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The Original Nissan Murano Made a Big Impact on the Crossover

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author photo by Doug DeMuro September 2017

I still remember when the Nissan Murano came out back in 2003 and opinions were almost laughably split on its styling. It's almost like how politics is today: Some people loved it, some people hated it, and everyone seemed angry at the other side. The thing was wildly, wildly controversial. "Who would create such a car?" some people said. "It's a lot less boring than regular SUVs," said others. And so the debate raged.

Over time, the controversy of the original Murano died down. Part of the reason was because Nissan relaxed the look of the car a bit more when it was redesigned for 2009; with the world in a recession, they didn't seem to want to try anything really questionable. But there's also another reason we've forgotten the controversy over the Murano: Because it paved the way for other bizarre, stylish and unusual SUVs -- and now they're all so common that the Murano seems like nothing.

Think about it: In the early 1990s, the "family SUV" trend really kicked off with the advent of the Ford Explorer -- and the "luxury SUV" largely debuted in 1998 as the Mercedes M-Class. But even through the 2000s, SUVs were still utilitarian. Nobody was really making anything odd or unusual -- and when they were, like in the case of the Pontiac Aztek or Isuzu VehiCROSS, it wasn't selling. The general thinking at the time was that people only wanted utilitarian SUVs.

Fifteen years later, times have seriously changed -- and not just with overtly weird vehicles like the Nissan Juke, Toyota C-HR, Toyota FJ Cruiser and others. It's more than that: Style has found its way into the SUV world, transforming boring, utilitarian vehicles into something you could theoretically own and drive, even if you aren't transporting your kids to sports practice and music lessons. And I swear the Murano started all that.

With the Murano, Nissan debuted an SUV that offered both utility and style. There was already the Pathfinder for families; the Murano was something different; it was the car you bought if you wanted utility but didn't want to give up on the "sport" aspect of the SUV. Sure, other sporty SUVs existed, but they were so stoic -- the original BMW X5, for instance, wore perhaps the most inoffensive design in SUV history. The Murano wasn't "sporty" in the sense of fast or spry, but rather it looked sporty and it made you feel sporty, whereas SUVs previously made you feel like you were driving a family hauler.

I'm not sure the Murano has ever gotten its due, but I swear that -- looking back now -- it really was the start of the "personal SUV" era; the era where an SUV was a car you wanted rather than a car you needed; and it didn't have to be highly expensive to fit that definition. Now, everyone wants an SUV, even if they never transport anything larger than their cat -- and I think if we trace that trend back to its beginnings, they'd start right at the 2003 Murano's bizarre, wide-mouth, clothing-iron-shaped grille.

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The Original Nissan Murano Made a Big Impact on the Crossover - Autotrader