Nissan recently introduced a new crossover vehicle here that might have crossed over the line.
It's a matter of perspective.
If you like radical styling inside and out, you'll love the 2003 Nissan Murano. If you prefer conventional, boxy SUV styling, you'll leave the Murano alone. It does not appeal to risk-averse people.
I like it, and I applaud Nissan for breaking away from unimaginative, copycat SUV design. The Murano looks like nothing else on U.S. roads.
Nissan took some major chances with this one. Consider the body. The sheet metal looks more sculpted than stamped, like something done by an artist intent on making a statement. The Murano's hood rises slightly above its muscular front fenders. It's a styling cue that would have looked overwhelmingly aggressive had it not been for the vehicle's wide, curved, grinning grille.
The Murano's rear end reflects the design theme up front. The cargo door, which is made of a lightweight composite material, protrudes slightly beyond the tail lamps, which are embedded in dramatic curves.
Step inside. The interior is a continuous sweep front to rear. It wraps around its passengers, holding them in an embrace of earth tones, aluminum accents, soft-touch vinyl and premium cloth -- or, should you choose it as an option, supple leather.
The top of the dashboard is long and wide. It seems to go on forever before ending at the base of the windshield, reminiscent of the dashboard top in the Chevrolet Lumina MPV in the late 1980s. But what was a styling miscue for the Lumina shows up as a plus in the Murano, where the dashboard blends perfectly with the overall flow of the vehicle. The happy result is a feeling of sculpture in motion, which is appropriate, considering the Murano's ability to move.
Nissan uses the term "all-new" to describe the Murano, but that's a misnomer. Because of high development and production costs, manufacturers can seldom afford to develop a completely new vehicle and sell it profitably. Parts and platforms are shared between model lines to help save money.
The Murano shares parts and platform characteristics with the Nissan Altima sedan. It shares a version of Nissan's 3.5-liter V-6 with the 3.5 SE Altima, Nissan Maxima, Infiniti G35 and Nissan 350Z. That engine, which can produce up to 245 horsepower at 5,800 revolutions per minute in the Murano, is designed to meet the specific performance needs of the vehicle in which it is installed.
Combine that engine with an excellent suspension system -- independent struts with coil springs up front and a multi-link suspension in the rear -- and you've got a Murano with a sedanlike ride.
The bottom line is this: Nissan, which flirted with bankruptcy several years ago, lately has been on a roll with consecutive successful introductions of new products such as the 2002 Altima and the 2003 350Z. The Murano is likely to continue that trend -- along with a full-size pickup truck and a full-size SUV, which are being prepared for the 2004 model year.
Nissan no longer is playing it safe. Having once faced death through mediocrity, the company now is determined to make it by living on the edge.