I'm happy that a fresh Z-car is on the way (a new one is debuting in November at the 2008 Los Angeles Auto Show), because this one is feeling pretty old. The car feels heavy and ponderous. The performance is there, but it takes a deft touch to wring it out of the car fluidly. I found myself having a hard time shifting smoothly in our test car, which was equipped with a six-speed manual transmission. The car just feels like it is tripping over its own power and performance. It lacks finesse and grace. Some people will like that, I'm sure, but it makes me very weary. I want the next Z-car to be less of a brute and more of a lithe ballet dancer.
As for the roadster aspect of our test car, yeah, it works, although it's not a pretty car when the top is up. But yesterday was a quintessential Michigan summer day, one of those days that you pine for when you're slugging your way through a Michigan winter, and the Nissan 350Z Roadster was the perfect car. To lower the top, you unfasten it at the header, then press a switch on the lower left portion of the dash. The tonneau cover rises to accommodate the folded top and then clamps down firmly over it. The trunk is shallow but reasonably wide; two people who pack carefully should certainly be able to fit a weekend's worth of stuff.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
I'm not sure I'd want the 350Z Roadster as an everyday driver: the ride is too stiff, the storage area is compromised (which pretty much comes with the territory when you're talking about a two-seat convertible), and the cockpit is stark and somewhat downmarket. The steering wheel tilts but doesn't telescope, and the seats and seatback move fore and aft electrically, but height adjustment needs to be done by rotating a rather heavy plastic dial located on the side of the seat bottom cushion. Having said that, the engine is eager and plenty powerful, the brakes are good, and the steering is precise. If you can afford it, this is a great summer car, at its best when the top is down and the sun is shining.
Our particular test vehicle was the Enthusiast version, which is the least expensive 350Z, equipped with a six-speed manual transmission. The only option was the carpeted floor mats, for $95, putting the MSRP at $36,350. Standard features include 18-inch aluminum wheels, HID headlights, heated side-view mirrors.
One plus: the trunk, which on original inspection looked incredibly tiny, is actually not as small as I'd feared. I was able to stow my golf bag (sans the driver) back there. Of course, not much more would fit, but I think you could cram some shoes and maybe a really squishy small bag in at the same time. Also, because the roof folds into its own storage area under the tonneau cover, it doesn't impede the cargo area in the trunk.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
Wrong-o on that trunk space, compadres. I stuffed the Z roadster's trunk with one Tumi roller computer briefcase, two large stuffed totebags, and one large overstuffed backpack. I was shocked, I tell you! Shocked! And, as Amy mentioned, when you drop the top (which takes a lightning fifteen seconds and a twist of a large latch), it doesn't use any of that precious cargo space.
And how about those six cupholders for the two occupants? Granted four are so shallow as to be useless, and the two that can accommodate the larger diameter of a one-liter water bottle sit underneath the bulge of the door handle rendering them height-compromised. I used one in the center right in front of a 12v outlet to hold my phone and its charger.
Otherwise, I have to agree that this car is lost somewhere between a Mazda Miata (which is less powerful but simply more fun) and a Porsche Boxster (which is just way more of everything). I could not get comfortable in the broad flat seat, and the ride is a bit slappy on expansion strips, which might have more to do with the 18" wheels than anything else.
Still, it was a magic weekend in Michigan - one that demanded a convertible. I had miles and miles to go and I enjoyed every one with the top down, even the twenty miles I drove through a deluge. The aerodynamic shaping of the Z roadster's body, along with the slope of windshield, the height of the windows, and the little glass piece between to two headrests all work together to keep air flowing straight over your head and not down on top of you. It was absolutely remarkable. I had the wipers going full-tilt-boogie and the only water inside the cabin after almost thirty minutes was a fine spray on the glass divider, and a dozen drips on the back of each side armrest.
And then the sun came out.
Jean Jennings, President & Editor-in-Chief
Ditto the long-in-the-tooth comments. My first experience with a 350Z comes at the end of the car's six-year run. The coupe is up for replacement first, so the roadster will be around for another year.
The new Z car should have a more refined engine with more usable power. As Joe said, the car has decent power but is difficult to drive smoothly. It feels heavier than it is, something that's worsened by the convertible's less-than-perfect weight balance - both with the top up and down.
While the ride is firm, I didn't find it uncomfortable on a trip across the state and back this weekend. I drove one way with the top down and windows up and was surprised at the minimal amount of buffeting, possibly thanks to the little glass deflector/partition behind the seats. On my trip home, I had the top up and noticed a lot of wind noise. So if the weather's nice enough, you might as well leave the top down and enjoy the convertible aspect of the car.
The interior of the 350Z is very quirky: from the six cupholders that Jean mentioned, to the oddly shaped trunk. The seats have both inboard and outboard controls, and there is a pair of mail slots behind either seat that function as the glove box. It's unique all right, but not the kind of unique I'm looking for.
David Gluckman, Web Producer
It's good to spend some time in this model before its pending replacement, but it's definitely showing its age, particularly in some of the old-Nissan plastics. That said, the interior is helped by some of the improved plastics (on the door armrests, for instance) that were added a couple years back.
I love the way the 350Z drives: very good handling and balance, raw engine note, nice steering. Despite its age, the Z remains a very fun car. My top-down drive home late last night was hugely invigorating and a great way to stay awake after a long day at the office. Still, I'd probably pick the Z coupe over the roadster - I prefer the hardtop's smoother styling, the open Z exhibits a disappointing amount of cowl-shake (most two-seat roadsters have almost no cowl-shake), and the top operation is slow and requires that your foot remain on the brake pedal for its entire cycle.
I wouldn't turn down another chance to drive the 350Z convertible, but if I were buying, I'd be looking at a Porsche Boxster or a Chevy Corvette on the high end or a Mazda MX-5 or a Pontiac Solstice on the low end.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor