Fleet News

Nissan 350Z



A new coupe cannot be likened to a bus very often but the analogy may be drawn later this year when three of them come along at once.

The one you are now looking at here is the Nissan 350Z, a two-door two-seater which will arrive in the UK in October. It will be joined around the same time by the Chrysler Crossfire and the Mazda RX-8.

Purists might argue that the new Nissan is the most eagerly anticipated of the three, bringing with it 34 years of Z-car heritage.

In fact Nissan's entire UK allocation for 2003 sold out within an hour of the car going on sale, prompting the firm to fight for more. The car began life as a design concept at the 2001 Detroit Motor Show, and while the Z car is steeped in nearly four decades of history, the new model cannot be described as a cynical retro-styled coupe.

Mamoru Aoki, chief designer for the 350Z, said: 'We wanted to create a modern, contemporary sportscar that looked totally new, but which would be immediately recognisable as a Nissan Z.'

Nissan says its design and dynamics have been honed with lessons learnt on the racetrack with its R390 Le Mans racer and competition versions of the Skyline GT-R. It was designed from the outset as a new global flagship for Nissan, in the process of bouncing back (now with Renault owning a controlling interest) after several tough years.

Nissan GB managing director Brian Carolin said: 'When the concept of the 350Z was put forward to our chief executive officer, Carlos Ghosn, he asserted that there was not a problem with a car company that could not be solved with a good product.

'We introduced this car to dealers in March and explained that we wanted to actively pre-sell the 350Z. We sold our 2003 allocation of 450 cars within one hour with a total of nearly 1,000 orders. We have been able to gain an additional 390 vehicles for this year. 'The 350Z is symbolic in many respects of the revival of Nissan as a brand. Our future growth will be product-led and we will be building cars that appeal to the emotions.' The original 240Z was launched in 1969, and while the most recent Z car people will be familiar with is the 300ZX, it is many years since it was officially imported to the UK. Despite the limited company car appeal of a two-seater coupe, Nissan's research in Europe shows that more than half of sportscar drivers use their cars for everyday commuting – more than twice as many as in America.

Fine tuning for Europe was achieved with targets set by Nissan's European technology centre in Cranfield, taking account of higher average speeds than in the US and Japan, with more demanding roads and a greater proportion of high speed corners.

Changes were made to suspension settings, body aerodynamics and cooling, which will be incorporated into 2004 models destined for the US and Japan.

Standard kit for £24,000 will include electronic stability programme (ESP), six airbags, an in-dash six-CD autochanger, climate control, electrically- adjustable mirrors, a trip computer and shift-up indicator, 18-inch alloy wheels, headlamp wash and an alarm.

With an eye on impending legislation in the UK, there will also be optional voice-activated mobile phone integration, ensuring drivers don't fall foul of the new law. An optional GT pack for an extra £2,500 adds electrically adjustable seats, leather trim, heated seats, cruise control and a Bose audio system.

Behind the wheel

IT is likely that the only people familiar with the 350Z so far are residents of the US and Japan, or regular PlayStation 2 users.

However, despite the long wait for officially imported cars to arrive on our shores, Nissan promises plenty of value-for-money for discerning European and UK customers.

And it's a hatchback, making the luggage area more accessible than if it had a traditional coupe-like bootlid. The structural compromises of making the car a hatchback have been compensated for with a sturdy strut brace across the luggage compartment.

Far from looking like a necessary piece of hardware, Nissan's designers have made a feature of it with a prominent Z badge, visible through the rear window of our test cars. However, it is unlikely that it will still be visible with the tonneau luggage cover fitted to production versions in the UK.

The cabin has one concession to the original 240Z, three dials on top of the centre console: one is the clock/trip computer display, while the others are for oil pressure and battery voltage.

Perceived quality on our test cars was probably not befitting a high-performance sports coupe, with too many hard plastic surfaces feeling below par when compared to the UK-built Primera.

There is no glove compartment, or at least not where it should be. Instead, there is a storage compartment behind the passenger seat. The steering wheel adjusts for rake, but not reach, which will not suit some drivers, and the radio aerial on the rear of the car looks like an afterthought when really it should be integrated into the rear windscreen. And the door mirrors are too small.

Set aside these minor grumbles and the driving experience is excellent. The engine howls under hard acceleration and blipping the throttle on downchanges brings an urgent bark from the exhaust.

At a steady 70mph, however, engine noise is virtually absent, making the 350Z an acceptable motorway cruiser.

The car is fitted with an 'underbody airflow management system' which, in conjunction with spoilers at the front and rear, ensures no lift is generated and the car is firmly planted on the ground.

Road surfaces on our test routes in Germany were frequently soaked with rain, so heroic antics behind the wheel were out of the question. However, the car makes you feel heroic even when you drive it at 60%. It turns in crisply and body roll is imperceptible. Grip from the tyres (with rears wider than the fronts) is exceptional, even in the wet, while the ride didn't seem too jarring for a sports coupe on our selected routes.

The six-speed manual transmission needs a manly shove to engage the cogs, and with the 350Z pulling keenly from 2,500rpm onwards, I wondered whether six gears were necessary. It seemed to hinder progress when accelerating rather than allowing things to move faster, making the car feel slower than its performance figures suggest.

Driving verdict

IN an era where boy racers grow up on a diet of Evos and Imprezas, the 350Z feels more of a car for grown-ups, with individual design and sense of emotion absent from the turbocharged all-wheel-drivers. With limited numbers, it is bound to have strong residual values and for the right user-chooser, it should be a safe investment.

Model: Nissan 350Z
Engine (cc): 3,498
Max power (bhp/rpm): 276/6,200
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 268/4,800
Max speed (mph): 155 (limited)
0-62mph (sec): 5.9
Fuel consumption (mpg): 24.8
CO2 emissions (g/km): 273
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 80/17.6
Transmission: 6-sp man
Service interval (miles): 9,000
On sale: October
Prices (OTR): £24,000-£26,500

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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