New models - Nissan - 350Z
First drive: Nissan adds air to roadster
Nissan’s big selling 350Z spawns a $69,990 topless sibling
3 Oct 2003
NISSAN Australia has taken another bite out of the sportscar market with the release of the 350Z Roadster – the V6-powered, rear-drive drop-head companion to the 350Z Sports Coupe.
On sales from October 16, the six-speed manual $69,990 convertible ($72,790 as a five-speed auto) is expected to find up to 250 owners in the remainder of 2003 before notching up 300 scalps in 2004, including many women buyers.
Since its February 2003 launch, the 350Z Sports Coupe has out-performed Nissan Australia’s sales expectations of 800 cars for the year by a significant amount, with 1154 sold to the end of August and 1600 expected by Christmas.
This mirrors the car’s success in Japan and in the US, where it has claimed top-selling sportscar status with close to 40,000 sold this year. In just five weeks on sale in the US, Nissan has sold 1000 350Z Roadsters.
The 350Z goes on sale in Europe this month with a large order bank.
The Roadster was designed in tandem with the coupe and shares its running gear.
The 206kW 3.5-litre V6 has about 70kg more to pull (1548kg manual) thanks to steel reinforcements in the sills, A-pillars and windscreen surrounds as well as a V-shaped under floor cross brace.
A power hood is also fitted, taking 20 seconds to stow under a neat composite tonneau cover. The hood drops into a well, ahead of the famed (but now hidden) crossbar that bisects the luggage compartment of the Sports Coupe.
Unlike some new convertibles, the Nissan requires the hood to be unlatched from the header rail before folding (there are three locating points on the header rail, but just one latch), and the car must be stationary at the time.
The small, glass rear window has a built-in demister. Also installed is a tempered glass deflector between the headrests, designed to guide the breeze away from the occupants.
Just one model is offered, based on the entry Touring Coupe, but wearing 18-inch alloy wheels.
The 350Z Roadster comes with a strong list of standard equipment. This includes 240W Bose sound, six-stacker in-dash CD player, power adjustable, heated leather seats, climate control air-conditioning, cruise control, traction control, four airbags, ABS and EBD, viscous limited slip differential and a trip computer.
Roadster specific kit includes a plastic helper arm that makes grasping the belt easier, extra knee padding in the dash and, more importantly, a revision of the damper rates for a more cruisey ‘European’ ride quality to combat some of the criticism of the 350Z Sports Coupe’s slightly harsh ride.
This European setting may soon find its way into the 350Z Sports Coupe.
Roadsters come painted the same hues as the hardtop with the added benefit of a dark navy blue roof fabric as a no-cost option for the Daytona Blue or Platinum (silver) cars, while apricot leather trim is another no-cost option on Platinum, Le Mans Sunset (orange) and Black Obsidian cars.
A sole option is a $500 seat swap that adds a unique ‘net’ section in the centre of the backrest aimed at improving airflow around the driver.
There is no spoiler kit at present because the hardtop’s item obscures the low mounted centre stop lamp fitted to the leading edge of the boot lid.
Nissan Australia is considering a range of cosmetic upgrade kits for the 350Z family and hopes to build a greater profile for the NISMO range, based on successes in the US.
At present the only enhancements available are suspension modifications and a free-flow exhaust designed for track work.
DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:NISSAN’S 350Z Roadster is one of the most unusual vehicles in its class because it actually looks better as a ragtop than as a tin top.
You can’t say that about Audi’s TT Roadster (the Coupe is still the dux of the class despite its age), nor the Porsche 911 Convertible, both of which loaned the Nissan Z project some styling genes during gestation, willingly or not.
The 350Z only really looks pretty with the roof down, the squat flat rump and low-rise hood with its mean ovoid (glass) window looking something like a 1930’s Coupe. You’re almost checking for where the dickie seat pops out of the rear sheet metal when viewing from behind.
Side-on, the silhouette is more pleasing and it improves as you move to the front of the car.
However all this is totally subjective, yet justifiable, because we’re not talking transportation here, but feel-good toy buying.
Like the 350Z Sports Coupe, the Roadster seats two in a broad and comfortable cabin fitted with individually styled driver and passenger seats. Both are leather covered (sunset orange is a no-cost option for the leather on three exterior paint choices) and electrically adjusted for rake and reach. Only the driver’s seat has a manual knob for squab height adjustment.
