NISSAN'S Roadster refuses to age aesthetically, but time’s catching up on the mechanicals.
WHAT IS IT?
Familiar, if nothing else. For 2018, Nissan’s venerable sports car has been updated with a light exterior refresh, but the same mechanicals that have been powering the good-looking two-seater convertible for almost a decade remain unchanged.
Pricing is the big news though, with the cost of entry to the Nissan convertible club falling by $4940, or $5440 if you’re shopping for an automatic.
The updates apply to both coupe and convertible but we are focusing on the rag-top Roadster, which is priced from $60,990 or $63,490 for the auto.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
Despite a run that is approaching 10 years, Nissan continues to find homes for the 370Z. Over the course of its life, the Zed has been given a number of updates, but it’s still essentially the same car under its pretty flanks.
We’re boarding the Roadster for a refresher course in Nissan 370Z top-down motoring to see if the ageing recipe can continue to offer a competitive option in the affordable rear-drive sports car arena, with a car that’s now more affordable than ever.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
It might be long in the tooth, but the popularity and relevance of Nissan’s convertible is aided by a lack of competitors in a niche, sparsely populated segment. Its styling seems like it will never tarnish and it now carriers a sticker price that has never looked so compelling. If you’re not a Mustang kind of person then there’s not much else with rear-drive, two doors and more than four cylinders.
PLUS: Looks that refuse to date; involving dynamics; sharp price
MINUS: Fussy steering; aged interior; engine unhappy to rev
THE WHEELS REVIEW
IT’S not fair to assume something isn’t competitive simply because it is old. You need only look to surfer Kelly Slater who still takes home trophies at 46 years of age, or perhaps super veteran Australian drag racer Gary Phillips, who continues to succeed on the strip despite almost 50 seasons in the game.
History is littered with examples of the opposite, and how age eventually gets the better of us and things. So where does the Nissan 370Z fit into that theory?
It’s been on offer in essentially the same form since 2009 but despite knocking on the decade door, it has been given another light update. Keen Z fans will notice a different 19-inch wheel design, blacked-out rear fascia, smoked front and rear light clusters – pinched from its more serious Nismo sibling – and that colour, Cherry Red, replaces Bordeaux in the paint palette.
Some light updates for other manufacturers' models are the equivalent of a little nip here and a tuck there, but the Nissan’s 2018 refresh is so mild it’s more akin to a little extra slap and a hairdo, so what is the big news here? In a word – price.
With no mechanical changes for this year, the 370Z has to do battle with an ageing drivetrain and dated interior but its competitiveness comes down to value. That’s what we are here to explore.
In a segment that trades so predominantly on looks, the Nissan’s exterior and aesthetic appeal plays a huge role in its perceived value, but its styling is also arguably its strongest attribute. Quite how the 370Z still looks so good for its age is a mystery, and a testament to good design.
Crack its top open and the Roadster looks even better. The classic matte black fabric roof contrasting with Cherry Red paint is classy, but when it’s stowed, the drop-top Zed has a fantastic stance with big booty not unlike the hump that sits on the Porsche 911 Cabriolet’s tail.
Our only bugbear with the convertible roof is the time it takes to operate and the accompanying cacophony of mechanical noises. Unlike almost all modern mechanisms, the Nissan roof will only stow when stopped or moving at a snail’s pace. During our time with it, it sometimes point blank refused to stow unless park was selected.
There is a type of customer that will buy a 370Z (or any sports car for that matter) based purely on the way it looks and the way they will look in it. For that customer, the Nissan is as attractive as ever.
But for the other type of buyer – the one that places value in dynamics, performance and interior design, what can the Zed offer?
Let’s start at the front and the 3.7-litre naturally aspirated V6 that drives the rear wheels with 245kW and 363Nm. With those figures you would expect the Roadster to have a decent amount of mumbo, and it does. The convertible carries a whopping 136kg extra mass thanks to the roof mechanism and extra chassis stiffening metalwork, but still manages to be brisk off the line with plenty left for overtaking.
The main criticism of the V6 is aimed at its upper rev range. While it is smooth and eager at the lower end, revving the six-pot toward the red is not a rewarding experience, with vibration and a lack of refinement. The exhaust note fails to inspire as well but at least Nissan has not engineered the augmented sound into the cabin via the speakers as it has with the Nismo, which sounds like a gale howling through gaps in your front door.
On the back of the V6, a seven-speed transmission sends power to the rear axle via a carbonfibre propshaft and has a certain amount of character in its operation. Its split personality is not always predictable though, and some gear shifts are dealt with smoothly and with sophistication, while others are slammed heavily into place as if the gearbox thinks you're hunting lap times.
Take matters into your own hands and grab a paddle shifter and you might be surprised at the efficacy of the transmission. For a unit as matured as this, cog-swaps are surprisingly fast and delivered with a satisfying urgency.
There’s more good news when it comes to the chassis. While Roadster owners pay a significant weight penalty over the coupe, the extra chassis stiffening work is very effective.
A direct side-by-side comparison with the tin-top 370Z would be necessary to see how closely the pair behave, but in isolation, the convertible admirably resists body flex and the giveaway scuttle shake, and that results in a satisfying road manner in corners.
Minimal to no body roll is aided by a stiff suspension set-up that is firm but liveable – we refer back to the Nismo if you want an example of that.
Only the steering lets the handling down a little with a fussy tendency to seek out imperfections in the road and tug the wheel away from the dead ahead line, but is then light and excessively assisted when in turns.
A decent driving position, albeit one without steering reach adjustment, situates the occupants deep in the cabin and adds a feeling of immersion in the Nissan, rather than the sensation of being perched on top of a toy-sized cabrio. We’re looking at you, Mazda MX-5.
A firm brake pedal with lots of capacity for hauling up all 1618kg of kerb weight adds to a more driver-focused package.
The Nissan’s weakest attribute lies in the cabin. While the exterior continues to defy its age, the interior is certainly feeling every one of its years now. The combination of sprawling button panels and monotone plastic is indicative of my-first-sports car.
It’s becoming increasingly hard to find a handbrake lever in new cars today and the heated and cooled switches look a little added as an afterthought – largely because they are – but in both cases the functionality is great. Flicking the little dial one way for three cool levels or the other way for a trio of heat settings makes so much sense.
We also like the three dash-top gauges that house almost superfluous information that most drivers won’t use (except the digital clock in the right pod), but the romantic notion somehow works in a driver’s car.
Yes, the Nissan 370Z Roadster might be showing its age in its drivetrain and interior, but that undeniable vintage is offset by a package that is quick, fun to steer and, above all else, lovely to behold. With its sharpened pricing the venerable Zed is still holding its own in an unforgiving market, if you can ignore its flaws.
Model: Nissan 370Z Roadster
Engine: 3696cc V6, dohc, 24v
Max power: 245kW @ 7000rpm
Max torque: 363Nm @ 5200rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed auto
Fuel economy: 11.2L/100km
0-100km/h: 5.7s (estimated)
On sale: Now