a special place in the hearts of
performance car buyers right across
Europe simply because of its
out looks but also because its
focused, lithe and bullish sportscar...
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST to buy a 'proper' sports car
that is, a true, no-compromise two-seater drop-top sports car with rear-wheel
drive and a potent front-mounted engine. A car with dramatic styling and that
serves up equally exciting performance. One car company, Nissan, has not only
calculated the exact amount £31,300 but has already
built the car for you: the 350Z Roadster GT.
So what, exactly, are you getting for £31,300? Judging by the photographs
dramatic, head-turning looks. You also get bags of performance from a gutsy
309bhp 3.5-litre V6 engine and an engaging flat-riding chassis that together
offers keen drivers looking for maximum performance-per-pound excellent value
and an addictively enjoyable driving experience.
Nissan has deliberately kept the model line-up simple and just two body styles
are on offer Coupé or Roadster and two trim levels: standard off-the-peg
350Z or specced-up 350Z GT which adds cruise control, heated and powered leather
seats and a 240W Bose radio/cassette with six-CD in-dash changer, 7 Bose speakers
including a 25cm subwoofer behind the driver's seat and AudioPilot noise compensation
technology. Prices are £27,300 and £28,800 respectively for the 350Z Coupé and
350Z Roadster; and £29,800 and £31,300 respectively for the Coupé GT and Roadster
GT. All have the same 309bhp V6 under the bonnet and all come with a close-ratio
six-speed manual gearbox.
Get up close and the urge to spend time admiring the authentic sports car looks
gives way to the urge to pull on the large, aluminium finish vertical door handle
on the trailing edge of the Roadster's wide door and drop down into the invitingly-contoured
bucket seat. The driver's seat is deeply sculpted to hold you firmly in place
under all conditions, while the passenger seat is wider, with the emphasis on
cruising comfort. First impressions match the external cues: even before you
fire up the engine there's absolutely no doubt that this is a driver-focussed
The three-spoke leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel is tactile
the rim nicely hard and pleasing to hold and with logical thumb cut-outs. The
stubby gearlever also meticulously trimmed in perforated leather
is close to hand. Remote audio controls are mounted on the right-hand spoke;
cruise control switches on the left.
Extra dials showing volts, oil pressure and trip computer are
arrayed in a horizontal line along the top of the centre stack, each mounted
in its own individual teardrop-shaped cowl, their faces angled directly towards
the driver. The trip computer displays information concerning the selected rpm
change-up band, average mpg, external temperature, current mph (especially useful)
and range. Directly ahead of you is a three-instrument binnacle that moves in
sync with the height-adjustable steering column to ensure the driver always
has the best possible view of the major instruments, whatever the chosen seating
Pride of place in the centre goes to the rev-counter, redlined at 7,500rpm.
Flanking it to the right is the speedometer and, to the left, two smaller gauges
for fuel and coolant temperature. Graphics are orange on black with red needles.
Inset into the rev-counter is a small red light a driver-programmable
shift-up indicator which flashes red as you reach the optimum safe engine speed
in any gear and designed to leave you free to focus on the road without ever
having to worry about over-revving the engine when making maximum use of the
Fore/aft and backrest angle adjustments are electric and there's also manual
seat height adjustment drivers of average build up to just under six
foot tall will have no trouble setting a first class driving position and will
feel an integral part of the 'Z'. Despite the steering wheel not being adjustable
for reach, a comfortable and secure driving position is easily achieved. The
shapely leather-upholstered seats (with perforated centre panels) proved to
be both very supportive and comfortable over long distances. And even though
they don't look that heavily bolstered, they still provided good location and
kept the driver and front passenger in place during spirited driving en route
to the New Forest.
Coupé models invariably necessitate a twist and stretch exercise to belt up
but a well-considered touch in the 350Z are seat belts mounted on 'servers'
that keep them close to the occupant's shoulder and within easy reach. Cabin
safety includes front and side airbags, active head restraints and roll hoops
behind the headrests. It's a liveable cabin, too, with a number of useful storage
cubbies, although there is no glovebox. If you don't specify the optional (and
excellent) Birdview SatNav (£1,200) you get a handy lidded cubby where the screen
should go. You'll also find a discreet slide-out drawer in the fascia that's
ideal for coins.
Below this is the 240W Bose hi-fi (with a 6-CD in-dash changer and a ten-inch
subwoofer behind the driver's seat ) and the rotary controls for the climate
control air conditioning that's more than up to keeping you cool even
with the top down. Power windows are also standard, with one-touch up/down for
the driver and one-shot down for the passenger. Heated, electric, folding mirrors
are also standard, as too is an overhead sunglasses holder. Moving back past
the gear lever, there's a smallish storage box with a sliding lid alongside
the traditional handbrake and behind that, in the central tunnel, another lidded
Apart from the token door pockets, there are three practical lockers in the
rear bulkhead behind the passenger's backrest: two small parcel boxes and a
large, lockable storage box capable of holding a briefcase. While you can store
coats and the like in the narrow gap between the seatbacks and the rear bulkhead,
doing so does muffle the subwoofer. Obviously, none of these rear storage areas
can be accessed whilst on the move because the passenger's seatback needs to
be moved forwards for loading or unloading.
Which is a good time to mention the boot. Bearing in mind that the soft top
has to go somewhere when it completely disappears beneath the rear deck, the
Roadster's shallow boot still provides 130 litres of storage. And while it's
not a regular shape, we still managed to pack in two people's luggage (two medium-size
squashy bags) and all the essentials for a three-day self-catering weekend break
in one of the comfortable lodges at Sandy Balls in the New Forest and
shut the bootlid easily!
