Industrial design is art in disguise.&nbsp; People will travel to foreign museums and pay good money to briefly view old paintings of plump naked women, but completely disregard the style of everyday stuff.&nbsp; Toasters, cell phones, bathroom faucets, computers and yes, cars, don't have to be utilitarian.&nbsp; They can be beautiful and passionate.&nbsp; Just look at a Hoover vacuum cleaner, then a Dyson.
Americans have been gravitating to car-based crossovers for a few years now.&nbsp; Some look like scaled down trucks.&nbsp; Nissan's Murano sticks out like a Schwinn Sting Ray parked next to a rack of bland cruisers.&nbsp; The original that blazed the trail before Mazda's CX-7 and Ford Edge was very dramatic.&nbsp; That's a tough act to follow.&nbsp; Like topping Starry Starry Night, creating a successor to dramatic design is a dicey proposition.
A new canvas&nbsp;
Now in its second generation Murano has successfully evolved - different but still very much the same.&nbsp; Its daring sheetmetal has been refocused but still instantly recognizable.&nbsp; The interior, the space a driver sees the most of, gets a welcome upgrade.&nbsp; Looks aren't all you get.&nbsp; There's useful space and driving fun to be had.&nbsp; That's more than you can say about Whistler's Mother.
Pop the hood and you'll be staring at Nissan's venerable 3.5-liter V6 that makes 265 horsepower.&nbsp; It's hooked up to a Continuously Variable Transmission.&nbsp; I'm not a big fan of CVTs but here Nissan has eliminated the drone that normally comes with them.&nbsp; Choose between front or all-wheel drive with a locking feature - good for tackling sloppy, slushy stuff.
Drawn to competition
As a mid-sized crossover, Murano competes against Ford Edge, Dodge Journey, Mazda CX-7, Toyota Venza and Hyundai Santa Fe.&nbsp; Murano can out hustle most of them (I'm thinking that a V6 Venza could win a drag race, not that you should be doing that sort of thing).&nbsp; Zero to 60 happens in 8 seconds - plenty of power in a vehicle such as this.
In mostly city driving I'm seeing 17 miles to the gallon; the combined EPA rating is 20.&nbsp; That's about average in class.
Will it make Mona Lisa grin?
Even though the ride quality is comfortable Murano can be tossed into a corner with confidence.&nbsp; The suspension isn't as firm as CX-7, there's more communication with the road than with Venza.&nbsp; Even on my all-wheel drive tester, stomping on the gas will generate a small bit of torque steer, that tugging of the steering wheel under hard acceleration.&nbsp; This is something normally found in front drive cars.&nbsp;
At highway speeds road noise is average.&nbsp; Murano's chassis is solid and robust but hit a sharp bump and the sound echoes through the cabin in a hollow manner.&nbsp; Nissan has given the Murano a good set of anti-lock binders.&nbsp; Good in case you spot a rare Jackson Pollack at a yard sale.
The inner workings
The instrument panel evolves along with the sheetmetal, getting better materials this time around.&nbsp; It's a dark inky space in black though. Consider a different color or sunroof to brighten it up.&nbsp; This base S model stickers for around 29 grand. I'd say it's worth the money to upgrade to the next trim level and splurge for leather seating.&nbsp; The velour fabric in my tester looks a bit scruffy and remember, it's best to surround yourself with good looking things whenever possible.&nbsp; Also of note, the chair foam is very soft if you prefer your seating like that.&nbsp;
This being a base model with just a convenience package option there's practically a wall of button blanks to remind a buyer of their decision to go with the budget Murano.&nbsp; Passengers will dig the push button start though.&nbsp; It's not keyless, a torpedo shaped fob needs to be slipped into a slot first.&nbsp; Controls for the sound system and dual zone climate control are intuitive and simple to use.&nbsp; There's a standard "aux" jack to plug in an MP3 player.&nbsp; A big bold LCD display with coarse resolution is legible even in bright sunlight.&nbsp; Illumination is done up in Nissan orange.&nbsp; I'm sure Picasso would have a cooler name for the shade.
A space as large as a gallery
There's nothing radical when it comes to storage cubbies in Murano.&nbsp; The center console has a nice hinged tray to help organize stuff.&nbsp; If need be, a family of four can move into the huge glove box.&nbsp; At the very least it will easily swallow an average laptop computer.
Got tall friends?&nbsp; They'll enjoy the space in the back seat.&nbsp; This back row doesn't move fore and aft to adjust to leg or cargo room choices but the backs recline.&nbsp;Overall, three adults should be happy in the very soft cushions, even more so if you go for the DVD entertainment system.&nbsp; A storage bin on the back of the center console is good for stowing iPods, Game Boys and headphones.&nbsp; Watch the streaming video and you'll find it's good for at least one ninja rubber ducky, but not his ninja father.&nbsp; Sometimes you just have to work with what's laying around.
Gripes? That missile-shaped key fob just seems to slip out of my hand for some strange reason.&nbsp; A common observation by passengers is that the sound of the closing doors is tinny.&nbsp; The rear pillar that gives Murano its swoopy look also cuts into visibility.&nbsp;&nbsp;A rear view camera would very handy in this rig.
Enough TP to supply MOMA for a few days
Speaking of that curvaceous back end, its shape cuts into cargo space a little bit. In the often imitated but never duplicated Costco TP trunk test, Murano handles nine bundles of bath tissue well.&nbsp; The average here is 11.&nbsp; Somehow there's just got to be some sort of art project that could be done with all that tissue.&nbsp;
Under the load floor are spots to store small items like cameras and laptop computers you want to hang onto.&nbsp; Handy seatback releases are mounted just inside the hatch.&nbsp; Always a nice touch.
What the competition says
I always like to ask auto designers what car they would have liked to drawn.&nbsp; Two of them that I respect have mentioned Murano.&nbsp; Style is surely subjective but Murano&nbsp; has a lot going for it.&nbsp; If you enjoy design, if you treat every street and parking lot like an automotive Louvre, Murano may appeal to you.&nbsp; Or not.&nbsp; Like Monet vs. Mondrian there's something for everyone these days.&nbsp;&nbsp; Practical families that want to make a statement might want to put the Nissan Murano on the test drive list.&nbsp;