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Car reviews - Nissan - 350Z - range

Our Opinion

We like
Build quality and vastly improved interior, smooth-shifting six-speed manual, sonorous and high-revving V6, comfy and supportive sports seats, meaty steering
Room for improvement
Rear suspension strut brace eats into luggage space

16 Dec 2005

TO be honest, we approached the 300km drive of the refreshed 350Z across Tasmania with some trepidation.

Memories were still fresh in our recent past of the previous model, which was harsh riding to the point of being downright uncomfortable.

Despite the superbly comfortable seats, driving down any road except a billiard-table smooth highway in a 350Z became something of a chore.

But no, Nissan assured the assembled throng of journalists that we’d quickly discover that Nissan’s earnest engineers had been beavering away underneath the swoopy two-seater to refine the suspension, improve the steering and generally make the car more palatable to a core of buyers with a high discretionary income to spend on a sports coupe.

Nissan claimed many of the improvements to the car, both inside and to the suspension and steering, were at the behest of customers.

We can only say: thank goodness the Japanese car-maker was listening.

The latest Z is such a vastly improved car that it’s quite hard to believe it comes from the same mould as the previous model.

With vehicles like the refreshed Honda S2000, as well as newish Mazda RX-8 and Chrysler Crossfire knocking at Nissan’s door, the improvements to the Z were necessary to keep the car fresh and competitive.

They’ve succeeded.

The car’s independent multi-link front and rear suspension gets some important tweaks that helps change the car’s character for the better but in no way diminishes the driving experience.

Among the key changes are dual-flow path shock absorbers that contribute to a far more compliant ride and better rebound control in the Track coupe we drove.

The handling is still precise and the ride still firm – as you would expect from a sportscar - but the Z no longer crashes over bumps, nor transmits every road imperfection into the cabin.

Nissan has also adopted the variable speed-responsive steering from the up-market Infiniti brand to provide a more linear steering feel at high speeds.

In practice it is very communicative and offers exacting, meaty feedback through corners.

The Track models also come the superb four-piston Brembo brake package, which proved impressively powerful and fade-free over long downhill sections of road used for the Targa Tasmania.

The Track’s switchable vehicle dynamic control nanny also manages to massage the car and driver rather than jolt them into a fully awakened state that something’s amiss in the traction department.

At the heart of the Z is the sonorous V6, which does stirling service in a range of Nissan products.

It is without doubt one of the best six-cylinder engines around. It’s repeatedly won awards for its levels of refinement and sophistication – justifiably so.

The bonus of the model upgrade is that the six-speed manual Coupe and Track have grown in power from 206kW to 221kW at 6400rpm.

Torque is down a tad by 10Nm to 353Nm from 363Nm at 4800rpm but this is still impressive for what is essentially a small-capacity V6.

There is no doubt this V6 delivers BMW-style levels of refinement and efficiency.

Mated to the slick six-speed manual the engine is responsive when it needs to be but its impressive low-down flexibility means the car will pull from as low as 40km/h in sixth.

But the rear-drive Z is not a lazy person’s car. It is a push-on marauder that will take few hostages.

Around town you’re aware of its intent but once the road opens up, or turns windy and hilly, the Z almost shrink-wraps itself around the driver to become more nimble and precise.

The standard limited-slip differential also provides an impressive level of stability when accelerating out of tight turns.

The Track eats corners and spits them out and although not quite in the dynamic league of a far more expensive Porsche Boxster, it is still rewards those prepared to examine the car’s limits.

Through the gears, the Z will run right to the rev-limiter but from 3500rpm particularly, the engine will changes from a muted growl to a full-blown roar through the twin exhausts as it slingshots quickly to the red-line.

Only a wide gap between third and second gear ratios when changing down would occasionally catch the transmission out.

Visually, the car’s chunky and stylish exterior was largely left alone except for some minor changes.

The bumpers been redesigned, high-intensity headlights now penetrate the night and LED tail-lights light up the rear. The new 18-inch alloys also look good.

Inside, the Z has been given a spit and polish with more aluminium trim accents, better soft-feel materials, steering wheel mounted audio controls, more storage areas, better switchgear and finally, decent cupholders.

Better sound insulation too makes the cabin a far more cosseted experience.

Standard equipment is lineball with others in this class and include heated leather sports seats, cruise control, drilled aluminium pedals, climate control air conditioning, seven-speaker Bose sound system and dual front, side and curtain airbags in the coupe.

Nissan is confident that up to 60 Zs will find buyers each month with the split mostly in favour of the Coupe.

We’d also suggest that owners of the previous model, who may have been thinking of moving on, will have a real reason to stick with Nissan and try out the newcomer.

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