I knew they were out there, lurking on Web sites, spreading fact, rumor, hope, and promise — all surrounding the rebirth of a sports car. They are the fans of the Nissan/Datsun Z car, the fabled sports car that first came to these shores in 1970 as the Datsun 240Z, evolved over the years into the Nissan 300ZX, was "retired" in 1996, and is now making a much anticipated comeback next month as the 2003 Nissan 350Z. What I didn't know was that when I got the chance to climb into a pre-production 350Z and drive it around for five days, they'd come running (literally) out of the showroom and backshops of a local Nissan dealership when I rolled in; that young tuners in hot foreign cars would follow me into parking lots for a chance to gaze upon the 350Z; or that word of my possession of the car would spread like Internet wildfire through the ranks of Z fans. Never have I received so many e-mails before I have even written about a car. God bless those Z-aniacs! And bless them, Nissan has, with the 350Z, one burbling, stiff, balanced, rear-wheel drive, high-powered, true-to-its-roots sports car. It returns as a two-seat coupe, with a convertible due early next year. Its powerplant is basically the same as found in the Infiniti G35, where it delivers 260 horsepower. It is an aluminum block, 3.5-liter, DOHC powerplant with continuous variable-valve timing and Molybdenum-coated pistons. Good news for Z fans is that, with a tweaked intake system and freer flowing dual exhaust, the 350Z has 287 horsepower and 274 lb.-ft. of torque. It's not the 315 horsepower rumored on some Web sites, but, I assure you, it's plenty to rock you back in your seat and propel the 3,188-pound car from 0 to 60 in less than six seconds. And this is before anybody chips one out or further tunes it. More good news is the pricing: $26,269 to $34,079. Already, before a complete production car has rolled off the assembly line, more than 7,000 people have placed orders for the 350Z (expected sales in the first year: 30,000). And, in more good news for Z-aniacs, there's not much price-gouging going on. If a dealer asks more than the sticker price, shop around. You'll find one who isn't. That's a great thing for such a hot car. Its engine and exhaust deliver a basso burbling note, acceleration is pin-you-in-your-seat quick from the get-go, and at around 3,000 rpms a torque band climbs before your eyes. In third gear at 60 miles per hour, a stomp of the gas pedal will put you right back in your seat. The 350Z comes with either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission with manual option. I drove the six-speed briefly and found it superior to the automatic. That's partly because of my bias toward standard transmissions in high-performance cars, but it's also because the manual option on the automatic in my five-day test car would not deliver the downshifts I asked for at hig her speeds. The six-speed was a relatively tight gearbox, while the automatic five-speed liked to shift up before redline. The 350Z turned out to be a smooth cruiser on the highway, whipping out to pass, charging swiftly ahead, and sitting brick flat in lane changes. In hard cornering on tortuous back roads it had an assuring neutral feel with only the slightest sense of body roll. There was no understeer, and only with traction control switched off could I induce any sense of powered oversteer. The car felt rail stiff in a good way, transmitting steering feedback and passing on even the slightest imperfections in the pavement in a noticeable, yet not jarring, way. The result was great feel and a sure sense of what the car was up to. It has that stiff crispness that I like in a true sports car and, by positioning motor mounts behind the front axle, Nissan has given the 350Z a 53/47 front-to-rear weight ratio. The suspension underpinning all this is a four-wheel independent, muiltilink system with stabilizer bars front and rear, strut tower bar up front and, in the rear, an integrated strut tower brace. Brakes are 11.5-inch discs with ABS. Limited slip differential and traction control are options. If anything will prove controversial about the 350Z it will be its looks — but that's because everybody's conception of what the new Z should look like is so personal. People who approached me said, correctly, that they saw traces of the Lexus SC 430, the Audi TT, or the Porsche Boxster in the Z's new lines. I like the bulging fenders, the sloped roof, even the vertical, forward-tugging door handles at the rear edges of the doors. I found the flat grille a bit too blunt and would have preferred something with a pronounced scoop to it. Inside, the 350Z is modern, efficient, and clean, with nice retro touches. A large analog speedometer centers a cluster of three gauges (speed, tachometer, temperature/fuel) behind the steering wheel, while three other gauges, in a touch right out of the 240Z, sit atop center dash, angled at the driver. These display speed in digital form, oil pressure, and voltage. I would have put the tachometer over there, beside the speedo, and relegated the voltage gauge to a less prominent spot. The bucket seats are flat, firm, and well-bolstered. Even sitting as low as those seats are positioned, visibility out the front is expansive. Rear views are another matter, as bulky C-pillars (needed for stiffness, I'm sure) block angled views and the rear window reveals itself in the mirror as a narrow slit. You'll need faith in your outside mirrors when driving the Z. Storage space in the front of the cockpit is minimal — small slots in the door panels, no glovebox. Instead, a covered storage area rests behind the passenger seat, and a small, covered slit suitable for documents or a pair of sunglasses is in the lower-rear wall behind the bucket seats. The trunk is huge for a two-seater, though it is bisected by that support strut (nicely topped with a large Z visible through the rear glass). At posted prices (they climb as leather, power seats, traction control, limited slip differential, front and rear spoilers, side-impact protection, and other goodies are added, model by model) the 350Z is an economical, bold challenger to the BMW Z3, Porsche Boxster S, and Honda S2000, and is a good step up for those leaving behind their Mazda Miata, Mitsubishi Eclipse, or Toyota Celica GTS. And yes, Nissan will offer its own line of high-performance add-ons for the tuner set. 2003 Nissan 350Z Base price: $26,249 Price as tested: $33,588 Horsepower: 287 Torque: 274 lb.-ft. Wheelbase: 104.3 inches Overall length: 169.6 inches Width: 71.5 inches Height: 51.9 inches Curb weight: 3,188 lbs. Seatin g: 2 passengers Fuel economy: 20.1 miles per gallon Source: Nissan North America.; fuel economy from Globe testing. Nice touch The automatic, slight up-and-down movement of the windows when doors are opened and closed. Prevents eardrum-rattling air compression and is usually found on far more expensive cars. Annoyance The navigation system. Did not include roads I'm used to seeing on navigation sytems.
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|Bob Golfen||AZCentral.com||July 20, 2002|
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|John O'Dell||Los Angeles Times||July 3, 2002|
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||July 3, 2002|
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