Big brother to Nissan's popular Qashqai crossover, the Murano is a luxury sports utility vehicle with all the trimmings - and it has been given a radical makeover for 2009. Immediately recognisable as a Murano - replete with geometric front grille, sculpted flanks and a sweeping roofline - the SUV boasts a sleeker, more aerodynamic shape. Squared-off shoulders and bold wheel arches housing 18-inch alloys are linked by a scalloped section at the bottom of each door to create contrast with the natural curves of the rest of the vehicle, and a higher waistline emphasises the coupe-like aspects of the car. The side window camber has been rounded off to accentuate the SUV's sporting characteristics, and the up-sweep of the triangular rear window reinforces a visual connection with the Qashqai. The distinctive full-width chromed front grille has been tweaked for dramatic effect, and houses new quad-cylinder HID projector headlamps designed to provide a wider view. At the rear, a new triangular combination of LED brake and tail lights bisect the tailgate and a rear spoiler with an LED stop light mounted above the rear window give the rear a more integrated look. The Murano may not be the prettiest SUV around, but it's a commanding package, and a concept that's more radical than its main rivals, the Lexus RX range. Although the Qashqai (HK$236,800) offers style on a budget, Nissan has focused on giving the Murano a more upmarket blend of luxury and performance. Modern cabin design offers executive comfort, and the interior - available in two leather colour options to complement the seven exterior shades - is a stylish blend of quality materials and distinctive design. There's a roomy, lounge-like atmosphere and a double sunroof with power shades helps to create a sense of openness in both the front and rear sections of the cabin. Aluminium highlights set off the discreetly grained surfaces and an abundance of soft materials offers tactility. More luxury appointments come in the form of double-stitched leather seats, dual-zone climate control with plasma cluster ion air conditioning, and a power driver's seat that memorises seat, steering wheel and door mirror positions for two drivers. The dash has a new three-dial configuration with bright ring illumination and a white-on-black design to enhance visibility for the driver. Keyless entry and a push-button start are additional sporty touches. Yet the Murano remains a practical load carrier. The rear door can be opened and closed from the front and will stop if there's an obstacle in the way. The 60/40 fold-flat rear seat increases luggage space at the flick of a switch and can be returned to an upright position by pressing a button in either the front seating area or the luggage compartment. The boot is generous at 402 litres and opens up to 838 litres with the rear seats folded. The new Murano is based on Nissan's latest D platform, which features more high-strength steel, extra cross-members and other body stiffening elements, and benefits from increased torsional rigidity and a more refined suspension system. The high-strength cabin offers greater protection in the event of front and side impacts, and the front of the vehicle incorporates many impact absorption features for greater pedestrian safety, Nissan says. As well as the front, side and curtain airbags, the 2009 model boasts a factory-fitted colour display with a front-left blind-spot camera and rear parking camera. Nissan's All Mode 4x4-I all-wheel drive system continuously monitors wheel spin and adjusts the best front and rear torque split to provide smooth cornering on slippery roads. Under normal driving conditions, much of the torque is sent to the front wheels, but up to 50 per cent can be channelled to the rear wheels if the surface is sufficiently slick. The vehicle dynamic control automatically controls brake pressure for each wheel and engine output to boost stability. Independent MacPherson struts up front and rear multi-link suspension - extensively employing the use of lightweight aluminium for a reduction in sprung weight - enhance ride comfort, and a new speed-sensitive power steering system delivers a more linear response at any pace. Cabin noise has been reduced through additional sound absorption material on the car's floor and in the inner wheel arches. The rear exhaust box has been re-profiled to act as a diffuser and careful aerodynamic work beneath the car has reduced under-floor turbulence. The Murano's performance is as beefy as its looks, despite its chunky set and 1,865kg kerb weight. The fact the five-door crossover borrows its power plant from the Nissan 350Z sports car no doubt helps, and the 3.5-litre V6 engine produces a healthy 260bhp at 6,000rpm, with smoother and quieter acceleration than the outgoing model. And although the Murano's hardly a track car, Nissan's Advanced Xtronic continuously variable transmission automatic six-speed gearbox packs enough punch for a decent drive, and the newly-adopted adaptive shift control works well to optimise performance and fuel economy, adjusting shift timing by monitoring personal driving styles and the driving environment. As a luxury SUV with a sporting edge, the Murano delivers in almost every respect, and it's a worthy contender for its Lexus rivals. But for my money, the Nissan Qashqai is a better all-rounder, more affordable, just as sharply styled and, as a five-seater SUV for the city, just as capable. AT A GLANCE: Nissan Murano What drives it? A 260 brake-horsepower, 3.5-litre, DOHC, 24-valve V6 with continuously variable transmission linked to a six-speed automatic gearbox with manual shift mode. How fast is it? It sprints to 100km/h in eight seconds and has a top speed of 208km/h. How safe is it? Ten airbags, active head restraints, anti-lock brakes, brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution, vehicle dynamic control, traction control, limited-slip differential, an immobiliser and a zoned body structure make the Murano one of the safest SUVs around. How thirsty is it? The Murano is said to suck a litre of fuel every 14.6km on a combined cycle in Japanese tests. How clean is it? Not very - it spews 261 grams of CO2 per kilometre, the fug equivalent of 2.1 Smart ForTwos. Available: It comes with a five-year warranty and a price tag of HK$412,800 from Honest Motors (tel: 2262 1045).