NAPA, CA – Whoever said it “never rains in California” wasn’t with us on the recent 2015 Nissan Murano drive event in Sonoma.

Because it pours man, it pours.

If there was a consolation, it’s that the open-air cabriolet version has been killed off for 2015 since any plein-air cruising would have been soggy indeed.

When the Murano debuted in 2002, it was a curvaceous outlier – a pioneering, car-based crossover in a segment populated by boxy, truck-based SUVs. Now in its third generation, the 2015 Murano returns to its original role as a “statement-making” quasi-luxury vehicle.

Named for the precious, centuries-old glass produced on the Venetian island of Murano, Nissan’s flagship utility vehicle was also one of the first to bring continuously variable transmissions to the mainstream.

Owners loved the attention generated by their vehicle’s distinctive looks, and the latest iteration reflects that with the same level of creative detail. The new Murano owes much of its character to the Resonance Concept car – an eye-catching exercise in shining copper with its dramatic creases, raked windshield and “floating” roofline. Like the original, the latest Murano features a bold, expressive design that will influence future models throughout the Nissan lineup.

It’s a provocative, modern look – with more than just a hint of BMW’s futuristic i3 thanks to the floating roofline, absent D-pillar and machined alloys. But instead of the original’s grinning braces, there’s a pronounced “V-Motion” snout flanked by prominent “boomerang” headlamps with LED driving lights. Lines branch out from the nose, creating character lines along the body and culminating at the rear, which is again finished in boomerang LED lamps.

Although the wheelbase is the same, the new Murano is lower, wider and 66 kg lighter. Its sleek new outline has the added benefit of improved aerodynamics, reducing coefficient of drag to 0.31 from 0.37 and reportedly decreasing fuel consumption by 20 percent over the last model.

The Murano will be available in five trim levels, but most of our time was spent in a top-spec Platinum model. For the first time, it will be offered in front-wheel drive, which also brings the price down by $4,500. It’s available only on the base S ($29,998) and SV ($32,998) models. All-wheel drive becomes available on SV ($34,998) and more luxury and technology is added through the SL ($38,398) and range-topping Platinum ($43,498).

There were none of the typical trappings of a sporting lifestyle present at the latest Murano’s introduction. Rather, the emphasis was on comfort and appreciation of the finer things. Hence, the Napa Valley setting.

2015 Nissan Murano2015 Nissan Murano Platinum cargo area2015 Nissan Murano Platinum rear seats2015 Nissan Murano Platinum dashboard
2015 Nissan Murano, seating, dashboard. Click image to enlarge

“The Murano will comfortably accommodate four adults touring wine country,” according to Bert Brooks, senior product planning manager for Nissan Canada.

That gentle, Provençal landscape was blanketed with a thick, primordial fog through which we could barely make out the spindly fingers of late fall grapevines. Fortunately, the sun appeared intermittently through the drizzle, enough to warm the fields, our souls, and inject the sense of well-being by association that Nissan was hoping for.

There are two interior colours available: “Graphite” and “Cashmere” – or “grey” and “beige” for the uninitiated.

The cabin of our Platinum trim Murano was an ethereal expanse of pale cream leather, soft touch materials and mother of pearl trim. It’s a light, airy and luxurious setting vaguely reminiscent of the last Mercedes-Benz S Class I’d driven – a comparison that Nissan would probably be deeply gratified to hear. Their goal for the Murano is “upscale mainstream” – targeting well-heeled, mature empty nesters instead of the active lifestyle types and young families pursued by other crossovers.

It’s a nicely executed environment. Premium materials yield to the touch and all panels meet with tight gaps. It’s described as “social lounge” and rather than offering third-row versatility, the Murano has ample room to comfortably accommodate four adults. Nissan grandiloquently describes their “zero-gravity” seating as “NASA-inspired” – which sounds a bit far-fetched but they’re admittedly very comfortable. While base models make do with cloth, upper trims are leather upholstered, eight-way adjustable and feature heating and cooling.

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