Blend avant-garde style with a healthy dose of practicality, toss in a new level of mechanical sophistication for good measure, and you've got the Murano. Named after Italy's best-known maker of fine glass objets d'art, Nissan's first venture into the realm of the in-betweens shares its FF-L (front engine, front-drive) platform with the Altima. That unibody pedigree brings a stiff central structure, fully independent strut/multilink suspension, four-wheel ABS discs with Brake Assist and Electronic Brake force Distribution, plus optional Vehicle Dynamic Control and traction control.
Whether front- or AWD, far-from-basic SL or sporty SE, all Muranos boast an aggressive 18-inch wheel/tire package. Even so, user-friendly sill/seat heights ensure easy entry/exit, while a large but lightweight rear hatch does the same when cargo calls. Inside, innovative styling touches set off a magnum load of standards headed by premium-grade front buckets, an adult-scale 60/40 split rear bench, and lap-top-size lockable center-console bin. Quick-release handles in the cargo bay permit one-handed flat-folding of the second-row bench, increasing the Murano's payload capacity from 32.6 to 81.6 cubic feet.
Motivation comes from Nissan's stellar 3.5-liter DOHC V-6--which makes 245 horses and 246 lb-ft of torque in Murano spec. Its soulmate is the firm's new Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission. Despite nearly 30 years of CVT experience elsewhere, this is Nissan's first U.S. application of this technology--and one of the first on an engine with this kind of power. Leave it in Drive mode, and even an AWD Murano will work its way through traffic and onto freeways with relative ease. Slip into Sport, and a more aggressive performance map puts a whole new level of snap in its step. Those who emphasize the "sport" notion of sport/utility should consider stepping up to SE-spec, which brings tauter chassis tuning, as well as more creature features.
Murano pricing opens at $28,199 and tops out around $37,000 for an AWD SE loaded with leather, premium Bose audio, moonroof, and nav system. Fashionable, functional, and fun, the Murano should definitely help extend Nissan's current winning streak.