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Nissan 350Z Roadster Test

Go ragtop for a small extra cost.

Words by Michael Knowling, Pix by Michael Knowling and Nissan Australia

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At AUD$69,990 the premium for going topless in the new Nissan 350Z is very reasonable. For just 17 percent more than the base hardtop coupe, you can enjoy wind-in-your-hair motoring and flatter your ego on those lazy summer days.

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The Zed’s transformation into a Roadster has brought a small trade-off in structural rigidity – it’s certainly acceptable but it isn’t as tight as, say, a current Saab convertible. If you want to hit the circuit in a Zed we suggest the hardtop coupe (which is also 85kg lighter). Some of the Roadster’s lost chassis stiffness is regained with the fitment of additional structural reinforcements including heavy-duty undercarriage cross-frames. But telltale signs of chassis movement are the creaking from the windows when entering a steep driveway and some steering column chatter.

The roof mechanism is electrically operated but it does lack polish – not surprising given the modest price hike. The Roadster’s fabric roof uses a central latch on the top of the windscreen header rail that we found quite awkward to use. The roof opening/closing ballet also involves automatic tilting of the passenger seat backrest. Curiously, the driver’s seat doesn’t tilt – that means a tall driver needs to duck his/her head to avoid a swinging canvas flap...

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With the roof up, the 350Z Roadster isn’t claustrophobic inside but rear-quarter visibility is poor. The single-layer fabric roof - with its metal frame exposed inside the cabin - also allows a lot of noise to penetrate. Perhaps this all part of the Zed’s sporty nature - and a sign of a bit of cost cutting... On the upside, the rear window is glass and comes with a demister. When retracted, the soft-top is also nicely hidden beneath a composite hard cover.

Roof down and the 350Z Roadster is in its element. We didn’t experience any buffeting with the side windows up or down and it’s easy to hold a conversation without needing a raised voice. A wind deflector is located between the seats, which helps minimise wind noise.

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With its roof folded beneath the rear cover, the 350Z Roadster is a coffee-cruiser’s dream come true. Meaty but well proportioned from all angles, this is one sexy looking machine – the sharply styled headlights and taillights serving as attractive focal pieces. The Roadster also gets the same 18 x 8-inch rims as fitted to the Track-spec hardtop coupe – these complete the outfit nicely. The twin-outlet exhaust and air intake system are also designed to turn heads with a gruff note.

Onboard, the cabin continues modern styling themes. Decked out in high-contrast leather, the 4-way adjustable electric seats are comfortable and the driving position is suitably sporty. The driver is fronted by a large central tacho with a speedo, fuel level and coolant temp gauges shuffled to the sides. A voltmeter, oil pressure gauge and digital trip computer are also a glance away on the centre of the dashboard. An adjustable shift-light is also featured.

Other interior appointments include cruise control, illuminated vanity mirrors, ambient temperature display, seat warmers, drilled aluminium pedals, knee pads, remote central locking, immobiliser, power windows and mirrors. There are also front and side airbag complemented by seatbelt pre-tensioners and load limiters and a rollover protection bar.

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Some of the in-cabin ergonomics are a bit questionable and we were also disappointed by the lack of easy storage – nowhere good to throw your mobile phone, for example. There is, however, a lockable in-cabin enclosure suitable for a laptop and two smaller enclosures behind the seats plus a centre console and in-dash box.

The boot – which Nissan claims is big enough to fit a set of golf clubs - is shallow and suffers from a high load lip. A space saver space can be dug up from beneath the false floor.

The biggest drawcard of the interior is a spine-pounding Bose Audiopilot 240W sound system. Headed by a tuner/cassette/in-dash 6-disc stacker unit, this system uses seven speakers (including a large sub) and is very bass-strong. The Zed’s automatic climate control system is also refreshingly easy to operate, but we noticed a lot of heat coming through from the trans tunnel.

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That underbonnet heat comes from Nissan’s impressive VQ35DE 3.5-litre V6. The new V6 offers ample torque at all revs and can capably run to the 6100 rpm redline. With 363Nm of torque at 4800 rpm and 206kW at 6200 rpm, the Zed’s VQ35DE is one of the most powerful naturally aspirated sixes on the market. Our only criticism is an overly aggressive electronic throttle control strategy, which makes balancing the throttle a fine art. There are no prizes going out for engine related NVH either.

