With the SUV boom approaching peak flow in the latter part of the 20th century, Nissan’s product planners saw an opening in the market for a smaller and lighter version of the vehicle type. It was becoming evident that while many buyers liked the high seating position and “go anywhere” cachet afforded them by sport utility vehicles, most of those drivers were not “going anywhere”, nor were they particularly enamored with the truck-ish ride and handling characteristics traditional SUV ownership imposed.
With this in mind, Nissan, a company well known for building sporty, fun to drive cars, introduced the Murano, one of the first midsize crossovers offered in the U.S. Based on the platform underpinning the company’s popular Altima sedan, at the time of its introduction there was very little competition in its segment of the SUV marketplace. As soon as buyers realized there was a sport utility-like vehicle available that rode and handled like a car, but still offered the spacious interior and “command” seating position they’d come to associate with SUVs, the sleek Murano’s sales took off.
Helped considerably by its distinctive styling, the Murano quickly ascended into the ranks of America’s best selling automobiles. Designed in southern California at Nissan America’s La Jolla styling studio (La Jolla is a suburb of San Diego), the Nissan Murano’s vaguely French appearance is said by some to be a nod to the company’s ties with Renault.
Whether that is true or not, it is remarkable a French-owned company’s Japanese subsidiary designed the Murano in the U.S., built it in Japan, and named it after a region in Italy known for fine hand-blown glass. Introduced in 2002, as a 2003 model, there have been two generations of the Nissan Murano offered for sale to date.