By Barbara & Bill Schaffer When it became necessary for us to make a quick trip to California recently, Nissan lent us a 2015?Nissan Murano. Barbara had reviewed it several months ago after the December 2014 introduction, but this was Bill?s first time behind the wheel. What better way to get to know a new vehicle than driving 750 miles in one day? We had no trouble getting on the road by 4:30 a.m. and it got us through the Portland, Oregon traffic before rush hour started about 6 a.m. Driving south on Interstate 5 is not a great test of handling and performance but it gave us a chance to get familiar with the Murano?s features, redesigned interior and to get deeply involved in a new Stuart Woods audio book. We?ve been enjoying audio books on CDs from our local library for years on road trips, but have recently discovered how we can borrow digital copies from the library and download them into one of our smart phones to play back through the vehicle?s Bluetooth connection. Since it debuted in 2003 as one of the early North American ?crossovers?, the Murano has had a strong visual appeal and Nissan is to be congratulated for the equally striking new design. It?s a product of ?Nissan?s design-led product brand renaissance? and the Nissan Resonance Concept vehicle. The new Murano?s styling is quite dramatic with V-Motion front end, boomerang headlights, floating roof treatment and sculpted body. After seeing photos of the 2016 Nissan Maxima, it appears the fin-like bump in the beltline, just above the rear wheel, may be part of the new Nissan design signature ? it?s kind of the contemporary version of the fin that was so popular in the 1950s and 1960s. As striking as the exterior is, the interior is where the 2015 Nissan Murano really shines. Nissan calls it an ?upscale social lounge,? which reminded us more of a luxury sedan than a mid-level crossover. The driver and front seat passenger are wrapped in soft padded surfaces and elegant wood trim accents. The plush cloth seats in our test vehicle were Nissan?s Zero Gravity seats, in both the front and the outboard positions of the rear seat. Nissan says they are ?NASA-inspired? — we assumed that would make them more comfortable on long trips, like around the earth. We can testify that they were very comfortable for the ?round? trip to California. Leather seats are standard on the SL and Platinum trim levels. Heated seats are available front and rear, along with cooled seats in the front and a cold-morning favorite, a heated steering wheel. The driver also benefits from the Advanced Drive-Assist? Display which includes a seven-inch high resolution screen between the tachometer and speedometer. It can be configured to show a variety of safety, navigation, entertainment and vehicle condition readouts so the driver is more easily in touch with what the vehicle is doing. At the top of the center stack, the available eight-inch touch screen controls the Nissan Connect with Navigation and mobile apps. It?s also the screen for the around-view monitor which shows image 360-degrees around the Murano. This helps make parking or maneuvering in tight areas much easier. To keep the clean and simple look of the interior, designers have reduced the number of switches with most of the controls on the touch screen. We like that they still used knobs for routine functions like volume control and turning on the radio. The 2015 Nissan Murano has a larger cargo area than the previous generation. With the rear seat backs up, the cargo space holds 39.6 cubic feet which easily handled all the extras we carry for road trips, like our emergency bag, a small cooler, tire chains (in the winter) and things we might buy along the way. Had we needed extra space we could simply fold the split rear seat backs and expanded the space to 69.9 cubic feet. All Murano models are powered by a 260-hp, 3.5-liter version of Nissan?s highly rated V-6 engine. This powerful engine is combined with Nissan?s Xtronic continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) driving the front wheels, or optionally all four wheels. The CVTs Adaptive Shift Control allows for simulated manual shifting, which is handy when you get to the curvy roads and use it for engine braking and better control. As the name implies, CVT transmissions have no set gear ratios ? this allows a smoother transition through gear rations to maintain the optimum engine speed and improved fuel economy. With improvements to the drivetrain and 146 pounds less weight, the 2015 Nissan Murano is about 20 percent more efficient than the previous generation at an EPA fuel economy rating of 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. We actually averaged 26.5 mpg driving five to ten miles per hour over the posted speed limit ? to keep up with the traffic flow. Although our SV road trip vehicle didn?t have all the available new high tech features it was nicely equipped with standard features like NissanConnect with navigation and mobile apps, HD Radio, Bluetooth? and streaming audio, rear view monitor, Nissan Intelligent Key? with push button ignition, remote engine start and many other comfort and convenience features. One very useful travel feature was the SiriusXM satellite radio with Sirius XM Traffic? and Travel Link?. When it was time to stop for gas, we?d push the information button on the system, select the fuel prices icon and it would show us the best fuel prices in the area and map out a route to that station. When we got into the San Francisco Bay area, we were able to see which roads had traffic backups and detour to more free-flowing routes. Some of the other available safety technologies we didn?t have include were Rear Cross Traffic Alert, which is very helpful when backing out of a parking space, Predictive Forward Collision Warning, Forward Emergency Braking and our two favorites Intelligent Cruise Control and blind spot warning. We were able to get a good feel of the Murano handling when we drove over the very curvy Hecker Pass on Hwy 152 between Gilroy and Watsonville ? it could be called the drive from ?garlic to strawberries?. The Murano has a nimble, agile feel on the road and is well balanced between comfort and handling so you feel in control, but without being shaken with too stiff of ride. The steering is precise with good feedback and with a comfortable amount of steering boost. The 2015 Nissan Murano is available in four trim levels, S, SV, SL and Platinum, each in front- or all-wheel drive. Prices range from $30,445, including the destination charge, for the front-wheel drive S, to $39,885 for the FWD Platinum. AWD adds $1,600. A fully loaded Platinum AWD is priced at $44,140. Our Murano SV AWD with optional floor mats and the Premium Package (panoramic moonroof and Bose Audio) had a total price of $37,515, including the destination charge. The previous generation of the Murano was a trend setter, and this all new version seems to be following suite. It should be a top competitor in the tough crossover market and well worth a test drive for crossover and SUV shoppers. ?The Cobra Experience? On our drive home we stopped to see friends in Walnut Creek, Calif., and they took us to ?The Cobra Experience? museum, which opened in November 2014 in the East Bay community of Martinez, Calif., about 25 miles northeast of San Francisco. The small non-profit museum is dedicated to the ?promotion, conservation, education and preservation of the cars produced by Shelby American? and the legendary Carroll Shelby. The 25,000 square foot museum had 14 cars the day were toured it, and there is room for at least double that number. The collection did include some Shelby Mustang models and the car that was the precursor to the Sunbeam Tiger. There were only about 1,000 Cobras built so any gathering with this many cars is significant and the collection will continually change to highlight more vehicles. The facilities are first class and include a library, meeting rooms, gift shop and one-of-a-kind 40-seat movie theater with state-of-the-art 7.2 surround sound HD film. ?The Cobra Experience? has scheduled occasional movie night and has other events on the calendar including Cobra Day, their 1st Annual Car Show, on June 6, 2015. The museum, which was founded by Drew and Janet Serb, Lynn and Susanne Park and a group of volunteers, includes displays of Cobra and Shelby oriented literature, posters, photos and historical Cobra artifacts. Information and memberships are available at the museum when it?s open or through the web site at?http://www.cobraexperience.org/ . The museum is currently open the third Sunday for each month from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. or by appointment. It?s located at 777 Arnold Drive, Suite 200, Martinez, CA 94553. The phone number is 925-558-5585.