2003 350Z New Car Test Drive
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.
Five models are available, but all use the same 3.5-liter V6 engine and suspension. The differences lie primarily in trim. Different size wheels and tires, however, give the models distinct personalities, and the Track model sports big brakes. All models get the carbon-fiber driveshaft, drive-by-wire throttle, and dual outlet exhaust with dumps big enough to hold a Budweiser can.
The base Nissan 350Z ($26,269) comes standard with 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, vented front and rear disc brakes with ABS, Electronic Brake-force Distribution, dual stage air bags, seat belts with pretensioners and load limiters, automatic temperature control, 160-watt AM/FM/CD with six speakers, power windows (with auto-up/auto-down on both sides), power door locks, power mirrors, remote keyless entry, vehicle security system, a leather steering wheel and shifter boot, and comfortable cloth seats. It comes with a six-speed manual transmission.
Enthusiast ($28,249) is the most popular model. It adds xenon headlamps, HomeLink universal transceiver, cruise control, traction control, viscous limited-slip rear differential, aluminum pedals, day/night rearview mirror, dual illuminated visor vanity mirrors. The Enthusiast model is also available with a five-speed automatic transmission with a manual mode ($29,219).
The Performance model ($30,429), available only with the manual gearbox, adds 18-inch wheels and tires, Vehicle Dynamic Control (an anti-skid system), and a tire-pressure monitor.
The Touring model is available with manual or automatic transmissions. When ordered with the automatic, Touring ($31,589) adds leather-appointed seats, with a four-way power driver's seat, a two-way power passenger's seat, and seat heaters, heated mirrors, and a 240-watt Bose CD6 with cassette and seven speakers. But it does not come with Vehicle Dynamic Control or the aluminum pedals, and it's fitted with the 17-inch wheels. Order the Touring model with the six-speed manual ($33,179) and you get all the luxury stuff plus VDC, 18-inch wheels, and the aluminum pedals; it's a Performance model with leather and other luxury goodies, in other words.
The Track model ($34,079) gets vented Brembo brakes, 18-inch rubber mounted on lightweight aluminum wheels, and front and rear spoilers. It comes with the cloth, but is equipped with VDC, the viscous differential, xenon headlights, tire-pressure monitor, HomeLink, aluminum pedals (of course), the electrochromic mirror, and illuminated visor vanity mirrors (to ensure your hair is safely tucked under your helmet).
A side air bag and curtain air bag package ($569) is optional and a very good idea, and a DVD-based navigation system ($1999) is available.
No sunroof, no T-top is available, but if you like high-performance, top-down motoring, then order the roadster, but you'll have to wait until summer to get it.
Nissan says high-performance parts will be available from Nismo, the company's racing division that competes at Le Mans and other sports car venues. Look for engine, suspension, and body bits.