When automakers innovate, there is always a bit of risk involved. But there is also the potential reward of building a breakthrough vehicle. In recent years, Nissan has shown its willingness to face these risks, releasing innovative vehicles such as the GT-R and the Leaf. But the 2011 Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet represents a risk with little reward, a vehicle that is more likely to sit alongside the Pontiac Aztek as a legendary design mistake.
The Murano CrossCabriolet does count as a new type of vehicle, a crossover with a convertible top. As such, you can ride with the top down while sitting up high. It's kind of like sitting in an open-top double-decker bus. All the Murano CrossCabriolet needs is a tour guide, pointing out local sights while delivering a spiel through a scratchy microphone.
The Murano CrossCabriolet cuts a unique profile.
The biggest design problem with the Murano CrossCabriolet comes from changing a hatchback crossover to a convertible. Losing the hatchback means instituting a trunk, a place into which the convertible top can fold. Without the hatchback, the Murano CrossCabriolet ends up looking like a very fat coupe.
The top is fully power-operated, and takes up a chunk of trunk space when folded down. Nissan includes a removable cover in the trunk that shows just how much space is available for cargo.
The extra window strip in the convertible top does not increase rear visibility for the driver.
When the top unfolds, its last little bit of business, attaching to the top edge of the windshield, occurs with a scary amount of force. It comes down hard enough to take off the fingers of anyone foolish enough to leave a hand in the way. The Murano CrossCabriolet could also use a single button to raise or lower all the windows, as found in many other convertibles. As it is, the driver has to work four switches, and the automatic, one-touch switches are only for the front windows.
Appropriately for a jumbo convertible like the Murano CrossCabriolet, the suspension and drivetrain are designed for comfort, not speed. The car uses Nissan's 3.5-liter V-6, producing 265 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque, paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
The engine is solid, but not very efficient by today's standards, getting only 17 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. Nissan has used this engine for many years and in a wide variety of vehicles. It creates enough power to move the Murano CrossCabriolet without fuss.
The 3.5-liter V-6 engine delivers adequate power, but is not the most efficient.
Nissan's CVT is the best in the business, and is the saving grace of the Murano CrossCabriolet's drivetrain. The incredibly smooth power delivery makes for comfortable acceleration, unmarred by harsh gear changes. Although some Nissan models have virtual shift points programmed into the CVT, the company did not bother with that for the Murano CrossCabriolet. Instead, it offers a low range for engine braking.
The soft suspension smoothes out the rough patches, and the standard 20-inch wheels mean a near-luxury ride. The Murano CrossCabriolet trundles along easily, although wind noise intrudes on the cabin even with the top up.
As it's a special vehicle, Nissan offers the Murano CrossCabriolet in only one, fully loaded trim. That means all-wheel drive comes standard, which should help it retain grip in slippery conditions. Nissan also includes a differential lock in this system, so with a push of a button you can ensure that power is going to all wheels.
Fully loaded also describes Nissan's array of cabin electronics. A touch-screen LCD in the center of the dashboard shows navigation, audio, and phone systems. At its base is a very usable controller, a wide dial with directional buttons mounted on top. This system makes it very easy to enter menu items or alphanumeric addresses.
You can see nationwide weather information in the Murano CrossCabriolet.
The hard-drive-based navigation system is old stock for Nissan, but is still ahead of much of the competition. The maps show good resolution, and in perspective view feature a few 3D-rendered buildings and landmarks for urban areas. Route guidance works well, but the system lacks lane guidance for freeway ramps and junctions.
The points-of-interest database includes Zagat ratings for restaurants, a nice feature, although the system only lists Zagat restaurants by city in alphabetical order, making it tedious to find those in your immediate location. The maps show traffic conditions, and dynamically suggest routes based on this data. Weather information is also available on the LCD, and the system will even give pop-up alerts for severe weather close by.
The stereo offers a solid set of audio sources, including iPod integration, Bluetooth audio streaming, and music from CDs that you've ripped to the onboard hard drive. XM Satellite Radio has a feature that lets you save currently playing artists, and will alert you when songs by that artist are playing on another channel. Nissan has yet to integrate Pandora or other online music apps.
The XM Satellite Radio implementation lets you track favorite artists or songs.
The eight-speaker Bose audio system sounded particularly good, with excellent definition. Listening to a track with a single acoustic guitar, we could hear each string bending. But this audio system does not seem tailored for a convertible, and gets overwhelmed by road noise with the top down. The system could use speakers mounted on the seat shoulders to improve the audio production, something Bose did for the Infiniti G37 Convertible.
The 2011 Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet relies on technology refined by the automaker over the past five years, including the solid VQ-series engine, CVT, and cabin tech suite. This technology, while generally very good, is beginning to get stale, the engine in particular falling behind those of other automakers pushing efficiency.
But what's most difficult to get over about the Murano CrossCabriolet is the way it looks. Some people might like it, and more will succumb to the pleasures of open-top driving. But don't expect it to open the floodgates for convertible crossovers from other manufacturers. The Murano CrossCabriolet is a blip on the automotive design radar, a one-off that probably won't see too many years of production.
|Model||2011 Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet|
|Power train||3.5-liter V-6, continuously variable transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||17 mpg city/22 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||17.8 mpg|
|Navigation||Standard, with hard drive and traffic data|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard, with address book and voice command|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single-CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Bluetooth streaming audio, onboard hard drive, USB drive, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Bose 8-speaker audio system|
|Driver aids||Rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$47,335|