Nissan 350Z Roadster
THE ZED LOSES ITS HEAD
Nissan’s 350Z works beautifully as a Coupe, but what about the latest Roadster version? Andy Enright reports
It’s hard not to love the Nissan 350Z Coupe. It’s a true gem of a sports car; something that you find any excuse at all to drive. It’s also a car that you find yourself trying to recommend to friends on the flimsiest basis and getting a little protective over. Sportsters this good don’t come around very often. Therefore when Nissan announced a convertible version of the coupe, I must put my hand up to feeling a little let down. Was all that purity and purpose about to be compromised by a flop-topped posemobile?
Developing a car from the outset as a convertible is one thing. Lopping the roof off a coupe is something quite different. What usually happens is that the newly minted roadster is either rather wobbly as a result of losing its roof or it goes to the other extreme and utilises so much bracing and strengthening that it weighs more than an aircraft carrier, dulling performance and slaughtering your fuel economy figures.
The 350Z Roadster feels beefy right from the outset. Test one comes when opening the door. The driver’s door doesn’t sag even a millimetre on its hinges and shuts with a resolute thunk rather than a tinny clang. Nissan put a great deal of store in the 350Z coupe’s development in making sure the car would sell to customers within the first fifty yards of a test drive. The 350Z Roadster is no different. It has the same tight feel, hefty steering and firm ride. So far so good, but it was time to ditch the mechanical sympathy and treat the pretty Nissan to a speed hump. Attacking the concrete wart rather quicker than would usually be wise, the car bucked, settled and carried on with no loss of poise, no worrisome creaks or wobbling windscreen header rails. Impressive stuff.
"The 350Z Roadster feels beefy right from the outset"
This car’s 3.5-litre V6 engine has been overhauled recently, with extensive changes to pistons, conrods, cranks, valve gear and pretty much every other moving part at the business end of this unit. Now developing 309bhp, aided by a twin ram air intake system, the revised engine revs to 7,500rpm (up 500rpm on the old unit) yet will develop 90 per cent of its 385Nm torque figure at a mere 2,000rpm.
So it is that the 350Z Roadster will now get to 62mph in 5.7 seconds – around half a second slower than its tintop sibling – and handles in a pretty similar way. Compare the two cars and you’ll realise that the 3,450lbs at which the Roadster tips the scales is a mere 46lbs on top of the Coupe. Given that this includes an entire suite of electric motors tasked with folding the roof, the additional weight accrued by strengthening the car is minimal.
The roof itself is a neat installation, operated by dropping a central manual latch and then pressing a fascia-mounted button. Twenty seconds later you’re in melanoma mode, the soft top concealed beneath a solid tonneau panel. The 350Z Roadster does look a good deal prettier with the roof down, although the drop-top lines do emphasise its rather bulbous posterior. With the roof up it looks not unlike a Porsche 944 Cabriolet, a canvas turret sitting atop the high-waisted flanks. The latest model benefits from revisions to the front bumper and a lower grille for an aggressive-look to the front end.
Although it never approaches the almost sickening accelerative punch of a Skyline, the 350Z’s engine nevertheless has the ability to punt that car up the road with considerable verve. In reality, the 350Z Roadster rarely feels that fast, the broad spread of torque, the effective wind protection and the supple ride making indecent figures on the speedometer feel remarkably easy. Equipment includes Brembo brakes, xenon headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels and standard Electronic Stability Programme. ESP does a great job at keeping the 350Z on the straight and narrow should you get a little overenthusiastic with the loud pedal. Nissan’s engineering team at Cranfield have worked hard to develop the car for European tastes.
The 350Z Roadster retains the Coupe’s naughty feel. Despite its elegant, contemporary lines, the Z is, at heart, an old-school fun car. The steering, gearchange and pedals are all possessed of a meaty weightiness that encourages strong-arm tactics. Muscle the car into a corner and feel the way the steering loads up briefly before going deliciously neutral as you apply throttle. The accelerator is one of the modern drive-by-wire systems although Nissan have spent thousands making it feel as intuitive as a £7.99 throttle cable. So you get the feel of a traditional gas pedal backed up by all the electronic control systems. The ride is, as you’d expect, firm and with the engine mounted behind the line of the front axle, Nissan have worked hard at achieving near perfect weight distribution. For those who appreciate a bit of mischief behind the wheel, the traction control system can be disabled at the touch of a button.
The attention to detail extends to such matters as the exhaust note, tuned for a pleasantly fruity sound. Genuine criticisms are few. The interior looks an alluring place, with drilled metal pedals and a decent sporting driving position. The materials quality has been upped in the current car along with improvements to the ergonomics but it still isn’t quite enough to give Audi sleepless nights. One nice touch is the way the instruments move up and down with the adjustable steering column. Practicality is a little hit and miss with a glovebox inconveniently located behind the passenger seat balanced against a deep centre cubby with sliding lid and a surprisingly decent boot.
Just occasionally, being proved wrong can be a most cathartic experience. The Nissan 350Z Roadster is a case in point. I got into the car a rather disheartened cynic but emerged with the fuel indicator light on, sunburnt and happy. I’d still opt for the Coupe but won’t snort derisively if I see you coming the other way in this particular drop top.