2003 Nissan 350Z -- Pure sports car

Nov. 20, 2003
Nissan's marketing tagline for its 350Z is, "A true sports car that fuels the rebellious spirit." Normally we don't pay much attention to automaker hype but in this case, we think Nissan pretty much got it right. The Z is fast and fun to drive. Its $26,269 base price puts it within reach of someone eyeing a Miata but who wants more zip.

And it does have zip. All versions get a 3.5-liter V6 developing 287 hp. (This is a performance-retuned version of engines appearing in numerous Nissan and Infiniti vehicles.) The car has been clocked doing 0-to-60 mph in 5.4 sec, and doing the quarter mile in 14.1 sec. It tops out at 156 mph.

There is truly a sports-car feel to the Z. With a wheelbase of 104.3 in. it is about the length of a Corvette though it weighs more. The ride is stiff. It ought to be considering there is a brace running over top the engine between the front shock towers and another one similarly placed in the rear. You'll notice every pothole, but without a harsh edge. There's also plenty of road noise to contend with thanks to performance tires on 18-in. wheels that carry the Touring model we drove. The car's independent suspension uses multilink geometry in the front and rear that is basically aluminum. Topping it off are stabilizer bars front and rear. This is a shorter version of the rear-wheel-drive platform used on the Infiniti G35.

Our test car carried a six-speed manual transmission that was a joy to use. It is characterized by short, sure throws and we never missed a shift. There is a five-speed automatic option as well.

Other features of the Touring model include leather seats and seat heaters as well as a four-way power driver's seat, a two-way power passenger seat, heated mirrors, and a 240-W Bose sound system with CD player and seven speakers. Touring models that come with a manual transmission, as ours did, also carry an antiskid system, aluminum foot pedals, tire-pressure monitoring system, and a few other amenities in the passenger compartment. This $35,179 version of the car comes close to what Nissan calls the Performance model ($30,429), but with a better interior.

No question the interior of the Touring model is nicely appointed. It is good-looking but not luxurious, as befits a sports car. The seats are comfortable as well with side bolsters that hold occupants snugly on curves. We particularly liked the three-instrument cluster angled toward the driver that harkens back to the old 240Z. There is plenty of visibility out the sides and a minimal blind spot. This helps make up for the slitlike vantage point in the rear-view mirror thanks to the low roofline. The aluminum foot pedals are close together, which is a plus for those who have mastered heel-toe accelerator/brake maneuvers. But less adept drivers may find the tight pedal placement a little awkward.

The few gripes we had with ergonomics stemmed from the lack of convenient storage space. There is no glove compartment though cubbyholes behind the seats provide space for typical glove-box items. The shock tower brace across the back limits the storage available in the rear. The cup holders are a little awkward, but probably wouldn't be used much on a stick-shift car anyway. Readers who have radar detectors with short power wires may also find the power outlet inconvenient. It is to the rear of the center console so connections for the detector run from the dash to behind the driver's shifting arm.

And a radar detector is not a bad idea. The Z looks hot. Its fastback and rounded front fenders remind some of the Porsche 911. Suffice it to say a traffic cop catching one of these over the speed limit is unlikely to cut the driver any breaks.

-- Lee Teschler

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