Ryan Bubear gets ahold of a Nissan 370Z Roadster...
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Cabriolet. Ragtop. Soft-top. Roadster. Whatever you choose to call such a vehicle, there's no doubt that this wind-in-your-hair genre of motoring divides opinion.
Is it just an excuse for exhibitionists to swan around, with a look-how-cool-I-am expression on their faces? Or is there a deeper enjoyment to be found in open-top motoring? Furthermore, can a roadster really be a true "driver's car"?
Despite having driven my fair share of cabriolets, I must admit that I've never really been a fan. I've never really enjoyed picking bugs from my teeth, being repeatedly punched in the face by fast-moving air, and having to nurse a sunburnt scalp for days on end. It's just not as glamorous as it looks...
But when the chance to spend some time with the Nissan 370Z Roadster came about, I just couldn't say no.
You see, when the folks at Nissan began engineering the 370Z Coupé, they did so with the drop-top version firmly in mind. In other words, the roadster is not merely a coupé with the roof hacked off, and a canvas tarp thrown on. No, this soft-top has been designed from the ground up, which means it's noticeably stiffer and lighter, and handles the bends with aplomb.
And, of course, there's the lump under the bonnet. A brawny 3.7-litre V6 drives the rear wheels either through a six-speed manual or a seven-speed automatic gearbox. We tested the latter, which comes equipped with a "clutchless manual" system, allowing the driver to swap cogs sequentially using a pair of paddles.
The 'box does a commendable job as a conventional automatic, but move the lever from D-mode to "manual", and the 370Z Roadster simply comes alive. A firm squeeze of the right paddle results in a lighting fast up-change, and downshifting by tapping the left paddle sees Nissan's rev-matching system automatically blip the throttle. But the best thing about this transmission has to be the fact that there is no "gearbox nanny" stepping in and automatically changing up for you as the needle thunders towards red-line. Nope, mess up and you WILL hit the limiter.
Tipping the scales at just over 1500kg, and powered by that 245kW and 363Nm V6, the Roadster is remarkably quick. The sprint from zero to 100km/h takes a mere 5.8 seconds (just 0.3 second slower than the manual), and it runs on to a governed top speed of 250km/h. It's fast, it's loud, and it's plenty of fun.
As always, with great power comes not-so-great fuel consumption. Nissan reckons the combined fuel economy figure for the auto is somewhere in the region of 10.9 litres per 100km. But with a fair mix of everyday traffic, rather spirited driving, and some time on the open road with the cruise control set to the national limit, we struggled to keep the number below 14. Thankfully though, it comes equipped with a 72-litre tank.
The fabric roof can be raised or lowered with the push (and hold) of a button, with each operation taking about 20 seconds. The system uses a hydraulic pump rather than an electric motor, but still makes a fair bit of mechanical noise. While the hood is by no means unattractive, there's no doubting that this roadster is easier on the eye with the roof safely stowed out of sight.
In fact, considering that the 370Z Roadster has been on the market for a fair while now, I was surprised by how many heads it turned out on the road, particularly with the roof down. By the end of the week — and after studying its form through a camera lens — I came to the conclusion that it's a far better-looking car than I had initially realised.
There's plenty of design detail to appreciate too. The 19-inch alloys are bold and the "boomerang" LED tail-lights and arrowhead headlights are things of automotive beauty. Chrome twin exhaust exits, eye-catching vertical door handles, and side indicators integrated into the "Z" badges add to the drama.
For the money Nissan is asking (see page two), you'd expect plenty of standard equipment. And thankfully, that's exactly what you get. Climate control, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, automatic interior temperature control, power heated leather seats, limited slip diff and digital six CD/MP3 audio system are all standard fare. A 40GB Satellite Navigation touchscreen system is available as an option, and includes DVD playback, USB and auxiliary inputs, 9.3GB storage and Bluetooth audio streaming.
Of course, the 370Z Roadster does have its foibles. Indeed, you need to have the back of an undernourished 10-year-old girl to fit comfortably in the firm bucket seats, and if you have longish legs you may spend hours searching for a decent seating position. Visibility with the roof up is nothing short of atrocious, and backing into a tight space — even with the help of the reversing camera built into optional navigation display — is enough to give you heart palpitations. Wind noise is difficult to ignore, the boot is absolutely minute, and since it is a roadster it obviously has no back seats.
But all that goes firmly out the window when you stumble across a deserted, twisty stretch of mountainside road, with just enough sun and not a breath of wind. Here, with plenty of paddle-pulling and the V6 wail bouncing off the cliffs, the 370Z Roadster comes into its own.
Yes, with the right road and the right weather, everything comes together for this ragtop. Suddenly, you're aware of the benefits of the low-slung seating position, and how well balanced the car is through the bends. The meaty steering starts to make sense, and a glance in the side mirror reveals more than just a hint of shapely hip. Ah, so this is the appeal of open-top motoring.
So, despite the fact that it has a roof fashioned from fabric, and despite the fact that it doesn't have a manual gearbox, somehow the automatic Nissan 370Z Roadster still comes across as a proper driver's car.
And can there be any higher compliment than that?
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See page 2 for specs and pricing.