Nissan was nice enough to send us a convertible 370Z Roadster to test recently. It was the first time I’d been in a convertible — any convertible — in several years. My, how convertible tops have improved!
Let me get this off my chest at the outset: I don’t get people who own new or newish convertibles and ride around on sunny days with the top up. I just don’t. Why the heck did they buy a convertible? Inherently, most convertibles require the owner to make a compromise of some kind, be it torsional rigidity, storage space, or worse insulation from the elements even when the top is up. But the trade-off is glorious, even in the lowliest mid-’90s Chrysler Sebring: Soaking up the sun while driving, feeling the wind in your hair, and generally feeling like a movie star.
Now, if a person owns a mid-’90s Sebring or an early ’80s Volkswagen Rabbit Cabriolet, for example, I can understand leaving the top up — especially in the latter case. Putting the top up and down on an aging Rabbit Cabriolet is not for the weary or easily frustrated, as the top must be manually raised and lowered, including securing the top at either position before driving away. Not something you look forward to doing when you’re running behind on your daily commute. Sometimes, two minutes is too much to ask.
The 370Z Roadster presents no such opportunity for excuses or apologetics. Finger the top open/close rocker switch in the center console, and an impressive array of hydraulic pistons and hinges help the top retract fully and stow itself underneath a body-color hard lid in roughly 15 seconds. Once you arrive at your destination — or, heaven forbid, if it starts raining — the top goes back up in the same amount of time. The only caveat: You have to be stopped. Some power convertible tops are operable while the car is in motion up to a certain speed, but in my testing of the 370Z Roadster’s top, I had to be stopped to raise or lower it.
Given the quickness of the lowering operation, I was disgusted after the 370Z Roadster left my driveway to spot another that could have passed for our tester’s doppelganger plying the streets of a nearby town on a beautiful day, its black top shading the occupants. What a waste of a beautiful day, and a beautiful convertible! In my brief examination of the soft top, including washing the car to prepare for photos, I could see the top was well put-together. No water intruded past the top’s seals or around the rear window despite my car wash deluge. And for a soft top, it seemed well-insulated, which should bode well for the HVAC system’s ability to keep interior temperatures well-regulated. All of the above would be good things for a couple of yuppies who looked like the type who wouldn’t want to muss their hair on the way to Sam’s Club.
A minor quibble: Opening and closing the 370Z Roadster’s convertible top is not a one-bump affair like the automatic one-touch-down and -up windows on either side of the 370Z Roadster. You have to hold the button the entire time. When the operation has completed, a beep sounds in the car’sspeakers to let you know you can release the button. Even if the music was cranked way up — and believe me, if you’re driving on the highway, you’ll have it cranked way up just to hear it over the open-top wind noise — the beep will cut in, hushing the music. I didn’t mind having to hold the button in, but I didn’t understand why a one-touch button wasn’t the way Nissan chose. It’s not as if the 370Z Roadster’s top can open partially, creating a sort of targa setup. It’s either open, or it’s closed.
But no matter. It’s been a fairly dry, predictably hot August in Tennessee, and my good fortune had it that the week of my test would see no exception to that weather pattern. That meant the top stayed down pretty much every time I got behind the wheel. Running across town for five minutes to pick up lunch? Top down. Taking my son to the babysitter? Top down. Taking my mom to lunch? Top down.When a convertible top is this quick and easy to lower, and you’re faced with sunny summer skies, there’s no excuse for putting the car in gear before that top is lowered and stowed.
I should mention that in that last instance, Mom hunted for a mirror before we arrived at our destination, thinking she should fix her 75-MPH wind-tossed hair. Then she remarked, “I guess it doesn’t matter what you look like when you show up in a car like this.” Indeed. Being the ginger that I am, my comically large forehead got a bright red sunburn during our test week — and that’s saying something, since I only got to drive the car three days due to a vacation with my family. Did I care that the upper third of my face was roughly the shade of a parboiled lobster? Not at all. A sunburn is a small price to pay for a visceral, open-air driving experience like the one I experienced in the 370Z Roadster.
My only regret is I was unable to take the car on vacation to the Smokies, where its open cockpit would have made for serene viewing of nature’s majesty. Alas, there’s no way to strap a two-year old and two parents into a two-seat roadster safely — and if you do in this day and age, even for a minute, you attract a lot of law enforcement attention. So I was not about to try anything dumb like that on our three-plus hour road trip into the Appalachian Mountains.
While not getting to test the 370Z Roadster in that environment was a bummer, the roads in my home territory are among the best anywhere, so my wife and I loaded up and took a Sunday drive. More about those driving impressions in a later post.
Disclosure: Nissan provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.