Base Price: $32,240

Price As Tested: $42,410

This week, we're driving Nissan's premium crossover, the Murano SL with all-wheel-drive (AWD). Murano is one of Nissan's most popular vehicles that starts at $30,450 for a 2WD "S" and $32,240 for the AWD "S." There are now five Murano trim lines, including aforementioned S, SV, SL, LE and a new "Cross Cabriolet," featuring all the bells and whistles plus a power convertible soft-top, side rails, 20-inch chrome wheels and an upgraded Bose stereo system for $44,500. Our SL AWD came with a base of $37,800 very well equipped.

Murano received a complete re-design in 2009, replacing the first generation that debuted in 2003. In the design room, Nissan artists made sure its new five-passenger Murano would offer a spacious interior and a better aerodynamic "slipstream." The front end has been tweaked to an impressive state, unlike the initial design back in '09 which just wasn't as pleasing. Today, Murano's front end looks like an Eagle soaring, with a slim grill that merges nicely with large "wrap around" headlamps. It's a strong yet luxurious look and no surprise from the folks at Nissan, who are known in the industry as the most aggressive designers out there.

As Nissan's top crossover offering, Murano continues to receive praise from the automotive press, thanks to a tradition of delivering decent fuel economy, quiet interior and superior handling characteristics. Murano receives power from a 260 horsepower 3.5 liter V6 mated to an Intelligent Xtronic automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT). The acceleration is very good while fuel mileage is acceptable for an over two-ton vehicle at 18 city and 23 highway the EPA numbers.

Our Murano SL performed extremely well during the east coast blizzard that rocked the Northeast recently. The full-time Intuitive AWD works in tandem with speed sensitive rack and pinion steering, four-wheel power vented ABS disc brakes and traction control to enhance snow covered road abilities. On the dry road, Murano's standard 18-inch tires on alloy wheels help embrace sharp corners with little or no lean as the four-wheel independent suspension is responsible for its "nimble nature." Another major factor in the favorable ride is Murano being assembled on the technologically advanced Altima sedan platform, and is then tweaked for its size and weight. This all takes place in Los Angeles, CA.

Quiet and comfortable are Murano's strong cabin headliners where leather heated seats, power lumbar support, power driver and passenger seats, Bose nine-speaker stereo with double subwoofer, Sirius Satellite, rear camera monitor, seven-inch color display, push button start, dual panel power moonroof, auxiliary audio/video inputs and a Homelink transmitter are all standard.

Additionally, what used to cost $1,500 more as a "Technology Package" is now standard on Murano SL. Featured are a power liftgate, auto on/off headlights, rain sensing wipers, Bluetooth, LED taillights, privacy glass and heated outside mirrors. As for the other items on the standard list, Murano is truly loaded with amenities which your Nissan dealer will gladly explain upon a visit to the showroom.

The only option was a $2,100 Navigation Package with lane departure, blind spot warning and moving object detection.

As for safety, Nissan's advanced air bag system, including side and curtains for all rows, come standard, as do items like traction control, dynamic control, electronic brakeforce distribution and extra strong side crush zones. The result is an overall vehicle score of four stars in government crash tests.

Important numbers include a wheelbase of 111.2 inches, 3,500-pound tow capacity, 4,142 pound curb weight, 7.4 inch ground clearance, 21.7 gallon fuel tank, and 31.6 to 64 cubic feet of cargo space depending on seats up or down.

Nissan Murano continues as a major contestant in the larger crossover class. It compares well against the competition, and also fares well against the smaller SUVs out there, too. It's definitely worth a close look.

Likes: Front end, power, handling, quiet cabin, roomy.

Dislikes: Side pillar blind spots, may be getting too expensive.

(Greg Zyla is a syndicated automotive columnist)