2008 Nissan 350Z CoupePosted on May 25th, 2008
Sports car with a motorsports heritage
By Nina Russin
Depending on one’s perspective, the Nissan 350Z is either the most affordable sports car, or the most expensive hatchback on the market. The first Nissan 240Z rolled out for the 1970 model year. The current model builds on the three-door, hatchback heritage with refinements from Nissan’s Formula 1 racing program.
The midship engine, rear-wheel drive 350Z has a larger, more functional cargo area than most two seaters. Yet it maintains a 53/47 front-to-rear weight balance: ideal for performance. Power comes from a 3.5-liter V6 engine mated to a six-speed manual transmission. The Z rides on standard eighteen-inch alloy wheels with low profile Bridgestone Potenza tires.
The Enthusiast edition (tested) is one of five available grades. It adds traction control, a limited-slip differential, aluminum pedals, cruise control, redundant steering wheel controls and a homelink transceiver to the car’s standard equipment.
A price increase that took effect April 8 has increased the car’s MSRP from $29,680 to $30,070. Optional carpeted floor mats and side curtain airbags add $715. The April 8 price increase raised the destination charge from $625 to $660.
The 350Z’s aluminum engine is built with components designed to withstand the heat and friction of racing. Molybdenum-coated pistons are extra hard, to resist detonation. Microfinished crank and camshafts minimize energy lost from internal friction. Direct injection feeds fuel directly into the engine cylinders, enhancing throttle response, while minimizing uncombusted gas.
A drive-by-wire system replaces a mechanical throttle. It reduces the number of components under the hood, saves space and weight.
The dual overhead cam engine revs high: peak horsepower kicks in just below the 7500 rpm red line. The engine reaches its peak torque of 268 lbs.-ft at 2800 rpm. To help the driver stay within the car’s power band, a light on the dash flashes until the driver reaches the minimum rpm necessary: then it stays illuminated.
The six-speed manual gearbox has a large overdrive gear to enhance fuel economy on long highway drives. Average gas mileage for city and highway driving combined is 20 miles-per-gallon.
The gearbox has a stiff racing clutch, with a short-throw shift lever than includes a reverse lock out. The car shifts evenly with no gear lash: gears have a wide range for stop-and-go city driving. Commuters who don’t want to stand on the clutch in traffic can opt for an available five-speed automatic transmission.
Although the engine’s 306 horsepower is ample for club racing, the 350Z is a very streetable car. I was able to move through all the gears at average highway speeds, though I didn’t use the sixth gear much around town. The car’s footprint makes the Z exceptionally nimble. Wheelbase is 104.3 inches, and track is just over five feet. Engineers pushed the wheels to the corners to minimize inertial weight front and rear.
The 350Z is smaller and lower than most vehicles on the road. Given that, it’s nice to be able to swerve around high profile trucks, whose drivers may not be looking below the side view mirrors.
The Z has more engine and road noise than the average passenger sedan, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Exhaust notes are music to the car buff’s ears. The noise isn’t as loud as the Honda S2000: a car whose exhaust note makes the radio hard to hear.
Standard rack-and-pinion steering has variable assist, providing more power at low speeds for maneuvering through parking lots. At high speeds, the steering is tighter for a positive on-center feel.
A fully independent suspension includes standard front and rear stabilizer bars, keeping the Z flat in the corners. Front and rear strut braces give the body exceptional torsional rigidity. Unfortunately, the rear strut brace impinges on the hatchback’s cargo bay.
Large vented disc brakes front and rear have no danger of fading in the heat. Buyers who want additional stopping power should consider upgrading to the Grand Touring model that comes with Brembo, four-piston front calipers and two-piston rear calipers.
The body’s wedge shape gives it a low coefficient of drag: 0.3 Engineers used Nissan’s formula racing experience to enhance under-car aerodynamics as well.
Good visibility in dark and rainy conditions
A standard rear wiper keeps the coupe’s back glass clear in rain and snow, while bi-xenon headlamps throw a long, bright beam of light out front at night. Since the Z has no C pillar, visibility to the rear and sides of the car is exceptionally good. Despite a low seating position, forward visibility is also quite good.
Performance buffs will love the car’s standard cloth seats. Both have front and side bolsters to hold passengers firmly in place. The driver’s seat also has a standard center seat bolster. Eight manual adjustments for the driver’s seat and four for the passenger seat should allow most adults to ride comfortably in the car. One of the runners who works in our shop is well over six feet tall: he had plenty of room to stretch out behind the wheel.
The three-gauge cluster design comes from the original 240Z. Gauges are easy to read in any light. Additional gauges in the center of the instrument panel indicate oil pressure and charging system status.
Those who don’t opt for a navigation system get a large covered storage bin in the center stack, with audio and temperature controls beneath. Although the Z lacks a traditional glove box, there is a lockable compartment behind the passenger seat.
There are plenty of cup and bottle holders in the center console and the doors. The doors also have map pockets. A brushed chrome grab bar on the passenger door is a nice design touch, though I’m not sure how functional it is.
Two twelve-volt outlets, on the passenger side of the dashboard and in back of the center console recharge electronic devices.
Large cargo area
The back of the 350Z is too small to meet out bicycle-friendly standards, but there is plenty of room for luggage, a couple of golf bags, or a week’s worth of groceries. The strut brace makes it a little harder to load up the area behind the front seats. Fortunately, the wide hatchback door allows a person to access the cargo area from many different angles.
An undersized spare and jack are located under the cargo floor.
Standard safety features include front airbags, active head restraints, traction control, four-channel antilock brakes and a tire pressure monitoring system. The driver can turn off the traction control for driving at the track.
The Nissan 350Z coupe is waiting for test drives at dealerships nationwide.
Likes: A true sports car that incorporates a lot of Nissan’s Formula 1 racing technology, yet has a spacious cargo area capable of hauling luggage or a week’s worth of groceries.
Dislikes: Rear strut brace makes the front of the cargo area harder to access.
Model 350Z coupe, enthusiast edition
Base price: $29,680
As tested: $31,020
Horsepower: 306 Hp @ 6800 rpm
Torque: 268 lbs.-ft. @ 4800 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Available as an option
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 18/25 mpg city/highway
Comments: Nissan recently increased the base price of the model by $390, and added $35 to the $625 delivery charge.
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