The conference room at Santa Monica's Fairmont Miramar Hotel is filled with bewildered journalists. Nissan's marketers and product planners have brought us here to explain the Murano CrossCabriolet, but it's not working. They point to the screen and slowly repeat the words "no compromise" over and over, but it's like sitting through an advanced calculus class taught by Charlie Brown's teacher. Waw-WAW-waw-waw. Yes, ma'am, we're paying attention, but we just don't understand you.
Then, on the thirty-first slide of Nissan's interminable PowerPoint presentation, we're given a pop quiz. Oh, great. Next to each of the four questions is a grouping of photographs -- a happy family at the beach, couples enjoying their country club, two people skiing, and tall buildings doing whatever it is that buildings do. The bizarro Murano is nowhere to be seen, but the questions ask whether the world's first convertible crossover fits into each scenario. Clearly the teacher isn't paying attention, since the answer key is right on the screen (it says YES! in bright red letters). We run outside and jump into the CrossCabriolet anyway, lest we miss an opportunity to come up with our own answers to Nissan's questions...
QUESTION 1: When the beautiful weather beckons your attention, can the Murano CrossCabriolet offer the perfect response?
It's the middle of winter, but the sun is shining and it's eighteen glorious degrees above freezing in Los Angeles: consider the weather beautiful and beckoning vociferously. Nissan's three photos for this question were all taken at the beach, so we head out in search of sand, sun, and maybe some surfing.
Problem is, there's no roof rack, so bringing a surfboard is out of the question. Ditto a large beach umbrella. Still, the CrossCabriolet's trunk is almost big enough for a sizable cooler -- but almost doesn't count. The cooler instead goes into the back seat, which might be a problem for the happy family of four in the photo but isn't for us. Since it's 8 a.m. on a Friday, we're going to the beach alone.
Putting the top down (a process that's fully automatic but requires that the car be completely stopped) deactivates the navigation system's excellent voice-recognition system. The LCD touch screen is virtually invisible in the morning sunlight's glare, so it can't help us find the beach. Typing an address wouldn't have worked, anyway, since Nissan's heavy-handed lawyers have locked out all useful functions while the vehicle is in motion. Pulling over to enter an address, we take solace in the knowledge that, if we get rear-ended while sitting on the side of an interstate under a shady overpass, the Murano CC can choose to deploy its front, side, or side curtain air bags, and maybe even the two pyrotechnic pop-up roll bars in the rear headrests.
Once under way again, we're fairly cozy, because the CrossCabriolet has heated front seats and a heated steering wheel. Sadly, they become warm only momentarily and then inexplicably stop producing heat. On top of that, since there's no available wind blocker, there's a big breeze coming from the back, even at L.A.'s grindingly slow rush-hour speeds.
Still, like all convertibles, the Murano CC captures the magic of open-air motoring, and arriving at the beach with the top down is a quick reminder that life is good. So, yes, when the weather beckons, this Murano offers a response. It says you can't bring your friends if they're thirsty, because the cooler won't fit in the trunk. And you can't surf. That's a response all right, but it's not the one we were hoping for.
QUESTION 2: Can you take a weekend getaway to the mountains with confidence?
Even though the sun is shining and we're on the beach, there's a winter storm warning in effect -- the perfect time to load up the skis and head to the mountains. This is the quintessential SUV scenario, the one that every marketer has dreamed of -- and the CrossCabriolet should be able to perform this task with ease. After all, it's a crossover (that's where the "cross" in its name comes from), and it has standard four-wheel drive and a powerful V-6.
On the highway slog out of L.A., the CrossCabriolet rides great, its cloth roof insulates the cabin from wind noise, and its continuously variable transmission keeps the engine speed remarkably low. The Bose stereo sounds great, except when you've tuned to FM radio, which sounds like AM. Time to hook up the iPod.
Driving the CrossCabriolet is not significantly different from driving a regular Murano, except when there are other cars around. Our sincerest apologies to the Honda Civic we nearly lane-changed into (the Murano's frameless doors have 46-inch-high upper sills). Oh, and also to the BMW we accidentally brake-checked. You see, the rear window presents itself in duplicate, with two tiny openings that allow the top to fold into five smaller sections. Unfortunately, neither opening allows you to see the cars behind you -- the upper window is positioned for stargazing, the lower for bird watching.
The curvy mountain roads prove no challenge for this Murano, which carves corners just fine on its twenty-inch wheels. In losing its roof, the CC has gained only 229 pounds over a four-door Murano, and with an additional 5 hp and 8 lb-ft of torque, acceleration feels similar. Off the line, that's not a good thing, since the CVT's shortest ratio is more like a second gear. Starting out on a hill as we ascend past 5000 feet, the Murano performs a spectacularly unimpressive eleven-second run to 30 mph and can't pull away from our leadfooted photographer racing us in a four-cylinder Nissan Rogue.
We make it to the ski resort without any problems, and we even return to the city before the roads become too treacherous. However, we don't go skiing -- that would have required skis. The Murano's rear seats don't fold down and there's no pass-through, so our only choice would have been to lower the roof and put the skis upright in back, an impractical solution, at best. Yes, you can take a Murano CC to a mountain ski resort with confidence. Just not with skis.
