The Nissan 370Z Roadster is without doubt the best convertible sportscar under 100k.
However I am not here to review the GT-R, I am infact here to talk about the gorgeous Nissan 370Z Roadster, which does infact share DNA with the iconic GT-R. Having already driven and highly praised the Nissan 370Z Coupe, the Roadster had to really impress me to make its mark.
In order to review and road test the new 370Z Roadster, Nissan Australia brought a group of car journalists to New Zealand, specifically to Queenstown in the South Island. If you've never been here, you must come. It's one of the most beautiful places on our planet today.
In fact, it's so beautiful that the island was used in the filming of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy as well as the last X-Men movie.
History lesson apart, my aim was to find out if the 370Z Roadster is all that it's hyped up to be.
Before we go into the Roadster it's worth having a quick look at the rich history of the Z cars form Nissan. Back in 1969 at the launch of the 240Z the then president of Nissan Motors USA, Mr Yutaka Katayama said:
The 240Z represents the imaginative sprit of Nissan. It meets all the requirements of sports-minded drivers, fulfilling their desire for superb styling, power and safety, and provides them with the most thrilling and enjoyable ride available in any car.
Over 40 years and 1.6 million Zs later and Mr Yutaka's statement still holds true for the newest brother in the Z family.
The 370Z Roadster is powered by the same 3.7-litre VQ37VHR V6 engine as the Coupe, putting out 245kW and 363Nm of torque at 5,200rpm. This means it will go from 0-100km/h in 5.5 seconds (manual - 5.8 for the auto). However the Z Roadster is as much about sportiness, speed, handling and what not as it is about style, sophistication and providing a remarkable driving experience.
From the outside the Roadster is very similar to the Coupe, it has the same masculine boldness to it that screams for attention. It has the same front shark teeth look and if you want to be noticed, the Z is the car for you. It's a modern day 240Z with all the bells & whistles.
Comparing it its predecessor the Nissan 350Z Roadster, the 370Z Roadster's roof is 176mm longer,the rear glass is larger (but somehow 40mm shorter when stowed) and the overall length is 65mm shorter (it's however wider and lighter).
Additionally it no longer requires any manual input to close and lock the roof, the entire operation is automatic. The roof fabric has changed to a higher quality fabric and makes use of interior lining to give it a more upmarket look and feel. The Roadster will also open it's roof even if you're not in the car, by pressing and holding the door open switch.
I don't want to spend all the time on the technical details and the car's specifications, you can find that all here. I'd much rather share with you my experience of the 370Z Roadster as a car.
We started our drive from Queenstown and headed through a series of mountain ranges and scenery which put the Great Ocean road to shame.
Nissan Australia has so far sold about 800 370Z Coupes in less than a year and it plans to do similar numbers with the addition of the Roadster. Interestingly the split between automatic and manual is expected to be around 60/40.
To start off with, let's actually focus on the two different transmissions. The six-speed manual comes standard with "SynchroRev Match", which according to Nissan is the world’s first synchronised rev matching system (in a production car). The general complaint here is the position of the pedals, which make heel & toe a little bit harder than it really needs to be, but that's almost the point as you don't need to heel & toe!
Other car critics may not agree with me here but I personally believe this is the best manual gearbox in any car south of 100g. Not only because of its rev-matching but because of the way it feels and the smoothness by which it all comes together.
That's not to take anything away from the SynchroRev Match either, the system is far from being just a gimmick. For many the belief that they can do a better downshift than a computer is simply wrong. Even the Stig could not match the precision of a computer that works out the exact RPM at which to align gears with.
I believe the issue is mainly a result of arrogance, when I first spent a week with the 370Z Coupe I too felt as though I would never need a rev-matching gearbox, "what rubbish" I thought. However if you give it time and you believe in it, it will become a vital part of the car's performance credentials.
You can fly into a tight corner in fourth gear, grab a hold of the gearstick and drop it instantly into third, it will rev match perfectly, then drop it down one further as you're about to power out and yet again, the rev matching is done in pure perfection.
Some complain that it takes the 'fun' out of driving and perhaps that warrants some merit, however the system can easily be switched off so there is no real harm done.
Perhaps the only issue with the whole concept is getting used not going in for a heel & toe and learning to trust the car enough to instantly let go of the clutch once the gear is selected. It's a scary feeling when you can simply yank fourth into third at 90km/h and instantly let go of the clutch and everything is still in perfect harmony.
It's unusual that you can have the same car with a manual and automatic option and have the auto gearbox provide more gears. The $3,000 optional seven-speed automatic comes with Adaptive Shift Control (ASC) which works out what you like and adapts gear-changes accordingly. It also comes with a similar rev-matching technology as the manual box.
One criticism I do have to point out for the auto is that it can at times appear to misunderstand your needs, it will drop back a few gears when you're giving it some but occasionally it gets caught out in the wrong gear (usually fifth). It also automatically goes back from manual mode into D if it thinks you're not paying much attention or if you've backed-off the throttle for a period of time, I am sure this can be turned off but I didn't work out how.
To get the most out of the automatic gearbox you have to make use of the beautifully crafted standard long-eared paddle shifters attached to the steering column, for those of you who are curious the paddles do not move with the steering wheel as no good driver should ever be changing gears mid-corner (of course if you're a boring old person you have nothing to worry about as the traditional shift lever is still available).
