We want to drive the 2010 Nissan 370Z Roadster fast and slow at the same time. We want to do things quickly in the 370Z convertible, because it's a pretty serious driver's car, a convertible that doesn't instantly remind you that it's the less good version of an athletic rear-drive coupe.
But we also don't want to rush. We're on the same stretch of Mulholland Highway we've driven a hundred times before, but it feels like a new and exotic place in the 2010 Nissan 370Z Roadster.
Living Top-Down Partly, it's the euphoria of our head bobbing about in the open air. You've felt this before. It's why people fly into Los Angeles and rent a Sebring convertible only to sit in gridlock on the San Diego freeway. You look over at them and they're not unhappy. They're in L.A. and driving a convertible as the afternoon sun warms their brow. They don't need to be going fast; paradise is already here.
But paradise is a little bit nicer in our 2010 Nissan 370Z Roadster Touring. Thanks to some foresight on Nissan's part, it ranks among the best coupe-to-soft-top conversions we've ever driven.
Nissan knows that 30 percent of Z buyers will want a convertible. Even in today's economy, that's still 6,000-7,000 of you per year, so there was never any doubt that the Nissan 370Z should be developed as both a coupe and a roadster.
"When we were choosing the designs, we focused on ones that would look good in both coupe and convertible versions," says Randy Rodriguez, the Nissan Design America (NDA) designer who penned the original sketches of the 370Z. In place of the 350Z roadster's featureless beltline and elongated caboose, the 370Z roadster has graceful curves and a shape that's distinct from the hatchback-style Z coupe.
A shortened 100.4-inch wheelbase (down 4 inches from the 350Z) keeps the 2010 Nissan 370Z Roadster from looking ungainly and gives it dimensions more akin to a classic roadster. And like the 370Z coupe, the convertible is 100 pounds lighter than its predecessor.
The roadster gets all the coupe's structural upgrades, along with some additional reinforcements, including a new M-shaped underbody bracket and more robust side sills, front crossmembers and steering members. Compared with the 350Z roadster, the 370Z convertible is 40 percent more torsionally rigid up front and 45 percent more in the rear. Bending rigidity is up 10 percent in front and 60 percent in back.
These boring percentages take on real life on Mulholland, where Nissan's roadster feels absolutely buttoned down over midcorner bumps. We note small amounts of cowl shake over expansion joints on Interstate 10. But with its top up, the 370Z roadster feels as stout and tight as most closed-roof cars.
Roadster Has a Spine This, of course, is why we're sweet on the 2010 Nissan 370Z Roadster's handling. Since the chassis doesn't flex every which way, Nissan's engineers didn't have to dial back the aggression much when they retuned the 370Z springs and dampers for the convertible. Equipped with the $2,800 Sport package and its accompanying Rays, forged-aluminum 19-inch wheels and Bridgestone Potenza RE050A summer tires (245/40R19 94W front, 275/35R19 96W rear), this 370Z Touring roadster retains the character of our long-term 370Z coupe.
Through Mulholland's turns, the 370Z roadster has a neutral feel and responds well to throttle adjustments. We're aware of a smidge more body roll here than in the coupe, but it isn't flabbiness — it's the car speaking honestly to you.
The Z convertible's steering is particularly enjoyable on this road. The effort is a little too heavy in the current Nissan style, but at a comfortably brisk clip, you only notice that it's quick, precise and rich in feedback. The Sport package brakes match the steering, as the brake pedal is firm with strong, immediate bite.
When we go to the test track, the 370Z convertible proves every bit as trustworthy at the limit as the coupe, and that quick steering ratio (13.7:1) makes it easy to gather up in the slalom. Our 69.8-mph slalom speed is oh so close to the magic 70-mph threshold we achieved in our long-term 370Z coupe (70.4 mph). On the skid pad, the roadster manages an equally heady 0.94g — again not far off the coupe's performance (0.97g).
The 2010 Nissan 370Z Roadster is right with the coupe in the braking test as well, stopping in 106 feet versus our long-term 370Z's 105-foot distance (although the red Z coupe from our Full Test did it in 101 feet).
If there's any downside to ordering the Sport package on your roadster, it's that those big 19-inch Potenzas make a huge racket on the freeway. Curiously, though, the 370Z roadster has a slightly lower decibel level at 70 mph than the coupe (69.6 dBA versus 70.3 dBA). At first we thought the extra layer of acoustic insulation in the roadster's new cloth top might really be doing its job, but more likely, the difference is attributable to the full partition separating the roadster's passenger compartment from its trunk area where the coupe's cargo area is open.
V6 More Likable in Open Air There's an even bigger difference in the noise level at wide-open throttle. We measure 80.8 dBA in the 2010 Nissan 370Z convertible, which is down from 82.7 dBA in the convertible. This should come as good news if the high-rpm noise and vibration of the VQ37VHR engine has kept you from enjoying the current Z car.
But this decibel reading only applies when the top is up. The open cockpit radically changes the listening experience. Now the 3.7-liter V6 is just a voice in the wind, and only the most aggressive heel-and-toe (er, SynchroRev-matched) downshifts will generate much exhaust echo off Mulholland's canyon walls.
Maybe the 2010 370Z Roadster will be too quiet for you during hard acceleration, but it won't be too slow. Rated at 332 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 270 pound-feet of torque at 5,200 rpm, the V6 shrugs off the roadster's 127 extra pounds.
Our 370Z Touring roadster finds 60 mph in 5.5 seconds (5.2 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and does the quarter-mile in 13.7 at 102.1 mph. The quickest Z coupe we've tested went to 60 in 5.1 seconds (4.9 seconds with 1 foot of rollout) and ran a 13.4-second quarter at 104.6 mph. Our long-term 370Z has thus far run a 5.3-second 0-60-mph time and a 13.6-second quarter-mile at 103.2 mph.
Although Nissan's six-speed manual gearbox has proven a bit troublesome in the 370Z and the Infiniti G35/G37, in proper working order, it's a nice piece for the roadster. We like the highly mechanical feel of moving the shifter in its linkage and the heavy clutch, because they suit the personality of the Z-car, which isn't a delicate thing. It's a brute, and if you try to rush through a shift, it just might pop you one.
And that is why Nissan expects 70-80 percent of 370Z roadster buyers will get the seven-speed automatic transmission ($1,300). The automatic has its own downshift rev-matching feature as well as paddle shifters.
Don't Wait Up for Me It's after sunset when we leave Mulholland, and a stiff breeze is blowing in off the Pacific. It's not a problem. Nissan says it benchmarked the Porsche Boxster in its effort to reduce wind buffeting, and the upshot is that the cockpit stays pretty free of turbulence.
Naturally, it doesn't hurt a bit that the 2010 Nissan 370Z Roadster Touring's industrial-strength seat heaters send a continuous shot of heat up the length of your spine. The next morning, when we drive into the triple-digit heat of the Inland Empire, we activate the equally powerful seat ventilation feature. Yes, indeed, it's like sitting in an ice chest.
Usually, we have a hard time recommending a convertible over the coupe on which it's based, because the compromises in structural integrity and handling are so obvious, and often, so unpleasant. The midengine Boxster, which obviously came before the Cayman, has long been a rare exception.
But unless you're going to track your Nissan 370Z, you might actually be happier with this 2010 Nissan 370Z Roadster Touring. It's a real driver's car that just happens not to have a fixed roof, and the convertible packaging works quite well with the Z-car architecture.
Then again, you might get all worked up about spending $44,040 on a Nissan when the 2010 Nissan 370Z Roadster arrives at dealers in mid-September. This is as much as you'd spend on premium-brand models like the BMW 135i convertible and the retractable-hardtop Infiniti G37 convertible. Neither of these cars shares the 2010 Nissan 370Z Roadster's hard-core attitude, though.
To match that, you'd need a Boxster. And to get a 255-hp Boxster, you'd need another $10,000.
Chief Road Test Editor Chris Walton says: Cutting the top off a perfectly good sports car often results in a long list of sacrifices in the name of top-down motoring. Who wants to drive an uglier, noisier, heavier, more expensive lasagna-noodle version of an otherwise excellent sports car? Not so with this 370Z convertible. It feels as solid and trustworthy as the coupe does, and as we discovered, it's actually a little quieter, even if the dB values don't show it.
When I was driving the car for the instrumented tests, I kept waiting for the one test that would reveal where the engineers had to take a backseat to the product planners. Acceleration? Still strong. Brakes? Stout. Skid pad? Nope, in fact it supplies as much grip as our long-term Nissan GT-R tested only moments later.
The performance test where a typical convertible's added weight, lower torsional rigidity and thus softer suspension tuning dulls a sports car's edge is usually our 600-foot slalom course. I tiptoed into the test, expecting the Z convertible to show some symptom of being a compromised sports car, but it kept giving me signs to push on. As I did, the elapsed times kept falling: 6.25, 6.04, 6.03, 5.97 (cone strike!), then 5.86 or just two one-hundredths of a second away from the hallowed 70-mph run.
I couldn't believe it myself. I made a few more attempts to see if I could crack 5.84 but never strung a clean run together. I did see 5.73 seconds on my timer, but glanced in the rearview mirror to witness our cone patrol righting two fallen soldiers on the tarmac. D'oh!
I guess what I'm trying to say is that the Nissan 370Z convertible is still one helluva sports car even without a top. You lose nothing but a few extra bucks.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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