A top-down standout
Here’s a good thing: While most of the nation shivers, primo convertible weather is under way in Arizona.
Top down is the best way to go, especially in a sports car as sweet as the Nissan 350Z Roadster. With the roof off, all senses take part in the adventure, and all the better to hear the rich exhaust note of the slick V-6.
Here’s the logical next step in the remake of the storied Z-car, which Nissan reintroduced so successfully last year as a hatchback coupe. The new Z draws heavily on the spirit of the original Datsun 240Z, although it never came as a convertible.
The 350Z designers reputedly created the coupe from the beginning to be produced as a convertible, and the extra effort shows. The Roadster has a solid structure with essentially none of the extra wiggle that haunts many convertibles. There’s no dashboard shake or body flex caused by removal of the roof structure, even over the roughest roads.
Handling remains nimble, and the steering is still sharply responsive. Comfort and performance continue to co-exist nicely.
But something also remains that is not so welcome: a chintzy interior. Flimsy covers and cheap-feeling plastic surfaces detract from the otherwise refined convertible, just as they do in the coupe.
Still, it’s a great ride in a roadster that does everything a sports car is supposed to do.
What it is
The convertible version of Nissan’s latter-day Z-car, another tour de force for an automaker that continues on an upswing. The Z Roadster comes in two models, the standard Enthusiast and the fully decked-out Touring. The test car was an Enthusiast, which had plenty of standard features.
Nissan’s ubiquitous 3.5-liter V-6 gets extra muscle in the Z-car, rated at 287 horsepower and 274 pound-feet of torque. The rear-drive Z responds quickly to throttle input and accelerates smartly, accompanied by that smooth baritone from the dual exhaust tips.
Performance ranks up there with the best of the midprice sports cars, even though the base Roadster weighs in at a beefy 3,428 pounds. That’s a lot for a small two-seater, although the Z engine seems able to overcome the heft.
The V-6 is hooked up with a sporty, close-ratio six-speed that shifts like a proper performance car, clicking into gear with a twist of the wrist. An automatic is available in the Touring version.
The Roadster performs with all the agility of the coupe, losing none of the spark nor any of the solid comfort. This is a car built for back-road fun as well as long drives.
The chassis feels very stiff, the Roadster staying nicely composed through tight turns. The suspension is firm but compliant, soaking up irregularities without harshness.
Highway manners are smooth and effortless, though concrete-road surfaces produce quite a bit of noise f rom the performance tires. Otherwise, the cabin feels snug, with just a bit of wind roar from the unlined convertible top.
With the top down, driver and passenger stay unruffled behind the arching windshield. The power top goes up or down quickly with the touch of a button.
There’s always a stylistic compromise when turning a beautiful fastback coupe into a convertible. The chiseled good looks of the coupe are evident, but with the top down, the rear deck starts to look long and bulbous, even with the raised aerodynamic humps behind each seat.
The stowed top hides under a hard cover that is well-integrated with the trunk.
The Roadster looks good with the roof up, although the fabric top looks lumpy, not nearly as taut as the European competition.
Here’s where the Roadster, as well as the coupe, could use some work. For instance, there’s a fairly large cover over a center hatch (which becomes an opti nal GPS navigation system in the Touring) that is flimsy and hard to close.
Richer materials and more attention to detail would go a long way toward making the Z a total standout.
There are some good things in here. The tachometer is set in the middle like a proper performance car, and the gauge pod moves up and down with the steering wheel adjustment, always appreciated by shorter or taller drivers.
The seats are comfortable and supportive.
The $33,850 base price on the Enthusiast included all the necessary power and convenience features, while a fully equipped Touring model, with upgraded audio system, jazzier seats, optional GPS and other features, can land you in the $40,000 range.
The test car included just one extra, floor mats at $80, which brought the total to $33,930. That’s a lot of car, especially when you compare it with Audi TT, BMW Z4, Lexus SC430, Porsche Boxster, Honda S2000, Chevrolet Corvette and Mercedes-Benz SLK320.
An excellent transition from sports coupe to convertible continues the success of Nissan’s enjoyable 350Z.