Nissan 350Z Roadster GT Pack

Japanese bruiser with no-nonsense rear-drive handling packs a punch

Don’t make the mistake of underestimating the Nissan 350Z. The big-hearted roadster doesn’t fit the mould of traditional Japanese sports cars, yet along with the Porsche Boxster it was commended at our New Car Honours last year.

Part of its charm undoubtedly stems from its styling – although it must be said that while we love the lines of the coupé, the drop-top is slightly less successful. The roof seems to have been tacked on as an afterthought. The canopy is small, the PVC cotton fabric it’s made from looks shiny and cheap, and with the lid lowered, the rear deck is very long. However, the LED-equipped tail-lights, which were added in last year’s update, are really neat.

You have to put your foot on the brake to drop the top, so it can’t be done while moving, and you also have to release a central handle. That done, the roof tucks itself away under a solid cover and you’re free to enjoy open-air motoring.

But you’ll have to be careful what you take along for the ride. The 130-litre boot is small, and although there are lockers behind the seats, stowage is scarce. There’s a mesh net, two 12V sockets, cup-holders and a rather unsightly bin in the centre console, but that’s not enough to make up for the absence of a glovebox.

More importantly, the 350Z was the only car here that was prone to the occasional rattle and squeak. There’s no two ways about it, the Nissan isn’t in the same league as the Audi for build quality, and its design leaves a bit to be desired, too. While every aspect of the TT’s cockpit has been carefully considered, here the approach is more haphazard – the switchgear is less logical and the stereo isn’t as well integrated, for instance.

There’s a sense that the 350Z is a bit rough and ready – and that’s not just true of the way it looks, but the way it drives, too. For starters, the beefy V6 sounds purposeful rather than tuneful, and there hasn’t been much attention paid to weight saving. The Roadster tips the scales at 1,640kg, 110kg heavier than the coupé, and nearly 200kg more than the SLK. However, with more power and torque than all its rivals, this is still a fast car. It’s every bit as quick as the lightweight Porsche and far punchier at low revs. Although coarse, it’s a really enjoyable engine to use, not least because the Z’s controls are so positive. The clutch engages without a judder, the Brembo brakes inspire confidence and there’s no fear of wrong-slotting a gear with a six-speeder this positive – although the lever does buzz in your hand.

The engine is mounted well behind the front axle to improve weight distribution, and drives the rear wheels via a carbon fibre propshaft. This is a recipe for old-fashioned driving fun, and the Roadster doesn’t disappoint. It may not have the Porsche’s panache, purity and polish, but it wears its heart on its sleeve and is arguably more engaging at lower speeds. Around corners, there’s barely any chassis twist, it remains stable and is very well balanced. The steering is particularly good – although it does suffer some kickback with sharp bumps sending shocks up the column. The downside is a firm ride that lacks sophistication and a hood that lets in too much external noise.

What’s more, with the roof down the Nissan’s buffeting is the worst here – chiefly due to its small wind deflector between the roll hoops.

But even if 350Z owners are worried about their hair being blown off, at least they can relax in the knowledge that their car is the best equipped and has the lowest running costs.

Details

Price: £30,495Model tested: Nissan 350Z Roadster GTChart position: 3WHY: Rear-wheel-drive handling of Nissan’s two-seater will offer a stiff challenge to the TT.

Economy

Here the Nissan’s weight and power take their toll. We averaged 22.4mpg – although that’s close to Nissan’s overall 23.5mpg figure. No wonder it needs a massive 80-litre tank.

Residuals

Who needs a German badge? The 350Z’s 51.2 per cent residuals are only 0.7 per cent behind the Boxster’s. That means buyers can expect to lose £14,882.

Servicing

Although it appears cheaper to maintain – just £680 for three dealer visits – the Nissan needs attention every 9,000 miles, which is nearly twice as often as rivals.

Tax

Here’s the irony. The 225g/km maximum tax band is set relatively low, and the 350Z is the most polluting car here by 33g/km, yet only the Porsche is cheaper for company buyers.

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