Though I continue to maintain the Nissan Z's styling was better in 1970, and again in 1990, there's no denying the general goodness of the current Nissan 350Z. Virtually unchanged since its introduction in 2002 as a 2003 model, the car's looks still haven't won me over, but once you're inside, there's little to complain about.
The current model debuted as a coupe, and a roadster version joined the club as a 2004 model. That's the one tested here.
Nissan insists that for 2006, the Nissan 350Z "receives its first comprehensive updating since its introduction in the United States market in August 2002." Those changes, which challenge the meaning of "comprehensive," include a mildly restyled nose and interior, new headlights and LED taillights, a new power-steering system and a "refined" optional navigation system. Nothing here to make you dump your 2005 350Z.
That said, the car still feels as fresh as the day it debuted. The coupe is offered in five models, the roadster in three, which sort of challenges the meaning of "models," too, as several are so similar. The coupes are the Base, Enthusiast, Touring, Track and Grand Touring models. The Base, Enthusiast and Touring models are differentiated by the standard equipment. The Track and Grand Touring models are pretty similar, except the Grand Touring has a little more stuff. Those two are the performance models, with front and rear spoilers, Brembo brakes and several other features.
All Zs have a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that has 287 horsepower when mated to an automatic transmission, and 300 horsepower with a manual transmission. The best buy in the coupe is the base model which, at $27,650, won't get you aluminum pedals, a limited-slip differential or a few other features, but nothing I can't live without.
The Roadster comes in three flavors: Enthusiast, Touring and Grand Touring. The test car was a midlevel Touring model, and it was loaded: leather upholstery, a Bose seven-speaker stereo with a six-disc CD changer, traction control, side air bags, anti-lock brakes with brake distribution, and handsome 18-inch alloy wheels with P225/45WR-18 radials up front, P245/45WR-18s in back. Base price was $38,450, and with a set of $90 floor mats as the only option, a shipping charge of $605 brought the total to $39,145.
The test car also had a five-speed automatic transmission, called a "semi-automatic" by Nissan, because you can manually shift gears, too, if you want. I usually didn't. The six-speed manual transmission offered with the 350Z is a slick, smooth unit, and just snicking an automatic from gear to gear isn't the same. But in rush-hour, stop-and-go traffic, the automatic is awfully nice.
Inside, the 350Z roadster is snug, in a good way. Both front seats are very comfortable and supportive, and all instruments and controls are easy to find and operate. The power top raises and lowers at the touch of a button, and when the top is up, it's surprisingly quiet inside. The top takes up some trunk space, but there's still enough room for a weekend's worth of luggage. It's obvious this car was originally planned as both a coupe and a convertible, as the underbody structure is commendably rigid.
The 350Z's engine isn't particularly exotic, but it has plenty of punch and an exhaust note that's about as invigorating as any you'll hear with a V-6. Handling is just superb; the new steering system is excellent, but so was the old one. Nissan has really found a happy balance between a sporting feel and on-the-road comfort.
Nissan 350Z sales remain high, and prices have kept close to sticker. Easy to see why: The Z delivers. Maybe not so much in the styling department, but undeniably in every other area.
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