Issue Index

Features
  Mini Features
  Cultural Features
  Life in Japan
  Big in Japan
  Rant & Rave
  Cars & Bikes
  Health & Beauty
Jobfinder
  Money Talks
  Tokyo Tech
  Web Watch
  Food & Drink
  Features
  Restaurant Reviews
  Bar Reviews
  Word of Mouth
  Travel Features
  Japan Travel
  International Travel
  Travelogue
  Art
  Artifacts
  Fashion
  Tokyo Talk
  In Store
  Buyline
  Japan Beat
  CD Reviews
  In Person
  Concerts
  Clubbing

 








bar news and views
 PAST ISSUES

776: Wanna Race?
A roundup of Japan’s police vehicle fleet
772: Wanna Race?
Be a pro driver for a day at Tokyo’s racetracks
768: Mazda Biante
Solve your space conundrums with this nimble people-mover
764: Lexus IS-F & SC430
With a new showroom and two sporty releases, the automaker is flying high
760: Chrysler Grand Voyager and Nissan Elgrand
It’s American power vs. Japanese grace in a battle of the vans
756: Motor Sport Japan
The stars and cars come out for a day at the races—in an Odaiba parking lot
752: Alfa Romeo 159 Sportwagon
A reborn classic earns a (near) perfect 10
748: Nissan GT-R
It’s fast, sexy and a bargain. So what’s the catch?
744: Jaguar XF
The new sedan from Britain’s storied automaker proves that appearances are, in fact, deceiving
736: Suzuki Swift Sport
Suzuki’s bargain hatch proves big fun can come in small packages
732: Dualis & X-Trail
Nissan introduces a new SUV while its marquee model continues to play tough
728: Toyota Vanguard
Head off to the concrete jungle with a bit more vehicle than you need
724: Subaru Impreza S-GT
Japan’s automotive loudmouth learns some manners
720: Tokyo Auto Salon 2008
Get ready for some modification mayhem at Makuhari Messe
716: Dodge These!
Chrysler introduces three muscle-bound imports to Japan
712: Licensed to Drive
We guide you through the bureaucratic jungle
708: Tokyo Concours D’Elegance
Exotic autos from the past and present glide into Roppongi
704: Car Knows Best
Automakers are introducing technology that will let your ride decide if you’ve had one too many
700: Range Rover & Land Rover
We put three SUVs from the fabled British maker through their paces
696: Aston Martin V8 Vantage
Channel 007 in this latest incarnation of the marquee automaker’s “baby”
692: BMW R1200GS Adventure
The storied bike maker competes with itself to create a three-in-one masterpiece
688: Lexus LS460
The new sedan is big, fast, safe, classy—and unremarkable
684: Alfa Romeo Spider
We unleash the Italian monster on a 1,200km road trip
680: Ford Mustang
The American classic goes back to its roots
676: Citroën C6
The French automaker's latest eccentricity pushes its own boundaries
672: Nissan’s Pino and Otti
Japan-friendly K-cars pack a big punch
668: Jaguar XK
Forget James Bond—this is the UK’s sexiest export
664: Mazda’s Axela, RX-8 and Roadster
Here’s the word on Japan’s resurgent automaker: buy, buy, buy!
660: Mazda’s Axela, RX-8 and Roadster
Here’s the word on Japan’s resurgent automaker: buy, buy, buy!
656: Alfa Romeo Brera
This gorgeous Italian coupe is both poised and sexy
652: Premium wheels
Business is good for Rolls-Royce in Japan, with an eagerly awaited convertible due out next year
648: Citroen C3 Pluriel
The quirky French automaker barrels into the 21st century
644: Jeep Commander& Grand Cherokee
Off road and on, these 4×4s do their military heritage proud
640: BMW Z4 M Roadster
Beemer’s monster convertible provides the most fun you can have sitting down
636: Name dropping
What your car is called says something about you—and even more about automakers’ marketing departments
632: BMW Mini Cooper S
All hail the mighty Mini!
628: Mazda Roadster
Redesigned and retooled, this two-seater is now a car for enthusiasts
624: Hyundai Sonata
A rev-happy South Korean import tries to find its niche in Japan
621: Lexus IS350
Toyota brings its upmarket brand to Japan—finally
616: Volvo XC90 V8
A bit sleeker and a lot more spacious, this SUV still puts a premium on safety
612: Chrysler 300C
This black beauty recalls the golden age of motoring
608: The Big Ideas
Tokyo Motor Show 2005 was a concept car bonanza
604: Tokyo Motor Show 2005
The automotive world’s big players zoom into Japan with some high concepts in tow
597: Three brothers
We put a trio of Nissan sedans through their paces
593: Ducati 1000S DS Multistrada
The boys from Bologna deliver an Italian masterpiece for your garage
