Chris Walton, Chief Road Test Editor
We experience a whole bunch of emotions the first time we get into the 2011 Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet AWD and drop its big, power-operated top. It's a crossover, it's a convertible, it has all-wheel drive and peculiar proportions! It certainly is a vehicle without precedent and, maybe, without a future.
The Nissan Murano convertible also reminds us of the doomed Chevrolet SSR, which was supposed to be a truck, sports car and roadster all rolled into one. It weighed as much as three vehicles — and GM had the gall to call it a Camaro replacement. Nissan isn't making any sweeping claims about the 2011 Murano CrossCabriolet, though the company is trying to position it as the Nissan Murano for empty nesters.
We're not quite to the golf-shirt-and-Rockports stage of life yet, but we're going to try living with the 2011 Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet for a week anyway.
As we sit in the comfortable, eight-way power-heated leather driver seat and scan the Murano CrossCabriolet's well-appointed interior, it's apparent this is more than a two-door Murano with a canvas top. The materials throughout are obviously high quality — higher than in a normal Murano. The fit and finish borders on outstanding. It could pass for an Infiniti.
The standard equipment list on the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet, which is only sold as a single model for 2011, is exhaustive. The Murano convertible comes with Nissan's intelligent key system for its doors, ignition, trunk and convertible top, while its lighting array includes bi-xenon headlights and LED taillights.
As the driver seat warms our back and buns, the heated steering wheel warms our hands, and a dual-zone automatic climate control system takes care of the rest of the cabin. The wood surrounding our test vehicle's rich Camel-colored leather (which costs $500 over the CrossCab's standard leather treatment) is actually the real thing.
You needn't pay extra for a factory navigation system to guide you and the 2011 Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet to remote coastal highways, as Nissan's hard-drive-based system with 9.3GB of music storage is standard, and it includes XM-based traffic updates, a rearview camera and Bluetooth audio streaming. A USB port for your iPod is part of the deal, too.
As we bask up front, we're secure in the knowledge that our rear passengers are also well looked after in the 2011 Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet. Although the doors are heavy (they're 8 inches longer than a normal Murano's front doors) and can be cumbersome in tight parking stalls, they, along with the front passenger seat's electromechanical release, provide good access to the twin rear buckets. We do wish that the front seat was motorized and had a memory button (like the driver seat), but it slides quickly and tilts back easily enough.
Compared to a four-door Murano, the CrossCab offers just 32.7 inches of rear legroom (versus 36.3 inches), 51.7 inches of shoulder room (versus 58.7 inches) and 38.7 inches of headroom (versus 38.1 inches), but there's still ample room for adults to get comfortable.
Riding in the rear is also a safe proposition, as the CrossCabriolet includes six airbags (including innovative curtains housed in the doors rather than roof rails) and pop-up rollbars.
We expect to appreciate the pairing of Nissan's 3.5-liter V6 and its second-generation belt-and-pulley automatic (a.k.a., CVT) based on our tests of a Murano LE and the 2011 Nissan Quest, which use the same drivetrain. In the CrossCabriolet, the VQ35DE V6 is rated at 265 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque — a gain of 5 hp and 8 lb-ft over the hardtop Murano.
Here again, this engine and transmission work so well together that we've begun to believe that continuously variable gear ratios are actually a good idea. Nissan has figured out the engine must have enough torque to chug along at low rpm, and the transmission must be programmed with quick reactions to avoid sluggishness when the driver demands response. Done and done.
Whack the throttle to the floor, and by 60 mph the tachometer is pegged at the engine's 6,500-rpm redline, where it stays until the end of the quarter-mile. We clocked the 2011 Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet at 8.2 seconds to 60 mph (7.9 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) with a 16.1-second, 88.9-mph quarter-mile. It also stopped from 60 mph in 124 feet. Those performances are right on par with the Murano LE, despite the fact that the CrossCabriolet is 377 pounds heavier.
Even more surprising is that the CrossCabriolet is slightly faster through our slalom course at 59.9 mph to the Murano LE's 59.2-mph best. On the skid pad, however, the conventional Murano beats its open-top sibling with a 0.79g lateral acceleration figure versus 0.73g.
Later, we drive the Murano CrossCabriolet through the twisting hills of Malibu and on the crowded, choppy freeways of Los Angeles. The CrossCab has both a compliant ride and an ability to deliver confidence in corners. Cowl shake (mostly at the top of the windshield) is evident, which shouldn't come as a surprise on a roofless application of a midsize crossover SUV.
However, we're pleased to report that measured sound levels aren't that much above the tin-top Murano's. At a 70-mph cruise, the decibel level is 68.3 in the CrossCabriolet versus 66.9 dB in a normal Murano; with the top down, the noise level goes up to 70.7 dB.
Good aerodynamics likely help here. In spite of the impressive sound readings on our deserted drag strip, the roar of traffic through the canvas is definitely apparent in the real world, especially when driving under overpasses.
Road noise aside, the 2011 Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet is as slick an execution of a crossover-to-convertible transformation as we ever could have expected. You'll note that the production convertible does not have the giant rollbar seen in the initial renderings we published last year. Nissan's designers and engineers managed to reinforce the Murano chassis enough to avoid the dreaded basket handle.
Nor does the CrossCab have an unsightly bustle of a soft top stacked behind rear passengers' heads. Nissan designed the low-profile convertible top to stow neatly (albeit in 24 agonizing seconds) beneath an integral, hard tonneau cover with the push of a single button — auto latching included. You can even lower the top from outside by pressing and holding the button on the driver's exterior door handle.
We love the CrossCab's pillarless look either with the top raised (which takes 27 seconds) and all windows down, or with everything down. And other than the thigh-size A-pillars, outward visibility is remarkably good because of the slender roof, B-pillarless design and the large, deeply contoured rear windows.
When the Murano convertible's top is up, you have 12.3 cubic feet of trunk volume — enough for three golf bags and a medium-size roller bag. With the window-shade-style luggage divider in place to allow the top to drop, you still have 7.6 cubic feet of space available — room for one golf bag and that same roller bag.
By week's end, we've moved past the initial strangeness of the 2011 Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet. Sure, a four-seat crossover convertible is an odd concept, but it truly offers something not available in any other vehicle: comfortable top-down motoring in a vehicle with the ride height and spacious passenger quarters of a crossover SUV. Moreover, the CrossCab has an excellent driveline, a smooth highway ride, good handling and luxurious amenities.
So what's to stop us from buying one of our own? Well, the price. The 2011 Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet lists for $47,200, before we even add the Camel interior option or floor mats. Our CrossCab tester rings up a total bill of $47,885. Yow.
A comparably equipped 2011 Nissan Murano LE costs about $42,000, so the privilege of owning the convertible is $6,000.
Still, we see proof of the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet's uniqueness every time we drive it. Random strangers simply have to know, "Who makes that? Is that a production car? Can I look inside? That is so cool." Of course, everybody asks, "How much? And when we tell them "$47K," everybody pauses and strokes their chin. But one early adopter says, "I'm going to get rid of my Xterra and get one of these. When does it arrive at dealers?"
"Springtime," we say.
Of course, there's really no telling how well this incomparable vehicle will sell (Nissan's hoping to move as many as 5,000 a year), but if our informal polling is any indication, the 2011 Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet might find its niche. Nissan just might have taken a risk that will ultimately pay off.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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