When Nissan first released the Murano in late 2002, it was entering a new era. The Murano was the first crossover SUV from the Japanese maker to grace american soil, and it brought with it a new level of ability and refinement to a quickly growing segment. Ten years later and the Murano has just gone through its first refresh for the second generation car, but has it lost some of its charm over the years, and is it still able to cope with new competition from all sides? Read on to find out what we thought.

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The first thing anyone ever notices about the Murano is the shape. It has a profile that is polarizingly sleek and well beyond the bounds most companies are willing to travel. Most stick to bland two-box shapes, and the Murano is a wonderful breath of fresh air. That said this is still very much a simple evolution of the 2002 debut, and we find it more than a little surprising more companies haven’t tried to follow this successful design choice. Redesigned in 2009 and refreshed last year, this newest Murano features a prominent chromed grille, and an updated wheel design provides an air of luxury. The sculpted sides, and dark windows help add a sporty flair that is aggressive without being over the top. The car also looks exceptionally good in colors like Super Black or the Brilliant Silver seen here on our tester.

Luxurious it is too, the interior of our SL model tester was swathed in soft, black leather and the interior had an air of quality about that was missing in the Infiniti G25 we drove a few weeks back. In the Infiniti’s defense, the Murano is actually more expensive with a price of more than $37,000. This is especially true in the infotainment system, where the screen in the Murano far surpasses the G in both resolution, control, and functionality. The navigation system does its best to use all the available resolution to provide crisp maps, and easy to read instructions. Features of our tester included multiple power extras including power rear hatch, and power rise rear seats. When the rear seat has been folded flat to make room for more cargo, a simple switch is all it takes to get them raised back up again. With one switch located up near the driver, and one in the rear hatch, you were always within reach of the mechanism.

The interior is not the only place where the Murano feels more Infiniti and less Nissan. The Murano also drives like a much more luxurious vehicle. With the much-loved 3.5-liter V6 engine under the hood, the Murano has 260 horsepower, more than enough power to keep up with its peers. The CVT is also a good choice in this vehicle as the incredibly smooth power delivery adds to the comfort factor. Interior noise is well subdued, the seats are exceptional, and the well controlled ride makes light work of long trips. In true Nissan fashion, the steering is also very excellent, with good on center feel and nice weighting. Feedback is lacking, but this isn’t really meant to be a back road bomber, either. The best way we can find to describe the Murano is “chunky”. It feels like an SUV but without being unwieldy or uncomfortable, just stable and substantial.

The cabin can also be considered a nice place for guests. Your front passenger is treated to their own control over the climate, and the large sunroof provides ample space for viewing the scenery above. Rear passengers also have ample amounts of leg room, and they also have their own sunroof, keeping the back feeling airy and well-lit. While it would be a squeeze to stack three wide across the rear bench, fold down the center armrest with integrated cup holder and you have a pair of thrones worthy of a road trip. We filled the Murano with three other passengers, and took a 100+mile trip up into the mountains, and received nary a complaint from anyone about comfort or space. The engine was also able to pull strongly up the steep grades despite carrying a full passenger load.

The only minor drawback to the Murano, and we stress minor, is its fuel economy. While the CVT transmission does its best to keep the engine loping along at low speeds to save fuel, the Murano’s size coupled with the V6 thirst take their toll at the pump with EPA-estimates of 18 city and 24 highway. Thankfully, we managed a combined total of around 23, so a gentle foot should be able to squeeze more, but it still fails to strike fear into the hearts of competitors. This would be one area where Nissan could look to improve to distant itself from the pack.

There is much to love about the little CUV that could from Nissan. It holds incredible luxury, a great ride, good driving dynamics, plenty of space and of course plenty of power, all wrapped up in a stunning package. While the price may seem a little steep, it is well in-line with its multiple competitors, and provides a bit more kit for your dollar than many other entries into the segment. Special extras like HID headlamps and keyless entry and start are still high cost options for many models. The luxury is well above par for the class and the Murano seems to be only a badge away from Infiniti greatness.

Perhaps the most exciting piece of this Murano puzzle lies within the new Nissan Altima. With the leaps and bounds Nissan has made with the next-generation Altima, we can only imagine what the next Murano could hold in terms of fuel economy, technology and luxury. If Nissan continues with its current successes, the Murano will move from great, to best-in-class by a large margin. Let’s hope the boys and girls in Nashville get cooking.