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2007 Nissan Z – Driver’s Car

What a difference a top can make.
Last summer, I drove the Nissan Z roadster, and while it was a nice car it wasn’t the type of bat I’d like to swing at a fast ball. The soft top looked terrible when up, the body wasn’t stiff enough (due to the chopped top), and there were other niggly-bits that made me fee this wasn’t a great driver’s car. I’d pass.
This week, I spent several hundred miles with a hardtop Nissan 350 Z and, um, WOW! I can’t believe these two vehicles came from the same mold. This is an absolute driver’s car and Nissan has done a remarkable job packing a 3.5 liter V6 (306-hp and 268-lb-ft of torque) into this delightful chassis. There are several versions of the Z available, all of them related to features packages. I was in the “enthusiast” model, which is priced under $30,000. You can read all of the techno-speak on the Nissan website, but what you can’t get there is the driver’s point of view, so let’s hit the road.


Driver’s Position
Getting into the Z is no big deal. Often, smaller sports cars compromise the entry and exit due to the lower headline and short “B” pillars. The door on the latest 2007 Z is designed in such a way that getting in is easy, and getting out not much harder, even if you’re over 5-foot, 9-inches and don’t have an SCCA competition card.
Seating is very sporty. The seats, while not really competition seats, have a nice, firm fit, are wide enough for those over thirty (or perhaps thirty pounds overweight?), and are adjustable enough for most tastes.
The dash is terrific. While the materials are not of the highest quality, for a car in this price class, they’re totally acceptable and most important, usable. The leather wrapped steering wheel is perhaps a bit large, but it’s comfortable. The tach is easy to read and is right in front of you – the speedo is to the right. Pressure and computer gauges are angled toward the driver and the the center stack controls are easy to find and use, with more common controls, such as radio volume duplicated on the steering wheel.


On the Road
The Z is really effortless to drive in everyday situations. It pulls readily from first and almost as readily from sixth. Pulling away from a light in traffic is smooth, with lots of torque to get you away from that mommy on her cell phone in her Town and Country with six kids and the license plate frame that reports “final score – boys four, girls two.” Shift!
Speaking of shifting, it’s the combination of transmission, motor, suspension and brakes that make this such a terrific car. Sure, that’s the combination for every sports car (looks excluded), but in this case, Nissan came up aces. While the car isn’t the fastest on the block, if you’re an experienced driver, you can easily dust off others in more powerful cars who may be lacking in other areas.
One other thing to note: This Z car doesn’t feel or sound Japanese. Its suspension is very international and its motor sounds very European. Hats off to the engineers who pulled that rabbit out of the hat. Rev the motor and you can’t help but grin.

So, what’s the Z like on the highway? I got up early and took the car onto some nice twisty roads near where I live. It was a quiet Sunday morning and the roads were dry, so the opportunity to put the power down put a smile on my face even before I pulled out of the driveway.
The first stretch of road outside my neighborhood is a wide highway-style road. I accelerated up through the gears, the six-speed transmission making a lovely “snik, snik, snik” as I shifted, and take note – this is a great transmission. Note that while the redline is at seventy-five hundred, the sweet point for shifting while accelerating is closer to sixty-three hundred. Shift any higher and you’ll waste revs. The Z feels stable at speed, and its acceleration is smooth, without the flat spots some cars in this segment are stuck with.
The road winds down to a four-way light and as I pressed down the hill, I changed lanes and tested the brakes. The 12-inch discs modulated nicely and by the time I reached the light, they were warmed up and ready to play. Green light.
I turned onto the highway that takes you from the coast to Palm Springs – Route 74. There is a patch with construction ongoing and this is also a very dangerous road if you’re on a motorcycle or are not used to paying 100% attention to the road. On the other hand, if you really like to drive, this is a fantastic stretch of asphalt, with many good second and third gear corners.
The first few miles are fairly straight and I spent that time checking out the visibility of the Z. The rear-view mirror is just right and although the rear hatch window isn’t all that large, it’s at exactly the right height to let you see what’s coming up behind you. The side mirrors also do their job well and you can set them to show you upcoming (or falling behind) traffic nicely. No real blind spot unless you’re parking. Good. Ah, here come the twisty bits.
Driver’s Car
As the road began to curl up like a rattlesnake on a hot sandy desert surface, the Z began to strike the corners with just the right kind of balance a driver wants. While the Z has been tuned to push (under-steer) when driven fast into a corner, that trait can be overcome with your feet and the gearbox. Here’s my routine:
Start carefully when you drive this road and build up into a rhythm. Take the first corner at perhaps 30 miles per hour and make sure you hit the apex. Unwind the wheel and dip your right toe into the throttle. Up-shift from second to third and now press the throttle a bit harder. The next bend comes up and it’s time to heel and toe down a gear to second again. The throttle blips nicely and the gears match perfectly. Lift lightly as your left front tire hits the inside apex nicely and press your foot down a bit harder now, accelerating out of the corner more powerfully.
This next corner comes up pretty quickly, so don’t up-shift this time. Instead, take the revs up to seventy three hundred – just below the redline – and then lift almost completely as you turn in for the next apex. As the car settles into the corner, the weight transfer moves aft and the tail starts to come around, moving you through the corner more smoothly and with less effort. Now – shift! At this point, the car is almost flying through the corners. Your hands are barely moving the wheel, yet the car is turning right, left, straight ahead and left, right, and so on. Fun!

