The new Nissan Murano might be the first sport-utility people buy because it looks good.

If they think it looks good, that is. Some will think it's a bit strange. Not me.

By nature, SUVs are boxes. Some, like the Ford Explorer and Chevy TrailBlazer, manage a bit of rugged appeal. Others, like the Mercedes-Benz ML and Lexus RX, simply rely on their luxury badges to turn heads. The just-available Honda Element is purposely ugly.

Unlike other SUVs, the Murano seems to have checked out its looks in the mirror before ducking out of the garage.

Nissan designers call it "sculpture in motion." I'm not sure what they mean, but the Murano does have an aerodynamic, flowing look that gets second glances. The front grille is the key element, and it wraps around to the sides of the vehicle. The car gets standard 18-inch wheels.

In back, the huge taillights, tall bumper and dual exhausts accent the look.

Other automakers seem to de-emphasize design when they create sport-utilities. Thankfully, Nissan doesn't.

What's best is that the Murano stylists continued the effort inside the vehicle. Our silver test vehicle had a copper-colored interior that was fresh and inviting. It was tasteful, but not underdone, thanks to plentiful use of bright metal trim (on the shifter, the steering wheel, and the pedals).

Seats were wide and firm. The Murano seats five adults comfortably.

We drove the all-wheel-drive SL version with a base price of just under $30,000. But options boosted the sticker to nearly $38,000. Additions included leather seats, Bose audio system, navigation system, adjustable pedals, sunroof and more. Added safety features included Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) and traction control. Standard are anti-lock brakes and dual front, side and side-curtain air bags.

Another option, the tire-pressure monitoring system, impressed me. A dash light and a high-pitched sound told me something was wrong, although the Murano was driving fine. I stopped at a station, and found a large screw had punctured one of the rear tires. Installing the spare was no problem, although I was disappointed to see that only a temporary tire is available.

When all four tires were sound, the Murano was a joy on the road. Power comes from Nissan's 3.5-liter V-6. That's the engine found on everything from the Pathfinder SUV to the 350Z sports car. It's a good power plant, making 245 horsepower, although it's probably near its upper limit here.

On a long road trip between Las Vegas and the Bay Area, the Murano easily coasted at highway speed, and still had plenty of power for passing. It proved a comfortable companion on that 500-mile trip.

The automatic transmission is one of those continuously variable ones (CVT), now appearing in several new models. They work seamlessly, although it's a bit strange not feeling the car move from gear to gear.

The second-row seats fold flat to gre atly expand the Murano's cargo space, and you can pull a switch to fold them from the rear cargo area, which is very convenient.

The combination of the Murano's good looks, its solid ride and its usefulness ought to assure it a spot in the saturated SUV market.