Engine gets raucous at higher rpm, a few hard-to-read gauges, tough-to-access cargo behind seats.
Oddly enough, it wasn't while we were cruising up Pacific Coast Highway in the 2010 Nissan 370Z Touring Roadster -- top down, warm wind slapping our hair around -- that we realized the convertible version of Nissan's sports car might be the way to go. Like the 370Z coupe, the roadster has no problem kicking in its fast-twitch muscles when its jockey has the urge to attack some asphalt. And yet it's when you're not putting the crop to this Z's ample hindquarters that you realize why it'd be a better choice as a daily driver.
This theoretical decision was made during the less glamorous drive back to L.A. on the freeway, where we discovered the roadster's quieter strength. Our biggest gripe with the 370Z coupe concerns the amount of road noise that invades the cockpit at higher speeds. The roadster (with the top up, of course) isn't as aurally annoying on long trips. It's quieter, not by a lot but by enough to give the roadster the edge over the coupe.
And the 2010 Nissan 370Z Roadster also has an edge over most rivals. It certainly has the holy trinity required of a proper sports car -- it's fast, it handles and it looks the part of an automotive thoroughbred. The latest Z car is also nicely trimmed (the cockpit is much improved over the overly plastic 350Z) and offers a lot of performance for the price.
Other choices in this segment include the speedy but unsophisticated Ford Mustang GT convertible, the more polished but pricier Porsche Boxster and the more elemental but less comfortable Honda S2000. There's also the well-rounded BMW 135i convertible, though for many sports car enthusiasts the Bimmer is too upright and blocky to be considered alongside these sleek roadsters. Those looking for a pure sports car would be hard-pressed to find a greater all-around value than that offered by the 370Z roadster.
Cranking out a robust 332 horsepower, the 3.7-liter V6 in the 2010 Nissan 370Z is a bit like the corner diner's coffee -- plenty strong but just not all that refined. It delivers plenty of thrust spread out across a broad power band. Indeed, with 5.5-second 0-60-mph and 13.7-second quarter-mile times, it'll push you back in the seat when you let 'er rip. But the big V6's vocalizations won't inspire anyone to upload audio clips, as it gets rather gruff at higher revs.
In keeping with the Z's strong and involving personality, the six-speed manual's gearshifter has a hefty, direct action that lets you know you're piloting some serious machinery. Unique to the Z's manual gearbox is Nissan's available "SyncroRev Match" feature (it comes with the Sport package). Like an expert driver, SynchroRev Match simultaneously blips the throttle when you downshift, so as to enact butter-smooth down-changes.
Any car that can stop from 60 mph in less than 110 feet is in pretty rare company and the 370Z roadster is part of the group, as it did the drill in just 106 feet. And despite all that speed-erasing power on tap, the firm brake pedal is easily modulated and not at all touchy.
With its quick, nicely weighted steering, firm suspension and well-balanced chassis, the 2010 Nissan 370Z Roadster makes short and very enjoyable work of a curvy road. Despite the long nose, the Z is easy to place on your chosen cornering line while the car's massive grip, minimal body roll and communicative steering inspire confidence. Chassis integrity is impressive, as we detected barely any cowl shudder (typically, an unavoidable fact of life with convertibles) through bumpy turns and over freeway expansion joints.
Given our car's optional Sport package -- which retains the stock suspension calibrations but comes with 19-inch wheels -- the roadster's ride was more than acceptable for a car with its impressive handling capacity. The Z is firm but not stiff-legged over broken pavement and is compliant enough to serve daily-driver duty.
Although some taller staffers would have liked a telescopic adjustment for the steering wheel (it only tilts), most were able to get comfortable behind the wheel. The heavily bolstered sport seats do a great job of holding occupants fast while slicing through a serpentine road, and they're also comfortable enough for an all-day road trip. The Touring trim level comes with seat heaters/coolers, and we used both.
The seat heaters offer more than the typical butt and lower back coverage, as the heating element goes quite a ways up your back. The seat ventilation function also worked great while we were cruising with the top down on an 82-degree sunny day -- the seat panels are mesh, not leather, so as to allow the cool air to do its work.
With the top down and the windows up, the 2010 Nissan 370Z Roadster's cockpit is virtually free of wind buffeting, allowing those within to converse without having to shout. And as we mentioned earlier, with the cockpit closed up, the roadster is quieter on the freeway than the coupe. We asked Nissan about it, and the carmaker attributed it to the fact that the convertible has a partition between the passenger and cargo areas, whereas the coupe has an open area that ostensibly admits more noise toward the cockpit.
As the roadster's various controls mirror those of the coupe, the same rants and raves apply. For example, we still don't like the strings of tiny illuminated dots that pose as temperature and fuel gauges, and with sunlight flooding the open cockpit, they're nearly impossible to read. The other instruments are much clearer, however, including the trio of hooded gauges atop the dash, and both the audio and climate control systems have large, intuitive knobs and buttons.
Our 370Z roadster was the upscale Touring trim version, and as such came with a Bose audio system that presented enough punch and clarity to provide solid listening pleasure during top-down highway runs. However, radio channels are found via a rocker switch rather than via the proven old-school tuning knob. Doesn't sound like a big deal until you're trying to find your favorite triple-digit satellite stations; in that situation, a quick spin of the knob beats holding down a switch every time.
In our real-world usability tests, the 2010 Nissan 370Z Roadster earned about a C+. The sub-5-cubic-foot trunk will take a golf bag (Nissan even provides an illustration showing how to angle the bag in). It also swallowed our large rollaway suitcase, with a bit of space left over for a small duffel bag. You can also stow small items behind the seats, though doing so can be tricky, as you can't simply flip the (power-reclining) seats forward. As expected, the fact that the car's a two-seater meant our rear-facing baby seat had to ride shotgun, but it was a snap to install there.
Design/Fit and Finish
The 370Z roadster's styling drew mixed reviews, with some digging the sleek nose and powerful hindquarters and others thinking the rear was simply too big and ungainly. The cockpit was generally liked (except for the aforementioned LED gauges) and Nissan did a nice job improving the interior quality over the 350Z, as the 370 boasts soft-touch surfaces and handsome stitching everywhere. There are even padded suede cushions on the console's sides so drivers (and their passengers) don't bang their knees during aggressive cornering maneuvers.
Overall fit and finish is very good. On our preproduction example, the power top's operation sometimes sounded rather clunky, though the action itself was swift and fairly smooth.
Who should consider this vehicle
Any serious sports car fan looking to stay under $40,000 (or $45,000 in the case of our uplevel Touring trim) should find lots to love about the 2010 Nissan 370Z Roadster. There's more performance and handling here than you'll likely ever need, along with a comfortable cockpit and a ride that won't beat you up.