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Nissan 350Z (2005) review

Coupes are among the most sought-after cars in the UK - but give them a folding roof and their appeal becomes even greater...

Excellent performance, good looks, fine handling and a competitive price make the 350Z Roadster a strong package - and losing the coupe's roof doesn't detract from the experience one bit. It is a fine alternative to the default choices in what is a very crowded marketplace.

Coupes are among the most sought-after cars in the UK - but give them a folding roof and their appeal becomes even greater. Nissan has done exactly that with its new 350Z Roadster.

The coupe has been a hit already, selling out here in Britain and finding 100,000 buyers worldwide since its launch in 2003. Surely a drop-top version will give the established players in this sector something to worry about?

The early signs are promising, as converting the metal roof has not spoiled the 350Z's unique shape. In fact, the Roadster's flat back deck and a pair of 'speedster' humps behind the seats only add character to the rear.

With the fabric hood folded, its clean and bold lines make this a stunning-looking car, especially with the optional RAYS alloy wheels fitted.

The inside is also stylish, thanks in part to the hooded dials and flashes of aluminium. Space is at a premium, but there are several storage bins, and while the boot is small at 130 litres, it is well shaped and will hold a set of golf clubs.

There's no shortage of kit, either. All versions get power seats, 18-inch alloys, front and side airbags, xenon headlamps, climate control and a six-CD changer. Our car was fitted with the £2,500 GT Pack, which adds leather, cruise control and an upgraded stereo system.

The electric roof, of course, is standard. Apply the brake and press a button, and the fabric top will close in 20 seconds - cleverly, the passenger chair is automatically tilted forward when the roof is operated, to ensure safe clearance from the mechanism. With the hood up, the Roadster still looks good, and wind noise is well controlled, even at speed.

But the 350Z is best enjoyed with the roof folded, and there is little wind intrusion below 60mph. The open-air experience also makes it easier to hear the glorious engine - it burbles eagerly low down, and wails satisfyingly at high revs.

Offering 276bhp and 363Nm of torque, the 3.5-litre V6 comes straight from the coupe. It's a superb performer; 0-62mph takes 6.4 seconds and the car is limited to 155mph. All that muscle is accessible, too, thanks to the slick six-speed box.

Nissan has added 80kg of body stiffness to compensate for the loss of the metal roof. And while the Roadster cannot match the rigidity of the coupe, it feels solid and largely free from body flex on rough surfaces.

The handling is also virtually the same as the fixed-roof model's - a firm but comfortable ride is complemented by strong grip and good traction. While the steering may not provide as much feel as on more hardcore rivals, it is well weighted and quick, making the Roadster an easy and enjoyable car to drive on twisty roads.

Nissan's 350Z has all the ingredients it needs to succeed in this sector. As well as being great fun to drive and well priced compared to the opposition, the car has lost none of its style during the transformation from coupe to drop-top. And this, perhaps, will be the most crucial factor to many buyers.

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