Fleet News

Nissan 350Z Roadster

Nissan

Review

AT the joint launch of the 350Z Roadster and Pathfinder, Nissan stated that its products could be considered either lifestyle or emotional choices. Good as the Pathfinder is, it is not likely to have you bubbling with excitement – that’s left to the 350Z. Emotional indeed.

The 350Z has been an extraordinary success for Nissan. Harking back to the 240Z of the 1970s it has not only aped its accessible, affordable performance and style, but its tremendous sales, too.

So far the Nissan 350Z has clocked up 100,000 sales worldwide and is currently the best-selling sports car in the hugely important American market. European sales since its September 2003 introduction now stand at about 10,000.

That means it can also claim to be the best-selling V6 sports car in Europe today, outselling even the V6 Audi TT. In the UK, the 350Z has been a strong seller since it was introduced to the market, the UK allocation selling as quickly as Nissan can make them.

The benefit of this is that used 350Zs command excellent resale values, the insatiable demand for new cars, and their limited supply make them highly sought-after on the used market with class-leading residual values. The same will happen to the new convertible version. CAP figures give the 350Z Roadster an RV of around 47% after three years/60,000 miles, marginally higher than the already impressive coupe.

With the 350Z Roadster joining the range, demand is only likely to increase. Available to order since October 15, 2004 at the appropriate time of 3.50pm, deliveries of Nissan’s new drop-top will commence from March 3. Two hundred and fifty have already been ordered, nearly half of the 600 available for 2005.

Those 250, and any more who place their order prior to that March 3 delivery date, get their Roadster for £26,000, or £28,500 with the GT pack.

After deliveries begin, the price rises by £500 to £26,500 or £29,000 with the GT pack respectively. Overall the roadster represents a premium of £1,500 more than its coupe relative.

That £2,500 GT pack, which is taken by the majority of buyers, includes heated and electrically-adjustable charcoal leather seats, a premium Bose audio system with seven speakers and cruise control.

Additional options available with the GT pack include 18-inch RAYS alloy wheels at £1,000, orange leather ventilated seats with leather gearshift and handbrake gaiter for £350 (nicer than it sounds) and a blue soft top. Like the orange seats, that blue hood is only available with some exterior colour combinations.

Even equipped with the GT pack the 350Z is price-competitive with premium six-cylinder rivals like the Mercedes-Benz SLK 350, the BMW Z3 3.0 or the Audi TT V6 roadster quattro.

Its pricing also compares very favourably looked at against competitors including the Honda’s S2000 or the Chrysler Crossfire cabriolet.

The Nissan’s specification isn’t lacking, either. All 350Z Roadsters come with an electrically-operated hood (20 seconds to retract), ESP, 18-inch alloy wheels, Brembo brakes with ABS, front and side airbags, electrically adjustable seats, a six-CD in-dash changer, trip computer and climate control.

Losing the roof has necessitated stiffening the 350Z’s structure. An additional 80kgs of strengthening around the floorpan and windscreen, allied to the additional weight of the hood and its motors blunts the 350Z’s performance slightly.

The 0-60mph time increases to 6.4 seconds, half a second slower than the coupe. The drivetrain remains unchanged, which means a 3.5-litre V6 developing 276bhp and 268lb-ft of torque at 4,800rpm. Combined consumption of 24.1mpg and a CO2 figure of 280g/km, puts the Roadster in the 35% company car tax category.

Comparatively low prices combined with its excellent residuals should mean the 350Z is an attractive fleet proposition.

However, that 35% tax bracket counts against it, ruling it out for many company user choosers.

The fleet/retail mix for the coupe stands at around 90% retail, which also goes some way to explaining the 350Z’s excellent residuals.

Behind the wheel

GIVEN the time of year, Nissan sensibly chose to give us the keys to the Roadster in Portugal. While bright, it wasn’t actually that warm, so it provided an excellent re-creation of a UK summer’s day. Firstly finding the button to operate the electric hood caused a bit of a delay, as it is secreted out of sight, mounted on the panel under the steering wheel.

Before pressing it, you need to unhook the roof from the windscreen via a simple-to-use handle. The hood is straight forward and quick to drop. Once down, it is clear that in removing the roof, Nissan adds another dimension to the Z experience. You are open to the elements, but it also gets you closer to the 350Z’s fantastic exhaust note. If there is a better sounding car for less than £30,000 I have yet to hear it.

The slight increase in weight has not blunted the performance on the road. Few are likely to notice the additional half a second the Roadster takes to get to 60mph over its coupe relative and with the roof down the sensation of speed is increased anyway.

Even at high speed, wind buffeting inside is kept at sensible levels by the small diffuser between the rollover bars, while the heater does a good job of keeping the occupants warm. Hood up, the 350Z Roadster obviously lacks the coupe’s suppression of wind noise and is robbed of some over-the-shoulder visibility, but the exhaust note permeating through the cloth easily makes up for this.

Hood up or down, it is a good looker and the strengthening Nissan has put into the Roadster’s structure proves effective.

Retaining its precise, faithful responsiveness on the smooth roads covering the majority of the drive, there was little trace of any shake through the interior. Even a roughly-cobbled road presented no obvious lack of rigidity.

Oddly, for a roadster, the boot is better than the coupe. Obviously it loses a significant amount of its capacity to the hood and its electric motors, but unlike the coupe your possessions are out of sight. For those who partake, there is room for a set of golf clubs and for those who don’t, a suitcase. The rear-wheel drive chassis, crisp steering feel and mechanical, involving six-speed gearbox and that powerful engine combine to make a memorable driver’s car.

The suspension is supple enough to smoother rough road surfaces, but it is not at the expense of body control, which proves excellent, the 350Z Roadster offering excellent grip and cornering flatly.

Our test car came fitted with the smart, optional leather and mesh ventilated seats, which both look fantastic and provide first-rate comfort and support. The rest of the interior remains the same as the coupe, which means well-built, if slightly disappointing. There are some real flashes of style inside, like the chunky instrument binnacle or the neat air vents, but there are also some large areas of featureless plastic that lessen the interior appeal. It is a small complaint, on an otherwise highly desirable package, which, unusually I’d pick in preference to the coupe.

Nissan should have absolutely no trouble selling the 600 they have for 2005. In fact, it is likely demand will be much higher.

Verdict

IT has got all the coupe’s appeal and most of its performance, without the compromises usually associated with a roadster. It feels just as stiff, offers a decent boot and gets you closer to its brilliant soundtrack.

Engine (cc): 3,498
Max power (bhp/rpm): 276/6,200
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 268/4,800
Top speed (mph): 155
0-62 mph (secs): 6.4
Fuel consumption (mpg): 24.1
CO2 emissions (g/km): 280
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 80/17.6
Transmission: 6 man
On sale: Now
Price (£ OTR): £26,000*
*If ordered before 3/3/05, +£500 thereafter. GT pack adds £2,500

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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