Home > Test Drives > 2003 Nissan 350Z Roadster

2003 Nissan 350Z Roadster

     They say money can’t buy happiness. Well, “they” never drove the ragtop Z.
     Nissan’s convertible version of the 350Z is pure mechanical fun — fun to look at, fun to listen to, and definitely fun to drive — just like the 350Z coupe. But the thrill of driving the Z is made more intense when you unlatch the cloth top, press a button on the dash, and watch the top fold away origami-style to let the sun pour in.
     Tap the throttle to hear the Z’s symphonic exhaust note burble from beneath the car, and you’ve found heaven on Earth.
     This two-seat convertible shares its engine, transmission, and most of its body with the 350Z coupe — a fabulous car in its own right — but the ragtop version adds a brilliant electrically operated top and some additional structural reinforcement to keep it stiff and strong over bumps. The convertible top, which takes about 20 seconds to lower, hides beneath a lightweight lid that maintains the clean, classic lines of a roadster.
     In fact, while some convertibles don’t have the same stylish pizzazz of their hardtop counterparts, the Z roadster maintains the rakish, edgy style as the coupe, especially with the top down. With the top up, the Z coupe’s curvy roofline is replaced with a squatty, chop-top appearance on the convertible that gives it the aggressive look of a classic hot rod.
     Good looks aren’t enough to make it a sports car, though. That takes tire-spinning muscle, something the Z provides in abundance.
     A 287-horsepower engine sends its adrenaline-pumping power through a standard six-speed manual transmission. The combination is intoxicating as the responsive rumble of the V6 and mechanical feedback of the six-speed mix for one of the most exciting driving experiences outside the realm of supercars. It’s simply thrilling.
     Disappointingly, the convertible Z isn’t available with the race-tuned performance upgrades in the coupe’s “track model,” which is a shame for those weekend Montoyas who want the top-down experience of a roadster.
     Instead, the convertible’s suspension is slightly soft and compliant, not as bone rattling as a true sports car designed for the racetrack. Nonetheless, the convertible’s suspension keeps the Z nearly flat in corners and gives the driver a decent amount of feedback through turns.

     Like the coupe Z, the convertible’s interior is oddly simple yet filled with amenities. It’s so simple that it doesn’t even have a glove box, but it does offer a fancy optional navigation system. Go figure.
     In any case, the interior is remarkably comfortable and roomy for a roadster. It has plenty of leg and shoulder room for most people, and it comes with three cup holders — yet another mysterious trait for a two-seater. Seats are supportive, controls are easy to understand, and the driver-oriented gauges are clear, bright, and stylish.
     The 350Z’s greatest downside in both coupe and convertible form is weight. It’s fairly portly for a sports car, thanks to its wide seating area and unnecessary luxuries. Luckily, the powerful engine makes up for these slightly obese proportions, but it’s fun to imagine what kind of performance it would have with a slightly smaller, stripped-down interior and tidier body.
     Perhaps the magic of the Z roadster is its mixture of comfort and performance. It clearly leans toward the sporty, high-performance crowd, but it doesn’t require many compromises in comfort.
For sunny days on winding roads, that’s the epitome of fun.

Categories: Test Drives Tags: , , , , ,
You must be logged in to post a comment.