In The Six Million Dollar Man spin-off series The Bionic Woman, Jamie Sommers is rebuilt better, stronger, faster after a parachuting accident, thanks to cybernetic bits and hunky ex-boyfriend Steve Austin’s undying love. Fans might also recall how cool she looked in her sexy Datsun 240Z -“ the classic 1970s Japanese sports car that drove like, well, six million dollars.
Last year Nissan (as Datsun later became) had reawakened the 240Z spirit with its all-new 350Z coup?It quickly proved to be better, stronger and faster than most sports cars under $70,000. Now Nissan’s after the sun seeker set with a drop top version. Is the 350Z Convertible as good?
The last proper convertible Nissan sold here was the 1963-1970 Datsun Fairlady. Nissan says it designed the Convertible in conjunction with the coup?uring the 350Z’s development. The result is real head-turning style that integrates nicely with the 350Z’s hunky chunky stance. And there’s a touch of 1970s hairy-chested American muscle car for the Convertible to come over a little porn-star.
Some of the coup? subtler concept-car charm has been lost in translation then, but this car has its own style. Roof up it looks a bit dorky though. It gains 85kg over the coup?oo, all as a direct result of beefing and bracing that broad body to cope with the extra shimmering and rattling that removing a car’s roof inevitably leads to.
So while Nissan may have gone back to its 240Z roots with the 350Z, it has also gone hi-tech to improve it because -“ to paraphrase bionic folklore -“ it has the technology.
For a start, thanks to the liberal use of weight-saving aluminium engineering, the rear-wheel drive 350Z Convertible feels nimble and lithe. The extra-strong body and sophisticated multi-link suspension help keep the car glued steadfastly to the road at high speed, and provide a rigid base to absorb the firm -“ though not jarring -“ ride.
The near 50/50 weight distribution helps make this a hot handler, offering terrifically tactile steering to rival BMW’s excellent Z4. Thus this Nissan’s flow through corners is fast, flat, fluid and fun. On the right road there’s a real rhythm to this car’s responses.
Beating like a bionic pump is Nissan’s acclaimed 206kW 3.5-litre V6 powerplant, delivering a towering inferno of tree-stumping torque. On the move, prodding the pedal is like letting a tightly wound spring go, so instant is the forward thrust, accompanied by an awesome exhaust soundtrack.
A slick six-speed manual shifter helps to unleash the beast, while there’s also a more relaxing five-speed auto option.
Harnessing all this momentum are huge 18-inch wheels and truly arresting specialist Brembo brakes, while a limited slip differential and (switchable) electronic stability control aid and abet the silky smooth power delivery.
Some critics complain about this Nissan’s cabin. And yes, the plastics seem a little low-rent for $70K. But it looks fantastic otherwise. And be glad the cash went into its engineering instead -“ like the fabulously easy electric roof. All you do is unlatch the roof from the header rail while the car is stationary with your foot on the brake. In 20 seconds, after the top whirrs down automatically, sunshine is splashing all around.
The reverse applies for an enclosed, cosseted coup?ike experience, complete with a glass rear window and no water leaks -“ proving that the Japanese still build quality, squeak-free goods. And unlike in some drop-tops, this one allows for easy conversation when you’re cruising at highway speeds. A wind deflector does just that. Some (like me) will hate the orange instrumentation lighting. Rear vision is crap. And the windows don’t go up automatically when the roof raising finishes.
There’s also enough boot space for a dirty long weekend away, since this is strictly a two-seater affair. I love the hip-hugging seats. And the driving position is perfect, and perfectly preparatory, for the roaring performance that awaits.
Like its successful coup?ibling, the Nissan 350Z Convertible really is a breath of fresh air. For the dosh, it offers Porsche levels of performance, handling and style, in a hammering yet harmonious package. If it were wind in her (often greasy) hair that the Bionic Woman sought, I’m sure she’d hunker down with one of these.
PRICE: From $69,990 + on-roads.