2010 Nissan 370Z Roadster shrugs off the convertible stigma

 The first and possibly most important thing you need to know about the new 2010 Nissan 370Z Roadster is that Nissan knew it’d be building a convertible from day one. Over beers and some yummy Asian food with Bruce Campbell, Nissan‘s VP of design, we learned that the 350Z Roadster was an afterthought – at least from a design standpoint. In other words, when Campbell’s team penned the 350Z, they weren’t thinking the top would be coming off. Which is why the convertible 350Z was – to be kind – awkward looking.

Gallery: First Drive: 2010 Nissan 370Z Roadster

The shorter, wider 370Z Roadster, however, works fabulously. First and foremost, the top not only fits but looks like it fits. One design point that Nissan stressed was the way in which the leading edge of the canvas roof snugs up against the top of the A-pillar, creating a cantilever effect.

Inside, the Roadster is much like the Coupe only with a bit more refinement. For instance, if you opt for the ventilated leather seats, they’re heated and cooled. The air-conditioning system for the seats is separate from the normal A/C, which makes sense in a convertible, right? Because you’re going to run into situations where you only want one of your sides cool.

When you remove a car’s roof, you create compromises. It’s rare that compromised cars win over our hearts, let alone minds, because the things enthusiasts love typically get left on the cutting room floor. With a convertible you gain weight and lose stiffness.

Which leads us to how the 370Z Roadster goes down the road. Typically, we aren’t thrilled with convertibles as driving devices. Don’t get us wrong, we love the idea of open top motoring, but often times removing a vehicle’s roof is akin to cropping out part of its soul. For instance, whatever is special and wonderful about the new Shelby GT500 is thrown out the window (no pun, no pun) once the top gets neutered off. The scalped cars get slower, sloppier and softer. Not what we want in a sports car. Obviously, certain vehicles defy this gripe of ours, like the Mazda Miata, Porsche Boxster and, now, the Nissan 370Z Roadster.

That’s right – Nissan‘s newest is a runner. You can forget about those rogue 200 pounds – top up or down, they don’t make a bit of difference. Nissan brought along some regular 370Z Coupes for us to drive side-by-side and you honestly don’t notice an acceleration hit when going from coupe to convertible. In fact, the Roadsters ran with the Coupes just fine. However, you do notice how much more thrilling everything is when the top is dropped. The car suddenly feels more charged, more electric, more alive. One knock on the fixed-head 370Z is that the cabin is a little stuffy. Not bad, per se, but you never really get the sense that you’re driving a sports car, even if you’re outrunning a Cayman (Nissan relentlessly benchmarked the Cayman when developing the 370Z). The Roadster changes all that, and then some.

Despite the good straight line speed, the real shocker is the 370Z Roadster’s handling. Why? Because again, convertibles are heavier and less rigid than their coupe counterparts. Extra weight and unwelcome body-twist are always the enemy when it comes to canyon carving, or at least they’re supposed to be. But on some severely twisted tarmac between Pescadero and La Honda, the new Z Roadster proved exceptional. An honest-to-goodness athlete, with great visibility to boot.

How good is the 370Z Roadster? You wouldn’t be wrong thinking of it as a baby/bargain basement Ferrari California. Both are comfy open tourers with more power in reserve than the average owner needs and enough handling prowess to take on a track day or two, even though they never will. Also, we think the 370Z’s better looking than the latest topless prancing horse.

Gallery: First Drive: 2010 Nissan 370Z Roadster

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