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Car reviews - Nissan - 370Z - Roadster

Our Opinion

We like
Styling, performance, improved cabin, value, steering weight and feel, relative practicality, roof operation, V6 note, advanced gearbox options, high safety kit, equipment levels
Room for improvement
Clunky roof operation, potential 19-inch ride quality on poor roads, road noise with roof up, no steering wheel adjustment, no digital speedo readout, small boot

1 Mar 2010

NISSAN’S just-arrived two-seater convertible is the latest in a long line of roadsters that dates back to the Datsun Fairlady of the 1960s.

But the new Z34 370Z Roadster’s immediate predecessor, the Z33 350Z Roadster, was not one of our favourites, feeling slower, noisier and quite a little bit floppier than the raw 350Z Coupe that burrowed into our hearts and revived Nissan’s long-running Z-car series.

So here we are, in a car that – frankly – would not have to do much to be way better than the old ragtop. We reckon Nissan knew as much, because even though the 370Z Roadster sticks to the same basic recipe, the bits that ruined the old convertible against its closed-car sibling have come in for a total rethink.

Take the styling – in the 370Z Roadster the integration of a new and longer fabric roof has fixed the crook proportions of the old car despite the newie having significantly shorter dimensions. As a happy outcome, while the 350 looked like a Nissan convertible with the roof off a Goggomobile sat upon the window line, the replacement was obviously designed from the start to proudly show off its protection erection.

The whole shebang works better too due to a new electro-hydraulic mechanism that does not require you to latch the top to the windscreen header to seal the roof shut. The button, too, is no longer hidden near the driver’s knee. Sited in the centre console where the passenger can also have a go, Nissan has even gone one better by allowing top-down operation remotely from outside the car via buttons on the door handles. Handy.

Furthermore, the roof’s material from inside the car no longer looks like miniature scaffolding, lifting the sports Nissan’s ambience up a notch or two.

The news keeps on getting better, because – thanks partly to that very Ferrari California-esque big bustle back and glass window deflector – roof-down conversation is now entirely possible at speed (although the passenger suffers less wind noise intrusion that the driver for some reason), while things get quieter and even less blustery by lifting the side windows.

Unfortunately, almost all this good stuff is ruined by one of the clunkiest, car-rocking top operations in modern convertible history, sounding like somebody had thrown a bunch of saucepan into the works. The racket the roof makes on the move feels like it won’t last a lovely day’s outing, let alone a season or seven. The hard-won rise in quality is also seriously undermined.

This may tempt you to keep the roof up at all times, but that won’t last because the amount of road drone permeating the cabin with the top up is disappointing. In fairness to Nissan, the 370Z Roadster’s decibel readout is probably better than the Mazda MX-5’s, but in the noise department an Audi TT and BMW 135i Convertible – let alone the folding hardtop Mercedes SLK and BMW Z4 – are whisper quiet by comparison, and far more smoother in operation to begin with.

The Japanese company still has plenty of work left to do in the refinement department.

It’s a shame really, because the old, cruddy cabin materials that blighted the 350Z for so many people have been banished for softer (if more busily styled) surfaces, including leather console bits, some smart interior stitching, suede-effect finishes and plenty of metallic-look trim.

As with the Coupe, the Roadster’s steering is height-adjustable only, but there is more than adequate space for two (and a sufficiently sized boot), while an ideal driving position shouldn’t be too hard for most folk to find.

We are not fans of the messy instrument presentation, and we reckon Nissan ought to include an auxiliary digital speedometer as compensation, but in terms of comfort and ergonomics the 370Z is – once again – a big step stride forward over its predecessor.

And, let loose on the gorgeous backdrop of New Zealand’s brilliant South Island in and around Queenstown, it’s also a whole lot better on the go.

Aided by a well-weighted steering with lots of feel and feedback, the Roadster’s handling comes alive according to how the driver feels, going from easy and benign in low-speed scenarios to active, agile and composed through faster, tighter turns.

Hustle it along at speed with the stability control left on and there is a nicely realised amount of looseness built into the tail, so you can feel it breaking away, and even have the rear wagging a little if you’re game, but the traction masters are there to intervene just in time. Having said that, all driving was done on (mostly) bone dry roads. Wet weather judgement must wait.

There’s no surfeit of sting coming from the other end of the car, with Nissan’s honoured 245kW/363Nm VQ-series 3.7-litre V6 petrol delivering the forward thrust (with guttural exhaust symphony to match) pretty much right across the rev range.

Even with the slick new seven-speed auto that does a fine job in selecting the right gear at the precise time it’s needed, there is still a rawness to the 370Z Roadster that says ‘manhandle me’. This car seems to respond to ham-fisted steering inputs and yelps in excited pleasure to the pummelling of the accelerator pedal or by jumping on and off the brakes. As with the Coupe, there is a distinctly American muscle-car edge to the Nissan’s performance character but it does speak with a more sophisticated dynamic tongue.

We still prefer the somewhat weighty six-speed manual, even if we have doubts about how much abuse the clutch can handle over a period of time.

Ride quality on the now-standard 19-inch rubber on the Kiwi roads was pretty supple and absorbent, even though some of the coarse chip surfaces did create a drone to rival Britney Spear’s best efforts, but we wonder if Australia’s wildly diverse back streets, highways and gravel tracks will have the Nissan’s passengers rueing the decision to move up from the 18s on the MY09 Coupe. Still, the new bigger alloys that come on all MY2010 Zeds are a delight to behold, and do a fine job filling up those super-flared wheel arches.

A packed interior – with gadgets galore like sat-nav, climate control, and electric seat adjustment – underscore an obviously better value-for-money proposition than the previous ragtop. Nissan says that all this and a $2K saving makes the ragtop super-sharp buying, while even the small price rise the automatic models brings is more than offset by the 370Z Roadster being a much better car in the first place – and, at last, you can get it with stability control, unlike in the old car.

Time and patience, as well as first-hand experience and understanding of the 350Z Roadster, are necessary to truly appreciate how far the Nissan has come.

Noisy with the roof up, clunky when it is going down, and a smattering of mild complaints cannot disguise the fact that this Japanese convertible comes close to offering Chevy Camaro looks and BMW Z4 sDrive35i performance, at a price that puts it somewhere between the sweet Mazda MX-5 and a basic Porsche Boxster 2.7. And, you know what, there are tangible elements of all four wrapped up in the 370Z Roadster.

The old car was really not a very likeable proposition compared to the coupe it was based on, but this one is much a 370Z that hasn’t lost its head even when going top down.

The last time we said such fair things about a Nissan was back in those old Fairlady days.

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