Nissan 350Z Roadster Convertible Review

Terry Parkhurst
by Terry Parkhurst

Hunkered down inside the Nissan 350Z Roadster convertible with the top up, you know the way a clam must feel when it looks outside its shell. The top is screwed down like one of those heavy-duty chop jobs on a lead sled of yore. While claustrophobics need not apply, the Z’s powerplant’s guttural moan vibrates through the floorboards and around the metal carcoon in a most sensually satisfying manner. Open the lid and this is what a proper sports car is all about: pure, unadulterated exhilaration.

Of course, there’s nothing “pure” about the 350Z’ looks; the coupe could have been penned by a Cadillac designer on acid. Fortunately, the Z convertible is a different (if equally fantastic) beast. If you have a thing for 1957 and 1958 Porsche Speedsters but want something altogether more modern, this is your scene. Once the top drops, the Z’s basic shape is clean enough that most of us will forgive Nissan for the lid’s afterthought deportment.

Excuse my obsessive-compulsive digression, but I’d like to point out that the lamentable door handles that debuted with the new 350Z remain in situ. The handles– which wouldn’t look out of place on a cheap chest of drawers– ruin the clean concave sweep of the upper portion of the car’s body. What’s more, they’ve been known to open when massaged by automatic car wash rollers. On the other hand, the rear taillights are minor works of art; the red and white plastics fit together like a Piet Mondrian painting.

Let’s face it: the Z’s target audience is getting on a bit. Perhaps that explains why Nissan’s logo design department seems to think 350Z buyers have Alzheimer’s. There’s a big Z emblem on the lower inside doorsills, a Z emblem on the (rear) wind blocker, a Z emblem on the steering wheel and even Z emblems on the floor mats.

It might also account for the fact that the Z’s cockpit is perfect for aging baby boomers. All the controls and switchgear have an oversized funky, chunky feel that’s as practical as it is stylish. The drop top roadster also has two speedometers, an analog gauge in the main instrument panel (for the nearsighted) and a digital unit in a cluster of three instruments in the center of the dashboard (for the far-sighted).

Staying with the theme, baby boomers can adjust the Z’s instrument pod up or down for comfort and visibility; a feature pioneered by Porsche’s long defunct, long nosed 928. And while the driver’s seat lacks lumbar support and a lift function, it comes with plenty of lateral bolstering and enough power adjustment for the most delicate spine. The power top could use some Viagra; it goes up or down in about 25 chronologically challenged seconds.

Thankfully, the 350Z’s heart is young, fit and free– well, free revving. Pistonheads might pine for a bit more than the 3.5-liter DOHC 24-valve V6’ 300 horses, but it’s all about torque people. And we’re torquing 260 ft.-lbs. of twist at 4800 rpm. That’s enough power to motorvate the relatively heavy roadster (3400 pounds) to sixty from rest in 5.8 seconds. Engine thrust in second and third gears is enough to dislocate a bobblehead’s, er, head. AND you get great big earfuls of the Z’s characteristic moan-into-wail aria for no extra charge.

The 350Z sits upon Nissan’s (and Infiniti’s) ubiquitous FM platform. This high fidelity set-up offers an aluminum multi-link suspension (front and rear) and an engine position set so far back in the chassis that the M stands for “mid-engine.” In fact, the weight balance is more like 60/40, despite low weight, high tech solutions like a carbon fiber drive shaft. Although it shares a platform with Nissan's company sedans, the 350Z a wonderfully balanced, perfectly poised pavement partner.

The “Enthusiast” edition’s big ass rubber helps the convertible grip like a hooker’s thighs. Optional 18-inch aluminum wheels, not only help the “bling” factor, but also do wonders for the unsprung weight equation. The bottom line: the Z roadster’s combination of grip, go and near neutral handling allows for a lot of, um, driver error. When rain slicked highways induced a bit of looseness in the rear end department, simple counter-steering got the Z car back on-line.

Yup: the 350Z roadster convertible is ready for its close-up. After driving this $35k rice rocket ship (plus $90 for carpeted floor mats emblazoned with the aforementioned Z emblem), it’s hard to believe that anyone other than an almost-died-in-the-woods Porsche aficionado would want to pony up the extra money for a less powerful Boxster S or Audi TT. Still, at this level, in this category, it’s all about emotion. The 350Z roadster may ultimately lack the Germans’ stoicism, but for some of us, that’s a very good thing indeed.