589: Mazda Demio Sport
A worthy cousin to the Atenza and RX8, this roomy sedan is happy around town and in the country
585: BMW K1200S
The boys from bavaria clothe an iron fist in a velvet glove
581: Chrysler’s Cruisers
The American auto manufacturer concentrates on the body beautiful
577: Suzuki Skywave 650LX
If you thought scooters were just for kids, think again
573: Cadillac STS 4x4
America’s flagship automaker recaptures its former glory
569: Tour de Force
Yamaha’s FJR1300A offers an unbeatable blend of poise, power and price
565: Alfa Romeo GT and 156 GTA
With stunning looks and power to spare, these two Alfas are an enthusiast's dream
560: Driving the Future
The talk of the auto industry in 2004 was hybrids, safe driving and intelligent vehicles
556: Deja vu
Blast to the past on Harley-Davidson’s Road King Custom
552: Sports sensation
Nissan's new SUV breaks out of its class
548: Lean machine
Lighter, faster, stronger and sexier—a diet works wonders for BMW’s R1200GS
544: Kings for a day
The Honda Elysion is master of all it surveys
539: Rules of the road
New traffic laws are on the horizon. Turn off your cellphone, watch where you park and don’t ride in gangs, Chris Betros warns.
537: Open roadster
William Bonds gets up-close with the elements courtesy of the Nissan Fairlady 350Z convertible.
535: Extreme makeover
Volvo sheds its stodgy-but-safe image for sleek-and-sporty with the new S40 T5. William Bonds likes what he sees.
533: Sporting chance
Mazda has brought the station wagon up to speed with its Atenza Sport Wagon 23Z. William Bonds takes one for a spin.
531: Street smarts
Automakers are taking car safety to new levels with sophisticated warning systems that almost do the driving for you, reports Chris Betros.
529: Speed zone
Just down the road from Ueno Zoo, a virtual hog heaven has everything for the motorcycling enthusiast. Steve Trautlein cruises on over.
527: Italian Stallion
The Alfa Romeo 147 carries on its maker’s reputation for hot cars with unmatched sex appeal. William Bonds gets carried away.
525: Hot wheels
A cross between a snowboard and a scooter, the Wheelman is a quirky Australian invention that's grabbing attention worldwide. Tim Colquhoun takes one for a ride.
523: Mean Machine
William Bonds gets behind the wheel of the Nissan Skyline 350GT.
521: Show stealers
Toyota stunned attendees at the recent Geneva and Melbourne auto shows with two concept cars that represent a powerful vision for the future of motoring. Tim Colquhoun reports.
519: Mighty mouse
Subaru goes boldly against the tide with its new R2 minicar. Justin Gardiner admires this latest feat of audacity and engineering.
517: Trail blazer
Nissan's top-selling 4x4 features cool touches for winter sports fans. Justin Gardiner drove the latest X-Trail to the slopes
515: Up to speed
The Formula One circus is gaining momentum as the season opener in Australia draws near. Tim Colquhoun takes a look at the latest developments.
513: Good save
Hybrid cars are the rage this year with Toyota, Honda and Subaru touting their gas-electric vehicles. Chris Betros looks at what they're offering.
512: The road ahead
Despite the lack of a full-fledged Tokyo Motor Show in 2004, domestic manufacturers have a bevy of weird and wonderful offerings in store for this year. Justin Gardiner previews the lineup.
509/10: Top of the class
Justin Gardiner finds his favorites from this year's Metropolis test drives.
507: Mom-mobiles
Japanese mothers are trading in their once ubiquitous mama-chari bicycles for a new breed of K-car. Justin Gardiner tries a couple of the most popular mini-cars.
505: Cubic's rube
Nissan has lengthened its highly successful Cube a few centimeters and added an extra row of seats. But, as Justin Gardiner finds out, the result is a bit puzzling.
503: Globe trotters
Kerstin Gackle and Volker Aldinger left their native Germany on April 1 and pointed their Yamahas toward Australia. Eight months later Justin Gardiner caught up with the couple in Tokyo.
501: Back to the future
Cutting-edge technology and futuristic vehicles highlight the 37th Tokyo Motor Show at Makuhari Messe through November 5. Justin Gardiner offers a guide.

ISSUES 499-
ISSUES 449-
ISSUES 399-
ISSUES 349-
ISSUES 299-

Open roadster

William Bonds gets up-close with the elements courtesy of the Nissan Fairlady 350Z convertible.

