Is the perfectly poised 350Z good enough to survive a beheading with its dynamics intact?
When a sports coupe is designed primarily for the US market it's almost inevitable that there will also be a convertible version. So it has proved with the Nissan 350Z. And while the Roadster has already been on sale in the US for several months, the drop-top is now officially about to woo a UK and European audience with its al fresco charms and ear-catching soundtrack - Roadsters already in the country (see evo 070) have been grey imports. The danger is, of course, that like Samson, in snipping off the Z's barnet, Nissan might also have weakened its hero's strengths. So, is the coupe lessened by its lack of a steel roof and the addition of 75kg? Well, a little, but not much. We're talking fractions shaved off the sharpness of the handling and a smidge of a reduction in the performance. Hardcore drivers will rue the blunting of the growly coupe's edge, but if you're a fan of top-down motoring you're unlikely to feel too aggrieved at having only 95 per cent of a Z's full potential. Nissan's done a good job with the convertible bits, with the possible exception of the styling. As a coupe you're distracted from the thickness of the 350's rump by the swoop of the roofline, but with the Roadster the tail becomes a prominent feature. The car seems a bit frumpy alongside the coupe, although brighter colours do funk things up a bit. Roof erected, the Roadster looks ordinary compared with the coupe, although on the car's launch in Portugal it proved a show-stealer with roof up or down. It takes only about 20 seconds to raise or lower the roof using a button situated (rather inconveniently) on the underside of the facia to the side of the steering column. It's not a fully automatic affair, however, as you have to manually operate a catch on the windscreen header rail. The hood itself is well trimmed and robust and features a heated glass rear screen for those of us more likely to cruise West Coast UK than West Coast LA. Top down and fancy free, you're not as well sheltered from the breeze as you are, say, in the latest SLK or Boxster, despite a diddy Z-monikered plastic wind blocker spanning the gap between the headrests. We're not talking in-car tornado here, but there are sufficient gusts and eddies to tie long hair into tousled knots. You won't freeze, though, because the heater is a good 'un, while a Bose sound system has the oomph to out-shout wind noise at three-figure speeds. Fresh for the Roadster and available as a £350 option - but only when you've ordered the £2500 GT Pack - are the ventilated net seats pictured here. The netting looks trendy, is comfortable to sit on, does a reasonable job at keeping your back cool and has a heated cushion, but heaven help you if you drop crumbs into its inner recesses. When you rouse the 3.5-litre V6 from its slumbers the effect is similar to having your ears syringed - minus its lid the Z treats you to an unstifled, high clarity rendition of its audio party piece, a gritty, emotion-rousing howl from the engine from idle to cut-out. This engine sounds fab in the coupe, but the Roadster represents the difference between having a good hi-fi system and Surround Sound. Of course, lots of drop-tops sound great from behind the wheel and then fall short of dynamic expectations, but the Z combines stirring mechanical oratory with performance you can enjoy immensely if not get utterly blown away by; this isn't an outrageously quick car, but it is a genuine sports car, not a soft-hearted sun-trap. Like the coupe, the basic mechanical package of which it shares, the Roadster has a confidently firm ride quality, which suffers little from the removal of the roof. There's the odd occasion over particularly vicious bumps when you can feel the shell flex, but because a healthy chunk of the body's rear-end rigidity seems to come from a substantial bracing strut between the rear suspension strut towers - boldly on view in the coupe, hidden inside the boot of the Roadster - scuttle shake is commendably slight. Fresh-air thrill seekers looking for the ultimate open-top sports car experience might be better served by a Porsche Boxster, but the Z is very appealing and capable and will be more exclusive than the German (Nissan expects to shift just 600 in the UK this year and 600 next). And, even fitted with the GT Pack that pushes up its price to £29,000, it's substantially cheaper and better equipped than the standard Boxster. Plus, it has a slightly brutish charm where the Porsche exudes near clinical efficiency. Now, if they could just sort out the styling...
|Engine||V6, 3498cc, 24v|
|Max power||276bhp @ 6200rpm|
|Max torque||268lb ft @ 4800rpm|
|Top speed||155mph (limited)|