Structurally, the new Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet is far more than a Murano crossover SUV with the top chopped off, but basically it's not. Introduced at the LA Auto Show November 2010, it was met with skepticism and kidding, for solving a problem nobody knew they had. The story goes that the CrossCabriolet was the brainchild of Nissan's dynamic president, Carlos Ghosn; the idea was met with disbelief, but what the president wants, the president gets.
So here it is, and only time will tell if it's too far out there, or if it's the reinvention of versatility, as Nissan marketing now calls it.
It can't be denied that some people actually do need an SUV convertible. The market for the CrossCabriolet is mostly the Northeast, for those who need four-wheel-drive traction in cold winters, and want open-air enjoyment in hot summers. Call it the first climate change car, built for our new weather extremes. All-wheel drive is standard on the Murano CrossCabriolet.
The CrossCabriolet maintains the silhouette of a Murano, but about four-fifths of the sheetmetal is new, everything except the A-pillars, hood and front fenders. Edgy fender flares front and rear and a gap for off-road ground clearance over the tires make the CrossCabriolet statement: Take me to the boonies, I'm ready. The look is especially striking when the top is down. The Nissan design team wanted to express a feeling of sky and earth, and they have.
Two of the Murano doors have been sacrificed in order to keep the roofless chassis structure strong. The remaining two doors have been widened nearly 8 inches to allow easier entry and exit to the rear seat. The CrossCabriolet is a four-seater, instead of the Murano's five.
The quality cloth top with fabric liner comes in black or beige, and looks sleek with its low profile. Using aluminum and magnesium rails, it goes up or down in 25 seconds. There's a unique narrow skylight that runs the width of the top, and is located just over the rear glass, filtering light onto the heads of the rear passengers and making the interior feel more open.
When the top is down, the tall windscreen and the car's high beltline make passengers feel confined and protected. Even with the windows lowered at 75 mph, there isn't much buffeting. Raise the windows and it's whisper quiet with nothing but the sky above.
The overall lines of the interior, including wonderfully comfortable seats, are sculpted and curved, subtly, so it works. However legroom in the rear has been lost, as space had to be made for the top when it's down. It's a pretty slim 32.7 inches now. Cargo space is slim, as well.
The CrossCabriolet uses the exceptional Nissan 3.5-liter DOHC V6 engine, with all-wheel drive and a second-generation CVT transmission with good logic control, but no manual mode. The ride is very smooth. Handling isn't nimble but neither is it heavy.
The CrossCabriolet feels like it's pulling a lot of weight when you accelerate uphill to maybe 40 mph. But when you get out on the freeway and boot it, all 265 horses behind the wonderful engine pull you smoothly and effortlessly up to 80 miles per hour. We love this engine. Fuel economy is 17/22 mpg City/Highway.
Murano CrossCabriolet certainly is distinctive, because of the top, whether it's up or down. No one looks twice at a Murano any more, but everyone, especially women, looked at our CrossCabriolet as we drove it around Southern California streets with the top down. Regardless of whatever ribbing Nissan has been taking for solving a problem that nobody had, when a carmaker comes up with a car that everybody looks at and smiles at, they feel they've done something right.
Besides, some people actually do need an SUV convertible. They need four-wheel-drive traction in cold winters and want open-air enjoyment in hot summers.
The CrossCabriolet maintains the silhouette of a Murano, but about four-fifths of the sheetmetal is new, everything except the A pillars, hood and front fenders. There's a new front fascia, and also everything from the reinforced A pillars back, especially the doors. (The Murano also features new styling for 2011.)
Two of the Murano doors have been sacrificed in order to keep the roofless chassis structure of the CrossCabriolet strong. The remaining two doors have been widened by 7.9 inches, in order to allow easier entry and exit to the rear seat. There are no B-pillars.
The sides of the car curve upward into the shape of a small J, where they meet the low-profile roofline. J-motion waistline, Nissan calls it, the shape adding both roof height and trunk space. The feature is more pronounced with the top down, as it encompasses the heads of the rear passengers and seats them in a secure small well, without blocking their visibility. Sporty-looking brushed aluminum rollbars rise behind their heads, and pop up another six inches if triggered by rollover sensors.
The pop-up rollbars will smash the skylight if that happens. It's a horizontal slit over the rear passenger's shoulders that opens things up and raises the roof, at least in the occupants' minds.
Edgy fender flares front and rear, and a gap for off-road ground clearance over the tires, make the CrossCabriolet statement: take me to the boonies, I'm ready. The look is especially striking when the top is down. The Nissan design team wanted to express a feeling of “sky and earth,” and they have.
