Hang on, have I logged on to Pimp My Ride.com?
How droll. What you are looking at is a world exclusive – the first drive of Nissan's hot Murano GT-C concept car. Created by Nissan's Cranfield-based Technical Centre Europe as a bespoke one-off to gauge customer reaction, it made its debut at July's London Motor Show, as well as making a splash at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. It gets a hefty turbo-enhanced power boost, a striking external makeover and a cabin full of lovely leather and moody LED lighting.
Interesting. But why do it?
It's not some cynical marketing ploy to throw a glamorous cloak around the Murano to boost flagging sales – Nissan can't build them fast enough for the UK. Some 1100 buyers a year are signing up on the dotted line, 100 more than anticipated. Think of it as an in-the-metal example of just how quickly Nissan can and has responded to customer demand for a Murano with more power, presence and prestige. The idea is to create a powerful and plush long distance cruiser that's equally adept at ferrying you and your family down to Provence at speed and in comfort, as it is at taking the stress out of an arduous rush hour commute.
Let's talk power…
In the GT-C, the Murano's all-aluminium 3.5-litre 3498cc V6 engine is breathed on by a Garrett turbocharger, complete with an advanced air-to-water charge cooling system that generates up to 340bhp at 6000rpm and 265lb ft of torque at a low 3600rpm. That's 106bhp and 30lb ft more than standard Murano. Nissan claims a 7.0sec sprint to 60mph and a 140mph top speed for the 1885kg off-roader. It also gets an AP Racing brake system, with 362mm front and 330mm rears discs that lurk behind 22inch wheels, uprated springs and dampers, a 25mm lower ride height and recalibrated front suspension kinematics to enhance turn-in and improve steering feedback.
What's it like to drive?
The GT-C feels pretty tight and wieldy. The engine sounds superb, breathing through its acoustically tuned exhaust, and it feels brisk rather ball-tearingly fast. Massive wheels, 265/35 profile tyres and stiffer springs and dampers results in a ride quality that too often feels brittle and jagged, but it handles tautly, feeling fluid and composed stringing corners together. But the weakest link is the Murano's constantly variable transmission. Although it works smoothly and intuitively with the regular, 234bhp Murano, here it seems to hobble the free-revving V6. And perhaps it's not particularly robust, which would explain why the torque increase is so modest. It would be so much more appealing if it had a slick and responsive automatic box that could handle more torque.
That cabin looks a bit bling...
Surely you mean bespoke and classy. Replete with hand-stitched Strathspey leather, from Andrew Muirhead in Scotland (Europe's oldest and most distinguished tannery, no less) and tactile bronzed metal inserts, it looks and feels quite special. The centrepiece is a hand-blown Murano glass gearlever and trinket tray – from the Italian island of Murano – and discrete red LED lighting. There's even a bespoke laptop bag in that Strathspey leather that slots down into the deep centre console.
Will they build it?
Nissan says customers are gagging for a GT-C, so a production feasibility study is already underway. If they can make it profitable, it would arrive with the next 12 months, cost around £45,000 with production pegged at around 100 a year. Pricey, but exclusive. There's also talk of offering a Murano with just the engine, brakes and suspension upgrades for around £36,000, for those who prefer performance to presence.
Nissan Murano GT-C
The Murano GT-C is desirable and notable, even before you consider it as a case study of how quickly car makers can respond to market trends and demands. While it showcases the talents of Nissan GB's engineering team, it still needs a bit of elbow grease, particularly the CVT transmission and the harsh ride. But as it stands, the GT-C is a pretty impressive effort.