The first time I drove the Nissan 350Z Convertible around town I had guys in big SUVs rolling down their windows offering to swap vehicles, teenaged boys giving me the thumbs up sign and I heard lots of "nice car." At first glance my feelings about the Z ragtop were, well, conflicted. I expected it to be a great car, but felt that the roofline created by the ragtop was not as attractive as the lines of the coupe.
All the 350Z cars are husky, with broad shoulders. Aside from the standard 350Z styling cues the rag top offered a single layer of fabric roof that was not likely to do a great job of insulating passengers from much road noise. The Z is not likely to ever suffer from the dreaded whispered moniker that makes a red-blooded males blood go to boil ~ "chick car." This ain't no "chick car."
But then, neither is it like the Chevrolet Corvette, the BMW M3, the Subaru WRX Sti or the Mitsubishi Evo each of which requires diligence and constant attention to keep them going in a straight line while cruising on the highway. Slip into that nice wide-overstuffed seat with side bolsters, the cockpit has aircraft overtones. Controls are handy, the six speed manual feels notchy if played with while parked, but smooth as butter when under way, flick, snick, gone, a delightful close-ratio gearbox. The clutch is serious, but not heavy and has a short but useful contact range that don't mean it's a chore to steer in stop and go traffic. The V6 engine is one of the very best on the market producing a V8-like light howling turbine whir when punched and healthy amounts of torque at any speed. How good? The engine could pull even in sixth gear at 1,500 rpm.
Yes, there is some cowl shake, just a tad more than the BMW Z4 convertible, but far less than anything from Saab, Volvo, or any of the American brands. The chassis is solid and falls into the same position vis-à-vis the competition. On the highway cruising was easy chair driving. On the back roads the ride, handling and control were superb, although at the limits the chassis did not react with the aplomb of the BMW Z4.Why do I keep comparing the 350Z to the BMW Z4? Dynamically they are quite close and yet a world away from most everything else out there in the semi-luxury two-seater rag top class. The Z4 is more poised, has much less power and costs $10,000 more similarly equipped, and has much higher servicing costs.
This Nissan with a 3.5-liter engine, and like virtually anything Nissan or Infiniti puts that engine into it is one heck of a lot of car for the money. My Uncle Howie just bought one. He loves it. He is retired, and he's no hot rodder. He has told me that after years of driving his van he can feel every bump in his 350Z Convertible, but he gets so much pleasure from sunset drives with my Aunt Carole that he is very pleased with the car. He's averaging about 20 mpg with his automatic. I averaged 22 mpg in mostly around town, back-road and some highway driving. Add that to Nissan's well-deserved reputation for low-cost of servicing and you have a convertible that will give years of trouble-free point-a-to-point-b entertainment.