There are a few cars that every enthusiast remembers in a rather special way. Your first car, for example, is unforgettable. But you also remember the car driven by the person that inspired your enthusiasm. I’ve wanted to drive the Nissan 370Z for a long time just for that reason. For me, the man responsible for who I am today is my father, and the car was his 1985 Nissan 300ZX. If my mother is to be believed, it was his baby before I was. I grew up from rear-facing car seat to toddler booster seat in the 300ZX, spending most of the time with the t-top open. Driving the 2014 Nissan 370Z Roadster is the closest thing I have to coming full-circle. It’s been almost 25 years since my first ride in a Nissan Z and now I’m in the driver’s seat.
The 370Z got a minor refresh for 2013. It was defanged and given a set of LED running lights up front. A bit of conservatism never hurt anyone, and it hasn’t done anything to diminish the 370Z’s identity. Our tester, in Pearl White with gray seats, continued that conservative theme. The red brake calipers peeking out behind the amazing 19″ RAYS wheels, both part of the Sport Package, are subtle hints of the 370Z’s performance. Without the coupe’s striking roof line, the Roadster looks a bit odd with its top up. Despite the car arriving in the middle of October, I was adamant about recreating my original Z experience by driving with the roof down as much as possible. Sans roof, the Roadster’s wide hips swoop up to the high rear deck. As one comment put it, there’s no way to ignore the 370Z’s big butt.
It takes 21 seconds to retract the roof, which feels remarkably quick in the driveway but an eternity at a stop light. Those precious seconds are more than enough time to turn up the heat and switch on the heated seats, standard equipment on the 307Z Touring. The side windows and fixed wind deflector keep most of the turbulence out of the cabin up to highway speeds. Above that, those committed to the topless lifestyle will need a hat or scarf to keep warm during the Autumn drives. Besides the heated seats, the rest of the equipment in the Touring Package went largely unused. In a good roadster, you don’t really need them. With the top down, the intoxicating V6 soundtrack takes precedence over the upgraded sound system and renders the Bluetooth completely useless. You’ll also completely ignore the optional touchscreen navigation system. The longest and most indirect routes are the best option in the 370Z.
I spent the better portion of my Saturday lost amongst the mountain roads of Catskill Park. This time of year, the park’s campgrounds and hiking trails are filled with tourists, which means heavy traffic. Normally this would be frustrating in a sports car, but the automatic transmission and abundant foliage make for a carefree drive in the 370Z. When the road gains a passing lane, the column-mounted paddles wake the engine from its slumber. Unleashing all 332hp and 270lb-ft of torque result in a 3.7L V6 echo though the valley, drawing the attention of leaf-peepers. With the top down, the soundtrack is accentuated by the line of campers and RVs shrinking into the rearview mirror.
Our tester came equipped with the 7-speed automatic transmission. Left to its own devices, it keeps engine RPM low and its response to a jab of throttle is too slow. Pulling the gear level to the left into manual mode lets the driver take care of those problems. The transmission has a rev-matching downshift feature that works well most of the time. For a regular automatic, the throttle blip and gear change occur quickly enough. The problem comes in slow traffic around town. Sometimes the system gets confused as you slow to a stop. Rather than a quiet transition into 2nd or 1st, the Nissan sees fit to disturb the peace with a race-inspired downshift. Sorry everyone. I would rather order mine with the rev-matching manual gearbox, as I rarely left the transmission in automatic.
With the road now clear, it’s time to enjoy the 370Z Roadster a bit more spiritedly. The ride is firm, a feeling which is magnified by the stiff padding in the seats. It’s not as jarring as the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution or as uncomfortable as Mazdaspeed 3, which means I was able to spend the better part of the morning driving without a break. The Nissan strikes a comfortable balance between touring and sport feel. Poor handling is always a concern when the roof is removed, but the Nissan is almost fault-free here. The 370Z feels solid and without any flex right up until the limit. When the car does lose grip, it happens unpredictably. It’s not linear or as controllable like the Scion FR-S or Mazda Miata. Tail-out fun can be had with help of the sport package’s limited slip differential, but you have to stay on top of it. Should things go awry, perhaps some unexpected wildlife occupying your apex, the upgraded brakes, another part of the sport package, are ready to act. The firm pedal and increased bite of the larger pads and red-painted rotors are top rate.
The combination of encouraging ride and solid brakes make the Nissan 370Z Roadster perfect for the task at hand. If you’re going to opt for the Roadster, chances are you aren’t overly concerned with its handling characteristics at the limit. You’re in it like I am, out to enjoy the road and the Autumn views. For that, you can leave the traction control on. That leaves only a minor disappointment in the steering. Perhaps we were spoiled by the feeling of directness in the wheel of the Scion FR-S, but turning the wheel in the 370Z feels rubbery. It isn’t for lack of accuracy or responsiveness because there were no second guesses for the steering angle. I asked my colleagues for their opinion, and their experience was similar. Turn in felt slow and feedback was muted. The system felt better suited for a grand tourer than a sport roadster.
As was my experience in my Father’s 300ZX, the top stayed down as much as possible. It remained in place only twice, once during a brief rain storm and once on a 32 degree morning. Suffice to say the 530 miles we put on the 370Z were nearly a 100% roadster experience. As with all convertibles, the fun goes up as the top goes down, which means it’s difficult to fault the experience of the 370Z Roadster. Nostalgia withstanding, the minor issues are apparent when comparing the Nissan to its other topless competitors. And with an as-tested price above $50,000, there are many competitors. But the Nissan 370Z stands out to me, and the number of compliments I received during the week shows it resonates with others as well. Just remember, whatever car you choose, someone else might always remember it.
|2014 Nissan 370Z Roadster Touring
|Carpeted floor mats||$125|
|As Tested MSRP||$50,055|
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