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Review: 2005 Nissan 350Z

July 5, 2005 01:10 PM EST | Nissan , Sedans | Email to Friend

View large imageNissan's crown jewel. For the money, this is one of the best performance buys on the market.

Smooth and powerful V6 engine, excellent handling, available drop-top version, a bargain compared to anything that can run with it.

Rough ride on Track model, some low-grade interior materials, lack of luggage space, poor rearward visibility.

What's New for 2005
Enhancements for 2005 include a standard tire-pressure monitor, heated outside mirrors and a driver-seat height adjuster for both front and rear portions of the bottom cushion. Clutch pedal effort has been reduced this year, and the five-speed automatic transmission now features downshift rev matching. The navigation system has a faster processor for improved route calculation times. A special 35th Anniversary edition includes 18-inch alloy wheels, Brembo brakes, front chin spoiler, rear spoiler, available two-tone leather seats and a choice of three exterior colors, including a new Ultra Yellow. A slight bump in horsepower is also part of the package.

Few Nissan products have a more loyal following than the Z. Light, nimble, sporty and affordable, the original 1970 Datsun 240Z was the company's first big success in America. Prospective owners had to wait nearly six months to get one. Horsepower was set at 150, and the car listed at $3,526. Though it became increasingly heavier and more luxurious, the Z continued to sell well throughout the '70s and '80s. In 1990, Nissan debuted an all-new 300ZX. The car had a 222-hp V6 and a completely new body and interior. Later in the model year, a twin-turbo 300ZX went on sale with 300 horsepower. By the mid-'90s, however, the sports car market was shrinking. A strong yen also caused the Z's price to skyrocket. Sales slid and Nissan pulled the plug on the 300ZX in 1996. Within the depths of Nissan, however, the eternal light wasn't quite extinguished. In 1999, the Z Concept first appeared on the auto show circuit. Created in secret by a team of designers at Nissan's Southern California studios, this metallic orange car relied heavily on cues from the first-generation 240Z. Its styling wasn't perfect, and the hardware underneath was mostly 240SX, but it was enough to get Nissan's top execs -- as well as the public -- excited about another Z. So now, almost a decade later, the Z is back, as is Nissan. This latest iteration stays true to the sports car formula: two seats, front-mounted engine, rear-wheel drive and a tidy size. T-tops aren't available but a roadster is, and there is no 2+2 variant. Nissan wants the Z to be accessible, so it's priced less like the semi-exotic '90-'96 car and more like the original 240Z. The 350Z is built on Nissan's FM platform. FM (front midship) refers to the positioning of the engine. Compared to most front-engine cars in which a considerable amount of engine weight is placed over the front wheels, the 350Z's engine is located further rearward behind the front wheels. Therefore, the Z isn't a true front midengine car, but the gains from this platform are tangible and real. It boasts a compact engine compartment, a long wheelbase, wide wheel tracks, short overhangs and a 53-to-47 front-to-rear weight bias. Compared to a '91 300ZX, it's about the same length, but with a better weight bias and a much longer wheelbase. Handling, as you might imagine, is fantastic. Moreover, the standard 287-hp, 3.5-liter V6 is a smooth and potent companion. Blast through the gears and there's a constant, insistent rush apt to make even the most jaded driver grin like a grade-schooler driving a go-kart. Of course, you can get an automatic transmission, too. And if you want to feel the sun on your face, then there's always the drop-top version. Although several other manufacturers have introduced performance cars in this price range over the last few years, the 350Z remains an excellent buy for enthusiastic drivers who don't want to spend big bucks.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The 350Z is available as both a two-seat coupe and a roadster. The coupe comes in base, Enthusiast, Performance, Touring and Track versions, while the roadster is limited to Enthusiast and Touring trim levels. Base models come with items like an automatic climate control system with air conditioning; 17-inch alloys; power windows, locks and mirrors; a tire-pressure monitor; a CD player; and remote keyless entry. Going with an Enthusiast model sets you up with high-intensity discharge headlights, cruise control, traction control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a limited-slip rear differential and, on the roadster, a power-operated soft top and wind deflector. Performance models add Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) and 18-inch wheels. For even more performance, the Track model has front and rear spoilers, 18-inch lightweight wheels and upgraded brakes. The Touring model offers an upgraded audio system, power and heated seats, leather upholstery and, on the roadster only, side airbags. A special 35th Anniversary edition includes 18-inch alloys, Brembo brakes, available two-tone leather and a slight bump in horsepower. The Touring version of the roadster is eligible for unique Burnt Orange leather seats with net inserts that allow the driver to literally feel the breeze on his back.

Powertrains and Performance:
The front-engine, rear-drive 350Z features a strong and flexible 3.5-liter V6. Similar to the engines found in the Nissan Maxima and Altima 3.5 SE, the Z's engine has variable valve timing and an electronically controlled throttle. It makes 287 horsepower and 274 pound-feet of torque, enough to propel the Z to 60 miles per hour in just 5.6 seconds. A six-speed close-ratio manual transmission is standard, and a five-speed automatic with downshift rev matching is available.

Four-wheel ventilated disc brakes with ABS are standard on all models; the Track model gets an upgraded set of four-piston Brembo calipers and larger rotors. Side and head-protecting side curtain airbags are optional on all coupes. Regular side airbags are standard on Touring roadsters and optional on Enthusiast versions.

Interior Design and Special Features:
Inside, the contemporarily styled body is a driver-oriented cabin that combines both classic and cutting-edge designs. The instrument panel features three gauge pods similar to the original 240Z, while a rear suspension brace resides prominently in the cargo area. While this brace certainly improves body rigidity, it also compromises valuable luggage space. All of the controls a driver might need are close at hand, but some of the materials used in the cockpit seem low-grade for this price range.

Driving Impressions:
There's nothing special or gimmicky about getting started -- just turn the key, buckle your seatbelt and go. Around town, the V6 is quite docile, and the clutch isn't overly stiff. Open it up a bit, and the dual-exhaust pipes produce an enjoyable and throaty V6 growl. Power delivery is linear and athletic, with the most fun coming on around 4,000 rpm. During cornering, outright grip is high, and the car feels well balanced. Overall, the car offers handling equal to some of the best sports cars available.

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