Even when staying within the legal limits of the road, driving a car like the Z can be an exciting and even thrilling experience. The brakes never faded on me, but could have used a bit more bite on certain corners. Overall, reaching the freeway after 28 or so miles was a real disappointment. I was passed once by a donor-cycle going about 110 miles per hour, but other than that, had no traffic issues. I could have driven on that tight road for hours. Oh, well… Time for some freeway madness.
Freeway Poise
Many sports cars aren’t much fun on the freeway. This Z car is. It doesn’t jump sideways over expansion joints and doesn’t seem to care if you’re on asphalt or concrete. The ride is sports car stiff – not a car for those who like trucks or SUVs. But it’s totally at ease, and can be driven for hours. So, taking this car up to Monterey or the wine country north of San Francisco would be a fantastic weekend getaway.
And, while visibility is good, the real danger is that other cars don’t see you. The Z isn’t a big car. It’s low to the ground. So, having the power to accelerate when you need to, or braking to avoid dummy number 89 (this morning) is vital. The Z pulls strongly, even in sixth gear at freeway speeds. Nice. Oh, and after pressing this car hard for 250 miles, I discovered it was still giving me 23 miles to the gallon. Nice again!
The best way to end a day with the Z is to take it to Highway 1. Thankfully, there’s a highway 1 on both coasts, do if you live in the middle states you only need to cross half the continent. In my case, Pacific Coast Highway (Hwy 1), is the best way to enjoy the afternoon, with the ocean breeze floating through the windows the lovely rumble of the motor serving as the best Z soundtrack available.

Z Value
Now that I’ve raved about the Z, you’ll probably start to ask the typical motor-head questions: “how does it compare to a Boxster?” “Does it smoke a BMW Z4?” “How about the (add your car name here)?” Well, VehicleVoice doesn’t typically do side-to-side comparisons, but here are some interesting observations. The Nissan website has a vehicle comparison section. They have selected the Mitsu Eclipse, Ford Mustang, and RX-8 as comparison vehicles. You can also compare it to a Porsche Cayenne, but not a Boxster. I personally think that’s nuts. The Mustang is a performance coupe, not a sports car in the sense that the Z is – meaning that it’s not likely the same person would be interested in both. And while the Porsche Boxter comparison might make sense, I don’t see it. Different segment, different buyer. The Eclipse and the Mazda RX-8 might well be good competitors, but I’d certainly think about several others, too. The BMW Z4 comes to mind. You can get one for approximately the same price as a well equipped Z.
For me, however, this car isn’t about comparing this car to others per se. It’s about the driving experience. Overall, this Z has the same type of energy and creates the same driver’s grin as the original Datsun 240z introduced 37 years ago. Very few cars can make that type of claim, including the Mustang, Porsche 911, and BMW 3 series. It’s a claim to fame – and one Nissan should be proud of.
Opting for Options
My Daytona Blue example did not have the navigation option, and it’s something I would certainly get. Not because I get lost, but because a nav system these days is useful for finding interesting places, or fuel, or places to eat, or a bathroom when you’re traveling. And, I’d also get bluetooth for my phone. Remember, most states are outlawing talking on a hand-held mobile phone, and not a moment too soon. Finally, I think I’d opt for the Brembo brakes, not because the standard discs aren’t good – they’re really nice. But, the Brembo’s would be useful on Saturday and Sunday morning drives when setting the car up for the next corner requires just the right amount of brake pressure – time and time again.
So, overall, I guess, I’d take my Z up to about $37,000 or so. Still, when compared to other cars in this segment and even more expensive machinery, the Z is a good value. It’s nice to see a car that really caters to the driving experience.
Would I own one? It’s a tough call. I love to drive it. I don’t love looking at it. Before making a decision, I would spend some time at the Nissan website. Just for grins, I decided to visit the Nissan website to build my own Z. I played around with the colors a bit. Black would work. I think I’d consider a black Z. So, it’s still a “no-decision” for me, but only because I don’t like the exterior design.
Oh, one last thing: If Nissan would like the VehicleVoice crew, myself included, to test the new Limited Edition 2007 NISMO Z, I promise it will get a fair and unbiased review. Just send the car to the main offices of VehicleVoice in Tustin, California and we’ll return in in mid-2009. I Promise.

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