Only a handful of cars become legendary in their own time, and Nissan’s Z-car falls into that category — having attracted a loyal following over its three-decade run.
First seen in 1969 as the Datsun 240Z, the two-seat hatchback was the first Japanese-built sports car to sell strongly in the United States. Through the 1970s and 1980s, it evolved into the 260Z and 280Z, culminating in the 300ZX that lasted through 1996.
Nissan’s modern-day 350Z coupe went on sale in August 2002. Like the original, the 350Z has rear-wheel drive and a six-cylinder engine.
A selection of 350Z models are available. Enthusiast editions get traction control, xenon headlights, drilled aluminum pedals and a limited-slip differential. Touring models have a 240-watt Bose stereo, leather-appointed upholstery, and heated seats and mirrors. The Performance edition, available only with a six-speed-manual transmission, includes Vehicle Dynamic Control, xenon headlights and 18-inch tires. Track models have front and rear spoilers, forged-aluminum wheels and vented Brembo brakes. A base coupe is also available.
New driver and passenger side knee pads are part of the 2004 models, and a 350Z Roadster joined the coupe for 2004. (Skip to details on the: 350Z Roadster)
Styling cues adapted from the original 240Z include a long-nose short-deck profile, a triangular cabin form and lines that extend from the arch-shaped roof to the hatchback opening. The wheels were pushed toward the corners to emphasize nimbleness.
What Nissan calls its “soft, warm body shape” contrasts with the geometrical forms of the projector-type headlights. The 350Z’s glass design is similar to the 240Z’s. Standard tires measure 17 inches in diameter, but certain models get 18-inch tires.
The 350Z seats two occupants. Considerable aluminum is used in the cockpit. Three gauge pods are installed on the instrument panel, and the steering wheel and gauges move together as a unit. Nissan’s navigation system is optional, and an integrated, aluminum rear-suspension strut tower brace featuring the Z logo can be seen from outside the car.
Under the Hood
Nissan’s 3.5-liter dual-overhead-cam VQ35DE V-6 engine develops 287 horsepower and 274 pounds-feet of torque and uses an electronically controlled throttle. Nissan claims the 350Z can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 6 seconds. Both a five-speed-automatic transmission and a six-speed close-ratio manual gearbox are available.
Antilock brakes with Brake Assist are standard. Side-impact airbags and inflatable curtain-type airbags are optional. Traction control and Vehicle Dynamic Control are installed on certain models.
The 350Z is a sweet machine. Steering could hardly be more precise, confident and satisfying. Even though the suspensions are defiantly taut, the ride is enjoyable. The 350Z maintains outstanding control and avoids overreaction. A little hop occurs only in very quick curves. Maneuverability and stability are top-notch.
The V-6 yields plenty of energy. Because you can feel the engine as the revs build, there’s a tendency to either hold back on the gas or shift to a higher gear a little sooner than necessary.
With short throws and a short lever, the manual gearshift snicks masterfully and positively through the ratios. The clutch behaves in near-perfect unison. The exhaust sound is distinctive but appealing. With its manual-shift provision always on tap, the automatic transmission functions smoothly and responds crisply. The seat bolsters are really snug, but most drivers will fit comfortably.
Related Model: 350Z Roadster
An open Roadster offered only in Enthusiast and Touring trim levels joined the coupe in the summer of 2003 as 2004 models. The automatic top goes down in 20 seconds and contains a heated glass rear window. Trunk capacity in the Roadster is 4.1 cubic feet. There’s no glove box, but the Roadster gets a lockable floor box for storage. Burnt Orange ventilated leather-trimmed net seats are available. Back to top
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