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We drive Nissan's hot 350Z Roadster

2005-05-11 14:33

John Oxley

It's not so much the performance of the 350Z roadster that grabs you, as the ease with which it performs.

It's not so much the way it looks that grabs you, but the way in which it allows you to drive comfortably with the roof down.

And it's not so much the way the engine looks that grabs you, but the way it sounds.

Any which way you look at it, Nissan's 350Z Roadster deserves the "Cabriolet of the Year" title it got at this year's Geneva Motor Show. It's smart, it's funky - and it goes like a bat off a shovel, if you'll excuse my mixed metaphors...

The great news is that its price undercuts all two-seater competitors in its performance segment - and at the same time it manages to out-perform most of them, including the mighty Mercedes-Benz 350 SLK and Chrysler's Crossfire Roadster

Most popular

The Nissan 350Z Coupe is already South Africa's most popular sports car, and the addition of the Roadster to the lineup is bound to boost sales further.

Based on the coupe, the Roadster is fitted with a canvas soft-top which folds-down in 20 seconds at the push of a button - after you're unlatched the roof (it's a quick and easy operation which won't break any nails, girls).

The only disconcerting thing is that the passenger seat slides forward (then back again) during the roof-lowering operation, but it's all in the name of easy folding.

The other good news is that boot capacity is quite good even when the roof is down, and when lowered the roof stows away under a lightweight tonneau cover made from thermo-plastic resin in front of the boot lid, and reveals a pair of sculpted domes behind the seats.

At the same time attention to detail in the aerodynamics department, including a small glass wind deflector fitted between the seats, means you can carry on a conversation without your voice being drowned out by wind buffeting, even when cruising with the top down at 120 km/h - or more - although the top of your hair can get ruffled a bit.

There's a small heated glass rear window helps which ensure clear rearward visibility in all weathers - but it's a bit small, making the interior feel a tad claustrophobicx with the roof up.

There's also a pair of new optional ventilated seats.

Knitted centre section

For some reason these are only available in a burnt orange colour (so you can't have them with a red car), and they feature a woven knitted centre section which allows fresh air to circulate around the occupants? bodies.

They cost R3 000 on top of the 350Z Roadster's R425 000 asking price.

Other than that the 350Z Roadster has exactly the same specification as the Coupe.

It tips the scales at 100 kg more, however, and has a higher coefficient of drag (cD) - 0.34 versus 0.29 - and this affects acceleration. Nissan claims 0-100 km/h acceleration of 6.4 seconds for the Roadster, while top speed is electronically limited to 250 km/h.

The Roadster?s engine is the same as that in the Coupé - an all-alloy 24-valve 3.5-litre V6 driving the rear wheels via a short throw six-speed manual gearbox. It is mounted at the front of the car, but as far back in the chassis as possible, for better weight distribution.

Power output is 206 kW at 6 200 r/min with 363 Nm of torque at 4 800 r/min.

The Roadster has a comprehensive array of standard equipment, including power-operated soft top, wind deflector, climate control, cruise control heated power seats, and elelctrically-opearted mirrors and windows.

Big Brembo brakes

Vehicle dynamic control (VDC) is complemented by the Brembo-developed ABS braking system, while standard safety features include front and side airbags. Also standard are18 inch alloy wheels shod with 225/45R18 91W Bridgestone tyres at the front and 245/45R18 96W rear.

There is also a trip computer and charcoal leather-covered heated seats.

Inside the car Nissan has opted for a classical mix of leather and brushed aluminium, with the speedo, revcounter and water temperature/fuel gauge in a hooded binnacle attached to the height adjustable steering column.

That way, no matter what height you choose to suit your own dimensions, the instruments are always in line of sight.

So, too, for that matter, are the oil pressure gauge and the voltmeter, plus the trip computer (average speed, outside temperature, distance to empty, average fuel consumption, elapsed journey time, stopwatch, trip odometer, digital clock and up-shift indicator setting), all angled towards the driver in three separate dials almost in the centre of the dash.

There's a large centre console, with that bank of subsidiary instruments angled towards the driver, above a big lidded stowage space in the centre, then the audio system with its front-loader CD player.

Aluminium trim

The sporty aluminium-trimmed steering wheel has three spokes, again in classic style, and a thick black leather rim, and it also contains satellite controls for the cruise control and audio system.

A BOSE sound system with seven speakers and a 10-inch subwoofer linked to a six-disk front-loading CD player is also standard.

Nice sporty touches include brushed aluminium pedals.

In contrast to most sports cars around there's lots of stowage space, not least of these being a mighty locking compartment behind the passenger seat capable of taking a laptop computer in its case.

On the road

The seats are well supportive under the thighs, and are designed differently - the driver's, which has electrically-operated fore-aft and backrest rake, is aimed at preventing the driver being thrown around, while the passenger's, with electric fore-aft but manual backrest operation, more comfy for those longer journeys.

Once moving - and one gets comfortable very quickly, in stark contrast to the 350 SLK, for instance - the 350Z has a delicious exhaust beat that's a pleasure to the ears, especially with the roof down.

On the road it sits flat and solidly under the hardest cornering, while a 47/53 front-rear weight distribution ensures handling remains neutral.

Even when you put your foot down on some of our appalling rural roads it doesn't lose its composure, and you always feel firmly in control.

The car is endowed with very crisp turn-in, due in part to the almost ideal weight distribution, and also to the forged aluminium suspension.

Ride quality is firm, but that's the price you invariably pay for precise control and ultimate grip.

The six speed gearbox has well-spaced ratios but requires a firm hand - don't expect to merely flick through the gears or do a rapid downshift.

Although a wide car by sports car standards, the 350Z makes a remarkable transformation once you get used to it, and feels like a much smaller vehicle in the driver's ability to throw it around.

Chuckable, and lots of fun.

But be careful - you can often be travelling a lot faster than it seems. Watch out for the dreaded laser beams, especially as you pass through the small dorps that make speed-trapping a major source of income...

At the same time you don't HAVE to drive the car quickly, for it's a pleasure to simply cruise with the top down, enjoy a conversation with your passenger, and bask in the envious stares you get from passers-by.


Nissan has got it right once again. Sometimes designers make compromises when they chop the top off a coupe, but the Nissan Roadster isn't one of those cars.

It looks the part, sounds the part, and drives the part.

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