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Car reviews - Nissan - 350Z - range

Our Opinion

We like
Engine expands 350Z’s driveability greatness, styling wisely untouched, supreme value for money
Room for improvement
Cannot recommend non-stability control Touring models

7 May 2007

LATELY we’ve been contemplating the decade’s best cars so far, sparking a debate over which model is the 21st Century’s – or post January 1 2000’s – first bona fide classic.

Among a quite disparate list of candidates have been three Japanese cars – the Mazda 6, Honda Jazz and Toyota Prius II – as well as the BMW E46 M3 and R53 Mini Cooper S.

‘Evolutionary’ designs such as the Mazda NC MX-5, Porsche 987 and 997 and Ferrari F430 are excluded, for their basic character philosophies are too strongly linked to their predecessors.

Of course, all this is a purely subjective analysis, but the Nissan Z33 350Z Coupe – unveiled at the 2001 Tokyo motor show, released globally during 2002 and on sale in Australia from February 2003 – is at the top of this particular writer’s list.

If the 1989 300ZX put the Z-car into sub-Porsche 928 grand touring territory, then its 350Z Coupe successor scaled the sports car heights, elevating the series into a stratosphere that not even the 1969 Datsun 240Z could achieve.

Taut, strong, powerful, visceral – the 350Z Coupe doesn’t so much talk to you as shout, but then reacts to your inputs as faithfully and instantaneously as you could ever hope for from a relatively inexpensive sports car.

Did we mention the handsome styling, perfect proportions and still-fresh exterior detailing?

For some critics, the 350Z drops the ball inside, as a result of some hard plastics, an even harder ride on some surfaces, and a general lack of practicality led by that body-bracing bar between the back suspension struts.

But find a flowing ribbon of blacktop, put yourself on maximum sensory alert, and brace yourself in the tight driver’s seat, and this bird will sing and fly both at the same time.

People who slag it off simply wouldn’t know what fun is even if it pooped on them while swooping over them at 225km/h!

For this year’s 350Z, Nissan has slotted in a heavily revamped 3.5-litre V6, producing more power (230kW) in the middle and upper rev ranges, as well more torque in the middle and lower end of the engine’s performance band.

The result is a forcibly faster 350Z that keeps on charging past 6500rpm, while spinning the rear wheels in first, second and third gears in slippery conditions, while cruising quietly and securely at 120km/h while barely nudging 2500rpm.

It still shoves forward from standstill, playing the same stirring V6 soundtrack as the old car, while building up speed with effortless ease. Strangely, however, at higher revs, the new engine loses its mechanical musicality.

The standard six-speed manual gearbox is as weighty as ever, with a surprising amount of travel for a stubby little lever, but that doesn’t make the experience any less satisfying. It just means that you feel this car’s muscular mien.

The steering still feels sensationally quick and chatty, backed up by suspension and tyres that seem glued to the road, and without the bump steer that can upset the line of some cars with this much roadholding.

In fact, so throttle controllable is the pointable and poised 350Z that you’d say there was ‘bum’ steer instead, yet backed up exceptional body control and a brilliant set of brakes.

But… in treacherously wet conditions, the 350 Touring and automatic models can became a handful when driven in anger without the necessary ESP/VDC stability control fitted only to the 350Z Track Coupe and Convertible. We could not recommend the others if you intend to explore the chassis’ dynamic limits, especially if the environment is anything other than bone dry. This Nissan can bite as hard as it barks without ESP.

This is further brought home by the fact that the 350Z with the five-speed automatic is a fast, easy brute of a machine, as the new engine gels with this gearbox like Tom gels with Jerry and Emily gels with Florence.

Frankly, following the trim and material makeover that the 350Z underwent in late 2005, we cannot find anything to complain about the cabin. The seats are still fabulous. The controls are intelligently placed.

Driven on Tasmania’s fine country roads, we could not find fault with the 350Z’s ride quality either.

And there is little in the way of noise, vibration and harshness permeating inside. But we would like a pair of overhead grab handles.

And what of the 350Z Roadster?

We have always felt that this feels like a very different car to the 350Z Coupe, with the circa-100kg extra weight blunting performance, that big rump that kills the Coupe’s sensational silhouette, and comically tiny roof-up appearance.

The Roadster is more a boulevard cruiser, albeit still a stirringly good one to drive fast.

So where do the changes leave the 2007 Nissan 350Z?

Appalling lack of stability control aside, everywhere we looked we found progress.

This car does not feel like a five-year design. It certainly does not drive like one, and nor has the styling dated one iota. We pity Nissan’s product planners having to come up with styling as stirring as this.

Yep, the heart transplant has been an outstanding success.

The latest 350Z justifies our particular belief that the Coupe (especially in Track guise) rates right at the top of the 21st Century classic car chart.

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