When the Murano, Nissans midsize sport-utility vehicle, showed up back in 2003, it made a strong impression on me as an example of what a crossover SUV should be.

At the time, many utes were still pickup trucks with five-door bodies draped over them, and they drove and handled accordingly. The Murano, by contrast, was wonderfully tight and responsive, with a capable suspension attached to a stiff monocoque structure. It had a crisp look to go with its demeanor too, and, if memory serves, it also had the first power tailgate Id ever seen. I always wondered why even more people werent buying those things.

The other reason the Murano stood out is that for a while there was a version of it called the CrossCabriolet the first-ever, and so far only, convertible SUV. It didnt sell well, at least outside Palm Beach, so its a goner. Nice try, though, and interesting thinking.

Now here we are in 2015 with the third generation of the Murano. Will it emerge from the shadow of its sister ships in the Nissan/Infiniti fleet? Im thinking yes.

Style-wise, the new Murano is a three-point drop-in from center court. Nissan toned down the gaping maw of its Resonance Concept, the 2013 show vehicle on which this Murano is based, so the V-Motion grille should no longer frighten toddlers and small animals.

(The Aha! factor isnt to be overlooked. I thought Audi had lost its mind when they introduced their droop-jawed, pavement-scraping grille some years back, but its become a signature thats recognizable from a mile away.)

The rest of the Murano manages to be both sleek and voluptuous, at least when its not coated with snow and road slop. The boomerang tail lamps, the LED Signature lights and the floating roof with blacked-out back windows and door pillars and sweetly tapering lines work well, and the Murano wound up a lot prettier than any of its more costly Infiniti cousins. The new Murano is aerodynamically cleaner too, for better gas mileage and less wind noise.

Our first impressions on sliding into the drivers seat were just as positive, along the lines of Ooh, only 37 grand? Looks and feels like more.

Nissan makes a big deal out of its NASA-inspired Zero Gravity seats, and they are indeed comfy. The social lounge ambience (Nissans phrase) of the new Murano is enhanced by attractive materials and sculpted shapes, a simplified instrument panel with 10 switches instead of 25, a larger, brighter touch screen, and loads of light flooding in through larger windows and an optional two-panel sunroof. In the back, passengers get more knee room and a USB port, but the sloping roof cuts into leg (not head) room. Theres more space in the cargo area now as well.

Between four trim levels (S, SV, SL and Platinum) and front- or all-wheel drive, there are eight Murano versions at starting prices from $30,000 to $40,000. Both drivetrains share the same 3.5-liter, regular-gas V-6 engine rated for 260 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque, and 21 to 28 MPG and a continuously variable automatic transmission. The power is neither under- nor overwhelming and, while the transmission may be stepless, thanks to something called D-Step Logic theres no droning or awkward shifting. A 12-year-old memory isnt to be trusted, but compared to the first Murano, this one seems to have traded away some over-the-road crispness for a plusher ride and extra comfort.

As expected, the new Murano has a long list of standard features, including a rearview camera, dual-zone automatic climate control, pushbutton starting, USB ports, satellite radio and Bluetooth.

Optional features include that two-panel sunroof, a nine-speaker Bose stereo with HD Radio, remote starting, power-folding rear seats, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, a 360-degree monitoring system with up to four cameras and three radar sensors, and GPS navigation with an eight-inch touch screen.

Clearly Nissan has high expectations of its new Murano, which for the first time will be manufactured in the U.S. in Canton, Mississippi and exported to more than 100 markets worldwide. Including Italy, where they know that Murano is an island full of glass-blowers in the Lagoon of Venice.
Silvio Calabi reviews the latest from Detroit, Munich, Yokohama, Gothenburg, Crewe, Seoul and wherever else interesting cars are born. Silvio is a member of the International Motor Press Association whose automotive reviews date back to the Reagan administration. He is the former publisher of Speedway Illustrated magazine and an author. Contact him at calabi.silvio@gmail.com.

LIKES:
Updated cabin & features
Prettiest Nissan of all
Seems like it should cost more

DISLIKES:
Slightly ponderous feeling
Knees-to-chin seating in back