Nissan’s Z cars have a lengthy history that’s been groundbreaking, if not always successful. It all kicked off back in the late 1960s when the 240Z was launched and changed the way the world viewed Japanese performance cars. Before this break-through vehicle Japanese sports cars were often seen as too small, uncomfortable and worse — underpowered. The 240Z threw that perception into its six-cylinder engine and burnt it up, but not every Z car since has been as well received. Now the new 370Z is the sixth vehicle to wear the iconic ‘Z’ badge and the coupe has received raving reviews, but can the roadster variant keep pace? Car and SUV spent some time with the 370Z’s soft-top sibling to find out if it’s pure Japanese sport car or just a very expensive hair dryer.
From the outside the Roadster isn’t a large departure from the Coupe: it’s brawny, bold and, while curvaceous, isn’t at all feminine. The 370Z has ironed out much of the awkwardness that the preceding 350Z was criticised for. The shark tooth look up front is purposeful and a long bonnet with raked back headlight clusters ooze style. At the rear it’s big booty time with a high deck and wide swollen guards that are pinched off by a nearly vertical rear bumper. With so much visual mass at the rear the 370Z is athletically stanced and possesses massive road presence. The look is finished off by perfectly matched 19″ Rays alloys and a Z badges on the front guards that moonlight as indicators.
When it comes to the roof, the 370Z looks better with it dropped, but it remains a commendable effort. It’s longer and tapers off more gradually than the roof on the 350Z roadster. It also uses a lined high-quality fabric rather than vinyl and houses a glass rear window. To lower or raise the roof requires no latches or manual input and is done with the push of a button by an electro-hydraulic system. It’s a busy affair as the roof clunks through its movements. It can also be performed from the outside of the car by holding down the door unlock button. There is a solid feel to the roof and its mechanism, once in place, up or down, there is no creaking or noise from any joining points.
The 370Z’s cabin is fairly roomy for a roadster but taller drivers will find it hard to get fully comfortable. The rear bulkhead prevents the seats from tilting and sliding very far back and the steering wheel tilt adjusts only. Storage spaces can be found behind the seat backs, in the door bins, glove box and the centre console. The leather/suede seats are quality finished, offer heavy bolstering and are heated. Switchgear and controls surround the driver and the three-ringed instrument pod is easy to read and lights up with orange illumination. There is also a retro-styled auxiliary instrument cluster angling back from the dashboard. Unfortunately our test vehicle wasn’t fitted with the satellite navigation screen that overseas vehicles receive, and in its place is a simple storage cubby. This means there is no large multi-function control screen, a modern feature you’d expect from a vehicle in this price bracket. Overall quality is mixed in the 370Z cabin, while there is sumptuous suede work around the door cards and the centre console, the gearstick surrounds look cheap and dated. In the boot, space is limited and there’s apparently enough room for a golf bag but very little else. Boot capacity remains unchanged with the roof up or down.
Getting picky about the Roadster’s interior is easy but beneath the comfort and equipment lays a raw sports car. Once you push the start button and breathe life into the 3.7-litre V6 engine any thoughts of limited boot space quickly fade away. The roadster uses the same naturally aspirated VQ-series bent six motor as the coupe and thumps out 245 kW of power and 353Nm of torque. From standing the Roadster will hit 100kph in around 5.5 seconds. Under full throttle power arrives in a linear fashion but comes on quickly high in the rev range, the engine has a deep exhaust note and vibrations can be felt through the wheel. During spirited top-down driving the Roadster is a compelling machine that fills the cabin with a variety of mechanical and tyre noises. It’s not going to kill you at the pump either with a 10.9l/100km combined economy thanks to some clever variable valve engine tech.
Changing the gears on our test vehicle was Nissan’s 7-speed automatic gearbox. Like the engine, it’s a high-tech unit that has an adaptive shift control that works out what mood you’re in and changes accordingly. It also has rev-matching technology that blips the engine speed when you drop down a gear enabling the driver to really power away from corners. As smart as the auto box is, to get the greatest performance from the engine and driving enjoyment from the Roadster you must make use of the steering-column-mounted paddle shifters, they function beautifully.
To combat the handling woes usually experienced by convertibles Nissan has reinforced the 370Z’s side-sills, A-pillars, rear cross member and door apertures to increase rigidity. To keep the weight gain to only 60kg over the coupe aluminum and lightweight plastics have been used throughout, for a total kerb weight of 1608kg. The extra work is impressive and the Roadster handles admirably along windy roads, feeling taut and responsive. While it still can’t quite match the coupe for dynamics it’s close enough for top-down motoring enthusiasts to be undeterred. The chassis is well balanced and while the ride quality is expectedly firm it can still absorb most bumps and dips without issue. Grip is very good from the fat 275/35 rear tyres but push too hard on the corners and the Roadster will show a tendency to understeer. Disengage the traction control and it’s more likely to be the rear driving wheels that will force oversteer and quickly spoil the party.
With the top down the very low driving position means little wind enters the cabin until after 80kph when some buffeting kicks in, but it’s easily bearable. The flip side of the low and raked driving position is poor visibility especially rearwards where the high deck and wide arches can make parking a challenge.
With safety in mind the Roadster is equipped with large power-assisted ventilated disc brakes, a viscous LSD and all manner of electronic aides including vehicle dynamic control, traction control and ABS braking. Dual front, side and door mounted curtain airbags are also keeping watch.
So what exactly is the 370Z Roadster? It’s more about what it isn’t. It’s not a hairdresser’s car, it’s not an overpriced hair dryer and it’s not 100% perfect either. But there’s much to like about it. The 370Z Roadster is an unapologetic sports car that makes only a token gesture towards real refinement or any multi-purpose use. Through this uncompromising approach it pushes all the right sensory buttons for those seeking an exciting ride. While going topless on a beautiful day intensifies the 370Z driving experience, the $5k – $7k premium over the coupe may discourage some buyers. But if you have a real passion for exhilarating alfresco motoring then push the roof down button, push the start button and the 370Z Roadster will push the right buttons for you.
What we like:
- Powerful, high-tech engine
- Clever 7-speed auto transmission
- Brilliant driving dynamics
- Appealing exterior styling
What we don’t like:
- Compromised visibility
- Interior won’t suit taller drivers
- No main multi-function display screen
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo
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