The new 3.5-liter V6 engine is used in all seven models of the 350Z. Something like 80 percent of the parts in the engine are new for 2007. On paper, the 2006 engine was rated 300 horsepower. For 2007 the output has been raised to 306 hp, but the increase is more than 6 hp because beginning in 2007 there's a more stringent industry standard for measuring horsepower, as determined by the Society of Automotive Engineers.
The Nissan 350Z is fast, fun, and pure sports car. It costs about 10 times as much as the original 240Z, which went for about $3500, but in today's dollars that's only twice as much (as calculated by the Consumer Price Index). But you get about 10 times the car, so you're still way ahead.
Improvements for 2006 included upsized alloy wheels, tighter rack-and-pinion steering, bigger brakes, better headlamps, and a higher quality sound system. For 2007, side-impact air bags are added as standard equipment to the Roadster, and two Coupe models get the Bluetooth Hands-Free Phone System with steering wheel-mounted controls.
When you consider components such as a carbon-fiber driveshaft and drive-by-wire throttle, as well as the convenience features that come standard, such as automatic temperature control and a premium stereo, the price of $27,900 for the Base Coupe is compelling. Of course, the other six models escalate in price, to $41,250 for a Grand Touring Roadster with optional five-speed automatic transmission. But they all come standard with that 306-hp engine and six-speed manual transmission.
The 350Z is a true-blue sports car with creature comforts. Its firm ride, abrupt throttle response, and awkward cup holders don't make it a great place to drink coffee and make phone calls on the way to work, but there's a lot of cargo space for a sports car, and it isn't awkward to climb in and out. The excellent optional five-speed automatic makes a civilized commuter car, while still making you happy during a weekend run down a racer road.
The Nissan 350Z delivers more than the promise of its powerful looks. It's a visceral sports car with serious performance that you can live with every day. The Roadster adds wind-in-your hair freedom.
Nissan 350Z 6MT ($27,900); Enthusiast 6MT ($29,600); Enthusiast AT ($30,600); Touring 6MT ($32,700); Touring AT ($33,200); Grand Touring 6MT (36,100); Grand Touring AT ($37,100); Roadster Enthusiast 6MT ($35,550); Roadster Enthusiast AT ($365050); Roadster Touring 6MT ($37,900); Roadster Touring AT ($38,900); Roadster Grand Touring 6MT ($40,250); Roadster Grand Touring AT ($41,250)
The massive vertical bi-Xenon HID (high-intensity discharge) headlamps produce a white light, and the new LED (light emitting diode) taillights provide quicker response for the brake lights than filament bulbs.
The bulging fenders and fastback and short front and rear overhangs give the Coupe its aggressive stance. This taut body layout, coupled with weight savings gained from a carbon fiber-reinforced, plastic driveshaft and an aluminum hood (and on the Roadster, a plastic trunk lid), balance the Z well for responsive handling.
The Coupe's sleek shape helps the Z slice through the air with a minimum of drag: 0.29 Cd on the Grand Touring. The Roadster's cut-off backlight (rear windscreen) isn't nearly as slippery, attaining a drag coefficient of 0.34 Cd. Underbody airflow is managed well, with zero lift on the front, and zero lift on the rear of the Coupe Grand Touring thanks to new diffusers.
Our Roadster Grand Touring came with the mesh seats, which are the only seats that lack adjustable headrests. We can't see the tradeoff for ventilation being worthwhile. Also, the leg bolstering dug into the sides of our thighs. We haven't noticed that with the regular leather seats. Once underway, however, we forgot about that initial discomfort. We drove some 700 miles in the Roadster GT, almost all of them on two-lanes while cornering, accelerating and braking hard (we used the dead pedal a lot), and the seat didn't wear on us as much as we expected it to. But we still think cloth might be better than the mesh.
The seating position should be good for drivers with long legs, though the steering wheel felt a little close when the seat was adjusted for the legs of a six-footer. The Roadster boasts an inch more headroom than the hatchback, thanks to the articulation of the top's various mechanicals.
Tilt the steering column and the main pod of gauges moves with it, ensuring a clear view of the instruments for drivers of all sizes. The instruments consist of a big tachometer and flanking speedometer, fuel and temperature gauges. Nestled in three pods on top of the dash are a voltmeter, an oil pressure gauge and a digital trip computer. Reminiscent of the original Z, they look retro-cool, but reading them requires more than a glance.
