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Murano means business

Model offensive: Murano will finally arrive in Australia next year, just ahead of the GT-R, Maxima and 370Z.

Nissan adamant its second-generation Murano will be better received than the first

24 Nov 2008

THE local release of the second-generation Murano SUV in February will mark the beginning of a fresh flurry of new model activity from Nissan Australia in the first half of 2009.

It will be followed on sale by the belated official Australian release of the new-generation GT-R super-coupe in April, before the redesigned Maxima sedan and all-new 370Z Coupe arrive mid-year.

In 2010, expect the long-anticipated release of the redesigned Patrol off-roader, the final design of which has been locked in and will appear first in the Middle East by the end of next year.

The same year will see the redesigned 370Z roadster appear, while 2WD versions of new Murano and facelifted Dualis compact city SUV are also under consideration to take advantage of the reduction in Australia’s new passenger car import tariff from 10 to five per cent in 2010.

Diesel and seven-seat iterations of the Dualis are also on the table for Nissan Australia, but concerns over model range complexity and a fear of further sales substitution between the Dualis and its closely related X-Trail sibling, which is already available with diesel power, make them unlikely starters here.

The Murano was designed primarily for the US market, making diesel an unlikely prospect for the new mid-sized luxury SUV, which Nissan says was never designed with three rows in mind, leaving its harder-core Pathfinder and Patrol models to fill that role.

Murano is based on the same global D-segment platform as the Maxima, essentially making it a higher-riding wagon version of Nissan’s luxury sedan.

The Japanese car-maker still has ambitious sales expectations for the Murano, despite the fact it will not offer the three-row seating potential of its most direct rivals in the Mazda CX-9, Subaru Tribeca and upstream all-wheel drive versions of the Toyota Kluger, Ford Territory and Holden Captiva.

Originally launched with a base price of $49,990 and now starting at $47,990, the CX-9 will be the Murano II’s most direct rival, says Nissan, which will reveal a specification and pricing structure at its January 15 launch that “will be competitive” with Mazda’s largest model, Australian versions of which also come from Japan.

12 center image Left: Nissan GT-R, Maxima, 370Z, and Dualis.

Nissan Australia is yet to lock in its final pricing due to the vagaries of the Australian dollar’s exchange rate and is yet to reveal whether it will expand on the current Murano’s two-variant model range, which now comprises the auto-only ST ($49,990) and Ti ($56,990), but is currently available at a run-out price that is $4000 lower and also includes locally-installed satellite-navigation and a rear-view camera.

Nissan says the standard factory fitment of both features will be key differentiators for the new model, which appeared globally for the first time at the 2007 LA Auto Show, went on sale in the US about almost 12 months ago and made its Australian debut appearance at the Sydney motor show last month.

The new Murano’s evolutionary exterior styling is a reflection of the model’s success in North America since its international launch in 2002, but vastly improved interior quality and design are also expected to attract a much wider audience than the slow-selling original.

Available in Australia only since August 2005, the first Murano failed to hit Nissan’s local sales targets, finding around 5300 local homes since launch.

Last year, the Murano’s 1544-unit sales performance fell 20 per cent short of its peak tally of 1935 examples in 2006, its first full year on sale, while this year Nissan Australia - despite a revised marketing campaign that has attempted to reposition the model as “the SUV for the city” - will only notch up about 1000 Murano sales, with 65 per cent going to the flagship Ti/Ti-L version.

But the new Murano, positioned as a “boutique luxury SUV”, is projected to be at least twice as popular by achieving sales volumes of around 200 per month or 2400 annually, lifting its share of the medium SUV segment from 1.5-2.0 per cent to up to four per cent.

That equates to about one sale per dealer per month, but it is a model that is expected to be sold mostly in metro areas, exclusively to private buyers including empty-nesters and young couples.

GoAuto drove the new Murano in Portugal during the global “Nissan 360” media event in May and came away unexpectedly impressed.

An extensive drive from Nissan Design America in San Diego, where the model was styled, to Los Angeles this week confirmed the company has made significant strides in the areas of ride and handling, although overly-light steering prevents it being described as anything approaching sporting.

Big advances have also been made in the interior design and quality departments, thanks to a classier new layout with tastefully finished woodgrain trim (in upstream versions), surrounded by alloy highlights. Noise, vibration and harshness levels have also been improved, as evidenced by the whisper-quiet cabin and increased level of overall smoothness and refinement.

Powered by a revised 198kW/336Nm version of Nissan’s lauded 3.5-litre VQ35DE petrol V6 that drives through the company’s Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT), Australia’s Murano will continue to feature a manual-shift gearbox mode. There is also a revised version of the previous All-Mode 4x4-i electronically-controlled on-demand all-wheel drive system.

Standard safety equipment across the new Murano range will continue to include electronic stability control, six airbags and active head restraints. This time around, however, the Murano will also come with standard leather trim across the range.

We don’t know which features will remain exclusive to the top-shelf variant, but the MkII Murano will be available with a factory-fitted reversing camera with predictive path technology, a better-integrated latest-generation sat-nav system that comprises Nissan’s intuitive new push-button central vehicle system controller, integrated hands-free Bluetooth phone technology, MP3 auxiliary connectivity, driver’s seat memory and a smart key with push-button start and stop function.

Top-spec US models also receive an 11-speaker Bose sound system, a powered tailgate and power-adjustable front seats, but new features that set the Murano apart are power-activated controls that both raise and lower the rear seats, which also feature a heating function.

A dual-panel sunroof should also become available in Australia while, significantly, the five-seater Murano offers a host of rear-seat legroom yet still accommodates significant luggage space.

“Unlike when the original Murano was launched, with the arrival of more models like Mazda CX-7 and CX-9 we think the crossover concept is well understood (in Australia). We're not targeting anywhere near Kluger or Territory numbers,” said Nissan Australia managing director and CEO Dan Thompson.

After our second drive of the new Murano in six months, we’re keen to sample the improved model on home turf, where the boldly styled Nissan SUV should easily find more than the 129 monthly sales it averaged last year.

Indeed, Australian buyers looking for a relatively affordable Japanese luxury SUV should be thankful Nissan decided against discontinuing the model here.

What's coming:
Murano SUV February 2009
GT-R coupe April 2009
Maxima sedan Mid 2009
370Z Coupe Mid 2009
370Z Roadster 2010
Patrol 4x4 2010
Dualis 2WD 2010
Murano 2WD 2010

Read more:

Sydney show: GT-R order books open

Infiniti won't come to Oz

First drive: Nissan's Murano reprieve

The Road to Recovery podcast series

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