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The Nissan 350Z is the modern interpretation of the original Datsun 240Z. It's fast. It's fun to drive. It's pure sports car. And it's affordable, or at least attainable. The new Z is as responsive as a hungry cheetah, with racecar handling, rear-wheel drive, and thrilling acceleration performance.
The chassis is fantastic, as rigid as a prototype racer's. The suspension keeps the tires glued through fast chicanes. Bounce over the curbs like Michael Schumacher and the Z will hold its line. Its fastback styling and arching roofline hint at the Porsche 911. It looks like a mid-engine sports car and, in a sense, it is. Styling details like the controversial industrial-design door handles ensure this car will never be called bland.
The new Z is a great value for the driving enthusiast. While the previous-generation twin-turbocharged 300ZX (discontinued in 1996) delivered stellar performance, it was too expensive for most of us. The new 350Z is far more affordable, starting at just $26,269. And that's no wimpy base model with a commuter engine. All 350Zs get the same sports suspension and Nissan's superb V6 engine, which punches out 287 horsepower and strong torque. That much power, along with a six-speed gearbox, carbon-fiber driveshaft, drive-by-wire throttle, anti-lock disc brakes vented front and rear with EBD, plus convenience features like automatic temperature control and a premium stereo, do not normally come on cars below 30K.
Nissan says the 350Z was designed to be a sports car an enthusiast can live with every day. While its firm ride, abrupt throttle response, and awkward cup holders don't necessarily make it a great place to drink coffee, eat doughnuts, and make phone calls on the way to work, it is a comfortable car with usable cargo space, and getting in and out isn't impossibly awkward. Order it with the excellent five-speed automatic, and you'll have a better commuter for the daily stop-and-go.
Bottom line: This car more than delivers on the promise of its stellar looks. It's no poser. It's a real sports car.
Turning the key and hearing the engine roar to life is the first indication the Nissan 350Z is no poser. Turning onto a winding road proves this beyond a shadow of doubt. Sharp steering, terrific handling, and excellent grip make this a real driver's car. This car is very fast with brilliant acceleration.
Mounted longitudinally and driving the rear wheels is Nissan's excellent VQ V6 engine. It's smooth and sounds like a big sports car engine. It generates lots of torque at low rpm, pulling smoothly from about 2000 rpm. Maximum torque of 274 pounds-feet comes at 4800 rpm, tapering off as maximum horsepower of 287 hp is reached at 6200 rpm. The engine is still pulling smoothly as the rev limiter steps in somewhere just north of 6500 rpm, but this engine is more about low-rpm torque than high-revving horsepower. Nissan's Continuously Variable Valve Timing Control System helps the V6 produce a nice, linear band of torque. Drive-by-wire technology reduces mechanical weight and complexity.
The short-throw shifter feels good and it's effective. The six-speed gearbox shifts quickly and deliberately. It's so well synchronized you almost don't need the clutch (though Nissan recommends using it). Clutch pedal effort has enough heft to remind the driver this is no Honda Accord.
The automatic transmission works great, really smooth and responsive. Driving the automatic, didn't leave me feeling like I was missing out by not having the manual. The Touring model with the automatic and 17-inch wheels felt like the perfect combination for hurtling down New York's Taconic Parkway.
The Z feels taut and well controlled. It really stuck when accelerating through fast sweepers on California's Palos Verdes Peninsula. The steering is sharp and accurate and the Z changes directions brilliantly in transient maneuvers, without excessive understeer turning in or sloppy oversteer coming out. Cornering is flat, without much body lean. The 17-inch tires generate lots of grip, even when driving in a rebellious manner. It's hard to imagine using it up outside a competitive event or emergency maneuver. The 17-inch wheels offer a better ride than the 18-inch wheels on the Performance model. In either case, the ride does get jouncy on bumpy roads, most noticeably when cruising slowly, but it doesn't beat you up and we expect that with a sports car like this.
The brakes are easy to modulate, fun to use, and do a good job of stopping the car. Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist come standard on all 350Zs. Just like it sounds, Electronic Brake-force Distribution improves stopping performance by dynamically balancing front and rear braking forces. Brake Assist is a mechanical system that applies full braking if it senses an emergency-braking situation where the driver has not stepped hard enough on the brake pedal to engage the ABS. Push the car too hard into a corner or find yourself on a slippery surface and Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) and traction control come to the rescue by reducing power or applying brakes at individual wheels.
If you like to drive on racetracks, then you should select the Track model for its Brembo brakes. The weight of the Z challenges the stock brakes when they are used over and over, lap after lap. Also, the car understeers when driven to the limit, meaning you need to get it slowed down for the corners, then use the torque to power out. The big Brembos probably won't reduce stopping distances, but with dual-piston calipers and bigger discs, they should resist fade better than the standard brakes.
The Nissan 350Z stands alone as an affordable, high-performance hardtop sports car. Its rear-wheel-drive chassis is rigid, its suspension is taut for excellent handling, and the V6 engine delivers lots of torque for strong acceleration performance.
Starting at less than $27,000, the new Z delivers with no-frills hardware, including a carbon fiber driveshaft. All models deliver stellar performance. Whether you opt for the six-speed manual gearbox or the five-speed automatic, there are no dogs in the lineup. The interior is the weakest link here, but it grows on you with a little time spent living with it.
This is the car for drivers who want serious sports car performance in a GT body and don't want to shell out the big bucks.