Fleet News

Nissan 350Z roadster



It happened in 2002 with the launch of the Nissan 350Z coupe and is about to happen again with the stunning 350Z Roadster.

The rest of the world must think we are nations of skinflints who drive around in diesel Micras because the high price of fuel has destroyed our appetite for fun.

European markets had to wait more than a year after the 350Z went on sale in North America and Japan before we could get our hands on proper European-specification versions, and we will have to wait even longer for the Roadster, which was launched last summer in North America.

The car is not confirmed for Europe yet – perhaps we will have an announcement at September's Paris Motor Show. If it does get the go-ahead, it will be next summer before we see it on UK roads. Perhaps I'm being unfair because there are matters of gaining type approval and the like, which add more time to the process but these delays are frustrating.

The agonising delay is also likely to be a result of Nissan's philosophy under the much-admired Carlos Ghosn. He says that from now on, all new Nissans will be designed for the global market, but there would be no question of foisting a particular vehicle in a country where there was no demand.

Ghosn said new vehicles would have to be 'pulled' by the countries if they believe there is a market for the car.

But with the current success of the 350Z in the UK, Nissan will surely sell every single car it can get its hands on.

It seems to have universal appeal and although the Roadster is not yet confirmed for Europe, it would take a brave person to bet against it.

Nissan's Z-cars have a long heritage – the first Z-car, the 240Z made its debut in the US in 1969 and later versions continued until 1996.

There was a short break before the first of the current 350Z models was sold in 2002, but the Z-cars have sold more than a million worldwide since 1969.

The Z Roadster is based on the coupe, sharing its engine and layout – it uses the Nissan front-midship platform (the engine sits behind the front axle for better weight distribution) with rear-wheel drive.

The 3.5-litre V6 already in the coupe is used in the Z Roadster, and we can expect 276bhp and 270lb-ft of torque after the car is made to comply with European emissions rules.

Its fully electric roof features a heated rear glass window, and it stows neatly under a lightweight hard tonneau cover in 20 seconds. It will join a growing sector of the market – coupe and convertible sales have risen steadily over the last few years and much of the growth can be put down to new cars like the 350Z.

As the arrival of the Z Roadster in the UK is now more likely to be a matter of 'when' rather than 'if' it's set to spice up the two-seat convertible market with more power on offer than the BMW Z4 3.0i, the Porsche Boxster S, the new Mercedes SLK 350, the Audi TT Roadster 3.2 V6 and the Chrysler Crossfire Roadster.

The fact that the Z Roadster is also likely to be cheaper than any of the above when it gets the nod for the UK, will also do its bit for demand outstripping supply and can only be good news for those residual values forecasts.

Behind the wheel

NISSAN has translated the 350Z's modern shape into a convertible while retaining its muscular styling.

With a long wheelbase and short overhangs pushing the wheels snugly into the corners, the Z Roadster has the same kind of presence as the BMW Z4.

Careful details from the coupe are still here – the Z badge behind the front wheel arch, the aluminium door handles, the elongated angular light clusters, the driving seat's sculpted side bolster to allow easier steering and gearchanges – but there are some neat touches unique to the Roadster.

The tonneau cover is moulded to match the two hoops behind the rear seats and the high-level third brake light is incorporated into the cover.

The Z Roadster also put in countless hours in the wind tunnel to minimise wind noise with the roof down, with a tempered glass wind deflector between the seats a key feature in reducing buffeting. The Z Roadster feels every bit as sharp as the coupe and is just as thrilling to drive.

Its driver-focused interior has the main instruments fixed to the steering column, a short-throw six-speed gearbox and quick steering. The sound of the six-cylinder engine through the exhaust is enough to bring out the goose pimples, and the close-ratio gearbox and electronically controlled throttle always provides an instant response.

Driving the Z Roadster with the roof down does not result in any significant scuttle shake over bumps in the road, but with the roof up there are the usual compromises in visibility although it has a heated glass rear window to help on those cold winter mornings.

When pressing on, the car always feels firmly planted on the road, although selecting a gear lower than your first choice will always result in the rear tyres breaking traction momentarily.

Driving verdict

THE 350Z Roadster is a ready-made success for Nissan in Europe and the UK, assuming it gets the green light later this year. It will offer more power per pound than any rival and has the built-in Z car appeal that has made the 350Z coupe a star performer.

Make: Nissan
Model: 350Z Roadster
Engine (cc): 3,498
Max power (bhp/rpm): 276/6,200
Torque (bhp/rpm): 270/4,800
Max speed (mph): 155 (est)
0-62mph (sec): 6.2 (est)
Fuel consumption (mpg): 24.0 (est)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 280 (est)
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 80/17.6
Transmission: 6-sp man
Service interval (miles): 9,000
On sale: Summer 2005
Price (estimated): £25,000

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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