2010 Nissan 370Z RoadsterPosted on September 4th, 2009
Open-air fun for driving enthusiasts
By Nina Russin
In my next life, I think I’d like to come back as a roadster. Coveted by car enthusiasts, roadsters combine the thrill of driving for sport with the visceral appeal of the wind in one’s hair.
What exactly is a roadster? While definitions vary, most aficionados agree that a roadster is a two seat sports car with no B pillar and a deployable top. Some purists argue that roadsters should have plastic side curtains in lieu of windows, but current safety regulations prohibit manufacturers from going that route.
Despite their appeal, roadsters represent a small percentage of new car sales. Two-seat interiors aren’t practical for families with children. Since the top stows in the trunk, there isn’t a lot of room for cargo.
Because of their limited practicality, roadsters are typically the second or third car in an owner’s garage. Models with luxury price tags can be a hard sell. An overabundance of engineering and design talent combined with its small customer base makes the competition within the segment daunting.
To its credit, Nissan has faced the challenge swimmingly, due in part to the coupe’s considerable fan base. The first Z roadster, introduced in 2004, added a new dimension to the coupe‘s winning formula.
Part of that formula is value. With a base MSRP below $40,000, the 350Z roadster offered comparable power and performance to more expensive European cars. And it wasn’t half bad to look at.
The 370Z was the design team’s opportunity to reinvent the roadster with a clean sheet of paper. The open-air model would be the third pillar in a line-up that also includes the Z coupe and high-performance Nizmo models.
From a design stance, the new roadster has cleaner lines than the outgoing car, and a more ergonomic cockpit. The cloth top completes a strong arc that begins at the base of the front pillars and ends at the trunk. The A pillars have been reconfigured to give the roadster a more attractive profile with the top down.
Weight reduction enhances performance
While designers strove to make the new roadster more attractive, engineers aimed for a lighter, tighter chassis. Weight reduction measures included extensive use of aluminum body panels and suspension components.
At the same time, reinforcements and the use of high-strength steel in key areas produced quantum improvements in torsional rigidity. The 370Z roadster has 40 percent enhanced torsional rigidity up front and 45 percent better rigidity in back than the 350. Lateral bending stiffness in back is up 60 percent, giving the rear-wheel drive roadster much improved handling and performance.
A true sports car
The 370Z roadster shares the coupe’s powertrain, with a standard 3.7-liter V6 engine rated at 332 horsepower, and the choice of a six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic transmission. Paddle shifters enable drivers to manually select gears on the automatic.
Nissan’s unique rev-matching feature blips the throttle when the driver downshifts to smooth out performance. The option is part of a sport package that also adds nineteen-inch wheels, sport brakes and a viscous limited slip differential.
The suspension consists of a double wishbone design in front and multi-link setup in the back. A variable effort steering system gives more assist at low speeds, while maintaining a positive on-center feel on the highway.
Engineers opted for a cloth top rather than a hardtop, in order to save weight. The 370Z roadster is 150 pounds lighter than the car it replaces, enhancing the power-to-weight ratio.
The top comes with a standard glass window with a defroster. While glass is heavier than plastic, it’s more durable over the long haul. Plastic tends to yellow and fog over time.
A new cloth headliner is more attractive than the vinyl headliner in the 350Z roadster. A hydraulic mechanism operates the top, saving space in the cargo area. Operation is completely automatic, requiring the push of a button. A new request switch on the driver’s door deploys the top before passengers enter the car. The driver can also deploy the top using a button on the remote key fob.
Inside, the new roadster has enhanced standard safety features, with six airbags, as well as antilock braking, vehicle dynamic and traction control. Engineers refined the stability control to be less intrusive on the driver. A button inside the cockpit turns the system off for driving at the track.
Comfort and convenience features include standard Bluetooth interface on the upscale touring grade, an eight-speaker Bose audio system, iPod interface and intelligent key with push-button start. A revised navigation system, available as part of an option package includes real-time weather and traffic updates.
Test drive in northern California
I got a chance to put the new Z drop top through its paces at a recent media event in northern California. The drive route included winding two-lane roads between San Jose and the California coast, as well as some shorter segments on urban surface streets and the highway.
Having driven the coupe last spring, I had high expectations for the car’s open-air cousin. I was not disappointed.
The test car was the upscale touring grade, with a base price of $40,520. The touring model comes standard with heated and cooled ventilated leather seats. The test car also included the sport package ($2800) that adds rev matching, sport brakes, larger wheels and the limited slip differential.
While the roadster doesn’t have an abundance of storage space, it’s a huge improvement over the model it replaces. The design team did a good job of utilizing opportunities in the passenger cabin, with a functional glove box, covered bin on the center stack, storage shelves behind the seats, and bottle holders in the doors. Both the bottle holders and center cupholder are large enough for twenty-ounce water bottles.
The seats are comfortable and supportive. Not only does the mesh over leather circulate air through the seats, it also holds the driver and passenger in place during hard cornering.
The larger rear window improves visibility to the back with the top in place. Side mirrors, while not huge, do a good job of compensating for blind spots.
The top is easy to deploy. Engineers made it possible to operate the top at speeds below three miles-per-hour, so the mechanism works when the driver pulls away from a stop.
A standard glass deflector behind the seats improves airflow through the cabin. The letter Z, etched into the glass, is a nice design touch.
While the Z has a stiff clutch, the pedal is light enough to function in stop-and-go traffic. The short-throw shift lever adds to the pleasure of putting the manual transmission through its paces.
Improvements in torsional rigidity are obvious from the start: there is no noticeable cowl shake. Steering is precise at all speeds. Braking is firm and linear without being dicey.
Its small footprint and short wheelbase makes the new roadster ideal for traveling along narrow roads. The driver has ample steering feedback. At the same time, the suspension is compliant enough for everyday driving.
The driver-focused cockpit reflects the car‘s performance orientation: a cluster of gauges, similar to those on the coupe top off the center stack. I found the gauges easy to read in bright sunlight with polarized lenses.
The roadster’s small trunk is large enough to hold a couple of small duffle backs for a weekend getaway. It goes without saying that the roadster can’t function as a primary car for athletes who need to carry bicycles or other large cargo for their sports.
Base price for the 370Z roadster is $36,970, not including a $720 destination charge. The Nissan 370Z roadster rolls into dealerships later this month.
Likes: A competitively priced luxury roadster with exceptional ride and handling, and a high level of standard safety features. The open-air Z combines the visceral appeal of a convertible with the response and handling of a serious sports car.
Dislikes: Bluetooth interface is not standard equipment on the base model.
Model: 370Z Roadster
Base price: $36,970
As tested: N/A
Horsepower: 332 Hp @ 7000 rpm
Torque: 270 lbs.-ft. @ 5200 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 18/25 mpg city/highway
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