2011 Nissan 370Z Roadster Road Test Review

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It's frequently the case that the things that make a car special have nothing to do with its ability to go fast, corner hard and look like a million bucks. There's something else at play, some indefinable "X-factor" that takes a car to the next level, so to speak. It's an automobile's ability to create an emotional connection that helps it to become more than just a conglomeration of metal, glass and plastic pieces. Yes, it is possible for a machine to have charisma, and the best vehicles have it.

Of course, it doesn't hurt if that emotional connection comes wrapped in a package that can go fast, corner hard and looks like a million bucks. Nissan's 370Z Roadster stands out as an example of a car that combines these assets into a single package.  The 370Z has been with us for a couple of years, and given the car's sexy lines and general lust for performance it's no surprise that it has gone topless. Combining the 370Z's retro-futuristic looks and fun-to-drive road manners with a bit of extra sun is practically a no brainer.

More than anything else, the Z Roadster is a car that knows how to make you like it; it wants to be friends. The styling borrows in equal measure from classic Nissan Z-cars and the most recent 350Z, resulting in a slick envelope body with muscular curves.  The boomerang-shaped headlamp units seem to point the way down the long hood and arched front fenders to a compact passenger cabin. With the soft top in place, the Z Roadster is distinguished from the coupe by its notchback tail and trunk. The wide rear fenders give this car a big posterior, but the look is powerful.  

Drop the top, and the roof disappears beneath a hard tonneau cover that gives the 370Z Roadster a twin-cockpit look. The power roof is slow, and clunks into place with a roughness that's somewhat disproportionate to this car's cost, but once inside the cabin with the sun shining in, that seems like a distant concern. The mesh-backed seats are comfortable and resist heating up in direct sunlight, while the businesslike dash with its three gauge pods and matte metal trim is a constant reminder of the Z Roadster's mission in life. This is a two-seater, with decent interior room and even a few cubbies for essentials. Pushbutton start is standard; XM Satellite Radio and a navigation system are optional.

Of course, it wants to go and play as well, and it's more than ready to do that. The 3.7-litre V6 under the hood is a powerful and refined engine that's well suited to hard driving. With 332 horsepower on tap, the 370Z Roadster is a bona fide sports car, ripping off effortlessly giggle-inducing zero-to-hundred runs and capable of providing significant thrust throughout the rev range.  It sounds good while doing it, too. The six-speed manual transmission includes Nissan's SynchroRev Match, which automatically matches engine revs to wheel speed when you downshift -- in effect, the car hits a perfect heel-toe downshift for you, every time. It's a neat trick, and the burp through the dual exhaust sounds cool, too. A seven-speed automatic is also available. Power gets to the ground through the rear wheels, and Nissan's Vehicle Dynamic Control is standard, so it'll behave in bad weather.  

Not that this car needs much encouragement to behave. The 370Z Roadster is a well balanced car, just like the coupe. The suspension consists of double wishbones up front and a multilink rear, but the engineering terms don't tell half of the story. The Z Roadster must be experienced.  Take it down your favorite twisty road and it's stable, with no hint of cowl shake even on rough roads. Lightening and stiffening measures, including an aluminum hood and structural reinforcements to the A-pillar and side sills, are to thank for the convertible's taut response. The tight suspension and stiff body make the Z Roadster a communicative and fun to drive car. This is the sort of car that seems to read your mind when driving at speed, heightening that "just right" emotional connection to the driver.

The best sports cars are more than the sum of a lot of performance parts.  Nissan has hit on an outstanding combination of ability and performance with the 370Z Roadster. Pricing starts at $46,998.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Roadster, Nissan, 2011, 370Z Roadster, $40,000 - $49,999,

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