QUESTION 3: Is the Murano CrossCabriolet ideal for everyday use?
If there's one thing that we appreciate in an everyday car, it's a solid, rattle-free interior -- and that's even more important in a convertible, whose structure is inherently weakened because it lacks a roof. With more cowl shake than a Ke$ha video, the Murano CrossCabriolet features a stunning lack of structural rigidity, the likes of which we haven't seen in years.
We would have gladly forgiven an additional couple hundred pounds of weight gain from the CC if it came in the form of more structural reinforcements. At least the Murano's wiggly interior looks great, with soft, diagonally stitched ivory leather, matte aluminum trim, and glossy, blond wood. It seats only four -- one fewer than the Murano crossover -- and because it's a two-door, back-seat riders can't get in without first unsnapping the fabric ties that keep the front seatbelts within reach of the front passengers.
Once you're seated in the rear, there's more than enough space, despite losing 3.6 inches of legroom, 8.0 inches of hip room, and 7.0 inches of shoulder room versus the regular Murano. The four-door's optional headrest LCD screens aren't available, but for entertainment purposes and an added dose of danger, the left-rear passenger can play with the driver's seat controls, which are located right on top of the seatback. They don't deactivate while the vehicle is moving, apparently because the lawyers were too busy neutering the navigation system and disabling the roof to notice.
Answer: Yes, you could live with it every day, but the Murano CC's cabin is far shakier -- and no more usable -- than any other two-door's.
QUESTION 4: Are you free to enjoy a day out at the country club with room for friends and gear?
The quick answer is no, but rounding up some friends for happy hour and dinner seems like an appropriate substitution. Nissan says that the CrossCabriolet "resonates across gender lines." Kind of like Adam Lambert does? OK, sure! Destination: West Hollywood, a place that's accepting of screaming deviations in traditional gender roles and whose residents may be less apt to make fun of this particular Murano's disco-stick blue metallic pearl paint.
Go-go-gadget Gaga! We crank the tunes and feel like we're in a hot music video cruising down Santa Monica Boulevard. All eyes are fixed on the Murano as we pull into a tight parking spot -- or, rather, try to pull into it. The CrossCabriolet's gargantuan turning radius means we'll need a couple of passes. Then we realize that we need to abort the mission completely when the 53-inch doors prove to be far too long to open without smacking the cars next to us.
We again extend apologies, this time to the Corvette we nearly backed over. The driver, a fashionable man wearing a skintight designer muscle shirt, looked the Murano up and down and then referred to us as a bunch of "big Nancy bottoms." To avoid such abuse, we recommend driving a Murano CC in a slightly more masculine color -- you should probably skip the flaming flamingo pink mica that Nissan offers. Either way, the parking-lot near miss wasn't really our fault. The CC's rear deck is taller than a Vette's roof -- even with the top down, you can't actually see cars behind you, and the backup camera washes out in daylight.
Flustered, we finally find a spot on a side street, push the heavy doors open wide enough to get out, walk over to the meter, and see that it, too, disapproves of the Murano -- the display is flashing FAIL.
It's hard to enjoy your day out when neither the parking meters nor the other parkers are nice to you. In fairness, during the course of the day, many people did stop to take pictures of the CrossCabriolet. One fascinatingly farsighted lady thought it was the prettiest car she'd ever seen. Perhaps the distortion in her half-inch-thick eyeglass lenses performed visual orthodontistry on the CrossCabriolet's underbite front end. Or maybe, like so many other people who stopped to talk to us, she thought it was just a concept car.
As a concept car, there's something cool about the Murano CrossCabriolet -- and we admire Nissan for taking the risk in making it. But when reality hits, it isn't the no-compromise convertible that we were promised -- it's the all-compromise crossover. If you love the way it looks, good for you -- buy one. But don't expect it to be much more useful than any other convertible, and the CrossCabriolet is certainly no substitute for a conventional crossover. If anyone tries to tell you otherwise, put your hands over your ears and say, "waw-WAW-waw-waw." AM
Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet
Price $47,190/$47,690 (base/as tested)
Engine 24-valve dohc v-6
Displacement 3.5 liters (213 cu in)
Horsepower 265 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque 248 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
Transmission Continuously variable
Steering Hydraulically assisted
Suspension, front Strut-type, coil springs
Suspension, rear Multilink, coil springs
Brakes Vented discs, abs
Tires Toyo Proxes a20
Tire size 235/55tr-20
L x W x H 190.1 x 74.5 x 66.2 in
Wheelbase 111.2 in
Track F/R 63.4/63.4 in
Weight 4438 lb
EPA mileage 17/22 mpg
At the Geneva auto show, we talked to Nissan chief creative officer Shiro Nakamura about the Murano CC. It wasn't his baby, that's for sure.
Where did the idea for a convertible crossover come from?
[CEO] Carlos Ghosn was the instigator. He came up with the idea three years ago. The sketches were promising, so we went ahead with it. Murano is an upmarket product, and with this version we were targeting affluent, aged customers.
How much of the car is new?
Pretty much everything behind the firewall had to be done over. Murano is a four-door, of course, so all the bodywork is new, and we had to make the structure stiffer. The top is automatic, so it's practical, and the great advantage over all other convertibles is in rear seating space. -- Robert Cumberford