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Nissan 350Z 2003 review

It dropped the top to create a 350Z Roadster that's become a summer hit in Australia and one of our favourite new cars of 2003.

There was no convertible in the '70s original, even though the Zed grew glass panels for a targa top in the '80s.

Now there's a foldaway roof for a roadster that drives like a real sports car, yet has the refinement to compete with classy convertibles such as the BMW Z4 and Mercedes SLK.

For Nissan, the open-air body also gives it a crucial selling advantage in the battle with the other born-again sports car of 2003, the Mazda RX-8. It counters the rotary car's four-door, four-seat layout with a fun factor that's tough to toss.

The basics of the Roadster are just the same as the regular 350Z coupe, from its body and suspension design to the 206kW V6 engine. The suspension is a little softer, but that's no disappointment considering Nissan Australia has asked for a re-tune of the rock-hard ride in the Track version of the coupe.

The roof itself is fully electric, with a one-touch operation once you have turned the twist-to-lock latch near the rear-view mirror. It is fully lined, with an electric rear window, and folds away under a steel panel.

There's a clever perspex wind-blocker between the seats to cut backdrafts, and the boot space is barely less than the coupe.

Nissan Australia decided to go for a one-model hit with the Roadster, though there is a choice of six-speed manual or five-speed automatic gearboxes, both with a viscous limited-slip differential and traction control on the rear-wheel drive.

Prices are $69,990 for the manual and $72,790 for the automatic, which seems like a fair $10,000 premium over the basic 350Z Coupe at $59,990, and well below the $81,100 starting price for a BMW Z4 or $86,174 for a Benz SLK with only a 2.0-litre engine.

The car comes well equipped with power steering and 18-inch alloy wheels, a Bose sound system, electric leather seats, automatic airconditioning, electric windows and cruise control. There is also a useful trip computer, which can be set to give a digital speedo readout...a great idea with so many speed cameras on the road.

Nissan Australia has been overwhelmed with the response to the born-again Zed and is expecting delivery delays on the Roadster.

It predicted sales of only 800 cars during the first year in Australia, but hit 1154 in the first seven months after the arrival of the coupe. By the end of October that was up to 1432.

 

On the road

We liked the 350Z a lot when we drove it. Our time was mostly in the Track model, which rode a bit stiffly, and we weren't too impressed with the cabin plastics.

But those were just minor quibbles in a car which was striking on the road, sensational in corners and all-round quick at any time.

The new Zed proved Nissan knows what it's doing with its product developments, retaining the heart of the original 240Z but blasting it into the 21st century.

The Roadster looked good when we first saw it, with a clever droptop that promised to open its appeal without downgrading its sports car credentials. It only took a handful of kilometres in the car to confirm that Nissan had delivered a winner.

The Roadster drives really, really tight. Like a grown-up Mazda MX-5, but with more space in the cabin, more go and a bigger boot.

You'd expect the practical stuff with a $70,000 price line, but the driving angle is a surprise. Earlier open-air Zeds were floppy flyers that were all about slow-speed posing.

The 350Z is a car that's happiest when it's cracking along, and best with the top out of the way.

The roof is quick and easy to use, there is very little bluster or wind at any legal speed in Australia, and the Bose sound system stays easily ahead of the extra noise.

We loved flipping the roof away, tickling the lusty V6, and picking a low gear for some corner work. The Roadster even felt a bit more enjoyable than the Track coupe, with more feel back through the softer suspension. It turned just as easily, but was more responsive and easier to hustle along.

The engine has more than enough go for most people, the six-speed shift is light and direct, and jobs like overtaking and stop-light sprints are quick and easy.

The brakes weren't as powerful as the Track Zed, but we were happy to do without the black brake dust which built up on the coupe's wheels after little more than 150km.

The Roadster wasn't quite as good with the top up, but not by much. It felt a little cramped, but that was about it – apart from the inevitable parking problems with only a small rear window.

We liked the fine details in the equipment, particularly the grippy buckets and the digital speedo, and were pleased to see that Nissan has kept the sound system buttons off the steering wheel.

Looking at the 350Z earlier this year we were forced to line it up against the Mazda RX-8, and it lost a points decision to the more practical rotary rocket. The Zed is fine for two, and great if you really want a sports car, but not so good if you just want to cruise and collect the looks and kudos.

The Roadster is just as convincing as a sports car, but even more enjoyable with the fresh-air roof.

It also avoids any comparison with the RX-8 and does better than expected against the costlier and slower BMW Z4 and Mercedes SLK. They are good, but the Nissan is better and costs less...provided you don't need a German bragging badge.

If we were looking to buy a Zed, we wouldn't bother with the coupe. We'd go straight for the Roadster and really have fun.

Pricing Guides

$11,000
Based on 15 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$5,000
Highest Price
$17,950

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Roadster 3.5L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $7,150 – 10,120 2003 Nissan 350Z 2003 Roadster Pricing and Specs
Touring 3.5L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO $5,000 – 17,950 2003 Nissan 350Z 2003 Touring Pricing and Specs
Track 3.5L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO $9,990 – 13,000 2003 Nissan 350Z 2003 Track Pricing and Specs
Pricing Guide

$9,990

Lowest price, based on 10 car listings in the last 6 months

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