2015 Nissan Murano

NAPA, Calif. — When Nissan introduced its first crossover more than a decade ago it stormed into the market with a flashy, aerodynamic design penned in its North American studios. The 2003 Murano broke new styling ground with a rounded eye-catching appearance that looked ahead of its time. The design has aged well through two generations, but even with some significant updates, it is becoming dated.

To the rescue is an all-new 2015 Murano with styling that, to our eye, is just as trend-setting as the original. It's based on Nissan's bold Resonance concept shown at the 2013 Detroit auto show retaining many of the concept's bold styling statements. In fact, Nissan folks are unabashedly calling the 2015 Murano the "concept car for the street."

While the new Murano might not be in the class of automotive eye candy as the new Jaguar F-Type Coupe, it definitely stands out in the mid-sized crossover class with sculpted sides and boomerang-like headlights and taillights. One of the design highlights is something Nissan calls the "floating roof." This look is created by the use of black exterior trim pieces on the pillars and warp-around liftgate that give the roof the illusion that it is suspended above the body.

We predict that the appealing highly sculpted shape will draw people into showrooms like metal to a magnet. But we discovered in a day-long California test drive that the Murano is much more than trendy styling.  It offers an engaging driving experience, roomy passenger and cargo space, a very appealing interior layout, and advanced technology and safety systems.

While some dimensions have changed slightly the overall size of the outgoing Murano has been maintained on the same front-wheel drive platform that underpins the Pathfinder SUV and Altima sedan. The 2015 Murano is slightly wider (75.4 inches vs. 74.1 inches) and longer (192.8 inches vs. 189.9 inches) than the outgoing model, and sits closer to the ground.

Stretching and widening the car slightly gives the Murano a big boost in two important areas — rear seat legroom and cargo capacity. Space for rear passenger legs grows by 2.4 inches to 38.7 inches. We discovered the attraction of this new-found space in a short jaunt in the rear seat behind a six-foot driver. We emerged from our excursion proclaiming the Murano a true long-distance travel companion for four adults. Luggage space behind the seats has been increased a whooping 8 cubic feet from 31.6 to 39.6. Overall cargo capacity with rear seatbacks folded flat is 69.9 cubic feet compared to last year's 64 cubic feet.

Shoppers probably won't notice that Nissan has carried over the outgoing Murano engine and transmission because they will discover the drivetrain works satisfyingly well in the new car — and with improved fuel economy. The performance, together with very creditable on-road driving dynamics — we discovered its handling prowess over wet, slick northern California road surfaces — pushes the Murano to the top of a very crowded segment of family crossovers.

The 3.5-liter V-6 churns out 260 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that simulates a conventional automatic with seven stepped gears. The Murano is no speed machine by any means, but it gets the driving chores of life accomplished in a satisfying manner with acceptable gas mileage measured at 21 mpg city, 28 highway and 24 combined in both all-wheel and front-wheel drive. This is commendably better than the outgoing crossover, which carried a rating of 18/24/20.

Nissan started touting its "NASA-inspired Zero Gravity seats" a couple years ago with the introduction of the newest Altima. The seats have now made their way into the Murano (including the second row) and proved comfortable for our short jaunts. Beyond the seats, the interior is remarkably quiet even at higher speeds, and is handsomely styled and functionally laid out. Interior features include standard dual-zone climate control, Nissan Intelligent Key with push button ignition, available leather-appointed seating giving the crossover an upmarket appearance, heated steering wheel, steering wheel position memory, driver's seat and outside mirror memory, power folding rear seats and remote engine start.

Advanced safety features abound on the higher trim levels. Available are such systems as blind-spot monitoring, moving object detection, rear cross-traffic alert, intelligent cruise control, predictive forward collision warning, and forward emergency braking. A back-up camera is standard and Nissan's 360-degree camera display is available to aid in parking maneuvers.

Interior accents are offered in two patterns that are tied to the interior color choice. We like the one that offers a "silver wood" look. Very upscale, indeed. The other, however, looks too much like a kitchen countertop.

The Murano is offered in four trim levels starting at $30,445 for the base S. The SV trim starts at $33,505, SL at $37,835 and the Platinum at $39,885. All-wheel drive is available across the range for $1,600.

The new model becomes the first Murano (and the eighth vehicle) assembled in Nissan's Canton, Miss., plant.

— Jim Meachen