From the first we found the idea of a Nissan Murano convertible just too weird to be true. It seemed like the sort of unsubstantiated rumor generated by someone on some blog that gets passed around despite its absurdity. Even when we heard official confirmation that Nissan would indeed be creating a drop-top Murano, we still addressed it with the same attitude typically reserved for aliens, Sasquatch and "Elvis Alive on Guam!" We would believe it when we saw it.
Well, here we are sitting in the 2011 Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet, and to be safe, we're keeping our eyes open for a 7-foot furry creature riding shotgun with The King on board a Klingon battle cruiser. Yet just because that weird rumor turned out to be true doesn't make this resulting vehicle any less strange — in concept or appearance.
Nissan took its avant-garde Murano crossover, lopped off the roof and hatchback, removed the rear doors and lengthened the front doors by nearly 8 inches. It might look smaller, but the length and wheelbase are unchanged, as are the continuously variable transmission (CVT) and general interior design. The 3.5-liter V6 receives only a minor power bump. Driving it is therefore a strange sensation. It accelerates like a Murano, it steers like a Murano and the view from the driver seat is just like in a Murano. But then you notice the cowl shake, the wind noise coming through the canvas roof and the fact that rear visibility is actually worse.
There's nothing really with which to compare the Murano CrossCabriolet, since the only other convertible SUV is a Jeep Wrangler. So it would be pretty easy to shrug off the CrossCab as just an oddity destined for a display at some car museum titled, "What Were They Thinking?" Yet once we got beyond the shock of its existence, this strange creature actually started to make some sense. (This might sound weird, but then weirder things have turned out to be true.)
The 2011 Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet weighs 230 pounds more than a similarly equipped regular Murano, so Nissan has been nice enough to throw an extra 5 horsepower and 8 pound-feet of torque into the 3.5-liter V6 for a total of 265 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque. The result is only a modest decline in performance from crossover to CrossCabriolet, with a 0-60-mph run taking 7.9 seconds in the Murano and 8.2 seconds in the CrossCabriolet. The CVT does a good job of keeping this engine in its optimum power band, while avoiding the sort of audible droning typical of this gearless transmission.
Handling is about what you'd expect from a Murano — pretty good for an SUV, with commendable control and steering that's well-weighted, with a decent amount of information transmitted to the driver's hands. Still, compared to just about any convertible car, the CrossCabriolet feels like a lumbering pachyderm around corners. The ride is reasonably compliant, though the standard 20-inch wheels don't exactly make things supple.
Removing the roof of any vehicle — be it a coupe or crossover — weakens the structure. While Nissan reinforced the CrossCabriolet, any bumps on the road surface still send vibrations through the steering wheel and make the windshield header move side to side (and given the big wheels, substantial bumps can seem to appear pretty frequently). Most convertibles have eliminated much of this cowl shake in recent years, so the CrossCabriolet seems like a bit of a relic in this regard. Still, had this vehicle been made 10 or 15 years ago, we probably would've hailed it as a benchmark for structural rigidity.
According to Nissan, "Everyone loves the convertible experience, yet not everyone loves the traditional convertible compromises — limited trunk space, a cramped backseat or none at all." Indeed, anyone who's sat in the backseat of a convertible will concur that it's generally not a pleasant experience. Leg- and hiproom are tight, the seatback is often close to vertical, and headroom with the top up is squished at best.
Not so the CrossCabriolet. It's not just roomy for a convertible; it's roomy, period. A pair of 6-footers can sit front and back, with the latter enjoying ample leg- and headroom, and a reclined seatback angle. Getting back there is pretty easy (as long as the windows are lowered), though the doors are absolutely enormous, which makes tight parking lots a bit tricky. They also open and close with a tinny, hollow thwack.
The trunk gives the Murano another leg up on most drop tops. No, you won't be making a run to Best Buy for that new 52-inch flat screen, but with the top down, we still had enough room for two golf bags stacked on top of each other and an average-size roller suitcase. Only a Chrysler 200 convertible (née Sebring) comes close to matching this, while the Audi A5 Cabriolet is the only similarly priced convertible remotely in the same ballpark.
The CrossCabriolet is different from other convertibles in another key respect as well. Convertibles aren't supposed to provide an elevated, "commanding" view of the road, nor are SUVs supposed to provide the sun overhead and the wind in your hair. In other words, driving the CrossCabriolet is strange. Yet many drivers buy SUVs expressly for that commanding view of the road, and we can certainly see the CrossCabriolet being the answer for those who want a convertible but were previously reluctant to buy one in a world filled with intimidating Suburbans and full-size pickups.
With its tall hind end and thick cloth-shrouded pillars, roof-up visibility is not the CrossCabriolet's finest attribute. A rearview camera is thankfully standard equipment, along with just about every feature available on the regular Murano. Xenon lights, leather upholstery, heated power seats and a navigation system are all included, as is a seven-speaker Bose sound system with an iPod interface, satellite radio, and the ability to automatically alter its volume based on whether the fully automated roof is raised or lowered. All of this stuff explains the CrossCabriolet's astronomical starting price of $46,390 (and makes it a bit of a bargain compared to similarly priced luxury drop tops), but we wonder if a more modestly equipped version wouldn't find a greater share of buyers.
Besides all the gadgets and gizmos included, the Nissan electronics interface tasked with controlling them all is one of the best. Combining the functionality of a touchscreen with buttons and a multipurpose knob, the Murano provides a well-sorted redundancy (along with voice commands) that allows the driver to pick how he/she prefers to get things done. The iPod interface in particular is one of the most successful examples of this technology.
Design/Fit and Finish
The Murano CrossCabriolet looks quite strange in pictures and we can't say the impression is any different in person. The regular Murano is far from conventional in appearance, and when you remove two doors, chop off the roof and give it a coupelike trunk lid, "conventional" is just about the last word that comes to mind. Exacerbating the situation (or escalating it, depending on your point of view), Nissan offers such bold colors as Merlot, Caribbean Teal, and the vaguely pink Sunset Bronze. We'll say this: Buying one of these is guaranteed to get you noticed.
The name "Nissan" may not instill a sense of luxury, but the CrossCabriolet's soft leather and other high-quality materials certainly do. The cabin also benefits from our test car's two-tone color scheme and the extra light coming through the rear glass skylight. However, that light may also translate to toasty shoulders for rear occupants.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2011 Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet is a convertible. It has all-wheel drive and an elevated ride height. It has enough room to comfortably seat four people and a fair-size trunk. Frankly, that sounds like the perfect car to rent while on a Hawaiian vacation. The Wrangler meets that description, too, but the Nissan's exponentially better ride, handling and interior would put it into the "Premium" section of the Enterprise lot at Honolulu International.
While in the lower 48, however, this odd duck should appeal to those who desire a luxury-lined convertible, but who really need more interior and trunk space. Some might also be attracted to its elevated, "commanding" view of the road. We're not sure how many people will fit that description (especially considering the CrossCabriolet's price), but it's certainly not as nutty as we originally thought.
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