While the array of cars parked outside my house when I’m test driving is varied, it has never provoked much interest from the locals in northern Shinjuku, where I live. Having finally gotten over the notion that vehicles don’t actually come with real horses anymore, my neighbors (somewhat long in the tooth) are, like an English friend of mine, of the opinion that nearly all cars look the same, or soon will.

However, shove a bright red convertible in their faces and the neighborhood’s blue-washed obachan are all over it. “A horseless carriage without a roof? Whatever will they think of next?” The septuagenarian Takeshita-san rushed back into her hut to grab her (non-digital) camera and take a few photos of me and Mrs. Bonds (well, OK, the car) preparing for a weekend in the country.

Perhaps automakers should sell such cars with a government health warning for people like Takeshita-san. This would be it: “You with the flash red convertible, posing away with the top down; The Sun Is Hot. You will be toast if you do not protect yourself with sun block.” The Nissan Fairlady 350Z Roadster does not come with such a health warning. Hence, I am writing this with a pen in my mouth after my arms burned off somewhere near Onjuku in Chiba Prefecture.

A bright red paint job shows off the 350Z`s eye-catching design from all sides.

 

Raising the roof
So, it’s very open, this open-topped car. But, of course, it doesn’t have to be; you can put the roof up. Being somewhat long in the tooth myself, I can remember my English friend struggling with his first venture into the world of the rag-top. It was an old MGB and putting the roof on took roughly as long as building a small cottage. Once the roof was on, it was quite pathetic in the wind and rain. He has since moved up in the world and now scoots around in a red Porsche 911 Carrera 2 soft-top, which I have driven on several occasions. Given a choice, which car would I choose?

The answer is relevant because many people hold the 911 up as the ultimate sports car. Cynics say it’s a glorified Beetle, but it has a little more gravitas than that. The 350Z, meanwhile, doesn’t have gravitas but who really needs it? More to the point, you can pick up a new 350Z Roadster for the same price (¥3.8 million) as a 10-year-old 911 convertible, or for less than half that of a new one. So is the 911 twice the car the 350Z is? I think not.

The top speed of the 911 may be a little faster and the acceleration a bit quicker, but there’s not that much in it. The difference comes down to price, name and design. The 350Z with the top down is a stunning-looking car and the 3.5-liter engine purrs like a panther. Even my 911 pal conceded that the 350Z is a bit of a looker. If Porsche had designed it, people would be falling over themselves to say how fab it is.

The 350Z is a car that is crying out for its lines to be noticed and a bright red (bright blue, bright black, etc.) paint job does the trick. The curve of the wheel arches, the Star Wars-type light clusters, the uniform body line, the smart 18-inch wheels and rakish windscreen all contribute to its hunk-like appearance. Some might consider the back end to be a little on the podgy side, but so is that of the Porsche Boxster (which has less power and costs ¥3 million more). I think we’ll call it a manly rump.

The easy-open top is perfect for a lazy Sunday drive.

 

Bells and whistles
Inside, it’s got the right bits: rev counter in front of you; oil, volts and trip computer dials in the center, facing the driver; car navigator, CD and cassette/radio (what, no record player?) with a big speaker behind the driver, and the odd storage bucket or two, or three, or four. I was still finding new ones on the way back to Nissan HQ, but I had figured out that the glove compartment is behind the passenger seat and almost completely inaccessible.

The trunk is small, but there is a helpful sticker inside telling you—in English and French for some reason—how to squeeze in your golf clubs. I didn’t have a chance to try it, but it didn’t look like a golf-club sized trunk. The seats are terribly reminiscent of the uncomfortable seats in the 350 Skyline and so is the six-speed gearbox, which seems to make far more sense, and, as a result, changes far more easily, with a lower driving position.

The top is very easy to operate: It unlocks with a simple push and a pull, pressure on the brake and holding down a button for 15-20 seconds. Enormous flaps then appear in the rear mirror and the sturdy canvas top disappears to the rear (as does everything else; the top virtually obliterates rearward vision).

All that’s left is to get in and step on the gas. Once again, Nissan has found an almost perfect balance of firmness and ride comfort (the European version, however, is toughened up somewhat). Hit the red line (6,600rpm), however, and you’re in for a shock: The engine cuts out. You would think that Nissan would trust 350Z drivers a little more.

This is a car that helps you forget your problems. It’s very fast (above 3,500rpm), very flash (as long as you don’t get it in silver), very stylish and very affordable (if you’ve got ¥4 million in your pocket).

And it should definitely come with a health warning.

The Nissan Fairlady 350Z Roadster retails for ¥3.5-3.9 million. See www.nissan.co.jp/Z/ for details.

Photos by William Bonds

Discuss cars and bikes with METROPOLIS readers at http://forum.japantoday.com