AUSTIN, Tex. -- This is too easy: Just one finger punching a console switch is all it takes to whisk away the roof structure on Nissan's slinky two-door sports car, the racy 370Z.
To make the convertible conversion, which takes about 20 seconds, a Z-car driver simply taps the console-mounted toggle one time and the car then does all of the work.
Side windows drop down into doors as a latch on the windshield header automatically releases the forward edge of the top and an electro-hydraulic mechanism motivates the fabric-and-frame rig to flip rearward and fold down beneath a steel tonneau lid.
Now feast on what these mechanical gyrations reveal: A daring design for a sleek but edgy open-top sports car with the cockpit configured only for two and serious hardware concealed behind all of those muscular sheetmetal bulges.
Nissan labels it as the all-new 370Z Roadster of 2010, an al fresco variation spinning off the wicked 2009 370Z hatchback-styled hardtop coupe.
Essential hardware including powertrain and suspension carry over from the 370Z coupe, although the pop-top version gains some additional structural elements in A pillars and side sills to ensure a rigid and stiff platform in the absence of the unifying support of a hardtop's roof.
The convertible also carries special high-back bucket seats and unique materials for the cockpit.
It's amazing what the removal of a fastback roofline will do to influence the shape of the package -- Z as a roadster looks like it's speeding even when parked.
Contributing to that expression of speed is the exaggerated prow fixed with fierce boomerang-shaped HID (high intensity discharge) bi-functional xenon headlamps, fenders bulging to cover the oversized rubber rollers, a windshield cocked back at an extreme angle and the strong horizontal belt line interrupted only by the vertical slot of a door handle and the muscular bulge of the tail.
Behind this too-cool package, you'll find a genuine sports car in classic format -- with the engine mounted up front and all power directed to the big wheels in back.
The 370Z convertible comes in two different trim flavors -- Roadster and Roadster Touring.
Each version stocks the same V6 engine and suspension system, along with a driveshaft composed of strong carbon-fiber material, an electronically controlled drive-by-wire throttle and an exhaust with twin pipes out back.
The V6 displaces 3.7 liters and carries dual cams on top with VVEL (variable valve event and lift control). Output climbs to 332 hp at 7000 rpm, with torque pumping up to 270 lb-ft at 5200 rpm.
Then Nissan offers a choice in high-tech transmissions.
Stock is a six-speed manual featuring synchronized downshift rev matching in the first application for a production vehicle.
Optional is a new seven-speed automatic with downshift rev matching and adaptive shift control for quick driver-controlled shifting via standard paddle shifters or the console-posted shift lever.
New 370Z Roadster has a wheelbase that's nearly four inches shorter than the previous 350Z Roadster (100.4 inches versus 104.3 inches), as the rear wheels set further forward on the platform.
Nissan labels the platform as FM (Front Midship), which describes the engine's position on the chassis as front wheels move forward to the extreme and the engine mounts so its center of gravity falls behind the front axles. This arrangement results in a weight distribution for the car of 54 percent over the front wheels and 46 percent at the rear.
A sophisticated independent suspension at all four wheels employs aluminum-alloy components to trim the unsprung weight.
Other weight-saving components include aluminum for the front hood, trunk lid and both side doors.
The suspension's double wishbone design up front mounts on a diecast aluminum alloy cradle to reduce lateral bending of the front body structure, while the four-link design in back has structural reinforcements and a fully integrated rear cradle.
Special shocks set up responsive control yet also deliver a stiff and sporty ride quality.
Standard 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels roll with Bridgestone Potenza RE050A summer tires -- 225/50R18 in front and 245/45R18 in back.
Apply the Sport Package to 370Z Roadster Touring and wheels and tires upgrade to 19-inch RAYS forged lightweight alloy wheels capped by Bridgestone Potenza RE050A tires -- 245/40R19 up front and 275/35R19 in the rear.
For keen stopping power, the standard brake package consists of ventilated discs (12.6-inch front and 12.6-inch rear rotors) with computer linkage to an anti-lock brake system (ABS), brake assist (BA) and electronic brake force distribution (EBD).
Further, every Z-car carries Nissan's vehicle dynamic control (VDC) device which checks lateral skidding.
The optional Sport Package nets brake upgrades with larger rotors (14.0-inch front and 13.8-inch rear rotors) and four-piston front and two-piston rear aluminum calipers.
To test the new Z-car we slip into the driver's bucket and buckle up. Z's cockpit, snug in fit and oriented around the driver, has only two seats in a cozy space divided by the center console. The driver's seat varies from the passenger's seat -- the seat cushion has cut-outs on flanks so a driver can pump the pedals without bumping the seat.
Now fire up the six-pack, shift down to the bottom gear and let it rip as we run up the main drag of Congress Avenue in view of the Texas capitol in Austin.
Too much traffic retards this romp, so we hop on the I-35 freeway to get the effect of Z's forceful engine. It's so strong and quick that posted speed constraints prevent a full exploration of this car's potential, yet there's far more zip to this Z than you'll ever use if keeping it legal.
Standard gear on a 370Z Roadster ranges from Nissan Intelligent Key with Push Button Start to power controls for windows and door locks, active head restraints and an audio kit with AM/FM/CD/AUX.
The 370Z Roadster Touring brings four-way power for heated and cooled leather net seats, a deluxe Bose audio system, Bluetooth phone kit and aluminum-trimmed pedals.
Nissan's new 370Z Roadster lists for $36,970 (manual shift) and $ 38,270 (automatic) or $3,550 more for the Touring versions.