They're not just for off-roading anymore: the new Mitsubishi Endeavor, Nissan Murano, and the Toyota Highlander represent the latest in an updated class of car-based SUVs.

Car-based SUVs are where the action will be in the marketplace as buyers discover the multitudinous ways these vehicles support multifaceted lifestyles. Though each of the testers examined here springs from the loins of front-drive midsize sedans, three very different looks and personalities result.

In every sense, the Toyota Highlander is a surrogate Camry station wagon, as squarish, practical, and low-key as the suburban lifestyles its buyers lead. Dial in Toyota's traditional penchant for quality, reliability, and strong resale value and the Highlander's as sure to please as flowers and chocolates on Valentine's Day.

The Mitsubishi Endeavor suggests tough SUV imagery with aggressive-looking wheel flares and side sculpturing, a wide stance, and unexpected geometric details. Pant legs rolled up, it looks like it's ready for the mud, but it does amazingly well on pavement, too. We'd call the Endeavor L.L. Bean with attitude. A strong second place.

Nissan's new Murano explores a modern direction that's more hot hatch than clunky SUV, boldly pushing the design envelope into the artistic realm. The Murano manages to strike an alluring balance in that age-old quandary of velocity versus volume. We found it simply irresistible -- and the clear winner of this three-way midsize-sport/utility evaluation.