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Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet combines open air with utility

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Convertibles aren't known for their utility. Cars that can be driven as open-air vehicles or hermetically sealed at the push of a button don't top the shopping lists of many moms who've got groceries to haul and kids to shuttle to skateboard lessons.

A two-door ragtop with a trunk that can accommodate only golf clubs just isn't practical. But with its new Murano CrossCabriolet, Nissan is hoping to change the perception that a vehicle of leisure can't also be utilitarian.

A soft-top version of its most high-end, all-wheel-drive crossover, the Murano CrossCabriolet is a spirited-yet-cushy mom mobile for those who value adventure and luxury — and sharing those experiences with the ones they love.

That was the plan for the week I had the CrossCabriolet, which arrived just as I was prepping for a weekend of rocket camp with the uniformed hordes of L.A.-area Cub Scouts.

The vehicle I was testing was an early production version of what will be in showrooms later this month. The $47,200 CrossCabriolet is available in a single trim with different color options.

Powered with the same 3.5-liter V-6 as the hardtop Murano LE and equipped with all-wheel-drive standard, the convertible is a two-door four-seater, whereas the hardtop is a four-door five-seater.

Removing the rear passenger doors gives the vehicle a cleaner, more elegant profile, while removing the middle rear seat gives travelers in the back more space and comfort.

It speaks well for the vehicle that despite the annoyance of having to fold down the front passenger seat to enter the rear bucket seats, my 8-year-old son preferred riding in the back 40. In 99% of the vehicles I test, he calls shotgun.

The only aspect he didn't like about the rear seat was the belts, which fastened on the door side of the back seat instead of the center, which, on the CrossCabriolet, is occupied by cup holders.

An added bonus for those traveling in the back is an up close and personal view of the convertible rooftop in action. This takes place at the push of a cockpit toggle switch, which must be held down the entire time the roof is moving.

Nissan says the canvas roof on the CrossCabriolet is the largest convertible top of any production vehicle on the market. Unfolding in five stages, it's a Transformers-esque engineering feat that takes less than 30 seconds. Unfortunately, it stopped working toward the tail end of my week with the vehicle.

It was April Fool's Day. No joke. Two days earlier, I'd successfully loaded the trunk with enough juice boxes, pasta and other foods to feed 30 people for an entire weekend without incident and with room to spare. It was only after I stuffed the trunk with squishy sleeping bags that the mechanism got confused.

Arriving at our campground to unpack, I pressed the toggle to drop the top, but it didn't fully retract. The top section of the trunk that serves as the roof's nesting place was jutting out toward the back, prompting one scouting dad to say it looked like a "rad spoiler."

There really isn't a better place for a car to malfunction than at a Cub Scout gathering filled with handy dads carrying toolkits, some of whom attempted to help with my roof, to no avail.

Pushing the toggle to put the roof back up didn't have the desired effect. Even worse, the electronic buttons to access the trunk also stopped working. And the trunk wasn't accessible through the rear seats because they do not fold down. The back-seat headrests are fixed in place as a safety mechanism in case of a rollover.

There is no separate warranty for the convertible roof; it's part of Nissan's standard three-year warranty on the Murano CrossCabriolet. A Nissan spokesman said none of the other early production CrossCabriolets in the field has experienced the roof problem, adding that my vehicle was not "100% production correct." Engineering refinements have since been made, he said.

As much as I applaud Nissan for its willingness to break new ground and take risks, there may be some bugs to work out with the convertible aspect of its CrossCabriolet, which was otherwise impressive.

Its interior is appointed with the usual luxuries that make life on congested roads bearable, all of which are stock: heated leather seats and steering wheel, a navigation system, Bluetooth hands-free phone calling and eight-speaker Bose audio, among other things.

The CrossCabriolet is fairly quiet, but not fixed-steel-roof quiet. Driving under overpasses, I was aware of road noise. Driving through L.A.'s many potholes, on the other hand, I was barely cognizant of the bumps because the independent strut front suspension and multi-link independent suspension in the rear were so effective in absorbing them.

Even with its convertible roof crooked and unclosed, as I drove through swarms of uniformed scouts at the Firestone Boy Scout Reservation in Brea to swap the CrossCabriolet for a replacement car, the last words I heard were from a fellow mom: "Oh my gosh. That's so cool!"

Fix the roof mechanism, and I agree.

susan.carpenter@latimes.com

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