Still able to punch above its weight, the ageing Nissan 370Z Roadster remains a top-notch cruiser
The Nissan 370Z Roadster has been a mainstay on Australian roads since 2010. And despite having a chassis that's not quite able to match the grunt from its big capacity V6 petrol engine, it remains a fun drop-top option.
Starting at $65,930, the Nissan 370Z Roadster is $9000 more expensive than the $56,930 fixed-roof variant – the latter receiving a 7/10 rating from CarAdvice earlier this year.
The figure is also down $9060 from its original $74,990 launch price, and $10,570 from its $76,500 2013 model year price tag – a cut announced late last year with anticipation building towards an expected replacement.
Add in our test car's seven-speed automatic transmission with downshift rev-matching and the buy-in price rises to $68,930.
Priced below the $77,900 Infiniti Q60 (formerly G37) S Premium convertible, with which it shares its six-cylinder powerplant, gearbox and basic underpinnings, it also puts the 370Z Roadster among some diverse company.
Equally teamed with self-shifters, the rear-wheel-drive 160kW/270Nm 3.0-litre six-cylinder-powered BMW 125i convertible costs $68,145 and $60,850 scores you the flagship Mini Cabrio John Cooper Works with its 155kW/260Nm 1.6-litre turbo-four.
Although dimensionally larger than the Mini (536mm longer and 162mm wider), the Z exclusively offers seating for two while both the JCW and BMW will accommodate up to four occupants.
It might be a manual-only proposition, but $60 more could put a 100kW/160Nm 1.6-litre four-cylinder Lotus Elise in your driveway; and sitting further north at $72,800, the entry-level front-wheel-drive Audi TT convertible combines a seven-speed auto with a 118kW/250Nm turbocharged 1.8-litre four-cylinder.
With a 3.7-litre V6 producing outputs of 245kW and 363Nm (up 10kW and 3Nm on its Q60 cousin), the 370Z Roadster clearly and decisively answers the performance question.
And while Nissan gives no official 0-100km/h time – estimated to be around the mid- to low-5sec range – the Japanese soft-top would comfortably pip the 125i (7.4sec), JCW (7.1sec), Elise (6.5sec) and TT (7.4sec) over the sprint to three figures.
Its claimed fuel consumption figure of 10.9 litres per 100km (11.2L/100km with the six-speed manual), however, is well short of its European rivals (8.3, 7.6, 6.3 and 6.6L/100km for the BMW, Mini, Lotus and Audi respectively).
Covering just shy of 450km driving from Melbourne to Lorne and back, mixing in highway stretches with blasts along Victoria’s always-impressive Great Ocean Road, the Z immediately grounds itself as an entertaining cruiser. It also averages 12.3L/100km, which is not too far from the official claim - but still thirsty.
Apart from accompanying a reduction in torsional rigidity, cutting the roof off a car also risks dulling its sporting ability. But while the 370Z Coupe is slightly disappointing due to its dynamic shortcomings being at odds with its 'Japanese muscle car' expectations, the removable canvas-roofed Roadster, without the same level of expectation, becomes a much better overall package than its slightly disappointing hardtop twin.
Whereas the Coupe feels big and not particularly agile when pushed – especially when equipped with the heavy and agricultural six-speed manual gearbox – the automatic Roadster feels far happier fulfilling a less demanding role.
Push the engine start button to fire up the gruff V6 sitting under the sculptured aluminium bonnet, drop the roof in less than 20 seconds – a slightly jerky and clunky affair – and you’re ready to let the outside world in.
Wind buffeting with the top down is a factor but it can be comfortably managed by the ‘Z’-stamped glass wind deflector and returning the windows to their upper most position. The latter being a requirement to ensure the heater’s exhalations keep occupants toasty in cooler temperatures, as the windows are automatically opened but not closed again whenever the roof is lowered.
The comfortable and mildly bucketed heated and cooled leather and cloth seats can also help, although oddly, pressure on the headrest results in a push in the back from something within the seats’ innards.
Riding on identical 19-inch Rays alloy wheels and employing the same suspension setup as the Coupe, the Nissan 370Z Roadster still rides busily over even lightly dimpled surfaces. And on anything rough or chopped, mild but consistent jitters and noticeable flex escalate to bouncing and scuttling. Sadly too, the higher the speed, the less surefooted the 370Z feels.
This is despite the 245mm-wide/40-profile front and 275mm-wide/35-profile rear Bridgestone Potenza tyres working well with the Z’s standard viscous limited-slip differential to provide excellent turn-in and lateral grip.
The engine, while a little slow to rev to its 7500rpm redline, has more than enough poke to not only validate keeping half an eye on the speedo but also keep the traction control busy – the latter particularly apparent when exiting tighter corners and even more evident in slippery conditions.
Matching the punchy engine well are strong and consistent brakes. Comprised of 355mm front and 350mm rear discs and four- and two-piston calipers respectively, the package pulls up the 1544kg Roadster with confidence hairpin after hairpin.
Unfortunately, when tackling entertaining twisty coastal roads, any enthusiasm is fast reeled in by a chassis that is too dynamically challenged to keep up with its six-cylinder partner in crime.
The steering wheel-mounted shift paddles almost always let you select whichever gear you want, with an occasional beep the only result when asking for a gear lower while at a speed the car’s computer deems is still too high.
The automatic throttle blip on gear downshifts is also aggressive enough without being silly.
Less user friendly over our time with the car was the Bluetooth phone and audio streaming functionality.
Fiddly and inconsistent, the system requires users to first sync a phone as a communication device, then again as an audio device. We also experienced occasional audio dropouts, interrupting songs and in-car karaoke moments.
Other small annoyances are the unnecessarily complex 19-button infotainment and satellite navigation unit, the only tilt and not reach adjustable steering column and off-set sun visor vanity mirrors that require both driver and passenger to lean towards the centre in order to make them in any way useful.
These, however, are contrasted by the helpful reversing camera and clear and simple controls for the individual climate and audio units.
Starting to show its age in some areas, and still short on the dynamic ability of a true sports car, the Nissan 370Z Roadster remains a sound cruiser that continues to punch above its weight, even if its price is beginning to become harder to justify.
With less hard-edged intentions and partnered with a far more liveable automatic transmission, though, it’s also our pick over the hardtop.