Is it THAT awful?
I mean, kinda... Taste is subjective. One only needs to look at the never-ending Coke vs Pepsi debate to see that there are some opinion-based choices that simply have no definite answer.
The automotive industry is FULL of these examples. Plenty of people find the Tesla Model X attractive. The same goes for things like BMW’s “Beaver Teef”, or the current (as of 2020) facelifted Chevrolet line. To MY eyes all of these were changed for the worse. But obviously these designs were tested through focus groups and the solid sales that most of these vehicles still pull in prove that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
There are however, a SELECT FEW automotive designs that are much less polarizing. Universally, the most recent example of widespread hatred is the finally extinct Nissan Murano Cross Cabriolet. Just typing that kind of gives me the creeps. I fear that simply mentioning its name out loud may summon it to return to existence, like saying Candyman three times in front of a mirror.
I am sure that I am not alone in thinking that the team at Nissan who penned the Cross Cabriolet (CrossCab from here on out) must have been insane or at least legally blind. It has become the brunt of nearly ANY automotive design joke in the North American market since it’s debut - a moment in time that the Pontiac Aztek had been waiting on for quite a few years to stop getting ALL the flack.
However, I recently saw a CrossCab on the road and for once I kept myself from dry heaving in effort to give it some thought. I managed to keep the vomit down just long enough to make a pretty solid case that (mostly) changed my opinion of this abomination to industrial design. Truth be told, I kind of wrote this article on a dare that I couldn't defend such a crime to automotive design, so stay with me for a moment… I absolutely think this is a ridiculous vehicle and hate the way it looks - but I'll try to make some sense of it as a product, not a styling exercise.
Firstly, I am not a fan of the CUV craze that the current car market is absolutely obsessed with. I say this from somebody who both owns one and hates the fact that they have not only wiped the landscape of the wagon but now have eradicated half of the car market as well. The CUV craze is a plague to the 3-box car that most of us cut our teeth with and will always prefer over the heavier lifted alternative.
At first it seems inconceivable that CUVs would so strongly disrupt the car market. Generally speaking they don’t ride or handle as well as the cars they are based on. They often are more cramped inside, and get worse gas mileage too. However, I do get it. There are MILLIONS of people who prefer the higher ride height, cargo bay, readily available AWD and perceived security of being up higher. I don’t agree with MOST of this, but I won’t argue what people prefer just because I disagree.
We can not argue that the CUV has taken over and that’s what “everybody” wants in terms of volume sales. Is that enough to give the CrossCab a pass? Hardly. I mean just look at the thing. It’s hideous. It makes so little sense and sacrifices so much of what a normal Murano does well and transforms it into a bathtub that seems to ride way too high with almost zero of the fixed-roof version's utility.
But I suddenly compared it to the previous go-to automotive ugly duckling - the aforementioned Pontiac Aztek. Objectively this was a perfectly suitable vehicle in terms of function. It was a unique take on the then-fresh CUV segment. It drove (mostly) like a car, but had MUCH more usable space inside. You could drive it to work and back every day but if the opportunity arose, it became a box on wheels to swallow up your weekend activity the way a car couldn't dream of. Sure, it was absolutely hideous to look at, but to many the utility and convenience outweighed the curb appeal. And while it was a laughing stock, it sold fairly well for a while. It (on paper) was a good idea, just a hideous visual execution of that idea.
I think our universal dismissal of the Aztek came due to the fact that there were plenty of alternatives. Choices that did what the Aztek did just as well (or close enough) and didn’t look like it was drawn by a 3-year old child with a fever. The emergence of the CUV at the time was starting to build steam and there were plenty of other options that were FAR less embarrassing to be seen in. This is why (to me) the Aztek is truly awful - there was little to no reason it had to look like that. Plenty of alternative CUV’s were doing the same thing with far more attractive designs.
But let’s shift the focus back to the CrossCab. Just as the CUV market was catching up with the car sales market (which has become lopsided in favor of the CUV by now), Nissan blessed us with a convertible version of their Altima-based soft-roader CUV. It was the ultimate answer to the question that you’d imagine nobody asked for. This monstrosity net nearly a quarter million sold over its 4-year run.
I can’t imagine that 225-ish thousand blind people have driver’s licenses and 45 grand to spend on a new car, so there MUST be another reason they sold, right? Of course. It’s because Nissan saw the future and made a vehicle for the people even if the exact buyer wasn’t totally tangible.
This is where the CrossCab beats the Aztek up and down. Even if on-paper the CrossCab was a worse idea, it delivered something that NOBODY else had for sale. It created the ultimate niche vehicle that after it checked the boxes of the emerging dominant market (high ride height, AWD) with the only convertible option in the segment, it would have a monopoly on a niche they created. Sure it may be a seemingly moronic version of the Murano, but in the subjective world if you didn’t vomit at the sight of it, the CrossCab answered a pretty unique list of attributes that couldn’t be matched elsewhere until Land Rover dropped the Evoque convertible years later. The Land Rover got a fair amount of flack too, but unlike the Nissan it was a far more attractive design.
Did Nissan know that CUV’s were on the way to completely dominate sales to the degree they have now ten years later? I’m sure they had an idea - their Rogue sells incredibly well and shows little signs of slowing down. We all saw it and laughed but they made money selling this atrocious rolling pile for four years.
So while I still think it’s absolutely disgusting to look at, I do have a level of respect for the CrossCab for a couple of reasons. It may be ugly but in the current buyer’s market that prefers a tall, easy to drive bland-mobile why not offer that package with a soft roof? Pretty soon there won’t be many CARS for sale anymore and I can’t imagine that means that nobody likes a convertible driving experience from time to time. Also, in a world where so many cars are starting to just blend in and look alike, they certainly designed a vehicle that didn’t blend in. While I still whole-heartedly feel the CrossCab was a design fail, I appreciate a company that has the courage to do something other than just repeating the same dull thing over and over.
Please keep in mind (before you light up the comments) that you can agree with some of what I'm saying here and still dislike this bucket without losing your cred. I'm here to entertain, and to sometimes talk about vehicles that aren't the most covered in the mainstream. So sure - I still hate it. But as mentioned, I do respect it more than a lot of other stuff on the market that doesn’t get NEARLY the hate the CrossCab does.
Let’s just leave it there for now, and shift our unanimous focus and hate to the Tesla Cybertruck…
I write and I know things. I am also the resident motorcycle expert at Everyday Driver - check out the Cycle Report - www.thecyclereport.com - on our YouTube channel. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.