Boomerang taillamps are traced from the Nissan 370Z and Maxima, and split five-spoke 20-inch alloy wheels finish off the styling.
The CrossCabriolet interior begins where the Murano top of the line interior ends, says Nissan. The only option for the entire vehicle is Camel leather, and although it's the same double-stitched leather as the black or beige, the beautiful brown color (with black trim) might just be worth it.
The overall lines of the interior, including the very comfortable seats, are sculpted and curved, subtly, so it works. The forward view of the rear seat passengers is helped by sloping shoulders of the front seats. The trim looks nice in half-matte chrome finish, which we usually just describe as brushed aluminum. There's just enough wood trim, light or darker, on the console and front-door armrests.
From the high driver's seating position, it feels like what it is: a big SUV with no roof. Visibility out the rear with the top up is pinched a bit, but sideview mirror visibility is good. The instruments look clean and sharp in white on black, and all the buttons and knobs on the dashboard and center console are good and functional.
A 7-inch display screen is used by the rearview camera whenever backing up. The rest of the time it's used by the navigation system, which comes with XM traffic.
With the top down, the interior space is sheltered from the wind. “Confined and protected,” Nissan says, describing the feeling. We drove the CrossCabriolet with the windows up, down, half up, and front-rear up-down, and were sheltered all ways. So no screen or shield seems to be needed, behind the rear seats or at the top of the windshield. Turbulence is kept out of the car by the tall windshield, high beltline, and high rear shoulders from the J-motion design. Conversations between driver and passenger are easy. We didn't have any passengers in the rear seat, but even they should be able to talk to the driver without having to shout into the wind. Even with the windows down at 75 mph, there wasn't much buffeting. When we raised the windows, it got whisper quiet even at that speed.
Those backseat passengers are positioned 3.6 inches closer to the front seat, than in the Murano SUV. Rear legroom has been lost, down to a slim 32.7 inches from 36.3 inches, to create storage space for the soft top. The good news is that there's tons of hip room with the rear bench reduced from three seats to two, with a console and two fixed cupholders in between.
The front seatbacks flop forward and the seats slide forward, to enable entry and exit for the back seat. It's not the slickest method we've come across, but it works.
With the top up, there's good trunk room of 12.3 cubic feet. When the top is down it rides on a shelf in the back, so trunk space then gets slashed to 7.6 cubic feet. Cargo space is not the CrossCabriolet's strong point.
The quality cloth top with fabric liner comes in black or beige, and looks sleek with its low profile. Using aluminum and magnesium rails, it goes up or down in 25 seconds, even with the car moving at a few miles per hour, for example if you're in a freeway traffic jam and a thunder shower comes along; or the opposite, and you decide you might as well get some rays while you're stuck in traffic. Expect to attract attention when doing this.
Our first impression was that the steering wheel shook, over rough pavement. It wasn't the old convertible cowl shake, but it was some kind of shake forward of the A pillars. A fellow journalist with whom we shared seat time called it a vibration, occurring at speeds of 40 mph and below. He felt it on smooth pavement, but we only felt it over patches. Once at 50 mph it shook a lot, at least a lot for a brand-new $46,000 vehicle.
The rest of the time, the ride was very smooth. The handling around-town wasn't exactly nimble, but it didn't feel heavy as we thought it might. A bit slow, but it is what it is.
There's no manual mode to the CVT, which can be a dealbreaker in some cars, but not the CrossCabriolet. Nissan seems to have figured out how to program the continuously variable transaxle so it feels more like an automatic transmission and less like a tachometer-jumping CVT. Nissan calls their second-generation CVT Xtronic, using Adaptive Shift Control for sporty response. We like it.
The CrossCabriolet feels like it's pulling a lot of weight, when you accelerate uphill to maybe 40 mph, even with its 248 pound-feet of torque, which peaks at 4400 rpm. That's because it is; it's pulling 4438 pounds, or 230 pounds more than the Murano, distributed at 57/43. That knocks 1 mpg off the fuel mileage, down to 17 highway and 22 city.
But when you get out on the freeway and boot it, all 265 horses behind the wonderful 3.5-liter V6 pull you smoothly and effortlessly up to 80 miles per hour. We love this engine, and always have.
The Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet deserves points for originality, and versatility too. It's ideal if you want 4WD traction in winter and sun on your face in summer. Its high beltline provides a cozy and secure cabin that's sheltered from the wind with room for four. And it comes fully loaded. The soft top is sleek when it's up and goes down in 25 seconds. The V6 engine is wonderful and the transmission is great. It's all you could ask for, first time out for a brave new genre.
Sam Moses filed this NewCarTestDrive.come report from Portland.