The choice between the two gearboxes is a hard one as they are both brilliant, it would however seem that the Roadster market would be more skewed towards the auto simply because of convenience. I would recommend the automatic too as it makes more sense for everyday living and it doesn't suffer any performance drawbacks.
When you sit inside the 370Z you realise just how far Japanese brands have come. Nissan says many interior design elements for the Z have come from Infinity, the company's luxury brand and you don't have to look too hard to notice it.
The 370Zs which come to Australia have every single option box ticked, so apart from the leather+ suede seats, Nissan's satellite navigation system with 7-inch display is standard with support for touch screen functionality, DVD and iPod USB connectivity. In fact it can even play movies straight from your iPod or iPhone onto the screen (when the vehicle is still).
The interior is a comfy place to be and I for one am glad that the Roadster and the Coupe are both proper two-door sports cars, there is absolutely no need to put two useless rear seats in (such as those found in the Audi TT) as the vehicle works and looks far better as a true two-door sports car.
One very simple feature that was surprisingly lacking was the automatic windows up option linked to the car's roof operation. In most convertibles the switch which can close the roof also brings up the windows if held long enough, this saves the driving have to use the window switches seperately to complete the roof operation, which is what you have to do in the 370Z Roadster.
As expected safety is paramount with dual stage supplemental front air bags; front seat-mounted side impact supplemental air bags, new door-mounted curtain air bags (similar to those found in the Volvo C70) and seat belts with pretensioners and load limiters all included in the package.
Now, the exciting bit. How does it drive?
Last year I likened the 370Z Coupe to the BMW M3 for its handling finesse, it's one of very few cars that just feels right. Short wheel-base, lots of power going to the rear and a near-perfect 53:47 Front:Rear weight distribution. The Roadster is no different.
Missing a metal roof means additional stiffening is required to maintain rigidity and Nissan has reinforced the A-pillar, front side member, front sill and seat cross members. All that means 40% more front body torsional rigidity, 10% more front body lateral bending, 45% more rear body torsional rigidity and 60% more rear body lateral bending. Sounds a little too technical? It means there is no body roll and its stiff enough that you won't be able to feel the difference between it and the Coupe.
One of the common criticisms of the 370Z has been the road noise and unfortunately this has also been passed on to the Roadster. There is a fair bit of noise coming into the cabin when travelling at speed (echoed more when the roof is closed) but it's partially due to the new massive 19" Rays lightweight wheels wrapped in Bridgestone Potenza RE050A (arguably the best road tyre in the world).
The rear wheels measure in at an enormous 275/35R19 and the fronts at 245/40/R19. It's a compromise of having lightweight construction with performance tyres and paying for it with a bit of excess noise.
After hours on the road and a short go at shooting some clay birds we finally arrived at our hotel in Wanaka. From here I decided to grab the keys to a blue automatic roadster and head up towards Makaroa and Hawea. Possibly the best scenic drive in the southern hemisphere.
Two hours of intense driving through twisty mountain roads at speed reaffirmed my belief that the 370Z both in Coupe and Roadster configuration is the best handling practical two-door sports car for under a 100g. So good is the driving dynamics of the Z that I do wonder if Porsche are worried their customers might find their way into Nissan dealerships (which given how many have switched from Porsche GT2s/GT3s/Turbos into Nissan GT-Rs, it seems likely).
As I blasted my way up the mountain with gorgeous scenery for company, it gave me an opportunity to understand the 370Z's actual driving dynamics. Having driven the Porsche Cayman S in Germany I am not sure if it would be fair to say the Z handles better, but it certainly handles in the same level.
What is amazing is the phenomenal amount of grip from the bridgestones as the Z eats up every corner with ease. My particular vehicle appeared to have minor steering shake when braking heavily but this problem didn't present itself in the other 370Z roadsters I drove. Speaking of stopping, the Brembo sourced brakes are top notch. With 355mm x 32mm four-piston for the front and 350mm x 20mm two-piston for the rear, the Z stops with intent and does so over and over again with little brake fade.
When you approach a corner you can leave the braking till the very last millisecond and then power out with precision and be confident in the cars turning ability.
Steering wheel response and precision is on-par with Porsche and I think it can serve as a good lesson in how to make a sports car feel connected to the driver for all other manufacturers.
There is absolutely no play whatsoever in the steering, every minor movement is communicated to the front wheels which results in a turning ability beyond what most would ever need.
The 370Z Roadster's nanny controls can be switched off if the need to get the rear end out ever presents it self, however even when turned off at some very basic core level they will still be there to stop you from making a complete fool of yourself. As balanced as the rear end is, when you want to play, it wants to play back. Unlike a four-door rear-wheel drive sports car the Z's short body means control, control and even more control.
It really is a baby GT-R as you simply have to point it in the right direction and it will work the rest out it self. It may be driven via the rear-wheels only but the level of grip will amaze you.
After driving the Roadster for over seven hours today I am confident in saying it's in everyway my favourite sports convertible under 100g. I liken it to the BMW M3 Convertible and the Aston Martin Vantage Convertible in the way demands attention and oozes presence but also in its design philosophy and its marque's commitment to sportcars.
If you're after a genuine sports car from a manufacturer that has built its reputation on creating them, by all means get yourself into a 370Z Coupe or Roadster. The 370Z Roadster 6 Speed Manual will retail for $74,990 while the 370Z Roadster 7 Speed Automatic will be available for $77,990.
More details and specifications can be found here.