Two toggles to the right of the steering wheel operate the trip computer, used to check outside air temperature, distance to empty, speed, average mileage, and average speed. It has a stopwatch function (to check out 0-60 times or lap times on a circuit or maybe for running a Monte Carlo style rally), and a tire-pressure monitor. With the Trip Computer, the driver can program a shift light to come on at a certain rpm. The small red indicator on the tachometer begins flashing about 500 rpm before the preset engine speed is reached, whereupon it comes on solid. You can program it for the ideal shift points for acceleration or for fuel economy, then let your peripheral vision pick up the indicator, which might prove more precise than using the seat of your pants. We've seen race cars with this feature (though the red shift light in those is sometimes as big as a golf ball). If you don't like this feature you can turn it off.
The interior of the Z suggests the carbon-fiber tub of a prototype racecar. The material surrounding the shifter and forming the center dash looks like carbon fiber. Likewise, the large expanse of gray material lining the door panels suggests carbon fiber in appearance. The quality of the materials is okay, though some of the pieces would never be allowed in an Audi. It looked austere at first, but grew on us. Stylish interior touches, such as the inside door handles integrated into aerodynamic pods for the side vents, give the Z a racy, modern look; with the AC at work on hot days, the handles chill to fit their frosty look. Passengers often grope for the door release the first time they try to get out, distracted by the big grab handles adorned with genuine aluminum and relieved by the Z's dot motif.
Some of the time we had the top up because it was winter and crisp; but it was also sunny so other times we dropped it. Buffeting at high speeds was reduced by the tempered glass deflector between the rollbars behind the seats, and by the racy body fairings tapering back like headrests. Nearing the end of the first day's drive, we looked in the mirror and saw the setting sun reflecting off the rump of the Z, as it twitched on its fat tires around the curves.
There was long series of second-gear twisties, no upshifting at all, just using the gas and brakes hard, keeping the engine between 4000 rpm and 7500 rpm, a rhythmic revving and braking, revving and braking. The 350Z excels at this stuff. The 268 pound-feet of torque peaks at 4800 rpm but begins to come on strong enough to use at about 3000 rpm.
The engine makes a wonderful sound, a raspy roar, not a deep-chested V8 rumble but more of a junkyard dog don't-mess-with-me bark. You can especially hear it in second gear because it accelerates quickly. It's a unique sound and we can always identify a Nissan V6 accelerating without turning to look. Revving through the gears, it feels like it wants to break through its 7500 rpm redline, which represents an increase of 500 rpm over last year's engine.
We love the six-speed manual. The five-speed automatic transmission is smooth and responsive; and it's neat when the engine blips on its own, with each aggressive downshift (Nissan calls this DRM, Downshift Rev Matching). But with the automatic, the redline of the engine is only 6600 rpm. If you buy an automatic, you're robbing yourself of the joy of hearing the top 900 revs.
The engine belongs to Nissan's VQ-series that has been on Ward's 10 Best Engines list for 14 consecutive years, and we can see why. The close-ratio six-speed gearbox was meant for shifting, with sixth gear being the big overdrive for better fuel mileage. And by the way, the new more powerful engine gets one or two more miles per gallon than the previous 3.5-liter.
The Grand Touring model gets bigger rotors with Brembo calipers, four pistons in front and two in rear, and larger pads. The brakes are steady, secure, confidence-inspiring. We were using them repeatedly and hard. When we began to smell them, it was time to ease off. What this means is that if you plan on driving your 350Z hard, you need to go with the GT models with these brakes, because the standard brakes won't resist fade well enough.
The GT also uses the lightweight five-spoke forged alloy wheels, 18 inches in front, 19 rear, mounted with 245/40WR18 and 265/35WR19 Bridgestone Potenza RE050A tires. They are super sticky, but there must still have been some slipping, because when we floored it coming out of a turn in second gear, we could see the VDC light flash. But we never felt an intrusion. Could be that the rear brakes were being dabbed, at something like 500 times a second; sometimes we never felt anything, and other times we heard a hiccup out the exhaust, indicating a split second cut of ignition or throttle or something. Driving like this, we appreciated the Tire Pressure Monitor System, eliminating worries at speed of a low tire.
The suspension uses aluminum components to keep down the unsprung weight. It feels pretty stiff, but you can still use the GT as a daily driver and not be uncomfortable, although the more compliant and better-fitting seats than the GT's leather/mesh helps. The GT is stiff enough for a track day
The Nissan 350Z offers visceral sports car performance at an attainable price. Its rear-wheel-drive chassis is rigid, and the suspension and tires are up for the challenge of hard cornering. The new V6 engine delivers good torque at reasonably low revs, as well as 306 horsepower with a thrilling 7500 rpm redline. The six-speed manual gearbox is racier than the five-speed automatic, so we recommend the Grand Touring models with the six-speed, because you'll probably be driving it hard, and the GTs have better brakes. But either way you get the style and the engine. The interior is the weakest link, but you can get comfortable with a little time spent living with it.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses filed this report from central California; Tom Lankard and Mitch McCullough contributed to this report.