The steering column rises and falls, but does not extend or retract. It does have the three-dial instrument pack attached, so your view of the dials should be constant through the retro-look three-spoke brushed alloy and leather rimmed wheel.
If the styling lures you with more fervour to the Roadster, you’ll be in for several bonuses.
The first is exceptional access to the sound track. Not the 240W Bose six-stacker CD system which could almost blow the roof off on full song, but the aural delights emanating from the raspy, resonant tail pipes.
They are a pair of happy, fat, chromed numbers and they deliver on their promise of good old-fashioned grunt noise.
Roof up or down the temptation to rev the hairy-chested V6 to its 7400rpm electronic cut out in every gear is tempered perhaps only by the increasingly frequent fixed and mobile radar units buzzing around. A 0-100km/h run should take no more than six seconds, those handy with a stopwatch suggest. It’ll get you grinning after the first run to the legal limit.
The 350Z’s ultimate strength and appeal is this multi-valve unit that bellows and fizzes in a most alluring manner.
Low and mid-range torque is impressive, pulling the car along cleanly from under 1000rpm in sixth all the way to your self-imposed limit.
The close ratio six-speeder is neat with a longish throw but it is the tightly packed double H that must take some learning. Sometimes the five-to-four downshift becomes a five-to-two, which is not always appropriate.
The Roadster’s second bonus is that it has had its chassis settings tweaked for a more "European" ride quality. For once this means softer not harder damper settings.
European is not mistranslated as America mush either.
There’s not a trace of harshness or sogginess, no roly-poly silliness or bump averse ricocheting.
The Roadster does a remarkable job of maintaining its line through bends, shrugging off mid-corner bumps and generally behaving itself. And this is with the 18-inch rims previously fitted to the harsh riding Track Sports Coupe model.
Steering feel is weighty with adequate feedback and, unlike the Mazda RX-8, over undulating rutted surfaces the tiller doesn’t fight for 110 per cent of your attention 110 per cent of the time.
Where the Mazda is demanding the Nissan goes with the flow.
Tipping the scales at a hefty 1548kg also helps - it’s the heaviest in its class - but losing its head and adding triple reinforcements to the floor, A-pillars and header rail as well as the hood mechanism comes at a price (between 70 and 80kg).
The third bonus is a good fist of torsional rigidity, which chases away much of the scuttle shake that bedevils most chop-tops. Nissan says this is because the Z was designed with fresh-air fun in mind from the start, so the body has been stiffened enough to cope without the metal rain protector.
There is some shake, but it’s all but unavoidable. Over harsh gravel it might have shimmied, but squeak, rattle and groan it did not. The hood also seals well.
The fourth bonus is not much of a bonus, but relaxed golfing types will be able to lever one bag of clubs into the boot, loaded head first as directed by an instruction placard fixed to the boot lid interior trim.
Alternatively, two wheel-on cabin bags and a couple of soft bags can also be accommodated under the flat boot lid. A briefcase stowaway behind the passenger seat offers a modicum of extra space and additional security.
A downside for southern state drivers who may require protection from inclement climes is that the rear window is a slot and the over the shoulder view is poor, making parking and reversing, in general, difficult.
The roof is low and to prevent the passenger being collected on the cranium by a hydro-pneumatically propelled roof bar as the top goes up, the left-hand backrest tips forward electrically to shift the head out of the way.
The driver does not need this nifty bit of (what we reckon is after-thought) engineering because Nissan has cannily stashed the roof switch on the lower part of the right-hand dash panel, down near the bonnet release.
That forces the driver to lean forward to operate the roof, moving his noggin out of the firing line.
The 350Z Roadster lives in a diverse class of cars. There’s the outgoing Mercedes SLK, Porsche Boxster, Audi TT, Alfa Romeo Spider and all new BMW Z4, and that’s just counting two-seater, six-cylinder sportscars within reasonable price proximity.
None of them score on practicality for everyday driving yet all provide access to feel-great sunny days and balmy evenings, when the pressures of work are forgotten and the rewards are enjoyed.
In this company, the Nissan is an affordable, effortlessly powerful and well screwed together unit.
It is comfy enough, glamorous enough and discrete enough to earn admiration rather than scorn as you waft by, which, for many down-to-earth buyers could be the ultimate clincher.
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