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The 350Z – Nissan's Cheerleader is Back

The original 1970 Datsun 240Z had a formula Americans could accept and appreciate. The first generation Z’s were lightweight, well balanced, equipped with a 2.4 liter inline six engine and due to their great handling were often compared to such admirable adversaries as the Porsche 911. First and foremost, they were very affordable giving outstanding bang for the buck (but they were rust buckets).


As the decades rolled by the Z found itself caught in a downward spiral becoming longer, heavier and less nimble with every new model change. Nissan eventually lost the Z’s pedigree and subsequently it’s huge following. It was ultimately dropped, citing production costs, in 1997.

The Z’s Return to Nissan’s Stable
Reintroduced in 2003 the 350Z has been helping put Nissan back on the map while spotlighting their heritage. The product planners at Nissan seemed to have found the original 240Z recipe, dusted it off and added ingredients to bring the performance and styling into the 21st century. Nissan engineers got the memo, recalibrated their mind-set and built a fast, fun and more importantly attainable car again (with a base price under 30K). Today, the 2006 Nissan 350Z is a tight, aggressive package with a modern image.
Oh Yeah, Let’s Make It Into a… Convertible
Over the weekend I had the opportunity to drive the 2006 Nissan 350Z Roadster. I must confess that as much as I can appreciate the Coupe’s exterior aesthetics, the Roadster really looked like an afterthought. I think it may be time for Nissan to invest in a retractable hardtop in an effort to improve the overall aesthetic. With the top down it’s not really that bad but then the bulbous rear end is accentuated. Of course, because the 350Z was not originally designed as a convertible maybe we should cut the engineers some slack?
Some Thoughts…
One fundamental concern was with the exterior ‘microwave’ door handles that, unless you’re an Aerospace Engineer, open counter intuitively. Aerodynamically they make sense, but you need to have good manual dexterity in your thumbs, reach with your palm facing the front of the vehicle, or switch hands after opening the door, which is awkward (e.g. Nissan Pathfinder rear passenger doors). Another minor criticism would be the lack of a trunk release button or switch being placed somewhere in the interior for the sake of convenience.
Aside from those items and a few minor details, in designing the 350Z, Nissan’s engineers/designers planned ahead. Interior ergonomics were on par. Most everything seemed to be in the right place, some things were even missing for the right reasons. For instance they actually left out the drivers side interior door grab-bar to make the drivers legroom more plentiful.

Ride and Handling
Under the hood they’ve cinched down a shock-tower-brace for those tight turns. The lightweight aluminum suspension felt composed and taut, which allowed for greater confidence through more challenging sections of roadway. The weight felt evenly distributed, probably due to much of the engines weight being dispersed aft the centerline of the front wheels. And even though the Z shares the same platform with multiple vehicles (e.g. Infiniti G35, Infiniti FX) having that fairly long wheelbase seemed to help ride quality. In other words, your girlfriend doesn’t have to put on a kidney belt to take a drive.
Engine and Driveline
The 350Z’s engine was responsive with a great torque curve and a reasonably light clutch, which makes it a sensible daily driver. Torque is available at lower revs and the throws were short and direct, which makes leaving a corner quick and crisp. Nevertheless, the transmission isn’t exactly the Z’s best attribute. There are superior, smoother transmissions out there. The smile really comes from the great brakes, engine and tuned exhaust note. The 2006 350Z now produces 300 horsepower and 265 pound feet of torque out of its DOHC V6 (when mated to the manual six-speed transmission). One of the few drawbacks may be that it requires premium fuel.

In Closing
I’m glad that the Nissan 350Z is alive and well, reincarnated in the same spirit as the original 240Z. It’s really a car for those of us who still enjoy the art of driving. It embodies a degree of passion and stimulation without forcing you to pull the motor for an oil change or take out a second mortgage.
Responsive and agile
Base model starts under $30K with the same V6 and manual as the $40K fully equiped model
Quite a few storage compartments (even a couple behind the seats in the Roadster)
It may be the equivalent to owning a Japanese Mustang
Fuel economy is between 18 and 24mpg (I averaged 18.7 mpg)
It requires Premium Gasoline
No glove compartment (at least in the roadster)
Isn’t there always a need for more horsepower/torque in a sports car? (Especially one that weighs in at 3188 to 3479 lbs)
No trunk release in the cockpit
Same steeringwheel (albeit a decent one) that seems to be in every single Nissan Car and Truck?
Other Considerations:
Infiniti G35 Coupe
Mustang GT


Hadn’t driven a Z-Car in years, much less the roadster. Almost refused to drive the roadster because it is so butt ugly with the top up. But with the top down it is a delight. The top is easy to retract as long as you know the secret of depressing the brake pedal as you are pushing the top down button. The Z feels good, gets a grin on your face, wind through what hair is left. A thoroughly invigorating experience.
George Peterson


  • Christian Vega| April 6, 2007 at 11:01 pm

    I do have to agree with the comment about the convertible. I own a coupe, and I’m loving it. It is the car for me. All other cars look like they are crawling when I am in the driver seat. It is the car of my dreams. Best of all, it’s fully customizable. I just can’t wait for the GTRs to come out in 2008 with the 350Z body style.

  • David Barrett| August 13, 2006 at 11:29 pm

    I drive a roadster-style vehicle myself – a 2002 BMW M-Roadster, so having a chance to drive the 350Z seemed to be an interesting proposition.
    One thing that BMW does that I like relates to the attempt to personalize each model line. Too many of the bits and pieces in the Nissan 350Z are from the general parts bin.
    At the same time, the overall design of the car is very nice. The door handles on the interior are well thought out – and seats are quite comfortable, particularly with spirited driving. One thing that I love about my M-Roadster: almost no cowl-shake over rough roads. And guess what? The Nissan is at least as good. A nice, firm ride. Fantastic!
    And best of all, this IS a driver’s car. The manual transmission combined with the nice tip-in on the throttle make rowing through the gears a smile-inducing experience. Sure, there are quirks and little things you could complain about, but why bother? When taken as the sum of its parts, this is a car that should make anyone who cares about the art of driving a very happy person indeed.
    Now, I’d like to drive the hardtop. I can’t help but wonder what the added stiffness and weight loss might add to the fun factor…

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