N.Y. Auto Show: 2015 Nissan Murano's new look is still funky

Nissan has released details on the all-new third generation of its quirky Murano crossover ahead of its New York Auto Show debut this week.

Love or hate the oddball styling, you at least have to give the brand credit for being consistent.

The Murano has always added a dash of funk to Nissan’s lineup, dating from the first generation’s introduction in 2002. A redesign for 2009 reined in some of the crossover’s outlandish look in favor of upping the Murano’s interior refinement. For 2015, Nissan is hoping the new model will be both refined and eye-catching.

PHOTOS: 2015 Nissan Murano

"We want to go back to the wow factor," said Pierre Loing, vice president of product planning for Nissan North America. "What we’ve tried to combine is the look of a show car’s exterior with plenty of interior refinement."

For better or worse, Nissan’s design team did just that. The all-new Murano closely resembles the wild Resonance concept SUV Nissan displayed at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show.

Because the Murano sells in smaller numbers than something like Nissan’s popular Altima midsize sedan, the company had more freedom to push the envelope with the Murano’s design. In 2013, Nissan sold more than 320,000 Altimas, compared with just 43,000 Muranos.

"So it’s easier to take a risk here," Loing said of the new design. "We should be more expressive than the usual crossover."

Part of what Nissan is trying to do with the third generation of the Murano is recapture the chutzpah that made the first generation a hit. That model was one of the earlier crossovers in the segment and became something of an icon for crossovers, said Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book.

The stakes for automakers in the midsize SUV segment continue to grow. Sales for the segment are up 9% so far this year, Gutierrez said. And Nissan expects the growth to continue, with a 19% increase from 2013 to 2016.

By continuing to be use a dramatic design, Nissan runs the risk of alienating new buyers while preaching to the converted who have always liked the Murano’s funky look.

"In this market, buyers are generally just looking to for a car that gets you from point A to point B with your luggage," Gutierrez said. "They want it to blend in and just kind of get the job done."

Not everything about the 2015 Murano is style-oriented. Refinement is also key for this vehicle. Despite the Nissan nameplate, the Murano is often cross-shopped with a Lexus RX350. Many buyers are empty-nesters who care more about expressing themselves than they care about the badge on the vehicle’s grille, Loing said.

So Nissan sought to bolster the Murano’s luxury cred. "This is a vehicle we need to cherish," Loing said. "When you’re able -- as a non-premium brand -- to challenge Lexus, you want to stay there."

Although some shoppers may look at both the Murano and the Lexus, it’s more often compared with such vehicles as the Toyota Highlander, Ford Edge, Subaru Outback and Kia Sorento, Gutierrez said.

"I think they’re reaching a little," Gutierrez said. "For the current generation at least, that’s definitely a stretch."

Competition aside, Nissan hopes improved fuel economy and enhanced safety and tech features will boost the Murano’s popularity.

The 3.5-liter V-6 engine with 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque is a carryover from the second generation. Yet Nissan is expecting the 2015 model to be about 20% more fuel efficient than its predecessor.

This is the result of Nissan cutting around 130 pounds out of the vehicle, retuning the engine and continuously variable transmission to be more efficient, and designing the exterior to be among the most aerodynamic in its segment. Front wheel drive will be standard, and all-wheel-drive will be optional.

The new Murano is about 2.5-inches longer and gives up some front legroom in exchange for 2.5 inches of rear legroom. The rear cargo area is now wider and longer, with four additional cubic feet of storage space.

Plenty of luxury and safety features will be available for those eager to run up the price. High-speed heated seats, a huge panoramic moonroof, blind-spot monitoring, automatic collision braking (that detects not just the car in front of you, but two cars in front of you), bird’s-eye backup camera, LED headlights and an eight-inch touch-screen navigation screen.

Pricing for the 2015 Murano hasn’t been released, but expect it to remain close to the current model’s range of $29,000 to $43,000. The new generation will go on sale at the end of the year.


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