, in 188.5 x 74.1 x 66.9
Curb weight, lb 4046
GVWR, lb 5292
Payload capacity, lb 1246
Max towing capacity, lb 3500
0-60 mph, sec 7.3
Braking, 60-0 mph, ft 133
Quarter mile, sec @ mph 15.6 @ 91.6
EPA fuel econ, city/hwy, mpg 18/23
CO2 emissions, lb/mile 0.97
On sale Currently