The space in the upturned space-saver under the boot floor also came in handy
thankfully we didn't get a puncture. We didn't try, but according to
the handbook it is possible to store a full-size golf bag in the boot
what you might call a 'whole' in one.
But driving to the golf club or weekend breaks with the kitchen sink along for
the ride are not exactly the prime reasons people buy themselves a 350Z Roadster.
It looks great, goes like a rocket and is great fun to drive.
With 309bhp under your right foot you'd be surprised if the 350Z didn't turn
in a slick 0-62mph time it gets there in 6.1 seconds. It will also, if
you let it, race on past that all the way to an electronically limited 155mph.
But where it really scores is in the 'grunt' department engine torque.
Maximum torque of 264lb ft is available at 4,800rpm but and this is what
makes the 350Z such an exciting and impressive player mid-range and through
the gears ninety per cent of this is available from a lowly 2,000rpm.
And it's not just the power but the glory, too step hard on the accelerator
and you can switch off the Bose and instead enjoy listening to the front/mid-mounted
3.5-litre V6's aural signature and the wonderfully sonorous roar from the two
large-bore tailpipes that accompanies serious acceleration.
The short-throw gear lever's action is precise; and yet it is at the same time
and in a trackday kind of way, satisfyingly deliberate. Not a problem
it just adds to the impression that behind the engine is a tough gearbox
one that's more than up to the task of dishing out 264lb ft of torque to the
rear wheels. While the drilled alloy pedals look good, you do need to get the
clutch and revs balanced right when working your way though the 'box. Sixth
is fairly long-legged but pick-up is still crisp, even when lazily cruising
In a nutshell, this is a car you need to be physically involved with. The driver
is an integral part of the machine; not just a body that sits back and steers.
But what you put into the 350Z, you get back with interest. The bigger the driver
investment; the bigger the payback!
Nissan has done a good job with the required extra strengthening to the Roadster's
chassis it feels almost as solid as one of its coupé-bodied sisters.
And the extra 88kg serves another purpose by making the stiffly sprung convertible
feel reassuringly settled on the road. With almost perfect (53:47) front-to-rear
weight distribution, a low centre of gravity, multi-link independent suspension
all-round and the traditional rear-wheel drive configuration, handling is hugely
involving. And if you really want to revel in the 'Z experience' for
example, on track days you can disengage the ESP system.
The speed-dependent power steering is well-weighted and precise and delivers
usable feedback making it easy to control the Roadster, which can be
flung through corners with confidence. Grip from the Bridgestone Potenzas wrapped
around the six-spoke Rays alloy wheels (225/45 front; 245/45 rear) further enhances
the 350Z's sure-footed feel. The Brembo brakes the Italian company's
signature callipers are clearly visible through the spokes of the wheels
are powerful and are easily moderated through the firm but progressive brake
For the record, the ultra-lightweight forged alloy wheels shave four kilos per
corner off the unsprung weight of the 350Z, further optimising the chassis dynamics.
The anti-lock brakes are backed up with Brake Assist and Electronic Brakeforce
Distribution and there's an electronic stability program with traction control.
Despite the sporting-bias of the ride and a mechanical soundtrack that red-blooded
drivers will prefer to anything playing on the CD/radio, the 350Z is a surprisingly
easy car in which to cover long distances. Our outward-bound trip from Kent
to the New Forest was done in lashing, torrential rain on waterlogged motorways
that turned an easy two-hour run into a three-hour Wim Wenders road movie. Even
in those conditions, the journey was no hardship.
For the return leg the sun came out to play and it was pleasant enough for the
top to stay down for the entire journey. The downside was the near-endless nose-to-tail
traffic caused by the shutting down of the M3/M25 interchange. As usual, the
powers-that-be failed to clearly inform motorists what was happening until it
was too late; so instead of turning off and cutting across country (and the
chance for some quality time with the 350Z!) we, like thousands of other motorists
that day, were forced to drive miles out of our way to find an alternative route
Say... perhaps there were benefits, after all!
Because any potential irritation of this situation was smoothly erased by the
fact that we were enjoying our topless drive in the 350Z so much; even the other
drivers managed a smile at the sight of the gleaming white, clean-decked 350Z
complete with blonde in the passenger seat. As they say, somebody has
to do it...
When in place there's about an inch-and-a-half clear headroom beneath the folding
canvas roof look up and you'll see that the hood is not lined. And while
powered, the 350Z's soft-top is not fully automatic either. Dropping the top
requires first manually releasing the header rail catch (watching your fingernails!)
after which going from fully closed to fully open takes around 20 seconds. The
open/close switch for the roof is sited in an out of the way spot on the driver's
side of the lower fascia.
Still, it's well worth the trouble. Because when the top's down and folded away
under the rear cover with its moulded-in twin-fairings, this Roadster really
does look the 'biZness'. Fortunately the clear glass wind deflector between
the rollover hoops keeps the cabin free of turbulence, even with the side windows
down at fast-moving motorway speeds. So you can talk and have fun all the while.
If you can moderate your desire to 'fast-forward' the scenery at every opportunity
you really ought to think of your licence then fuel bills won't
be a problem. Officially the 350Z will return 16.6, 23.5 and 30.7mpg on the
urban, combined and extra-urban cycles. We averaged 24.6mpg and that
was with all those traffic problems.
A focused, lithe and bullish sports car that stands out for its styling and
that's won numerous awards from Europe's top specialist magazines and
more than 40 awards globally the 'Z' has established a special place
in the hearts of performance car buyers right across Europe. So, isn't it about
time you started dating? MotorBar
350Z Roadster GT | £31,300
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-62mph: 6.1 seconds
Power: 309bhp | Torque: 264lb ft | Test
MPG: 24.6mpg | CO2: 288g/km