Thumbs Up: Vastly improved interior compared to 350Z.
Thumbs Down: Noisy, even with the roof up.
Buy This Car If: The topless competitors are too big or too small for your tastes.
Any discussion of the world’s great sports cars isn’t complete without mention of the Nissan Z. Launched in the United States as the Datsun 240Z in 1970, the car revolutionized the American perception of both Japanese sports cars, and to some degree, the entire Japanese automotive industry. While few took the 240Z seriously at first, its combination of power, handling and affordability soon made it a popular choice for driving enthusiasts and racers alike.
Over the years, the Nissan Z evolved with consumer tastes, morphing from sports car to grand tourer by the 1980s. Sales continued at a reasonable pace through the early 1990s, but by 1996, rising prices and falling sales made the Z unprofitable to import into the United States. The Z disappeared from the U.S. market in 1997, although Nissan hinted that the move was temporary by showing cars like the 1999 240Z Concept and even rebuilding and reselling original Z cars.
In 2003, the Nissan Z returned to the U.S. as the 350Z. Unlike the car it replaced, the new Z was less grand-tourer and more pure sports car. It was also built to a price point, broadening the appeal to enthusiast drivers on a modest budget. As good as the car was, it’s low-cost mission was evident in the use of monotone plastic throughout the interior; while the cars were fun to drive, they weren’t much to look at inside.
For 2009, Nissan rolled out the 370Z, bumping displacement of the VQ V-6 engine from 3.5-liters to 3.7-liters and increasing output from 306 horsepower to 332 horsepower. It also got refreshed styling, which now ties back to the original 240Z in the slope of the roof and (to a lesser degree) the shape of the rear fenders. Up front, new headlights and a fascia with a larger air intake give the 370Z a much more purposeful look; if the 350Z looked like a friendly anime character, the 370Z looks like an anime character not to be trifled with.
In 2009, Nissan launched the topless 370Z roadster as a 2010 model. While the convertible version gives up some of the performance and handling of the coupe, it’s still a driver’s car that boasts a comfortable ride, precise handling and even reasonable trunk space with the top down, something that many convertibles lack.
While the 370Z convertible was built from the roadster, its lines stand on their own. Even with the top in place, the car retains clean lines, although it’s not quite the same looker as its coupe stablemate. Top down, the 370Z is every bit as attractive as the hard-top equivalent, and the car’s designers deserve praise for this accomplishment.
As good as the exterior looks, the biggest improvement comes inside. Gone are the 350Z’s acres of drab black plastic, replaced by a blend of vinyl and soft-touch plastic, enhanced with sueded microfiber trim (in Touring level cars) on the door panels. If the old car was utilitarian inside, the new car is elegant, and offers up a far better interior than domestic rivals from Ford and GM. Even the switchgear is laid out in a user-friendly, logical manner, meaning that you won’t need to consult the owner’s manual if you need to program a radio station into memory.
In traditional Z car style, the center-mounted tachometer dominates instrument cluster, flanked by an information display on the left and a speedometer on the right. LEDs are used to display fuel level and coolant temperature, and a dash-mounted, three-gauge display shows oil temperature, voltage and current time. In short, the cockpit is aimed at the driver, and Nissan has done an exemplary job of presenting information in a clear and concise manner.
The 370Z’s seats are every bit as good as the rest of the interior, and are ideally suited to the car’s sporting mission. Bolsters are adjustable for driver preference, and cranked down are supportive enough to hold you in place during spirited driving. The combination of fabric and leather ensures year-round comfort, as does the ventilation and heating function that comes standard in Touring trim. Adjustable lumbar support ensures that the driver can spend long hours behind the wheel without requiring chiropractic care.
Under the hood lies the latest generation of Nissan’s venerable VQ engine. Now displacing 3.7-liters, it produces 332 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque, and can be mated to either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed automatic equipped with paddle shifters. While we’re in favor of rowing our own gears, the automatic used in the 370Z is superb and easily among the best we’ve ever driven. In manual mode, shifts are impressively quick, and the computer is smart enough to precisely match revs on the downshift. The car will sprint from 0-60 mph in about 5.5 seconds, and we’d bet that the automatic is quicker than the manual here, thanks to quicker upshifts. It delivers impressive fuel economy, too, and we achieved 22.5 mpg in combined driving. If we were looking for a track car, it would be the 370Z coupe with the six speed; for weekend fun and the occasional rush hour commute, we’d seriously consider the convertible with the paddle-shifted automatic.
Dropping the top is as easy as pressing a button and waiting the 25 seconds or so it takes for the motorized mechanism to do its thing. With the top down there’s a fair amount of turbulence in the cabin, even at lower speeds. Top up, there’s quite a bit of wind noise across the fabric roof. If you’re expecting Bentley-like levels of calm, you’ll be disappointed; however, if you understand the 370Z’s sport-focused mission, it’s just another part of the car’s distinctive personality.
As expected, the 370Z convertible delivers serious fun behind the wheel. Acceleration is impressive, as is turn-in and grip in corners. The Nissan sport brakes (included as part of the Sport Package) provide good feel and yield impressive stopping distances, and we seriously doubt that brake fade would be an issue even running the occasional track day. Overall, the 370Z convertible delivers a just-right blend of comfort and handling, making it ideally suited for top-down, weekend canyon carving. It wouldn’t be our first choice for a week-long drive cross-country, but would certainly be near the top of our list for a long weekend trip to run the Tail of the Dragon.
As good as the 370Z is, we still have a few criticisms. First, the paddle shifters are mounted on the steering column, not the steering wheel. This may sound like a minor issue, but it makes choosing a gear in mid-corner that much more challenging. Price is another issue, especially for those who cross shop the Camaro and Mustang convertibles. Granted, the topless 370Z offers up better precision and handling than the Camaro or Mustang, but in convertible form few will ever push the car to those limits.
Nissan provided the 2012 370Z Touring Convertible for our evaluation. Base price on the car was $44,830, including a destination charge of $780. Options on our press-fleet tester included the $2,830 Sport Package (limited slip differential, 19-inch RAYS forged wheels, Nissan sport brakes) and the $785 Rear View Mirror Back-Up Camera, for a total sticker price of $48,445.
For comparison, a similarly-equipped Ford Mustang GT Premium convertible would sticker for $44,940, while a comparable Chevy Camaro 2SS would price out at $43,495.