Just over a year ago, Honda, (in true Honda fashion), cancelled the S2000 after letting it become a stale and outdated model. Nissan, as the only Japanese automaker left to duke it out with the European heavyweights in the roadster segment, chose the other path. Not wanting to abandon the idea of a moderately affordable convertible that’s also a genuine sports car, the team at Nissan invested heavily in an all-new drop-top Z that could hold its own with European rivals. While not perfect, the Z is easily the best choice in this segment delivering performance, looks and value.
1. The 370Z Roadster is powered by a 3.7L V6 that makes 332-hp and 270 ft-lbs of torque and can hit 60 mph in just over 5 seconds.
2. Roadster models are priced from $36,970 with the Touring trim level starting at $40,520. And even with the optional Sport Package it’s still only 43,670, roughly $2,0000 less than a BMW Z4 sDrive30i.
3. A Sport Package is offered for Touring models, which adds 19-inch RAYS forged wheels, Bridgestone Potenza tires, larger sport brakes and a limited slip differential.
4. Manual transmission models with the Sport Package also get Nissan’s industry-first SynchroRev Match setup, that throttle blips on the downshift.
Based on the coupe, it would have been hard for Nissan to do the roadster model wrong, with an all new platform that is 130-lbs lighter, with a 4-inch shorter wheelbase, 2.6-inch shorter overall length and a two-inch wider track.
When we first drove the car last summer we commented on the looks and how, unlike the 350Z Roadster, this model was obviously designed from the outset with a drop-top in mind, rather than just having its roof chopped off as an afterthought. Having spent more time behind the wheel, we can now say the rest of the car, including the chassis, feels the same.
SOLID CHASSIS AND NIMBLE HANDLING: SPORT PACKAGE A MUST
Open or close the door and it moves with a solid yet smooth operation. Drive over some uneven pavement or even over railroad tracks and there’s no cowl shake. And what might be even more surprising is that for all the stiffness of the chassis, rough roads don’t result in a harsh ride, the suspension soaking up the bumps quite admirably – even in our Touring model tester equipped with the optional Sport Package and its larger 19-inch wheels with low profile rubber. Then again, perhaps it’s the light weigh of those wheels that helps absorb the bumps.
Those wheels give the Z a bit more nimble handling and really work with the overall design of the car. It’s not some hopped-up boy racer-mobile. The 370Z has all the sexy styling of a European model – and we’re not just talking about cars.
Inside those wheels are some seriously impressive binders, with larger 14-inch front and 13.8-inch rear rotors, with 4-piston front and 2-piston rear calipers. That’s enough stopping power to turn the Z into a real track machine. And while we normally wouldn’t consider a convertible to be worth taking to the track, the well-balanced and taught chassis is definitely up to the task of tackling more challenging turns than your favorite canyon pass.
SYNCHROREV MATCH TRANSMISSION DOES THE HEEL-TOE FOR YOU
Along with the wheels and upgraded brakes comes a limited slip differential – perfect for serious driving – as well as Nissan’s innovative SynchroRev Match 6-speed manual transmission. Eliminating the need to heel-toe, the system rev-matches on the downshift – a first for manual transmissions. The result is a smooth transition through gears under braking, plus there’s the auditory experience of having the engine roar as you drop gears.
Purists might complain that this system takes something away from the driving experience, but we disagree. Besides the fact that we prefer to keep out heel-toeing on the track, Nissan gives driver’s the ability to turn the SynchroRev Match feature off.
We will admit that for day-to-day driving Nissan’s clutch isn’t the smoothest, although the gearbox is quite nice with short and direct throws. One quirk we did notice about the SynchroRev Match transmission while crawling along in rush hour traffic is that often the car defaults to a higher rpm anticipating a down-shift, meaning that often you’re rolling or stopped and the tachometer is at the 2000 mark. (To get the revs to drop you have to slide the shifter out of gear.)
Those who opt for the automatic (likely the vast majority of buyers will) won’t be disappointed, with Nissan’s 7-speed auto one of the fastest in the business.
THRILL RIDE: ON THE CORNERS AND THE STRAIGHTS
Acceleration to 60 comes in at just over five seconds, which matches the BMW Z4 sDrive35i’s 5.1 second time. And it’s a solid half-second higher than the 5.7 second time of the sDrive30i model.
While the Nissan makes more power than either of these two, the turbocharged BMW has plenty of torque and uses a high-tech dual-clutch transmission. The difference then, comes as a result of the Nissan weighing 400 lbs less.
The lighter weight, combined with the extra goodies in the sport package make for a thoroughly enjoyable driving experience with the stiff chassis doing its part and the heavily weighted and direct steering putting the driver in complete control of this excellent handling package.
Top-down is obviously the best way to enjoy the Z, with the sonorous notes of Nissan’s VQ motor music to the ears. There’s a steady crescendo all the way up to full power at 7000 rpm and while that might be considered peaky by some, there’s also a solid amount of torque across the power band, meaning you can easily spin the tires or bring the rear end out.
From behind the wheel it feels much smaller and more sporty than some of the German rivals. What those German’s do deliver on, however, is luxury – an area where Nissan could use some work.
INTERIOR TRIM QUALITY IS Z’S ONE DRAWBACK
While we have no complaints with the ride quality and stiffness of the chassis, the interior materials aren’t up to snuff, nor is the overall build quality. We even noticed that the Z logo on our testers floor mats was pealing off.
Overall the interior is more quasi-luxury – even on our Touring model with the optional Hard Drive Navigation system. That’s not to knock the Nav system, though as it’s top notch and easy to use. We even love the wine colored leather seats with mesh inserts (a stunning combo with the Black Cherry paint). Even if they don’t look quite as premium, they’re nice and grippy and help keep you cool – thanks in part to the vented seat option.
Borrowed from the Infiniti lineup, that Nav system isn’t the only item in the Z from Nissans luxury brand. You can also include the drop-top button and climate controlled seat dials on that list, easily noticeable by their more elegant metallic (rather than plastic) finish.
Overall there’s too much plastic in the Z’s cabin. We were also put off by the fact that only some of the seat functions (albeit the less important ones) are controlled via black plastic dials on the side of the chair. On top of this the rag top could use a bit of extra sound deadening to keep the noise out. We were, however, surprised at how good the outward visibility is when the top is up.
For the price, it’s hard to complain as the overall design is great, but compared to the more expensive competition, the Nissan just doesn’t hold its own in this respect.
The 370Z Roadster delivers beautiful styling and an engaging driving experience with excellent straight-line acceleration and impeccable handling. Better yet, it matches its European rivals in these areas while costing considerably less. Even optioned out with the Touring Package and must-have high-performance Sport Package, the 370Z comes in at less than a base model BMW Z4 sDrive30i at $43,670 compared to $46,000 for the Bimmer.
It might not have the BMW logo on the front, but ask any auto enthusiast and they’ll tell you that there’s a huge amount of sports car credibility behind 40 years of Z cars.
The 370Z Roadster represents the value leader in its segment, without sacrificing either the thrills behind the wheel or the stares you’re sure to get.