From a technical point of view, the all-alloy VQ35DE employs DOHC, 4-valve heads featuring continuously variable inlet cam timing and direct-fire ignition. The compression ratio is set at 10.3:1, which means 95+ RON fuel is recommended. Interestingly, the tank of fuel supplied in our test car caused a considerable amount of detonation - a subsequent refill with 98 RON fuel eliminated this.

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The 350Z Roadster can be bought with a standard 6-speed manual (as tested) or an optional 5-speed auto. The manual ‘box offers a close spread of ratios that are easily accommodated by the torquey engine, but the shift action is firm and too notchy for our tastes - it’s certainly not a flick-of-the-wist gearchange like in a Mazda MX-5. The clutch pedal also has some weight and the friction point in our test car was a long way off the floor.

In a straight-line, the 1458kg Roadster manual can effortlessly grunt its way to 100 km/h in under 7-seconds. And, despite copping some fairly hard driving, our test 350Z Roadster returned decent overall fuel economy – about 12.5-litres per 100km. Fuel tank capacity is 76 litres.

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True to its Z ancestors, the 350Z is a rear-wheel-drive machine. Crouched on double A-arm aluminium front suspension and a 4-link IRS (with tower braces at both ends) the 350Z is set-up to spit its tail out in low-speed power-on manoeuvres. In wet conditions, this is especially the case – the traction control system prevents excessive wheelspin but you can still get the Zed sideways without much effort. On the other hand, the Roadster comes together quite well on a more flowing winding road – its overall balance is impressive. In a straight line the 225/45 front and 245/45 rear Bridgestones offer good grip but don’t provide the lateral adhesion we’d expect from such beefy tyres. Note that VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control) is fitted only to the Track-spec hardtop coupe.

In contrast to our previous 350Z Track-spec test (see New Car Test - Nissan 350Z Track), the suspension of the Roadster is perfectly suitable – firm but not uncomfortable. Note that the Roadster uses different suspension settings compared to the hardtop coupes.

The power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is about perfect for this type of vehicle – direct, nicely weighted and communicative. No complaints except for a hint of tramlining.

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The Roadster isn’t available with the big Brembo anchors fitted to the Track-spec hardtop coupe. Instead, it comes with the 296 and 292mm ventilated discs found in the entry-level 350Z. Although not impressive to look at through those 18-inch rims, the Roadster’s brakes perform well in street applications – there’s good pedal feel and reliable stopping power. Hard-braking stability is excellent thanks to the latest ABS and EBD systems and emergency brake assist.

Our test car had driven more than 9000 hard ‘media miles’ and it had a couple of small, perhaps related, faults. The front tyres were very rumbly, one of the rear storage enclosures wouldn’t close and the centre ashtray was a very loose fit. Aside from this, the car was well assembled and nicely finished.

So what’s the Zed Roadster like to live with for a week? Well, it’s perfectly useable for Monday to Friday traffic wrestling or weekend cruises and hills blasts. But there are some wearing negatives. We frequently struggled with access problems caused by the long doors and forward seating position – if there’s a car parked next to the Zed it’s very difficult to get in or out without bumping the door. The lack of a ‘throw-zone’ for a mobile phone and the relatively firm, notchy gearshift also proved tiring.

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There are two main attractions to the 350Z Roadster – its sensational looks and that grunty VQ35 engine. Some drivers will also revel in the easy power-slide set-up of the chassis – great for showpony acts. Apart from these drawcards, though, the rest of the vehicle is really quite ho-hum. Still, in the high-power soft-top league, the AUD$69,990 350Z Roadster stands up as decent value.

If you’re into the 350Z the ragtop version is well worth the extra money.

Why You Would

  • One of the sexiest vehicles on the market
  • Torquey and powerful engine gives excellent performance
  • Good steering and ride
  • A small premium over the base hardtop coupe

Why You Wouldn’t...

  • Only two seats and not much in-cabin stowage
  • Roof system has signs of cost cutting
  • Despite TRC, it can still get crossed-up with oversteer
  • Chassis not as rigid as some other soft-tops

The Nissan 350Z Roadster was provided for this test by Nissan Australia.

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