New models - Nissan - 350Z
First drive: No X purposes for Nissan Z, aged 35
Nissan adds an even more dedicated and faster coupe to its 350Z range
28 Feb 2005
By JOHN WRIGHT
Thirty-five years of age sometimes marks the beginning of ‘middle-age spread’ but not for the Nissan 350Z. Few twenty-first century cars can trace their history in a straight line back to 1970, but the 350Z is one of them.
Not only is the historical line a straight one, so is the configuration of the charismatic six-cylinder engine that has always been at the heart of the Zed’s raw appeal, along with rear-wheel drive and focused styling.
The original 240Z had one of the world’s best straight sixes, at a time when V6s were rare. Now V6s have become the norm, but many enthusiasts still cherish the straight six and Nissan’s Zed delivers in spades.
Back in 1970 Nissan sold its products as Datsuns in Australia for reasons we may never fully understand, so the first of the Z-Cars was the Datsun 240Z.
This was something of a severely cut-price Jaguar E-Type with improved build quality. It was that rare machine, the instant classic.
But it wasn’t all Glory Road after this brilliant beginning. The Zed did lose some direction in 1979 when the somewhat flabby 280ZX superseded the 260Z and the close-coupled concept morphed into a ritzily trimmed two-plus-two the Zed’s focus was blunted.
The less said about the first 300ZX (1983, more of the same) the better. But good news came in 1989 when perhaps the most elegant Japanese model we have yet seen arrived in the form of the rocketship new generation 300ZX.
Then in 2003 came the current generation 350Z, a close coupled, grunty and sexy coupe in the mould of the original 240Z and with no ‘X’ to qualify the essential ‘Z’: the Zed for a new century.
Two years after the 350Z’s local debut, Nissan Australia has announced a new 35th Anniversary coupe model to celebrate Z tradition. This new ‘hero’ model boasts more power and torque, special 18-inch alloys, black leather trim and its own Ultra Yellow livery.
At the same time, all other variants have been upgraded with improved manual and automatic transmissions and a higher level of standard equipment. There are now three coupe versions (Touring, Track and 35th Anniversary) and the Roadster.
Only the Anniversary gets the revised engine. Engine revisions have allowed an impressive gain in power from 206kW at 6200 rpm to 221 at 6400. Torque climbs from 363Nm at 4800 rpm to 353 at the same engine speed.
New pistons and camshafts, along with the addition of electromagnetic exhaust valve timing control account for this impressive gain. Maximum rpm is up to 7000rpm from 6600.
Conceived to showcase Z-car imagery and technology, the 35th Anniversary comes only as a coupe and only with a six-speed manual transmission.
It seems curious, then, that the more powerful engine is not offered in the Track variant which has played this role until now. At least it scores the appealing new 18-inch alloys, as do the Roadster and the aptly named Track variant. The entry level Touring model rides on 17s.
The five-speed automatic transmission, optional on all Zeds except the 35th Anniversary coupe combines its manual mode with a new acronym, DRM (Downshift Rev Matching), while the six-speed manual gearbox is claimed to provide easier shifting, which will be welcome.
Other upgrades across the range are heated door mirrors and new polished aluminium type trim.
One area of the car that earned consistent criticism was interior quality, especially the dashboard and Nissan claims to have improved the soft-feel painted areas of the cabin.
All new models, except the Touring receive a Brembo braking system with four pistons for each front wheel and two for the rears.
Ultra Yellow uses three layers of top coat with separate colour pigment and pearl layers to achieve an almost ‘liquid’ look. But the 35th Anniversary is also available in Black Obsidian and Pewter. A wide range of colours including the aforementioned two, Dayttona Blue and Le Mans Sunset are offered on the other models.
The manual Touring coupe opens the Z’s account at and unchanged $59,990, while the corresponding Track variant costs $65,990. The 35th Anniversary looks keenly priced at $67,990. The Roadster is $70,990. The improved DRM-equipped automatic transmission remains a $2800 option on the Touring, Track and Roadster variants.
An extensive list of standard features includes six airbags in the coupes, composite carbon-fibre driveshaft, viscous (note the single ‘i’!) limited-slip differential, drive-by-wire throttle, heated leather sports seats, seven-speaker Bose sound and high performance compound Bridgestone Potenza tyres.
Nissan is promoting its 350Z range as the best value sports car in the sub-$100K range. Rivals include the Mazda RX-8, Audi TT and BMW Z4, all of which are outpowered by the 350Z, even in its standard 206kW guise.
The Monaro is not seen as a rival on the grounds of its V8 engine and four-seater configuration. The Roadster is described as ‘the most sports-oriented and driver-rewarding droptop in the sub-$100K sector.’Vehicle Dynamic Control and Brembo brakes are now standard. Customer feedback was responsible for the decision to fit VDC, which suggests that the Roadster is seen as a true sports car rather than a poseur’s machine.
The 35th Anniversary, it will remain in the 350Z line-up throughout 2005 and is not a limited edition model. If demand increases beyond the projected 50 or so units per month to, say, 70, then Nissan Australia will be able to meet it. So the car is seen as an intrinsic part of the range.
Priced at a premium of just $2000 over the Track variant on which it is based, the 35th Anniversary should take much of that custom. The extra money buys 15kW (a seven per cent increase in power), a higher redline, a unique paintjob, and more. But some customers may want their Zed in blue, for example, and will choose the standard Track model.
Nissan Australia’s executives concluded that no special badging was necessary for the 35th Anniversary model, believing that the unique Ultra Yellow livery, as one of the three available colours, and the car’s specification would speak for themselves.
"The biggest thing about the 35th Anniversary is what you don’t see," says marketing manager Michael Hayes. "It’s under the bonnet. Two hundred and twenty-one kiloWatt represents a seven per cent increase ... that’s a pretty significant increase in an engine with over 200kW to start with. We didn’t want to put a badge on it for the sake of putting a badge on it."But his disclosure that they couldn’t come up with a badge that looked as if was integral to the car ("that would flow into the vehicle as though it was part of the whole car") was perhaps more to the point. So why not even a discreet decal for the dashboard?As for the Ultra Yellow option, Nissan expects about 30 to 40 per cent of 35th Anniversary buyers to make this choice.
2005 350Z pricing:
350Z Touring coupe manual $59,990
350Z Touring coupe automatic $62,790
350Z Track coupe manual $65,990
350Z Track coupe automatic $68,790
350Z 35th Anniversary coupe manual $67,990
350Z Roadster manual $70,990
350Z Roadster automatic $73,790
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