Russ Smith

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Shed-loads of standard kit and a luxurious interior in an SUV with a powerful engine, but what tow car skills can the 2008-2011 Nissan Murano lay claim to?

The Murano was Nissan’s full-size sports utility vehicle (SUV), a kind of ‘best of’ compilation of a sports saloon and a Land Rover Discovery. Mixing chunky with sleek, then adding powerful engines and enough luxury trimmings and electronic gadgets to make a Lexus blush, Nissan hoped to carve for itself a slice of the luxury market. It worked in America, where the Murano sold pretty well, but less so in more badge-conscious Europe.

The first-generation model, on sale here from 2005-2008, fell short on two fronts: that lack of identity needed to part premium car buyers from their money, and the even greater flaw of no diesel engine in that golden period before and after diesel was deemed a dirty word.

The second-generation Murano, which we’re looking at here, worked harder to attract Europeans with an even plusher interior, better driving dynamics and – eventually – a diesel engine. In a tough market sector it wasn’t enough, sales remained poor, and depreciation has been steep. All of which makes the Murano an interesting and good-value secondhand buy. But what tow car ability do they have? We're pleased to report that their size, power and four-wheel drive make them great tow cars.

Model history

The new Murano hit the UK market in September 2008, still without a diesel engine. Your choice of one power unit at launch was the excellent 3.5-litre V6 from the 350Z sports car, coupled to an advanced second-generation Xtronic CVT gearbox and electronically controlled permanent four-wheel drive. Every panel was different to the first-gen Murano. There were two models, but the only discernible difference was that one had twin sunroofs, the other a ceiling-mounted DVD screen for rear passengers.

The diesel finally rocked up in July 2010, though anyone hoping for cutting-edge technology went home disappointed because the engine used was a mild rework of the four-cylinder common-rail 2.5-litre unit that had been hauling Pathfinders for the previous four years and was itself developed from the old X-Trail 2.2 unit. Still, it did the job, was hidden behind piles of sound deadening, and had more pulling power than George Clooney in an Armani suit.

The diesel was deemed ill-suited to a CVT transmission, so got its own tough, six-speed automatic gearbox. It also needed more cooling than the petrol engine, so Nissan took the opportunity to give both models a mild front-end makeover.

You could write a book on the standard kit in a Murano, which includes parking cameras at the rear and in the offside door that are viewed using the 7in sat-nav touchscreen. The stereo is a top-line Bose 11-speaker system with multiple connectivity, the tailgate is operated electrically, there are memory front seats and the rear ones power-fold at the touch of a button. Alloy wheels are 18in on early cars, 20in after 2010, and they all get ESP stability control and speed-sensitive power steering. And because it was Nissan that fitted all this kit, there’s every chance that it will continue to work.

Trouble spots

Even with the oldest of these cars now hitting their sixth birthday, reported problems are few, and most seem to be individual issues rather than inherent design weaknesses. The only exception to this is the electric steering lock, which can fail. The cause is grease from the column getting into the mechanism. There’s no way to check if it’s going to happen because it only affects some cars and you only find out when, without warning, you find the steering has stuck in the ‘locked’ position. Unfortunately, it’s a £1600 job to have it fixed by Nissan, so as good a reason as any to purchase a warranty if you get one of these and it hasn’t already had the lock replaced.

There has been the odd case of head-gasket failure on the V6s, though it’s rare. Just check that any car you are considering doesn’t puff out white smoke on start-up, and check the dipstick for water droplet traces and the coolant for any oiliness or scum.

As a precaution, do make sure that all the toys work and check the condition of the tyres and exhaust system. Neither will be cheap to replace and these make good bartering points if you like the rest of what you’ve seen. Any dents on the exhaust also point to possible off-roading, which the Murano is quite capable of, but you don’t want one that’s been bashed about too much.

Check the service history thoroughly. At this kind of age it’s fair to expect that most will have been looked after by main dealers, and that’s what you want.

Verdict

The Nissan Murano is a cracking tow car that ticks just about every box and carries the promise of above-average reliability. You can carry five people in comfort – remarked on by almost all owners – and the four-wheel drive and automatic gearboxes seem well suited to towing. If there’s a downside it’s that there simply aren’t enough diesels to go round because they were so expensive new – almost £38,000 in 2010. But seek one out and you won’t be disappointed.

Our top tug of the range is the 2.5 dCi. The diesel will cost more to buy and you should be prepared to travel to find one, but it will pay off in the long run. Their values are going to stay strong and the mpg benefits cannot be argued with. The model we'd steer clear of is the 3.5 petrol V6. These are just as good as the diesel for towing duties – the issue is that they drink about twice as much fuel doing it.

What you need to know

The bad news for us is the scarcity of diesel Muranos on the market. This means high prices compared to petrol models — about £4000 more for comparable 2010 cars. The result is that you’ll realistically need £15k+ for a diesel.

Petrol Muranos have been on sale for two years longer, so can be picked up for less than £7000, and with a reasonable average mileage, too. You can find plenty of low-mileage, one-owner V6s from around the £9000 mark. That price difference buys an awful lot of petrol, though the premium for a diesel Murano is likely to remain substantial.

Here are some useful figures (for a 2010 2.5 dCi):

  • Kerbweight 1895kg
  • Towing limit 1585kg
  • Towball limit 75kg
  • 85% match 1610kg

Before heading off on your caravan holidays, you'll want to fit a towbar. According to quotes we received from PF Jones, a Witter flange towbar will be £206.64, a Bosal detachable towbar £158.38, fitting extra. We've also received benchmark servicing quotes from Servicing Stop. For petrol-engined versions, an interim service comes in at £130 and a full service is £220, while diesels are £117 and £198 respectively.

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