When the Nissan Murano first appeared, it was the most futuristic design available, especially since most of its competitors aped boxy SUVs. Based on the front-wheel-drive Altima, the Murano offered decent levels of equipment, a healthy V6, optional all-wheel drive and a reasonable ride.

Fast forward to 2009, and the Murano’s up for its first makeover. Not much has changed in its brief — meaning a car-based, five-seat crossover — but the competition is much fiercer than in ’03. Nearly every major manufacturer has at least one such vehicle in its lineup — and sometimes more. The question is whether Nissan’s evolutionary makeover is enough to keep it relevant.

Size-wise, the new Murano is within a hair of its predecessor, although the new design is edgier. Its snout is pointier, and the sculptured front fenders mean it’s difficult to know where its corners are. The rear follows the general themes from the Rogue, and doesn’t match the front’s drama.

The rising beltline, thick A-pillars and small rear window mean big blind spots, although the large side mirrors help.

All Muranos feature Nissan’s 3.5-litre V6 with 265 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque, matched with a continually variable transmission (CVT). All-wheel drive is standard on every model for ’09.

Safety features include six airbags, ABS with emergency brake force distribution and brake assist, stability and traction control, and active head restraints for the front row.

Although the Murano S starts at a reasonable $37,648, my tester was the loaded $47,498 LE trim, meaning standard HID headlights, fog lights, 20-inch wheels, heated mirrors, power-adjustable heated leather seats, climate control, power tilt/telescoping steering, keyless entry and ignition, a dual-panel moonroof, rearview camera with seven-in display, 11-speaker Bose audio system and Bluetooth. The excellent navigation system and 9.3GB “music server” is a pricey $2,950 option.

All that luxury is thrown into one of Nissan’s better cabin designs. The gauges are bright and legible, major controls easy to find, and better than average materials. Finding a comfortable seating position is simple, and there’s decent room in the second row.

Cargo space is reasonable, and the rear seats power fold to increase usable room.

On the road, the Murano’s habits are merely OK. It’s not sporty, with too much lean and vague steering, but the suspension thumps over the smallest imperfections. There’s a lot Nissan could do to improve this for future releases. Performance-wise, acceleration is strong and the CVT works well enough that you never notice it.

While the Murano offers a huge number of features and look-at-me styling, the problem is its pricing. My LE tester’s sticker totalled $50,583 before freight, PDI and taxes.

A similarly equipped Ford Edge Limited AWD runs a touch over $46,000. Even Infiniti’s own EX35 would only total about $48,600 for all the bells and whistles. And that’s only counting dedicated five-seaters.

That means, other than styling and brand loyalty, there isn’t anything the Murano does outstanding enough to make it worthy of recommendation.

2009 Nissan Murano
Type: Crossover utility vehicle
Price: 37,648 (base)
Engine: 3.5-litre V6
HP: 248

• Dramatic front styling
• Impressive interior

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