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For a variety of reasons, the Nissan Murano continues to reside near the top of the class in a competitive field of sport utility vehicles that combine versatility with nimble driving acumen.

Although there are no major changes the past few years, that’s not a bad thing. The 2012 Murano remains an extremely attractive, five-passenger midsize crossover that offers sophistication, sporty handling, a spacious backseat, appealing cabin, and delivers plenty of performance.

Copying the basic design of the Nissan Altima sedan, the Murano has four trims and starts at $29,280 for its entry-level model and goes for another $9,000 if one wants to pay for the most upgraded model. The SV model driven here for a week – one of four available trims – goes for $36,810. A fifth choice, the all-wheel drive Murano CrossCabriolet is a two-door convertible.

The Murano crossover comes with a few minor styling updates that are new this year, adding value to an already fine car-based SUV that has always enjoyed a solid reputation. But overall this is essentially the same model that has pleased car buyers since its debut eight years ago.

One area that some of Murano’s rivals like to point out is a third row of seating has still not materialized and neither has a V8 option. Other knocks against the Murano include rear visibility issues due to its sloping roof design, plus a cargo area that’s not as large as some rivals.

Speaking of rivals, the Buick Enclave, Ford Flex and Toyota Venza all have third row of seats. But overall the Murano is still a standout in this group of high-quality crossovers. Other competitors include the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander and the Ford Edge.

Every Murano model comes with front-wheel drive and is powered by a very efficient 3.5-liter, V6 that delivers 260 horsepower. The Murano also includes the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that many consider the best on the market.

Performance and excellent handling make the Murano extremely fun to drive. This SUV hugs the road on challenging turns and the steering and responsive braking system give the driver a feeling of confidence in all types of situations.

The interior cabin is characterized by an array of premium materials. The seating is comfortable for all five passengers regardless of where one sits. The Murano also provides a generous cargo area when the second row folds up flat for additional space.

The Murano is an appealing, refined SUV that offers plenty of value for the price. It should be included on the list for anyone considering the purchase of a midsize crossover.

2012 Nissan Murano

  • Power: 3.5-liter, V6, 260 horsepower
  • Mileage estimate: 18-24 mpg
  • Price: $29,540 to $38,710
  • Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles; drivetrain 5 years/60,000 miles

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