With the wisdom gleaned over a full model cycle, or about five years in this case, I think it's safe to pronounce the returning Nissan Z car a winner. The original 240Z was a defining car for Nissan (then Datsun), and a beacon of sports car hope during the largely hopeless early 1970s. Unfortunately, it evolved - or, more accurately, devolved - into the tasteless and disco-y 280ZX and 300ZX. A magnificent redesigned 1991 300ZX restored Nissan's sports car to a position of glory, but spiraling sticker prices - especially for the most desirable, twin-turbo model - eventually snuffed out sales. After what seemed like an interminable wait, and an equally interminable parade of show cars, the 350Z finally arrived, to general acclaim.
Now, we have already seen its successor, the slightly smaller and shapelier 370Z. But even as the 370Z makes its debut, the 350Z will live on for one more year, at least in convertible form.
Aesthetically speaking, the convertible form is not the Z-car's most pleasing form. It really looks like the coupe was designed first, and the roadster sort of had to work around what was there. Beautiful roadsters have never been Nissan's forte. The previous 300ZX was a stunning design, but the roadster version was awkward. Same with the 240SX. There's no arguing with the 350Z roadster's function, however, as the power top zips up and down without issue, and the trunk space is reasonable even with the top lowered.
The raised top does create a bit of a claustrophobic atmosphere inside, though, particularly as the 350Z already has such a high beltline. The interior, at least, has been upgraded somewhat since the car's introduction; early models were excessively plasticky and cheap. Storage is still very limited, but the armrests are more cushioned, the steering wheel feels great, and the seats are very comfortable.
While this Nissan's 306 horsepower doesn't confer the bragging rights it did only a few years ago, it still makes for a very quick 350Z, and the normally aspirated 3.5-liter V-6 is very linear in its power delivery. The six-speed manual has positive, if not fluid, shifts. The top-spec Grand Touring model has Brembo brakes, but our Tour edition test car stopped well enough without them.
Nissan did a good job tuning the 350Z's chassis, which carves through corners with a very neutral attitude. The steering has pleasing heft and good feel and the engine's set back position helps keep the car from feeling front-heavy. Surprisingly, however, stability control (VDC, in Nissan-speak) is offered only on the Grand Touring version, a rather shocking omission at this price point.
As pleasant as the 350Z roadster is, I'd be tempted to hold off and at least get a look at the convertible version of the new 370Z. With its more curvaceous bod, the 370Z looks like it could become the first Nissan that's not just fun to drive, but great to look at too.
2008 Nissan 350Z Roadster Tour
Price: $38,605/$39,200 (base/as tested)
Engine: 3.5L DOHC V-6Power: 306 hp @ 6800 rpmTorque: 268 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Fuel economy: 17/24 mpg (city/highway)
Weight: 3595 lbs