Compared: 2010 Nissan 370Z Roadster Vs. Porsche Boxster / Cayman

September 9, 2009
2009 Porsche Boxster

2009 Porsche Boxster

Savages!

Who would dare to compare the Porsche Boxster--it's only the reincarnation of the 550 Spyder, you know--to a Datsun?

We would, and we're not the only ones. During the recent press preview for the 2010 Nissan 370Z Roadster, the Japanese carmaker's team laid it out in PowerPoint: the Z's a bargain Boxster, minus the fuss and admittedly, minus the fancy badge.

Is the badge enough to command an extra $20,000? With a revamped look, a shorter wheelbase, snappy handling and a luscious V-6 under the hood, the 370Z Roadster and Coupe are lower-priced than the Boxster and Cayman, but they're hardly cut-rate in the performance department. The Boxster's 0-60 mph time? About 5 seconds in the most expensive editions, same for the Cayman coupe based on it. The 370Z Roadster? Well, 370Z coupes have checked in with the buff books at less than 5.0 seconds--and the Roadster doesn't weigh that much more. (Top speeds? The Boxster wins, if you're on an autobahn, at 171 mph or more.)

It's close--but is it no cigar? The 370Z has the guts to run against the Porsche duo, but does it steal some of their thunder?

That's where we step in--to show you how these coupes and convertibles stack up against each other in TheCarConnection.com's numeric ratings, and to pick a winner from there, one not necessarily topping the numbers.First, the basics:

2010 Nissan 370Z Roadster

2010 Nissan 370Z Roadster

2010 Nissan 370Z

The basics: A 332-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 engine, with either a seven-speed automatic or six-speed manual and rear-wheel drive

Price: $30,000 and up

Fuel economy: 18/26 mpg (18/25 mpg Roadster, est.)

Rating: 8.2 out of 10

The Nissan 370Z roadster is just hitting showrooms, and in truth, even our data partners haven't added the latest information on the droptop version of Nissan's powerful two-seat sportscar. (We've referred to the identically-ranked 2009 370Z Coupe where needed.) But already, the comparisons between the new Z Roadster and Coupe are holding water.

To start with, there's the 370Z's tight styling. It's much improved this time around, migrating from the boatlike shape the previous edition wore to a more softly cut suit that's still more modern in its influences. The Nissan V-6 is a marvel of flexibility, torquey and powerful throughout its midrange. Either transmission's a joy to shift, but TheCarConnection.com's editors prefer the click-and-shift feel of the seven-speed paddle-shifted automatic for sheer entertainment value. With your other foot free to brace yourself, it's beyond easy to hustle the Z around very tight corners. Its responses never vary: direct, crisp, immediate. It's also lost the tight, nervous ride that marked the last-generation car, and while it still can be a noisy car to drive, the 370Z Roadster and Coupe have the dynamics to equal Porsche's primetime coupe and convertible--and fall down in the same slight ways, in trunk room and interior storage.

TheCarConnection's Bottom Line? What's most surprising about this new Z coupe and roadster is that the Porsche comparisons make you think, instead of guffaw.

The 2.0L TFSI engine in the Audi TTS delivers 265hp (198kW) and 258lb-ft (350Nm) of torque

The 2.0L TFSI engine in the Audi TTS delivers 265hp (198kW) and 258lb-ft (350Nm) of torque

Porsche Boxster / Cayman

The basics: 2.7-liter to 3.4-liter flat-6, 265-320 horsepower; five- or six-speed manual or automatic; mid-engine, rear-wheel drive

Price: $47,000 and up

Fuel economy: 20/29 mpg (base Boxster) to 18/25 mpg (Boxster S)

Rating: 8.8 out of 10

There, now. You see? The Boxster and Cayman still check in numerically higher than the 370Z. No cracks in the earth's surface have opened, no satanic curses need to be muttered. However, you should know when plunking down the extra bills for the Teutonic two-seater, that you're spending a lot of time and effort and cash on some evanescent qualities.

One unquestionable edge you'll find with the Boxster and Cayman, versus the 370Z, is in handling. There's simply a benefit to the mid-engined layout of the Porsche twins over the very well-balanced, front-engined Z. The Boxster and Cayman turn in right now; they dance a much finer samba line at the edge of traction. And truth be told, part of the appeal in owning a sportscar is usually in its heritage. The Porsche not only has a pedigree, it wears it, in the sultry edges that do all but write "550 Spyder" in the air as it snaps through the atmosphere in a 5.0-second, 60-mph rush. It may also have a slight edge in cargo capacity than the Z, which may be pointless but still a point taken. And fuel economy--gas mileage of all things--is better in the base car.

On the other hand, you'll still encounter some of the loudness in the Boxster and Cayman you'd think you'd dodged by not choosing the Z. The automatics have a gear less than the Z, but dual-clutch gearboxes are on the way. The cargo room isn't teamed with small-item storage in the cabin, and Porsches still have a long way to go in integrating navigation and audio systems into a customer-pleasing whole. The worst offenses of all: the base seats feel a little wiry, and to get better chairs--and better trim all around--you'll need to open your wallet to almost 911 dimensions. A Boxster or Cayman can get very, very pricey, if you're not as steady at the showroom as you are on Lap Five at Laguna Seca.

TheCarConnection.com's Bottom Line? What's not to love about the Porsche Boxster and Cayman? The kind of things most sportscar buyers ignore as they indulge its standard-bearing handling and iconic shape.

2009 Porsche Boxster

2009 Porsche Boxster

The Winner: Porsche Boxster / Porsche Cayman

Be shocked. Yes, the Boxster and Cayman are the winners here, but that's strictly in a pre-Great Recession mindset. Price no object usually falls in Porsche's favor, and at $50,000 just for starters, the Boxster and Cayman are easy choices in the sportscar class. Clamp down on costs, like everyone has, and you'll give a strong, hard second look at the 2010 Nissan 370Z. It's nearly the performance equal of the trans-Atlantic team, and its pedigree ripens with every well-executed Z-car that's come since the early 1970s. There's no shame in bargain hunting these days--and clearly, no letdowns when the Z is the performance bargain you choose.

The Competition

If you're looking at the 2010 Nissan 370Z, chances are you know what you want-and there's not much direct competition out there for this traditional sportscar. Among the closest comparisons by the specifications sheets, you could look at the Nissan's fancier cousin, the Infiniti G37 Coupe. The G37 is more luxurious and relaxed than the Z, plus there's more interior room with its +2 seating-and it too comes in convertible form this year. Based on price and V-8 performance, the 2010 Mustang GT is a worthy 370Z competitor. The Ford's newfound interior quality eclipses the Z's, and ride quality is maybe a touch better while still maintaining a truly sporty feel. Then there's the Hyundai Genesis Coupe: a turbo four or a sweet six-cylinder power it quickly enough, and with G37-like looks and feel, it's a distinctly disturbing option-disturbing for the competition, that is.

Compare Cars

You can view the full 370Z vs. Boxster vs. Cayman page, or compare cars of your own choosing at TheCarConnection.com. Just stop at our car comparison page, select your choices for vehicle type, price range, model year, and brands, and then choose up to three to compare on a single page.

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