Nissan’s 350Z was part of the company’s renaissance – in the depths of their troubles, Nissan phased out the old 300Z. Suddenly, this slick new, chunky sports car arrived, first as a coupe, and now as a roadster. Top speed is 155 mph, and the coupe takes about 5.7 seconds for the 0-60 sprint. The roadster is a bit slower to accelerate owing to the extra weight, and can’t quite match the top speed of the coupe either.
Nissan’s engineers created a completely new car around their 3.5-liter V-6 24-valve engine, and didn’t look back to the old rather flabby design at all. The result is an attractive chunky car with quite an aggressive but simple nose with a large simple rectangular grille flanked by a pair of small air intakes.
The lines are simple, and lead back to the fastback tail, which is the least balanced part of the design. The car has a distinctive style, which is immediately recognisable. The roadster is not quite the same because they wanted to keep a reasonable size luggage space, so there’s a bit of a hump tail which doesn’t work very well. Pity about that.
Still, the car has some nice style items, like the bright metal door handles, while the interior tells you just what it is – a serious sports car. There’s a neat instrument binnacle in front of the driver, with the rev counter up there in the middle – good clear instruments, white on black. You can see that they thought about what they were doing when you adjust the steering wheel.
The instrument binnacle moves with the wheel so you can still see the instruments. This is such an improvement over the normal set-up that I wish other manufacturers would do that.
The tan trim on the seats, gear lever knob and handbrake is a good contrast to the rest of the interior. They’re not just for show. The comfortable driver’s seat offers plenty of side support, and forward visibility is good.
Nissan’s 3.5 liter V-6 is a compact all-aluminum design with four valves per cylinder and variable valve timing, and when it was introduced, it churned out 80 bhp per liter – that’s 280 bhp at 6,200 rpm. Power is now up to 315 bhp @ 6800rpm. Maximum torque is 264 lb ft (358 Nm) @ 4800 rpm . It’s a great free-revving engine with a great power spread over a good speed range. It’s just a super engine.
The engine is coupled to a new six-speed gearbox. A lot of effort went into the gear shift mechanism, so it has short travel, is positive, and clicks neatly from one gear to the next. The shift down to second works very well, too.
To save weight – and the engineers needed to – a carbon fiber propeller shaft takes the drive back to the rear axle.
The layout gives a weight distribution of 53% front/47% rear. Not quite as good as some competitors, because the driving position is rather far forward, presumably because the 350Z shares the basic underbody with a less sporty car. It is also quite long – 4inches (100 mm) out of the wheelbase would make the car look and go a lot better. The body is steel, apart from the hood which is aluminum.
Nissan has been using double wishbone front suspension for some time, but came up with a new design for the 350Z; well, not quite new. Audi has been using something similar for some time. It consists of double wishbones and coil spring/damper units, but instead of the conventional single ball-joint at the bottom of the hub carrier, there are two joints – one attached to the end of each part of the wishbone. Nissan says that this ensures correct geometry without unwanted toe-out or toe-in as the lock is applied.
The car seems to ride quite well, and has a responsive feel – definitely a sports car, with grand touring pretensions. It corners flat, and on a brief drive seemed to handle well, with a touch of understeer on most corners.
At the rear there is a multi-link set-up, and as at the front, it ismounted on a sub-frame. To save weight, all the suspension links are aluminum forgings. Nissan was keen to have good brakes on the car, and for them to seen to quality units, so they got Brembo to supply the system.
To get the power onto the road, Nissan has adopted wider rear tires than front ones; they’re Bridgestone Potenzas, 225/45R18 at the front, and 245/45R18 at the back.Electronics play an important part in the stability of the 350Z. Of course, there’s ABS and traction control, but you also get electronic brake distribution, emergency brake assist, and the now obligatory stability control system – or at least that’s the way it appears to be in the minds of the marketers . The 350Z competes with the best in its class, offering good value for money, with plenty of power. It is a bit heavy – 130 lb more than the Mercedes-Benz SKL 350, not renowned for its light weight. The roadster is even worse, weighing an extra 240 lb. Even so, the performance is exciting.