The brunette in the dark SUV caught me off guard. “I like your car!” she hollered. “Uh, thanks,” I muttered, though I doubt she heard me. The light changed, and off she went. Damn — I should have asked where she was going.
Such was the attention Nissan’s 370Z roadster drew out on the road — not bad for a car that’s been around two years.
The 2011 Nissan 370Z roadster costs a pretty penny, but it’s a pretty car that storms on-ramps and manhandles corners far better than the average soft-top.
Redesigned for 2010, the two-seat 370Z roadster carries over with few changes. It’s a soft-top convertible version of the 370Z coupe, which was redesigned for 2009 to succeed the 350Z. Like the coupe, the roadster comes in base and Touring editions with a six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic. We drove a six-speed manual 370Z roadster Touring.
The 370Z roadster moves out from a stop and thunders ahead as the tach needle flies clockwise. Similar money can get you more punch in a V-8 Ford Mustang GT or Chevy Camaro SS convertible, but the 332-horsepower Z rivals their fun. Graced by a short-throw stick shift and Nissan’s SyncroRev Match option, which blips the throttle automatically to rev-match downshifts, the Z encourages you to dart between traffic gaps and generally haul ass whenever possible. No teenager belongs within reach of the keys.
Like the Infiniti G, its platform sibling, the Z resists premature understeer. It sets on its rear and allows you to drift the tail with little practice. Like in the 350Z, however, things get squirrely if you nail the gas coming out of a turn, and mid-corner bumps perturb the chassis more than I’d like. As $40,000 droptops go, the BMW 1 Series convertible stays more planted.
The Z’s steering settles in at higher speeds but starts into turns with a hint of mush. It isn’t a deal-breaker, but I expect more from a car of this caliber. At low speeds, the wheel doesn’t always unwind to center naturally, but city drivers will appreciate the car’s 32.8-foot turning circle with the standard 18-inch wheels.
Our tester’s optional 19-inch wheels came with the Z’s Sport Package, which includes SynchroRev Match, a limited-slip differential, Bridgestone Potenza high-performance summer tires and beefier brakes. The 19s add 1.3 feet to the car’s turning circle, as larger wheels often do, but the Sport Package’s brakes feel linear and fade-free. Given the hardware — 14-inch front discs and four-piston calipers, versus 12.6-inch front discs on the base 370Z — I’d expect nothing less.
Like the 370Z coupe, the roadster’s suspension isolates minor bumps, but larger disruptions knock you about. At highway speeds, the Z has all the insulation of a shower curtain — the tires drone and the wind howls. Editors were split on top-down wind disruption. I found it livable thanks in part to a fixed wind deflector between the Z’s roll bars, but another editor said the wind beat him up at highway speeds. The payoff comes in the convertible’s solid structure, which minimizes jiggle over broken pavement.
The Z’s cockpit is snug, with stiff cushions, limited seat travel and no telescoping adjustment for the steering wheel. It’s handsome, though, with padded surfaces down to thigh level and convenient knee pads flanking the center controls. I wish Nissan had swapped out the cabin’s silver plastic accents for chrome or metal — as it does in the Murano crossover — but all told, this is one of the brand’s better interiors.
If you must ask, the Z roadster has all the utility of a decorative fireplace — you’ll want to annex the center console’s single cupholder before your passenger beats you to it. Behind the front seats is a miniscule cargo ledge and storage cubby. The cloth top doesn’t intrude on trunk space, but all you get is a precious 4.2 cubic feet, top up or down. That’s about half the space of a Mustang, Camaro, 1 Series or Audi TT convertible.
Safety, Features & Pricing
The Z has not been crash-tested, and given its low production volume, it probably won’t be. The Z roadster has insufficient reliability data to quantify, but its coupe sibling is abysmal in that department. The 1 Series is a reliability sinkhole, too, but the Mustang and Camaro fare better.
The base Z roadster starts at $38,200, which is $6,750 more than the identically equipped hardtop Z. That’s a hefty premium for a powered cloth top, even in the $40,000 club.
Car Coupe Convertible Droptop premium (amount)
Nissan 370Z Base $31,450 $38,200 21% ($6,750)
Chevrolet Camaro 2SS $34,420 $39,775 16% ($5,355)
Ford Mustang GT Premium $32,845 $37,845 15% ($5,000)
BMW 135i $36,350 $40,650 12% ($4,300)
Audi TT Premium Plus $38,300 $41,300 8% ($3,000)
Standard features on the Z include automatic climate control, keyless access with push-button start, one-touch power windows, a power cloth top, and a CD stereo with an MP3 jack and steering-wheel audio controls. Another $4,000 gets you the 370Z Touring, which adds a decent Bose stereo and partial-leather power seats with heating and ventilation. The automatic transmission, a navigation system, USB/iPod compatibility, a backup camera and the Sport Package are optional. Check every factory option, and an automatic Z roadster Touring tops out near $50,000.
370Z in the Market
What the Z roadster lacks in hardcore performance and value it turns out in refinement: The tidy soft-top, smooth-shifting stick and cabin materials all deserve Infiniti badges.
The flat-backed 350Z roadster always looked awkward, but with this version Nissan has righted the styling ship. Even in the car-indifferent city where I live, the Z roadster drew looks and occasional comments. Such qualities may help owners justify dropping at least 40 large on a two-seat weekend toy. Their spouses, of course, may differ on the value of the shout-outs.
Starting MSRP $31,450–$42,200
City: 18 – 19
Highway: 25 – 26
332-hp, 3.7-liter V-6 (premium)
350-hp, 3.7-liter V-6 (premium)
6-speed manual w/OD
7-speed automatic w/OD and auto-manual
New or Notable
• 332-horsepower V-6
• Convertible and high-performance NISMO versions available
• Rear-wheel drive
• Manual or paddle-shift automatic
• New backup camera
What We Like
• Coupe’s value for the money
• Strong brakes w/Sport Package
• Turning circle
• Well-mannered chassis
What We Don’t
• Road and wind noise
• Cramped interior
• Small trunk
• Convertible cost