Still, you may want to hold out for an ’05 model, which is starting to trickle into a few West Coast dealerships and will be available nationwide by year’s end. According to Nissan product manager Dean Case, heated exterior mirrors and a new tire pressure monitoring system will become standard equipment, although the base price will only increase $30-$60, depending on model.
No matter when you get behind the wheel of the Z Roadster, poseurs, beware. Although the Z Roadster can be a wonderful cruising vehicle over long distances, this is a honest-to-gosh sports car that in goes head-to-head with the Audi TT convertible, BMW Z4 or Porsche Boxster for thousands less, suggesting that teeth-gnashing may be an occupational hazard among German auto engineers. The Nissan does give up some territory to its Teutonic brethren in terms of overall refinement and the quality of interior materials, but these are issues that lose significance once you hit the road.
The open-air treatment’s extra cross-bracing and other structural refinements add another 240 pounds to the Z’s overall weight, but cowl shake, as such, is all but nonexistent, and minor re-gearing makes the weight gain a non-issue during straight-line acceleration. A slick, power soft top stows beneath a way-cool hard tonneau in about 20 seconds, an arrangement that saved development costs and whatever minimal storage space that was available in the trunk (4.1 cubic feet; it features handy directions on how to stow your golf bag). The trunk lid opens to a vertical position, so trunk space, though challenged, is quite usable. The top is insulated and features a glass rear window with defogger. Wind noise and buffeting are also quite low, thanks to a tempered-glass wind deflector. There is a bit of wind intrusion with the top up, however.
The emphasis on lack of residual noise is important, because the baritone growl of the 3.5-liter, DOHC V-6 through its dual exhausts is quite captivating when you put your foot into it. This remains one of the most refined engines out there, and aside from a small dead spot that can lead the unwary to stall the engine from standstill, it offers a broad and sweet powerband, particularly in the 3000- to 6500-rpm pocket. Output is rated at 287 hp at 6200 rpm, and torque peaks at 274 lb-ft at 4800 revs.
Steering feel and feedback are not quite at Porsche levels but are more than adequate for serious thrashes, as is the responsiveness of the notchy, short-throw six-speed shifter and the brakes.
Although the cabin was not fitted with the optional trick fabric-mesh-insert bucket seats, the Frost leather counterparts on our Daytona Blue Touring model were quite firm and comfortable, with solid side bolstering. An optional 260-watt Bose premium stereo provided auditory joys, but not opting for the $2000 navigation system leaves an empty bay, too oddly shaped to be truly functional for storage, behind its door in the center of the dash. Other interior materials appeared a tad chintzy, save for the genuine metal (!) found on the interior door handles. The door panels, vast, plain expanses, felt somewhat oppressive over time. The main instrument cluster tilts along with the steering wheel, which meant yours truly kept the wheel in a higher-than-preferred position for the sake of dial visibility. The cabin does not have the aesthetic appeal of say, an Audi TT, but it is extremely comfortable and makes the convertible feel larger than it is. There is no appreciable line of sight through the rear quarters with the top up, so make sure the mirrors are properly adjusted before zooming off.
Storage is a challenge in most sports cars, but with the Z Roadster, it becomes a downright weird proposition. The aforementioned navigation unit hole is puzzling. Door pockets are much smaller than necessary, a minor tragedy given the lack of a conventional glovebox. There is a locking compartment behind the passenger seat along with a medley of smaller cubbies, which also house the 12-volt outlets.
Then again, anything that lets you play to your inner Michael Schumacher, and leaves you enough change for gas money, isn’t going to be held to task on storage issues. In the sports-car-value grand prix, the Z Roadster is the hands-down champ.
2004 Nissan 350Z Roadster
Base price: $37,620 (Touring model as tested w/manual transmission)
Engine: 3.5-liter DOHC V-6, 287 hp/274 lb-ft
Drivetrain: Six-speed manual or five-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Length x width x height (inches): 169.4 x 71.5 x 52.3
Wheelbase: 104.3 inches
Curb weight: 3462 lb (manual transmission)
EPA City/Hwy: 20/26 mpg (manual transmission)
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, traction control
Major standard equipment: Automatic temperature control, speed-sensitive power steering, viscous limited-slip rear differential, tempered-glass rear wind deflector, lockable luggage box behind passenger’s seat
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles (basic), five years/60,000 miles (powertrain)