When we reviewed the newlast year, we applauded the company for doing a sports car model update right. Rather than bloating out the car, Nissan reduced size and weight, at the same time putting in a bigger engine. But there was no equivalent convertible model. Nissan remedies that lack for the 2010 model year with the all new 370Z Roadster, and we got to drive it.
On a sunny California morning, we followed a route that let us slam the 370Z Roadster through turn after turn. The top was open to provide a nice view of the forest canopy overhead, the scent of redwood trees was in the air, yet our attention was all on the road and the car. Holding the engine speed at around 5,000rpm in third gear, lighting up the brakes on each approach to a turn, maybe a downshift to second if the turn looked particularly tight, the 370Z Roadster acted just like the hard-top model on which it is based. A bit of understeer became apparent, but that was easily tamed with more throttle, the rear-wheel drive helping the nose correct toward the line for which we aimed.
Like the 370Z Coupe, the Roadster's six-speed manual transmission comes with the SynchroRev Match feature. Nissan hasn't yet brought the dual-clutch technology from itsdown to other models, but SynchroRev Match is a nice little high-tech helper, automatically blipping the engine speed during shifts to make a smooth change. That feature, along with the gear indicator on the instrument panel, makes the 370Z line seem like a training sports car, but we'll take all the help we can get when we're piloting 3,500 pounds of metal, plastic, and rubber at speed down a mountain course.
The engine is the same for the Roadster or Coupe, the latest generation of Nissan's VQ series, a 3.7-liter V-6 using variable valve timing and lift to make 332 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. That emphasis of horsepower over torque is why we kept the engine speed high when thrashing the car, with a decent buffer before its 7,500rpm redline. At those speeds, the engine sounds supercharged, a nice turbine-like whine easily heard with the top down.
Speaking of that top, it's the major, and obvious difference between the cars. The 370Z Roadster uses a soft top, defying the rest of the industry's move toward retractable hard tops in an effort to keep the weight down. At up to 3 mph, the top can be raised or lowered at the touch of a button. Well, a long touch on that button, as it needs to be held down throughout the entire process. But it works easily, locking itself into position when put up, or stowing itself away when put down. Unlike the outgoing 350Z Roadster, which operated electrically, this one uses hydraulic power to do its disappearing trick. While Nissan assured us the hydraulic system was an improvement, we didn't notice any particular difference.
But the 370Z Roadster has it all over its predecessor in style. First, the new top is cloth, which always looks classy, as opposed to the former's vinyl. And the rear window is glass. Then there's the profile; the rear makes a nice rake toward the back, rather than a quick drop-off, somewhat replicating the profile of the 370Z Coupe. Nissan mounted a rear wind deflector behind the seats, which does a bit to limit turbulence in the cabin. However, at 60 or 70 mph, conversation with our driving partner on this run involved a lot of shouting and repetition. To account for more extreme weather conditions in the cabin, Nissan makes ventilated seats, with heating and cooling, available in the 370Z Roadster, a nicety not offered for the 370Z Coupe.
During a technical presentation, Nissan claimed the suspension between both cars was the same, with some extra body stiffening for the 370Z Roadster. But as we assaulted the corners, the ride felt just a little rubbery. It's a fine distinction, and it had been a while since driving the 370Z Coupe, so the difference might have been psychological, but Nissan does expect an older, potentially more sedate buyer for the 370Z Roadster, which would explain some softer suspension tuning. But given that the car held the road just fine, we're not going to complain about extra comfort in the ride.
When we tested the 370Z Coupe, we had a base version, lacking any significant cabin tech. As the 370Z Roadster we drove was done up in Touring trim, we got to check out the whole Nissan electronics suite. This modern system is based around a navigation system with maps stored on the hard drive, featuring integrated live traffic and weather. There's a basic Bluetooth phone system, and integrated audio sources include Bluetooth streaming and iPod connectivity. CDs can be ripped to the hard drive, which has 9.3 gigabytes reserved for what Nissan calls the Jukebox. Music playback comes through an eight-speaker Bose audio system, which would normally be a blunt instrument, but all these speakers only have to provide sound for two.
Basically, the cabin tech is the same kit we've seen in the latest, and in Infiniti models. The interface is easy to use and makes it quick to select letters and numbers from a virtual keyboard. What's most impressive is that Nissan makes the whole tech suite available in a small sports car.
Although convertibles are rarely thought of as serious sports cars, the 2010 Nissan 370Z Roadster offers the same kind of driving excitement as its hard-top brother. Open top driving is undeniably enjoyable in good weather with this car, but limited cabin and cargo space suggests it's not a very good choice as a primary car. Probably the best thing about the 370Z Roadster is that, unlike most two-seater convertibles, it will never get labeled as a chick car.