Nissan faced up to this challenge when it was decided that the Murano, a car designed only for North America – where it has been on sale for two years – would be coming to Europe.
It had become such a runaway success in the States that Nissan, perhaps in a bout of opportunism, believed the car would succeed in other markets.
As a car designed for Americans, there would be no diesel, despite it being as big as a BMW X5. This would limit its appeal in Europe – a market where 70% of large SUVs are diesel.
Then there’s the way we drive differently in Europe.
The highest speed limits in North America are 110kmh (68mph) in parts of Canada, whereas in Germany some sections of autobahn are completely unrestricted.
That meant beefed up brakes were needed by the Murano as well as an oil cooler for the continuously variable transmission, required to cope with higher speeds likely to be reached in Europe.
Then there was the customer expectation that the suspension would ride smoothly over the varied road surfaces all across Europe. Nissan’s technical centre in Cranfield was tasked with making the Murano Europe-ready, and has helped introdduce 300 changes to the original car.
The modifications to the suspension were deemed to be so impressive that the European suspension will replace the settings on North American cars from next year.
Nissan believes the Murano’s main rival and its closest match on specification is the Lexus RX300, and has priced it at £29,800 on the road. Like the Lexus – also priced at £29,800 – the Nissan has automatic transmission, privacy glass, a six-CD autochanger, climate control, front and side airbags, electrically adjustable driver’s seat (the Lexus has motors for both front seats) along with cruise control.
However, the Murano also has leather seats (heated in the front), a Bose audio system, DVD satellite navigation, electrically adjustable steering column, reclining rear seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, an electric sunroof, bi-xenon headlamps, curtain airbags and a colour rear-view camera for reversing.
Choosing an RX300 that includes these upgrades would cost about £38,000, with a similar outlay for a Volks-wagen Touareg 3.2 V6 auto, while a Mercedes-Benz ML350 with the extras would break the £40,000 barrier. A BMW X5 3.0i SE auto would reach £43,000 before reaching a similar level of comfort.
The Muranos we will have in the UK will have a few differences with those on sale in mainland Europe.
We will do without electrically adjustable pedals because they do not fit with the engine layout for right-hand drive models. As right-hand drive specification is largely based on what will be available in Japan, and the Japanese market does not offer an electrically adjustable passenger seat, this is another luxury we will have to do without.
However, UK cars have top-level security to ensure competitive insurance ratings, including an alarm, plus mobiliser and ‘superlocking’ – Nissan’s posh word for deadlocks.
Where the Murano is lacking compared with rivals is the ability to personalise the vehicle. Every Murano sold in the UK will be the same, with the exception of the paint colour, whereas the Touaregs, the MLs and the X5s offer dozens of different options and upgrades.
Residual values are a bit of an unknown quantity, as predictions from market analysts will be released in the next few weeks, but large SUVs, particularly in the premium sector, tend to be relatively ‘safe’ investments.
Company car tax bills, on the other hand, will be a mixture of good news and bad news. The bad news is the Murano falls into the 35% tax bracket, but it is balanced by the fact that it is exceptionally well equipped, so bills will not be pushed up by adding options.
The Murano will be one of six four-wheel drive vehicles offered by Nissan by spring next year. Nissan has identified customers for three categories for its 4x4s, with the Patrol, Terrano and Navara pick-up truck under the ‘authentic’ banner, offering true off-road ability.
The SUV type already includes the Nissan X-trail and will be joined in the spring by the Pathfinder –a seven-seat rival for the Land Rover Discovery. The Murano falls into the ‘crossover’ category and sits there on its own.
However, if Nissan builds a production version of the Qashqai concept car shown at the Geneva Motor Show in March as one of the replacements for the current Almera, then it will have seven completely different four-wheel drive vehicles on its European price lists.
With Land Rover offering five different model lines next year, and Jeep and Toyota with three, Nissan will certainly have strength in numbers to tackle the established leaders in the 4x4 field.
Model: Murano 3.5 V6 CVT auto
Engine (cc): 3,498
Max power (bhp/rpm): 231/6,000
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 235/3,600
Max speed (mph): 125
0-62mph (estimated sec): 9.0
Fuel consumption (mpg): 23.0
CO2 emissions (g/km): 295
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 82/18
Transmission: CVT auto
Service interval (miles): 9,000
On sale: February
Prices (OTR): £29,800
BEHIND THE WHEEL
SET aside for a moment Nissan’s potentially modest sales ambitions for the Murano in the UK and there are two obvious challenges facing the company.
Firstly, Nissan is a mainstream brand entering a sector that is dominated by premium marques.
Secondly, the only engine choice is a 3.5-litre V6 – and although its CVT transmission should help reduce fuel consumption compared with a conventional automatic, the Murano is not significantly more economical than petrol-fuelled rivals.
Although this sector is largely diesel, Nissan points out that Lexus sells about 4,000 petrol RX300s a year in the UK.
More of an effort seems to have been made with the quality of materials used in the Murano than with the 350Z sportscar. Whereas 350Z will be chosen by enthusiasts who might be prepared to compromise on a few cheap-feeling plastic panels inside because they want the car, the Murano driver might have spent the past three years behind the wheel of an RX300 and will have been treated well by his or her Lexus dealer.
Most of the materials that the driver and passengers will come into direct contact with are of the sort you would find on a premium car. Those that are more like a mainstream car – such as the hollow sounding flat panels on the top of the dashboard – are usually out of reach.
On the outside the Murano has an appealing, friendly face, that is highly distinctive. It is unlike anything else in the SUV sector.
As the only car in its segment with a continuously variable transmission, it offers a smoothness absent from even the most sophisticated conventional automatic transmission because of the infinite number of ratios available, but does sound rather strange under hard acceleration with high revs fading to low revs as speed increases.
Our exceptionally windy launch venue made it difficult to tell whether high-speed wind noise was a result of weather conditions, although all other noise was subdued.
Driving the Murano is thoroughly pleasant most of the time. There is a noticeable amount of body roll on bends at higher speeds, but the well-damped ride ensures it never becomes worrying. The tyres offer plenty of grip and it deals with low-speed bumps and ripples in a far more relaxed manner than the clumsier-feeling versions on the other side of the pond. The steering is a little lifeless for the first quarter turn left or right, but otherwise is precise and can inspire much confidence as more time is spent behind the wheel.
THE Murano will probably sell 1,000 units a year on appearance alone, but the fact that it represents such good value and is highly competent is a bonus. User choosers need to get their order in quickly if they don’t want to miss out on one of the most distinctive cars to arrive in the UK next year.