The review of the 2003 Nissan Murano. This pearlescent white, FWD based crossover is the antithesis of Oppo. OR is it?

A Murano in it’s natural neglected birdpoop patina.

It is, but I have a theory that helps me sleep at night. It is a French wagon in disguise. Yes, its Japanese engineers have steamrolled (nearly) all of the eccentricity out of it in favor of the boring characteristic of relentless dependability. And successfully lifted it and put big enough wheels to appeal to the latte sipping American soccermom in all of us. Look at that toothy grill and tell me it didn’t share the same DNA as Renault’s designs of the early 2000's. Now notice the bubbling chrome plastic you’ll find on every Murano grill. The windowline swoops into the hatch overhang ignoring the pillar. I may be delusional in my justification, but this design wouldn’t have been out of place in the Renault design offices of that time.

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That clamshell hatch hides a badonkadonk reminiscent of the Avantime’s ‘distinctive’ rear lines.

In 2002 the crossover was just entering the American consciousness thanks to the success of the Lexus RX/Toyota Highlander (not the Mercedes ML, as some morons attest) and Nissan threw it’s hat into the ring with a stylized Altima wagon. It seems silly now, but the Murano was a bit of a risk when it came out with polarizing styling and a new type of transmission into a market with only the conservative Toyota twins as guides. Distinctive SUVs didn’t set the world on fire in the 90's, and the Murano was priced over the more traditional Pathfinder.

(Full Disclosure: Nissan wanted me to drive this so badly they sabotaged my Toyota Sienna transmission so my wife would convince me that a 2 row crossover was totally viable for 3 kids. Which it has been. Mostly.)

Exterior: 6/10

I hated the design of the Murano when I first saw it. I never liked it until I owned one and was forced to stare at it in my driveway. Eventually it all clicked as a cohesive design. Which is more than can be said for the 2nd generation Murano. I’ll never say its a good looking car, but its not bad with a dash of interest, which is better than average in my delusional state.

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Interior: 7/10

Not My Image as my interior is unfit for public consumption. Thanks kids!

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This is helped out by having the top of the line SL trim so this Murano has a fairly well equipped interior even by today’s standards. It has heated leather seats, dual zone auto climate control, HID lights, power moonroof, and a 6 disc CD changer. What do you mean no one uses CD’s anymore? That’s ok, I can use my cassette/aux adapter for iPhone/Android use, it’s fine. It seats 5 and has a larger than anticipated storage area allowing for trips to Ikea even with 3 children in tow. It’s a rather nice place to be.

Engine: 4/10

The Venerable VQ35DE used in about every Nissan since well...2002. This particular one has about 200,000 miles on it so it does what 200k mile VQ’s do. Which is consume oil. It’s still fairly strong but it lets you know every couple weeks that it needs a new quart (TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP). It’s thirsty and its torque is hard to judge thanks to the CVT but it’s alright overall.

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Transmission: 2/10

Ahh the infamous Nissan Xtronic CVT transmission. This is the caveat of the Japanese engineering in my first paragraph. I am convinced that Renault had insisted on using on this thing being used as opposed to a standard automatic transmission. Don’t give me evidence to the contrary about my conspiracy theory.

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I’ve owned this car for a couple years now and I’m still never quite sure how much torque I’ll get with how much throttle input I give it. Sometimes I try to make a right turn and accelerate into traffic swiftly and the transmission politely tells me to wait until the next hole in traffic. Or maybe I need to savor the just turned green light an extra second before continuing. Then other times the transmission decides that the engine needs to be at 4,000 rpm to slowly accelerate from 70 to 75mph and you only feel the acceleration force after youve given up and relax the throttle.

But I’ve learned to accept this black magic box and I can only assume that the black magic box has accepted me as it hasn’t died a horrific death as so many early Nissan CVT’s have. I always thought the traditional automatic was an enigma but I’ve stared into the abyss of CVT ownership and have come to one conclusion: The CVT is interesting.

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Anyone can engineer a good, predictable automatic these days (well, except for FCA apparently), but this early CVT keeps you on your toes. It is an eternal agent of chaos and chaos is nothing if not interesting.

That doesn’t make it’s power strangling, fuel guzzling operation any good. Just interesting.

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It’s also an part time AWD model. Despite the occasional snow I’m not sure if ever actually used it. I’ve flipped the switch, but whether it did anything besides turn on the AWD LOCK dashlight I couldn’t attest.

Braking: 4/10

Anything beyond the normal gentle application of the brakes results in a disconcerting THUNK from assumedly the ABS system. This apparently is normal and benign. I’ve learned to ignore it. This car has taught me awful habits.

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Handling: 3/10

It’s a lifted 2 ton Altima, it’s not winning an Autox any time soon. BUT it has a surprisingly decent steering feel. In the twisty back roads you can notice a feeling approximating pleasure keeping up the momentum of this beast of burden. Partially it’s the absurdity.

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God it’s been too long since I’ve owned a Miata.

Ride: 6/10

Probably needs new shocks, but long suspension travel has its advantages.

Value: 4/10

Early ones high mileage ones are cheap but they can be a minefield, generally if the the CVT has lasted this long its probably alright, but still a risk. This perception and it being a outdated design means that you can get a surprising amount of features for a low buy in, which is good! Mechanically, mine has been fairly reliable, only needing a new alternator in the past 45k miles. Cosmetic issues have cropped up, there is some flaking paint and due to owner procrastination the muffler rusted off and melted the rear bumper.

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I swear i was going to order the replacement muffler the next day. Sorry car.

However, 18" tires are pricey and averaging 17-18mpgs is rough. This is the only car I know that interstate driving brings DOWN my average fuel economy. If you drive 55-60mph its possible to get up to 22 mpgs. Oh, and premium fuel is recommended. I doubt it makes much a difference these days, oil is an octane booster right? There was an update for the 2006 model year with a color display and LED lighting freshening the look.

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Total: 36/80

Yeah, I missed a couple categories. You get the idea. It’s competent and its main draw has been passed by. You can do worse if you try but the venn diagram of cheap (but thirsty), stylish (but dated), and large (but only 2 row) is quickly shrinking or being surpassed by other newer crossovers that quickly followed suit and are depreciating too.