2004 350Z New Car Test Drive
The Nissan 350Z recaptures elements of the original Datsun 240Z. It's fast, it's fun, it's pure sports car. And, like the original Z, it's affordable, or at least attainable.
A convertible called the Z Roadster has joined the lineup for 2004, adding the joy of open-air motoring to the mix. The Roadster's chassis gives up almost none of the solidness that characterizes the coupe. The Roadster feels as rigid as a prototype racer's and tighter, in fact, than some higher priced soft tops. With the top up, the look is traditional coupe, in profile giving no hint of its transitory nature. Top down, there's a hint of the Porsche Speedster's high-waisted, bustle back end. The Z Roadster looks even more like a mid-engine sports car than the hatchback.
The coupe, introduced as an all-new model for 2003, continues without changes. Coupe or roadster, the 350Z is as responsive as a hungry cheetah, with racecar handling, rear-wheel drive, and thrilling acceleration performance. The suspension keeps the tires glued to the road through fast chicanes. Bounce over the curbs like Michael Schumacher and the Z will hold its line. Styling details like the controversial industrial-design door handles ensure this car will never be called bland.
All 350Zs get the same sports suspension and Nissan's superb V6 engine, which punches out 287 horsepower and strong torque. It comes standard with racy hardware: a six-speed manual gearbox, carbon-fiber driveshaft, drive-by-wire throttle, anti-lock discs vented front and rear with electronic brake-force distribution. Add the convenience features that come standard, such as automatic temperature control and a premium stereo, and the price of the Nissan 350Z is quite compelling.
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 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 a version with the excellent five-speed automatic, and you'll have a better commuter for the daily stop-and-go.
Bottom line: The Nissan 350Z is no poser. It more than delivers on the promise of its stellar looks. It's a real sports car with serious GT performance. The Roadster simply adds wind-in-your hair freedom.
Nine models of the Nissan 350Z are available, but all come with the same 3.5-liter V6 engine and suspension layout. They come in coupe and roadster body styles.
Differences among them lie primarily in trim. Different size wheels and tires, however, give the models distinct personalities. The exception is the Track model, which features higher spring rates and shock damping along with bigger 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 Roadster Enthusiast ($33,850) reverts to the 160-watt stereo and fabric seats but keeps the 4-way power driver's seat and two-way power passenger's seat. Neither the seats nor the mirrors get heaters.
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 Roadster Touring ($36,220) adds supplemental side airbags.
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 on the hatchback and a very good idea, as is the supplemental side air bag option ($250) on the Roadster Enthusiast. A DVD-based navigation system ($2,000) is available.
No sunroof, no T-top is available on the hatchback, so if you like high-performance, top-down motoring, your only choice is the roadster. 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.