Check out the rabid fan-based Z-car Web sites, if you have any doubts that the 2003 Nissan 350Z is one of the most-anticipated sports cars of the new model year.
You can spend hours dissecting the merits of the new Z in the various chat rooms, watch streaming video of the Z in profile and even hear the 287-horsepower V-6 engine’s throaty exhaust.
Back at the kitchen table, Anita is mulling over whether to give Paul permission to buy one. The Z’s affordable $26,269 base price may sway her a bit. But, as it turns out, there are other issues on the distaff side of this argument.
Our test Z, fitted with the optional five-speed automatic transmission, cost $29,759.
She: Here’s the Z detail that I found to be a complete turnoff. Everywhere you look, from the air vents to the floor mats to the steering wheel and the door sills, there are Z logos. Like some deranged Zorro was determined to leave his mark everywhere on this little Japanese sports car. A little too tomcatty-macho for my taste. Although I’ll bet guessing the number of Zs on the new Z-car might make for a great cocktail-party trivia question.
He: There’s a new adjective you don’t hear every day — “tomcatty-macho.” I’m surprised that you didn’t mention our test car turned nearly as many female heads as male. In fact, one concern that I would have as a guy who likes to drive performance cars is that the base Z is priced low enough to appeal to all those young, single women who used to buy Camaros and Firebirds. Sure, I can get the tricked-out “Track” edition of the 350Z for $34,000. But I’d be mighty embarrassed at a stoplight to pull up next to a powder-blue Z with an automatic, driven by a secretary. It’s image problems like that that drove a lot of guys out of Z-28 Camaros and Firebird GrandAms.
She: Good grief! I guarantee you will be the subject of Z chat-room chatter and vilification. And not only by women. Why don’t you talk about that nice feature on the trip computer — the built-in stopwatch, so you can check your 0-60 times? When I told the Nissan executives I didn’t get it, they told me I could also use it to check my pulse.
He: Ouch. I guess the best thing about the new Z is that it’s a genuine sports car, with a fairly potent twin-cam engine and a chassis that really hugs the road. The 3.5-liter V-6 is similar to the one offered in the mid-size Altima sedan, but it’s been goosed to deliver more power and torque. The rear-wheel-drive platform was adapted from the Infiniti G35, and has been fitted with all the right pieces, including four-wheel disc brakes and variable-assist power steering. The base model comes with a six-speed manual gearbox, 17-inch wheels and tires and plenty of other goodies. It really is a sweet deal.
She: The new Z looks striking. But I just didn’t enjoy driving it. I thought the ride was too harsh. And the car is difficult to park because the rear visibility is terrible. This has nothing to do with driving , but I noticed the driver can’t reach the cupholders, which are actually BEHIND the seat. So is the glovebox. The situation is even worse from the passenger seat. Because there’s no height adjustment, shorter people may feel like they’re riding in a tub. If you ask me, the Z car is the male equivalent of stiletto heels. You look great in them, but they’re uncomfortable to wear.
He: Boy, now who’s gonna get trashed in the chat rooms? Guess I won’t have to worry about you ordering a powder-blue Z, huh? You didn’t much care for that neat cabin either, did you? Lots of black leather and brushed-aluminum trim. Very cool. Oh, I mean “tomcatty-macho.” And the driver’s seat is quite comfortable. It will anchor your rear end adequately if you’re the type who really enjoys aggressive driving.
She: Nissan says the Z is aimed at people who are “seeking stress relief and freedom.” At first, $26,000 seemed like a bargain for the Z. But I can get just as much stress relief by spending $ at the local mall.
He: I’d much rather catch some Zs.
Paul’s rating: (above average)
Likes: A real achievement to build a performance car like this for under $30K. Gorgeous black cabin with brushed-metal trim (Paul). Recalls vintage Z-cars of the 70s. Driver’s seat is supremely comfortable. Really cool techno door handles (Anita). Can’t wait for convertible (Paul). Standard trip computer has built-in stopwatch (Anita). Potent V-6 engine. A true road-hugger. Well-equipped, with only two options — navigation system and side air bags.
Dislikes: No height adjustment on passenger’s seat. Terrible visibility. Can’t reach center-console cupholders from driver’s seat. Glove box is behind passenger seat. Hate sensation of riding in tub (Anita). Very difficult to back out of tight parking spaces. You’ll feel every bump in the road. Flimsy cover over instrument-panel bin. Virtually no storage space in rear cargo bay. Side air bags and curtains cost $569 extra.
Type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-passenger two-door hatchback.
Price: Base, $26,269; as tested, $29,759 (inc. $540 destination charge).
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6; 287-hp; 274 lb-ft torque.
EPA fuel economy: 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway.
12-month insurance cost, estimated by AAA Michigan: $1,331 (Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.)
Where built: Japan