The interior of the Nissan 350Z is a cockpit designed for driving, helping the driver quickly become one with the car. The carbon-fiber colored cloth seats are form-fitting, supportive and comfortable, made of a soft material that grips the body in the corners. The driver's seat bottom features a mound in the center at the front to restrain the driver from sliding forward under deceleration. Aggressive side bolsters grip the waist to hold the driver in place. The leather seats in the Touring model feel a little firmer than the cloth, and are available in charcoal, burnt orange or frost. Either cloth or leather is a good choice in this case. The supportive seats and a driver's dead pedal mean you never feel like you have to hang on to the car.
The seating position should be good for drivers with long legs, though the steering wheel felt a little close when the seat was adjusted for the legs of a six-footer. It's worth noting, however, that this feeling went away the moment the key was turned in the ignition. The Roadster boasts an inch more headroom than the hatchback, thanks to the articulation of the top's various mechanicals.
Tilt the steering column and the main pod of gauges moves with it, ensuring a clear view of the instruments for drivers of all sizes. The instruments consist of a big tachometer and flanking speedometer, fuel and temperature gauges. Reminiscent of the original Z, nestled in three pods on top of the dash are a voltmeter, an oil pressure gauge and a digital trip computer. They look retro-cool, but reading them requires more than a glance.
Two toggles to the right of the steering wheel operate the trip computer, used to check outside air temperature, distance to empty, speed, average mileage, and average speed. It has a stopwatch function (to check out those 0-60 times), and a tire-pressure monitor for 18-inch wheels. With the Trip Computer, the driver can program a shift light to come on at a certain rpm. The small red indicator on the tachometer begins flashing abut 500 rpm before the preset engine speed is reached, whereupon it comes on solid. You can program it for the ideal shift points for acceleration or fuel economy, then let your peripheral vision pick up the indicator. If you don't like this feature you can turn it off.
The interior of the Z seems to suggest a carbon-fiber racecar tub. The material surrounding the shifter and forming the center dash looks like carbon fiber. Likewise, the large expanse of gray material lining the door panels suggests carbon fiber in appearance. The quality of the materials is okay, though some of the pieces would never be allowed in an Audi. It looked austere at first, but quickly grew on us. Stylish interior touches, such as the inside door handles integrated into aerodynamic pods for the side vents, give the Z a racy, modern look; with the AC at work on hot days, the handles chill to fit their frosty look. Passengers often grope for the door release the first time they try to get out, distracted by the big grab handles adorned with genuine aluminum and relieved by the Z's dot motif.
Stylish audio controls include a big volume knob, clearly marked buttons for channel seeking, and six station buttons that can be preset simply by holding them down. We confess we were too focused on entertaining ourselves with the car to turn it on, and we've driven various models of the Z on both coasts. Below the radio are three large knobs for the automatic climate control system, which comes standard.
Nicely designed wiper and headlamp controls are mounted on short stalks. The leather-wrapped steering wheel looks and feels great, and comes with cruise controls. Overhead are well-designed map lights and a bin for sunglasses. Power window switches are auto-up/auto-down. Two power points are available, one in the center console, the other in the bulkhead between and behind the seats, but neither is conveniently located for radar detectors.
The Z is not the best place to drink things. There's a pair of cup holders in the center console, but they're mounted too far rearward for use by the driver, and passengers will find them awkward. It might be best to ditch the cup holders and use the center console for storage. Another cup holder is mounted on the passenger-side dash. It pops out with the press of a button, feels flimsy, but works well and isn't too much of a stretch for the driver, just past the audio controls. The firm suspension makes drinking hot coffee from an open cup while underway a risky proposition on all but the smoothest highways.
At first it doesn't seem like the Z offers much in the way of storage. For starters, there's no glovebox. Cars without the navigation system get a nice lined storage pocket above the radio, but it's saddled with a lid that registers high on the bogusity scale: Pressing a button opens it, but closing it requires grasping it between thumb and finger, pulling it out and carefully pressing it closed. Owners will adjust to it, but it's not our favorite feature. There's a small, lined ashtray-size compartment (not recommended for ashes) on the center tunnel and there's a spot on the outside of each seat for a pen or pencil. Turn around and the picture brightens considerably where a thoughtfully designed system of storage compartments provides handy places to stick stuff.
From the driver's seat, you can access a large lockable box, bigger than a shoebox but smaller than a breadbox, built into the bulkhead behind the passenger seatback. When stopped, but without getting out of the car or opening a door, it's easy to flip the passenger seatback forward via a handle in the center of the seatback. Then, it's a simple matter to open a lid that reveals a storage bin. The lockable lid has a quality feel to it and the bin is lined to keep things from rattling about. But as the only lockable storage inside the car, this bin becomes a critical feature in the Roadster, and it falls short of expectations. Unlike with the hatchback, the passenger seatback in the Roadster has no mechanical release for tipping it forward. Instead, you press a rocker switch situated ungainly on the back side of the seatback; conveniently, it's an automatic, press-and-release process for tilting the seatback forward, but re-reclining the seatback requires holding the button during the entire process, often leaving you with a somewhat cramped arm. Also, in the admittedly unlikely event the car's battery dies or becomes disconnected, you're stuck with whatever you locked up securely out of your reach, too. A smaller bin is mounted higher and somewhat more awkwardly toward the center in the hatchback that could hold a map, checkbook, PDA or cellphone. Identical bins on the driver's side in the hatchback are accessed when standing outside the car by flipping the driver's seatback forward.
Cargo in the hatchback rides in an hourglass-shaped well, squeezed in the middle by the shock towers and the big strut-tower brace that ties them together. (That cross brace is functional: hatchbacks flex and the Z's chassis engineers wanted to ensure a rigid monocoque.) The Z offers more cargo capacity than a Mazda Miata, but less than a Porsche 911 or Boxster or a Mitsubishi Eclipse, more than an Audi TT, but less than a TT with quattro. We're comparing small boxes here. An avid golfer at Nissan swears two golf bags will fit in the cargo compartment, if you pull the big woods out of the bag. Nissan says fitted luggage will be available for the Z. And coming up with your own system to compartmentalize the cargo area might make it better for carrying stuff. The same holds for the Roadster's trunk, which at 4.1 cubic feet is the smallest of the lot. Even the Porsche Boxster has more cargo space. Still, Nissan promises accommodations for a golf bag, posting a diagram on the underside of the trunk lid depicting which end of the bag to insert first.
The Roadster's power top operates similarly to that of the Boxster. Prepping for windblown hair is a simple matter of pressing the foot brake and working a flat, toggle-type switch in the lower dash to the right of the steering column. Manual manipulation of a latch mounted in the center of the top's front bow is required to latch or unlatch it. The top stows in a recess occupying the upper part of the trunk and is covered by a cleanly sculpted body panel that opens and closes as needed, avoiding the hassle of dealing with one of those detachable covers that many people throw into some dark corner of the garage.