Last year about this time, we welcomed Nissan’s 350Z to our test track, and found the “Z- car” legend indeed continues. This year the legend adds another new chapter with the drop top Z- Roadster. It promises all of the power and prowess of the 350Z coupe plus a tan. But, removing the top of a great coupe to let the sunshine in often takes the performance out. And that’s the big question. Can you cut away so much of a great story yet leave the legend intact? You can if you compensate with more great engineering. From the start designers knew the 350Z Coupe would eventually go topless. So they made sure that no matter how it was sliced, the 2004 Nissan Z-Roadster would emerge with its driving fun un-scratched. And, after surgically chopping the top, and grafting on more than the normal chassis reinforcements, a fully automatic, power soft-top was added, complete with heated rear glass window. The top is low and quite aerodynamic. So much so that head clearance could be a problem during top operation. So, after releasing the header lock, the driver must lean forward to hold a dash switch. The passenger seat tilts forward to avoid head contact with the top frame. Then the structure disappears beneath a stylish hard cover with twin fairings. A tempered glass wind deflector keeps cockpit turbulence to a minimum. With the top down, the Z-Roadster’s styling is super clean and everything except chopped. It’s very well executed, showing off aggressive character lines even better than the Coupe. Aggressive styling that’s backed up by the same potent drivetrain. The 3.5-liter dual- overhead-cam V6 pumps out 287 horsepower, and 274 pound-feet of torque. It’s mated to our car’s standard 6-speed manual gearbox. A 5-speed automatic is an option. Drop the clutch, and the Z-Roadster sprints to 60 in 6-seconds flat. Despite carrying an extra 231 pounds, that’s only three tenths slower than the hardtop. Likewise the quarter mile which rocks by in 14.6 seconds, at 97 miles-per-hour. What fun! Indeed, power is strong from the word go, with a real punch in the mid-range. The manual shifter is accurate, with a slightly notchy feel. First gear is shorter than we’d like, but the rest are perfectly spaced to keep you right at the engine’s 4,000 rpm sweet spot. And sweet describes the handling as well. Other than a touch more push on turn-in, the highly rigid Z-Roadster exhibits the same sharp, precise performance as the 350Z coupe. Balance is superb, the speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering giving great feedback. And body roll is practically nonexistent. Braking is by big 4-wheel discs with standard ABS. They stop the Z Roadster from 60 in a great average of 121 feet. The ABS system is rather noisy, with lots of pedal pulse, but stability is top notch. In fact, performance in general is top notch. This is one fine sports car, top or not. And a fine road car as well, since there’s little of the noise and body flex that we find in so many other rag tops. In fact, top up, this Z-Roadster is actually quieter than our long term 350Z Coupe. But, do watch out for the blind spots. The Z-Roadster delivers a firm, but surprisingly smooth ride, even on pavement that would tie many convertibles in knots. And also delivers respectable fuel economy for a high performance car. EPA estimates for the manual are 20 city/26 highway. We averaged 20 miles-per-gallon, in some very enthusiastic mixed driving. Naturally the Z’s sporty exterior carries over to the inside. This aluminum accented dash is the same crisp, industrial unit found in the hardtop. The seats have added support that is welcomed on quick switchbacks. Cloth is standard on the Enthusiast model, while our Touring- grade test car had leather buckets with 4-way power and 2-way manual adjust. Optional on the Touring model are Burnt Orange net seats, with vents in the seat backs for total airflow. There’s no dash glove box in the Z, but plenty of small item storage behind the seats. Good, since the trunk measures a mere 4.1 cubic-feet. So, pack very light. But leave room for your checkbook. The Z-Roadster carries a base of $34,390 for the Enthusiast model with a manual transmission. Go for the automatic, and the price is $35,360. Step up to the Touring model with a manual, and pay $36,760. While the line tops out at $37,730 for the automatic-equipped Touring. Those are quite reasonable prices for a car that delivers all of the power and prowess of the 350Z coupe, plus its own fun-in-the-sun character. The 2004 Nissan Z-Roadster easily lives up to the reputation of previous Z-cars, and proves you can indeed cut into a great sports car and still leave the heart of the legend intact!
Engine: 3.5-Liter Dohc V6
Torque: 274 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 6.0 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 14.6 Seconds @ 97 MPH
60-0 MPH: 121 Feet
EPA Mileage: 20 MPG City 26 MPG Highway
Motorweek's Mileage Loop: 20 MPG Mixed City/highway