- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 1, 2004

For 2004, a 350Z Roadster is now available, only a year after the hatchback appeared.

Although the roof is gone, the Roadster shares many of the Z hardtop’s specifications. The same 3.5-liter V6 cranks out 287-horsepower and 274-lb.-ft. of torque, and is mated to either a 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic, with manual control. The aluminum engine utilizes a Continuously Variable Valve Timing Control System that is designed to provide both excellent city and highway manners, when power is desired.

Like the Coupe, the Roadster sits on four-wheel independent suspension, and rides on standard 17-in. wheels with 225/50R17 tires.

Several features have been employed in the Z Roadster to ensure the occupants are protected. Dual-stage frontal airbags with seatbelts sensors are standard, while driver and passenger side curtain airbags are optional. The belts are designed with pretensioners and load-limiters, and a power window lockout button prevents unwanted window operation. Four-wheel disc brakes, with ABS and Electronic Brake Force Distribution, grant halting power.

The most notable features of the Roadster are those that give it a soft-top personality. Operating the top is a cinch - push the brake pedal and hold a switch located to the left of the steering column. In close to 20 seconds (less than it takes a red light to turn green), the roof goes from one extreme to the other in either direction. The fastening mechanism on the windshield is a three-lock, single latch setup, and the latch resides above the middle of the windshield. The engineering is meant to provide a more secure seal, and Nissan says this type of attachment is unparalleled in the Z’s class.

The top is also unique in that it uses a heated glass rear window, helping visibility in poorer weather. Everything hides itself nicely in the down position under a lightweight tonneau cover.

Noise during top-down cruising is always a concern in cabriolets, and Nissan has worked hard to dampen the racket. A tempered glass wind deflector, located between the seats, is designed to direct wind out of and over the interior. Also, seatbelt fasteners have been added to keep the belts from flapping and vibrating. Wind noise, however, is not the only disturbance that Nissan has addressed. The entire unibody has been stiffened to reduce creaking and increase rigidity.

A V-shaped cross bar connects the side sills in the center of the underbody, while an A-shaped one holds the front end in place. Door openings were strengthened, as were the points at which the sides meet the floors in the seating area.

Harmony between driver and vehicle largely depends on the interior. Like in the Coupe, a three-gauge cluster (drive computer, oil pressure gauge, voltmeter) on the center dashboard provides auxiliary information that the primary cluster does not address. Also available is a navigation system with a 7-inch display in the dash.

The seats in the newest Z have been designed for the enthusiast driver, with bolsters under the thighs and wings on the seatback meant to enhance pedal operation and grip for the body during acceleration, respectively.

Special seats that use a woven cloth insert are offered on the Roadster. These chairs also have a hole cut out in the seatback, allowing for the feel of wind movement during top-down motoring. In addition, seat heaters are available.

Drivers who need to transport luggage will appreciate a small lockable floor box and the 4.1 cubic feet of space in the trunk, even with the top down.

Two models are available - the 350Z Roadster Enthusiast Model and Touring Model. Enthusiast versions serve as base Roadsters and get power seats, the power-operated top, a wind deflector, xenon headlights, and an automatic climate control. Stepping up to the Touring Model provides 6-disc, 7-speaker Bose stereo system, heated leather seats, and heated mirrors.

A DVD-based navigation system and 18-in. wheels and tires are optional only on the Touring Models. Both versions, however, can be fitted with optional side-impact airbags.

The Z Coupe received not just one sibling, but a pair of identical twins. One personality, the Enthusiast, leans toward the act of driving, while the other, the Touring, favors the comfort of riding. Both, however, share the same roadster DNA.

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