Nissan 350Z (2003 - 2009) review

BY ANDY ENRIGHT

Introduction

Ever since the introduction of the 240Z in 1970, Nissan - and formerly Datsun - 'Zed Cars' have been the company's sports coupe staple. There have been great cars, like the 240Z, very good cars like the 260Z and the 300ZX and some howlers such as the 280ZX and 300Z. The 350Z deserves pride of place alongside the original 240Z. A focused sports coupe rather than a bloated boulevardier, the 350Z is a car for the keen driver who will appreciate a muscular look and feel. Used examples are now appearing in reasonable numbers and a well looked after 350Z makes a great buy.

Models

Models Covered: (3 dr coupe and 2dr Roadster - 3.5 petrol)

History

We knew the 350Z was going to look a little special when Ajay Panchal's sketches were first released to the press, but initial enthusiasm was perhaps a little muted by the fact that it wasn't a Skyline. Since Nissan axed the Skyline GT-R model with no replacement in sight, many British buyers thought they were getting a little short-changed when the rear wheel drive, normally aspirated 350Z arrived. After they drove it the carping vanished and the Skyline has been almost forgotten by sports coupe buyers wanting something a little more contemporary. With sleek lines and a torquey 3.5-litre engine, the 350Z was an instant hit. The timing of its introduction was a little unfortunate, as in March 2003 both the Nissan and Mazda's RX-8 were competing for column inches and the four seat layout, rotary engine and bargain basement pricing of the Mazda did much to overshadow the 350Z. Drive the two cars back to back and two very different characters emerge, the Nissan feeling far more of an old school bruiser. A roadster model was launched at the tail end of 2004 alongside a suite of Nismo styling accessories. Something of a major overhaul befell the car in the early part of 2006. The styling was tweaked to the tune of a lower grille, revised lights and a reshaped bumper but Nissan sensibly deciding not to change things too radically. Interior materials were upgraded and the ergonomics in the cab improved but more salient were alterations to the engine. The powerplant was boosted from 276bhp to 296bhp and the rev-limiter was raised to 7,000rpm. The 370z materialised in 2009 to succeed the 350z.

What You Get

Rarely has a new sports car launch caused quite such a stir as that of the 350Z. Nissan invited a bunch of UK journalists to Los Angeles to sample the car and the press office was receiving increasingly desperate requests for weeks in advance from journalists hell-bent on being amongst the first to get behind the wheel. Part of the reason is because industry experts had twigged that the 350Z could be a hugely significant car - the first coupe since the Audi TT to really capture the public's imagination. Much of that is due to three key factors - styling, pricing and provenance. The lines, penned by Brit Ajay Panchal, have that taut, wheel-at-each-corner rightness that looks good from any angle. The chunky upright door handles, the slash of the tail lights and the muscular wheelarches catch the eye, but these styling features are just highlights in what is something of a neat feat of penmanship from the youthful Panchal. The 350Z is fitted with electronic climate control, an integrated hands free phone system, a trip computer, a 160W radio and 6-shot CD changer, plus an alarm and electrically heated and folding door mirrors. Stump up the extra £2,500 for the GT Pack and you'll also get black leather sports seats that are heated and electrically adjustable, cruise control, and a 240W Bose stereo system powerful enough to act as a defibrillator. The 350Z is fitted with electronic climate control, an integrated hands free phone system, a trip computer, a 160W radio and 6-shot CD changer, plus an alarm and electrically heated and folding door mirrors. Stump up the extra £2,500 for the GT Pack and you'll also get black leather sports seats that are heated and electrically adjustable, cruise control, and a 240W Bose stereo system powerful enough to act as a defibrillator.

What You Pay

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What to Look For

There's really not too much that goes wrong with the 350Z. Look for tyre wear and signs of accident damage and also watch out for overly modified cars as these can be tricky to sell on. The Alezan Orange leather interior twinned with Sunset bronze paint finish is the most desirable colour, although both Azure Blue and Silver are also in demand. Steer clear of blacks, reds and yellows. The Rays alloy wheels are worth having but are very susceptible to kerbing damage. Don't pay over the odds for cars with the optional Nismo styling kit. Check the roof of the Roadster for rips or discolouration.

Replacement Parts

(Estimated prices, based on a 2004 350Z Coupe) Indulge in too many traffic light Grands Prix in your 350Z and you'll be looking at £225 for a replacement clutch kit. Front brake pads are around £70 a pair with rears retailing at around £55. A new radiator is around £250 with a starter motor also costing about the same.

On the Road

Although it never approaches the almost sickening accelerative punch of a Skyline, the 350Z's engine nevertheless has the ability to punt that pretty profile up the road with considerable verve. Think rest to sixty in 5.4 seconds and 150mph. That's quick thinking. In reality, the 350Z rarely feels that fast, the broad spread of torque, the impressive refinement and the supple ride making indecent figures on the speedometer feel remarkably easy. UK cars benefit from a few modifications especially for the domestic market such as a larger fuel tank and a bigger radiator, largely due to the fact that we drive further and faster than our transatlantic cousins. We also get Brembo brakes, xenon headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels and standard Electronic Stability Programme, presumably because our faster driving occasionally results in unintended off road excursions. ESP does a great job at keeping the 350Z on the straight and narrow should you get a little overenthusiastic with the loud pedal, but should you really excel yourself, you'll be reassured that there are not only twin, front and side airbags but curtain bags as well. Impressive stuff. Despite its too-cool-for-school modern exterior, the Z is, at heart, an old-school fun car. The steering, gearchange and pedals are all possessed of a meaty weightiness that encourages strong-arm tactics. Muscle the car into a corner and feel the way the steering loads up briefly before going deliciously neutral as you apply throttle. The accelerator is one of the modern drive-by-wire systems although Nissan have spent thousands making it feel as intuitive as a £7.99 throttle cable. So you get the feel of a traditional gas pedal backed up by all the electronic control systems. The ride is, as you'd expect, firm and with the engine mounted behind the line of the front axle, Nissan have worked hard at achieving near perfect weight distribution. For those who appreciate a bit of mischief behind the wheel, the traction control system can be disabled at the touch of a button.

Overall

If you're looking for a nearly new sports coupe and can afford a 350Z, buy one. It's as simple as that. Take your time to choose the right example but don't hesitate when you chance upon it. The 350Z is a car that will one day convince your grandchildren that you weren't always a boring old fart. Recommended.