"Oh, boy," testing director Kim Reynolds said upon seeing it.

"It looks like some weird mechanical mutant," a friend mentioned.

"There's something oddly charming about the CrossCabriolet," noted senior editor Jonny Lieberman. "Nissan might just be onto something here..."

This multifaceted, range-topping Murano is an attention-getter devised to fill a void you never knew existed, and that marketers hope to successfully tap.

Wait, this thing occupies a segment with actual buyers?

Nissan believes it does CrossCabriolet customers will likely call California, Texas, and Florida home; be predominantly female, well-educated, and 40 to 45 years old; and make roughly $125,000 annually. They'll need that money because losing a metal top adds $7220 to the Murano LE AWD's base price, making the CrossCabriolet the most expensive trim in the lineup.

Product gurus also foresee strong sales in the Northeast and Midwest,where convertible owners might cherish sunshine more than their Southern counterparts do. When inclement weather forces tops shut for months at a time, a luxurious crossover with 12.3 cubic feet of cargo room should be useful, Nissan hopes. Some 800-plus buyers want one already, and more than 5000 people have requested information. Quirkiness is becoming more attractive to a growing consumer population. Color us amazed.

Although it could come across as a left-field sort of project, the CrossCabriolet is nothing of the sort. Designers at Nissan's Atsugi center first toyed with the study in 2006. But it wasn't until Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn saw primitive sketches that it became something real. (Industry rumors persist that it was Ghosn's wife who showed a keen interest in the model's production.)

With the green light ablaze, the engineers heavily modified their existing D-platform. Ahead of the raked A-pillar resides a 3.5-liter VQ35DE V-6 making 265 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. It's mated to an Xtronic CVT and returns an EPA rated 17 mpg city/22 mpg highway. An independent front-strut, multilink rear suspension underpins the CrossCabriolet as it does in other Muranos, which means the ride remains well-controlled. It also employs an Intuitive All-Wheel Drive system for traction in a variety of settings.

The 400-pound-heavier cabrio runs about a half-second slower than otherMuranos, taking 7.7 seconds to hit 60 mph and crossing the quarter-mile markin 16 seconds flat at 89.1 mph. Stomp on the brakes from 60 mph, and the 4416-pound CrossCabriolet halts in 125 feet. It may not have felt like an X-Acto knife around our figure-eight course, but its lower CG improves performance by a half second (28.0 seconds at 0.60 g average).

Almost everything behind the firewallwas revised in the name of rigidity. The two remaining doors each grew 7.9inches longer for better rear-seat access. Its B-pillar was reinforced and deleted from the window up to give it a lower profile. A dual-floor panel structure with strengthened pieces stiffens the chassis below the feet. Further bolstering comes from vertical reinforcements placed behind the rear passenger area. There is also a joint bar between the side member and thicker side sill. Cowl shake is next to nil. Close a heavy door and you'll note a solid Bavarian-like thud.

Nissan turned to Magna to construct a hydraulic soft cover. Five sections compose the piece, whose frame is made of aluminum and magnesium. Designers included a skylight above the rear glass to allow ambient light penetration. From almost any angle, the roof's natural curve doesn't look frumpy, say, in a 350Z Roadster kind of way. A chromed hockey-stick beltline accentuates the slim windows even further and finishes at the inlayed 370Z-inspired taillights.

Its refashioned trunk sports a large chrome bar atop the license plate frame and is shaped to maximize cargo room. Somehow all the bespoke design elements don't clash in a horrendous CrossCatastrophic kind of way, but then again, we wouldn't call the final result pretty.

At times, the Nissan can go completely unnoticed. Case in visual point: On L.A.'s coastal streets, a top up CrossCabriolet will barely draw stares. Come to a halt, depress the OPEN button and, 27 seconds later, people turn, point, smile, and usually give thumbs up.

Shuttling passengers feels much the same as in a loaded Murano, except with wind noise and minimal cargo space. With side glass down and top stowed, road noise is no major distraction for front occupants. Things in the back seat, however, start to get hectic at around 40 mph.

Raise speeds and a higher din follows suit, as does air turbulence. But it's not unbearable or annoying; just roll up windows to reduce the severity of both. There's a bit of drone with the top up on the highway, but again, it's not annoying.

Product planners wanted to keep the CrossCabriolet simple, so only one fully equipped edition is available. Feel free to take your time choosing which sunny beach to visit or what golf course to play; passengers won't mind when they're coddled in comfortable seats wrapped in thick Hato Hasi hide. The front thrones have sloped shoulders to give a clear look at what's going on in the back seat, or vice versa.

Because of the lack of a C-pillar, the roomy rear couch has inboard seatbelts duer. Dash layout follows current Nissan lineage with a colorful 7-inch central display screen and six dominant control knobs set immediately below. Matte-finished plastic pieces and diagonally quilted leather portray a sense of quality. Woodgrain patterns are unique to the model and vary with leather choice.

The CrossCabriolet's standard amenities are bountiful and include hard-drive navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, RearView camera, Bose stereo, bi-Xenon headlamps, and dual-zone climate control. There are also heated front seats and steering wheel.

Thinking of the billions of yen and exhaustive engineering efforts needed to create the "world's first all-wheel drive crossover convertible" is as shocking as the CrossCabriolet itself. Yet, even if it fails to fill Nissan's coffers, the convertible will draw opinions and, better yet, a staggering amount of attention to the brand's virtual and brick-and-mortar showrooms. That fact in itself justifies this part crossover, part convertible's very existence. So does it get your thumbs up?


2011 Nissan Murano Crosscabriolet
BASE PRICE $47,200
PRICE AS TESTED $47,200
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, 4-pass, 2-door convertible
ENGINE 3.5L/265-hp/248-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION cont. variable auto
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4416 lb (57/43%)
WHEELBASE 111.2 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 190.1 x 74.5 x 66.2 in
0-60 MPH 7.7 sec
QUARTER MILE 16.0 sec @ 89.1 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 125 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.78 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.0 sec @ 0.60 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 17/22 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 198/153 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 1.02 lb/mile
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