Do you need a third-row seat? Nissan believes many American crossover-buyers don't, so its Murano (on sale this fall) emphasizes style over space. That's not to say the Murano is small, exactly; however, it is based on the big new Altima car platform. Nissan marketing whizzes spin the design as "sculpture in motion" and say the SUV, named for sculpted glass crafted near Venice, Italy, avoids slab-sided styling "so common in this category." In other words, Nissan, like General Motors with its two-row TrailBlazer/ Envoy/Bravada must have misread the market when it began designing the vehicle a few years ago.

But Murano directly targets the Toyota Highlander, a two-row only SUV that's an unqualified hit in the marketplace. If you place high priority on looks, the Murano's voluptuous sheetmetal clearly has it all over the boxy Toyota, with a toothy chrome grille, upswept D-pillar, and sculpted cargo door. Real aluminum interior-trim comes standard, along with 18-in. wheels and tires, a 3.5L/240-hp V-8, and Nissan's next-generation CVT automatic, with a seven-speed manual shift function available with the SE uplevel trim. Murano will come with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive with automatic lock-up. Options include Vehicle Dynamic Control and choices of XM or Sirius satellite radio. For half the market Nissan believes doesn't want a third row, Murano will be one stylish choice.