The reincarnation of the Z-car, which arrived in 2002, may be the ideal his-and-hers combination of performance and luxury -- a desirable package that is embodied in the 2005 350Z 35th Anniversary Edition.
We tested an anniversary model with just a single option -- floor mats -- and a sticker price of $36,760.
HE: I think I saw my first Z-car, the original Datsun 240Z, not long after I learned how to drive back in the late '60s, and I've had a lust for the Z ever since. I sort of fell out of love with the car toward the end of the last generation, which seemed to be getting tired, overweight, underpowered and overpriced. When Nissan revived the Z several years ago, it rekindled all those old warm feelings -- just as Ford's new Mustang did for that particular model. Unlike the Mustang, however, the latest 350Z successfully draws on its heritage and roots without being a simple recreation of the original. And, boy, is it fun to drive!
SHE: Funny, I was never a fan of the Z. It didn't speak to me at all. And it's pretty hard to tell at a glance that this new one is an anniversary edition. Not only that, do you realize this is the most expensive Z you can buy? I'm really anxious to hear you make the case for a two-seat sports car that costs nearly 40 grand.
HE: No problem. But first, a caveat: Families can forget about the Z. For singles or couples with no kids, including empty nesters like us, however, the Z provides big-league entertainment at a price that isn't totally outrageous. The chassis is beautifully balanced. It hugs the pavement like a mama's boy, and is agreeably nimble without being a drama queen. And Nissan's twin-cam 3.5-liter V-6 has long been one of our favorites for its low-end torque, high specific output and sheer responsiveness. Here, it's mated to a six-speed manual gearbox whose only flaw is that top gear is occasionally hard to find. The low-profile 18-inch tires furnish outstanding grip, although they don't soak up bumps and surface imperfections all that well. Finally, the Brembo brakes on the anniversary model are some of the best we've tested.
SHE: I was just baiting you, dear. I think Nissan managed to please skeptical women and track-obsessed men with the anniversary edition. Nissan bumped the output from 287 to 300 horsepower, although torque drops from 274 to 260 pounds-feet. I also noticed that the clutch on the manual transmission feels easier to operate.
HE: I was less impressed with the cabin, which is pretty snug and isn't nearly as attractive as some of the German competitors, like the Audi TT. Nissan has put some really ugly rubberized plastic trim on the door panels and center stack that cheapens the car. And what's with the dumb location for the power seat controls, which are really difficult to reach?
SHE: You're dissing the interior, but I actually admired the top stitching on the perforated leather seats. Nissan also added lots of luxury amenities on the anniversary model, including a DVD navigation system, a high-end Bose audio system and full power accessories. I did have some problems with the cup holders, which are hard to reach from the driver's seat, and with the high beltline, which made me feel a bit claustrophobic. There isn't much storage space inside the cabin either, nor is the trunk all that roomy, which makes me wonder how useful the 350Z would be for road trips.
HE: We had an Ultra Yellow anniversary Z in our driveway the same week that we tested a Pontiac GTO, which was also painted a brilliant shade of yellow. The GTO seemed to fade into the background next to the Z -- proof positive of how distinctive and appealing a design that Nissan created. With a solid set of mechanicals under that cool skin, the 350Z may be one of the best sports cars in the world for under $40,000.
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He drove, she drove Anita and Paul Lienert are partners in Lienert & Lienert, an Ann Arbor automotive information services company.
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2005 Nissan 350Z 35th Anniversary Edition
Type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-passenger coupe.
Price: Base, $36,680 (inc. $580 destination charge); as tested, $36,760.
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6; 300-hp; 260 lb-ft torque.
EPA fuel economy: 19 mpg city/25 mpg highway.
Where built: Japan.
Key competitors: Audi TT, BMW 3-Series, Chevrolet Corvette, Chrysler Crossfire, Ford Mustang, Infiniti G35, Mazda RX-8, Mitsubishi Eclipse, Pontiac GTO.
12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan: $1,511 (Estimate. Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.)
Anita's rating: 4
Likes: Striking Ultra Yellow exterior. Top-stitched seats with perforated leather. Cross-drilled aluminum pedals. Standard DVD navigation system.
Dislikes: Pricey at nearly $38,000. Tiny trunk. Cup holders hard to reach in center console. High beltline. Not much storage space inside cabin. Harsh ride on gravel roads.
Paul's rating: 5
Likes: One of the worlds best sports cars for under $40,000. Potent V-6 engine. Exquisite shape, true to Z-car heritage. Beautifully balanced chassis hugs road. Crisp, responsive steering. Nice gauge package. Terrific Brembo brakes.
Dislikes: Have to hunt for 6th gear. Ugly rubberized plastic on door panels and center stack. Dumb, hard-to-reach location for power seat controls. Limited rear visibility.
1. Unacceptable, 2. Subpar, 3. Acceptable, 4. Above average, 5. World class