To the design team tasked with creating an all-new third generation Nissan Murano, one thing was perfectly clear: Nothing less than a return to the original's "Wow" factor would be acceptable.
The 2003 Murano more than pushed the boundaries of design, it set the tone for the emerging crossover segment with a sense of elegance and style previously reserved for luxury nameplates. It took the traditional utility vehicle into new territory – where active couples, not just families, could enjoy the benefits of a crossover's higher driving position and flexible passenger/storage space, doing so with a head-turning style that was as much at home at museum openings, as at dog parks or hiking trails.
The original Murano was also credited with bringing in new buyers to the Nissan brand, buyers who remained loyal to both Murano and Nissan. The new design would have to do nothing less, as well as fend off a growing number of new competitors in the increasingly popular crossover SUV segment.
To keep the team ever mindful of this massive challenge, a big red "Reset" button was given a prominent place in the design studio. They also had a secret blueprint for "Wow" in the parallel development of a special crossover concept car, named Resonance, which was set to make its world debut at the 2013 North American International Auto Show.
"Concept cars have historically been used to attract crowds to a manufacturer's display at auto shows, so the people will stay and look at the production vehicles," said Nissan Senior Vice President and Chief Creative Officer Shiro Nakamura. "At Nissan, we're different. We use concepts to explore new design standards with an eye toward bringing them from show stands to showrooms."
A Bold New Look
While the original Murano took its name and inspiration from the elegantly handcrafted forms of Italian Murano glassware, the Resonance Concept and third-generation Murano shared a higher influence – the new age of future flight.
"Advances in aerodynamics and lightweight materials are opening the door to commercial space flight," added Nakamura. "With Resonance and Murano, we wanted to explore a new travel experience here on the ground, but with the same futuristic sense of lightness and air. This inspiration can be seen in features like their sleek boomerang lights, large daylight openings and especially in the bold 'floating' roofline."
While exploring ways to give the new Murano an energetic, aero look, the designers also wanted to retain the original's strong sculptural qualities. Their solution was to combine the usual sketching and computer renderings with three-dimensional modeling. The design process became more organic than usual, with miniature clay models helping define the forms early on and throughout the design process.
As the back and forth between computers and clays continued, unique elements began to emerge in the design's combination of sharp edges and fluid sculpture, and in the sense of curved metal being shaped by the wind. The iconic Nissan boomerang headlight and taillight designs, originally introduced on the Nissan 370Z, were stretched and slimmed even further and integrated into the bold front fenders and rear hatchback glass.
The D-pillars were shaped to resemble a jet and "disconnected" from the slim roof to lighten the cabin. The Power Panoramic Moonroof was lengthened and widened, adding a sense of visual openness and transparency.
As the spaciousness and sleekness of the upper body was established, the lower body was strengthened through use of a wide stance and the balancing of aerodynamics and ruggedness. Special attention was paid to the anchoring aspect of the rich lower body sections and the prominent "V-Motion" grille, which flows seamlessly into the hood and fenders.
As the Murano shape moved from Resonance Concept to potential production vehicle, the fine-tuning kicked into high gear. In the rear, the challenge was to retain the fluid sculptural appearance without limiting crossover functionality.
The rear liftgate was modified to enhance cargo space, while utilizing the dramatic LED taillights to convey a seamless, high-tech quality. The rear bumper was surfaced to direct airflow away from the vehicle. In a similar way, fender lip moldings were shaped and the lower rocker panels were refined to enhance aerodynamics and utility.
The new Murano was subjected to three times the normal wind tunnel testing, eventually resulting in a 0.31 coefficient of drag – the same as many sports cars. The 0.31 Cd is projected to be among the best in the midsize crossover segment.
Key features of the finished 2015 Murano's breathtaking exterior design include standard LED Daytime Running Lights, LED taillights, side rearview mirrors with integrated LED turn signals, power rear liftgate and rear spoiler, along with available front LED headlights, Power Panoramic Moonroof and 20-inch machine-finished aluminum-alloy wheels.
An Elevated Interior Experience
As the new Murano exterior was literally taking shape, a separate design team set about creating a fresh new interior with equal "Wow." Following the "new way to travel" theme suggested by the futuristic exterior – along with elements of the Resonance Concept interior – they took advantage of key features of the previous generation Muranos. That meant enhancing the inherent crossover ride height and superior visibility by optimizing the angles and thickness of the bottom of the A-pillar and the size and position of the outside rearview mirrors.
The instrument panel followed the Resonance's upscale, social lounge design, featuring low, wide instrument panel and a large center information monitor. The number of audio and navigation switches was cut by more than half, replacing complexity with intuitive simplicity.
A low but wide center console was developed to encourage interaction between front and rear occupants without sacrificing utility.
"Murano owners tend to be highly engaged in career and cultural activities. While highly connected to social media, they also favor personal engagements, so we developed the Murano interior to provide premium 'social lounge' atmosphere," explained Nakamura. "At the same time, we respected their need to have more utility and flexibility than a sedan, so we also paid special attention to the practical aspects of a crossover."
The Murano cargo area features a fold-flat rear seat with available power return. All rear seating/cargo configurations can be done from the back, with no walking to each door.
Like the exterior, the Murano's interior forms and shapes are highly sculptural, merging comfort aspects with a sense of visual interest and beauty. Use of premium, plush materials adds to the "elevated" experience, offering a luxury feel without the luxury price.
High-end features include standard NASA-inspired Zero Gravity front and rear outboard seats and available leather-appointed seating in three coordinated color palettes, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, advanced Bose® design with nine speakers plus dual subwoofers, HD Radio® and customizable advanced lighting system.
The driver is treated to Nissan's Advanced Drive-Assist™ Display, which features a 7.0-inch high-resolution color display with easy-to-read font. The available 8.0-inch center color display offers multi-touch control of the NissanConnectSM with Navigation and Mobile Apps.
The rear seat area was designed for adult use, with increased legroom (versus the previous generation Murano) and available rear USB port. Access to the rear seat is enhanced with easier ingress and egress. The rear seat is also bathed in light by day or moonlight with the available Power Panoramic Moonroof, which has a 40 percent longer sliding length and 29 percent larger opening than the previous generation design.
Nissan's Design Promise
The 2015 Murano is the first production vehicle with Nissan's bold new design direction, as expressed in three recent concepts – Resonance, Friend-ME and the Sport Sedan Concept that debuted at the 2014 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
These concepts' strong "V-Motion" front-end styling, boomerang-shaped lighting, floating roof treatments, thin and sculpted pillars, energetic and emotional flow on the bodysides, and low and wide stances represent a strong Nissan styling signature to be seen on U.S. and worldwide streets soon. Whether SUV, smaller car or sport sedan, this design language is a hallmark of Nissan's future.
"At Nissan, design is our brand promise, a promise that pulls people into our vehicles where they will be treated to an exciting driving experience," said Nakamura. "As the first of our new concept-based production vehicles coming to market, Murano sets our new standard. It will soon be joined by a production version of the Sport Sedan Concept, and by other breakthrough designs that will follow."
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