When it comes to styling the Murano, Nissan's flagship crossover SUV, no one has ever accused the automaker of erring on the side of conservatism.

The Murano has been a fresh and interesting design exercise since its birth early in the millennium. But when it was redesigned for the 2015 model year, it became a bit more than a departure from the generic. It graduated to a walk on the wild side. The new Murano doesn't just push the design envelope. It punches holes in it.

Consider, for example, the way the quarter panels protrude upward into the cargo area side windows like shark fins.

In addition to the Jaws dorsals, there is that dramatically dropping roof line and the way the sharp character lines coexist with the car's sculpture flows.

Also fresh are the chrome bars that start under the grille, break at the front wheels, and then continue, sabre-like, under the front doors.

There's a lot going on in this exterior design, and you could argue it's a bit busy. But I think it works. It is, finally, cohesive and compelling.

The interior of this third-generation, midsize crossover proves equally innovative. Scott Pak, Nissan's planning manager for crossovers, said that because the new Murano is aimed at 45-year-old empty-nesters, the idea was to create a "social lounge" conducive to comfortable conversation between adults in the front and back seats. "We wanted to make it very comfortable, open, and inviting," he said.

As Jeremy Tucker, vice president for marketing communications, put it: "This is the most social car we ever designed."

Partly because it's longer and wider than the previous model, it does seem quite roomy, and, in fact, it is. The passenger volume, 108.1 cubic feet, is best in class, and so is the cargo space with the backseat up - 39.6 cubic feet.

The new Murano also benefits from exceptionally comfortable seats. And a dose of insulating materials makes for quiet riding.

Although the engine in the new car is the same 260-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 employed in the previous Murano, the 2015 enjoys a 20 percent increase in highway fuel economy.

The Murano now has EPA mileage estimates of 21 city and 28 highway. Interestingly, the mileage rating for the all-wheel-drive model is the same as for the front-drive one.

The better numbers are obtained several ways. The use of high-strength steel took 146 pounds out of the car. (The stronger the steel, the less you need.) Low-rolling-resistance tires helped, and so did the aerodynamic improvement occasioned by underbody covers and grille shutters. The vehicle's 0.31 coefficient of drag is as good as a Porsche 918 Spyder's.

Arriving in showrooms this month, the Murano opens under $29,560 with a base, front-drive car. It heads up to $40,600 for the top-of-the-line, all-wheel-drive Platinum model I drove.

In addition to being very quiet and comfortable, the Platinum tester boasted a wealth of electronic safety features and encouraged a connectivity orgy. The interior also proved to be premium business, featuring soft surfaces and supple leather.

There were some interesting design elements in the test vehicle, such as the stitched, padded, independent hood over the instrument cluster. I didn't like the accents on the doors and console, which looked like those hand-painted, faux-wood surfaces so popular in the first half of the 20th century.

Available new safety gear for 2015 includes blind spot alert, rear cross-traffic alert, intelligent cruise control, forward-collision warning, and forward emergency braking.

The Murano handled exceptionally well, in fact downright sporty by crossover standards. Engine power was less dazzling but adequate.

Excellent

2015 Nissan Murano Platinum (AWD)

Base price: $40,600.

As tested: N/A.

Standard equipment: 3.5-liter engine, continuously variable automatic transmission, all-wheel-drive, and a luxury-car menu of safety and comfort features.

Options: None.

Fuel economy: 21 m.p.g. city and 28 highway.

Engine performance: Average.

Handling: Excellent.

Styling: Very original.

Ride comfort: Top shelf.

Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles bumper-to-bumper.

The Ben key: four Bens, excellent; three Bens, good; two Bens, fair; one Ben, poor.

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