Terry Parkhurst
Terry Parkhurst

57 years old, male, shares space with a cat. Likes vintage Volvos and has photography as a hobby.

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  • Nemphre Nemphre on Jun 20, 2007

    Yes, there's nothing particularly wrong with the Z handling. It isn't what I would consider excessively fun handling, or highly agile handling but it does the job very well and with barely any fuss. Amazing grip, and great accuracy and stability. In C&Ds Lightning Lap comparo, the Z-track actually bested the Evo. http://www.caranddriver.com/features/11755/the-lightning-lap-ll1-under-30000-page4.html There isn't anything wrong with the engine, and you should know that there are many settings and changes that can be done to an engine to make it put out different amounts of power for different applications. Some of those other cars that share the VQ make a bit more torque and get better fuel mileage. It's a great engine anyway that feels like it has endless power, and it's all naturally aspirated. I don't think the Z and the Evo/Sti are in the same class anyway. The souped up econo sedan styling definitely caters to a different crowd.

  • Phatfarman Phatfarman on Nov 13, 2009

    I just purchased my 1st Nissan 350Z about 4 weeks ago! And I don' really care what you people say about it...I LOVE this car! I'm going from a '92 Lexus sc400 to this! What a transition! Just can't get enough of this car! It's winter time here and I put a jacket on and STILL ride with my top down! The BEST CAR I'VE EVER HAD!!!!

  • Varezhka I have still yet to see a Malibu on the road that didn't have a rental sticker. So yeah, GM probably lost money on every one they sold but kept it to boost their CAFE numbers.I'm personally happy that I no longer have to dread being "upgraded" to a Maxima or a Malibu anymore. And thankfully Altima is also on its way out.
  • Tassos Under incompetent, affirmative action hire Mary Barra, GM has been shooting itself in the foot on a daily basis.Whether the Malibu cancellation has been one of these shootings is NOT obvious at all.GM should be run as a PROFITABLE BUSINESS and NOT as an outfit that satisfies everybody and his mother in law's pet preferences.IF the Malibu was UNPROFITABLE, it SHOULD be canceled.More generally, if its SEGMENT is Unprofitable, and HALF the makers cancel their midsize sedans, not only will it lead to the SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST ones, but the survivors will obviously be more profitable if the LOSERS were kept being produced and the SMALL PIE of midsize sedans would yield slim pickings for every participant.SO NO, I APPROVE of the demise of the unprofitable Malibu, and hope Nissan does the same to the Altima, Hyundai with the SOnata, Mazda with the Mazda 6, and as many others as it takes to make the REMAINING players, like the Excellent, sporty Accord and the Bulletproof Reliable, cheap to maintain CAMRY, more profitable and affordable.
  • GregLocock Car companies can only really sell cars that people who are new car buyers will pay a profitable price for. As it turns out fewer and fewer new car buyers want sedans. Large sedans can be nice to drive, certainly, but the number of new car buyers (the only ones that matter in this discussion) are prepared to sacrifice steering and handling for more obvious things like passenger and cargo space, or even some attempt at off roading. We know US new car buyers don't really care about handling because they fell for FWD in large cars.
  • Slavuta Why is everybody sweating? Like sedans? - go buy one. Better - 2. Let CRV/RAV rust on the dealer lot. I have 3 sedans on the driveway. My neighbor - 2. Neighbors on each of our other side - 8 SUVs.
  • Theflyersfan With sedans, especially, I wonder how many of those sales are to rental fleets. With the exception of the Civic and Accord, there are still rows of sedans mixed in with the RAV4s at every airport rental lot. I doubt the breakdown in sales is publicly published, so who knows... GM isn't out of the sedan business - Cadillac exists and I can't believe I'm typing this but they are actually decent - and I think they are making a huge mistake, especially if there's an extended oil price hike (cough...Iran...cough) and people want smaller and hybrids. But if one is only tied to the quarterly shareholder reports and not trends and the big picture, bad decisions like this get made.
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