2005 Nissan 350Z Roadster
Since the first 240Z in 1969, Nissan's Z line has provided a first-rate sports car experience for a very reasonable price. Although subsequent Zs may have strayed from the original ideology, the latest version returns to its roots. Like other Zs, the 2005 Nissan 350Z has a six-cylinder engine in front, now placed behind the front axle line for optimum weight distribution, driving the rear wheels. It produces its 287-horsepower (hp) output--nearly as much as the late 300ZX Turbo's 300hp engine--without turbos. The suspension and the brakes fully measure up to the engine's level, without requiring any complex four-wheel steering systems. And while the 350Z looks expensive, with distinctive styling, it doesn't have a particularly high price, especially considering its performance potential.
The 350Z comes in both coupe and roadster bodies. Our test car was a roadster--a Touring model in the middle of the 350Z's roadster lineup--and it was a fine example of a contemporary sports car. Retro is not spoken here--the 350Z Roadster offers near-luxury levels of comfort. It also includes contemporary technology for performance, safety, and even entertainment and information. The seats, the windows, and the top are power operated. A very good automatic climate-control system keeps the interior comfortable in warm or cold weather, at least with the top up. The $36,550 base price includes a seven-speaker AM/FM/six-CD Bose sound system. With floor mats for $80, an easy-to-use navigation system for $2,000, and a destination charge of $560, our test car came to $39,190--much less than the 1996 300ZX Turbo, not even considering inflation.The cabin of the 2005 Nissan 350Z Roadster is cozy but comfortable and well appointed. The Touring model features heated, power-adjustable seats with perforated leather upholstery. They offer first-rate comfort and support, as well as a good driving position. The shift lever is well positioned, although the metal and rubber pedals aren't in quite the right place for heel-and-toe driving. Visibility with the top up is not as bad as we expected--mirror coverage is good, and the heated glass backlight should stay clear for the life of the car. Visibility with the top down is excellent.
The power-operated top works quickly and requires only manual latching and unlatching. Its minimal lining provides slight insulation against heat, cold, and road noise. The metal tonneau behind the passenger compartment flips up to swallow the top and comes back down to hide it, improving both aerodynamics and looks. We were a little baffled by the need to release the parking brake to get the top up or down.
The Nissan 350Z organizes its meager interior storage space in a unique manner. A search of the dash for the glove box will turn up only a power outlet. As in the coupe, the main interior storage is in a locking compartment in the bulkhead behind the passenger seat. Although awkward to reach, the compartment is quite large and can easily fit a laptop or a camera case. The trunk is average in size for a sports roadster, meaning that bulky items are not on the travel program.
In the Touring model, cabin occupants enjoy a seven-speaker Bose audio system that provides very good sound quality. It has the expected AM and FM radio, a six-disc in-dash CD changer, and, in our test car, a cassette deck--probably best used as an MP3-player interface. The CD player is not MP3 compatible.
An automatic flap in the center stack hides the optional navigation system's LCD screen when not in use. We've found Nissan's interface one of the easiest to use, and the 350Z's is no exception. The screen is reasonably well protected from glare for good visibility in most lighting conditions. The simple and fairly intuitive interface consists of a joysticklike toggle control and marked buttons including Previous and Cancel. It offers a choice of views: North Up, Heading Up, and Birdview. You can enter destinations by the usual laborious letter-at-a-time method or by scrolling the screen display to the desired location and marking it with the toggle control. The system takes a few seconds to boot at start-up, and route computation causes a slight delay. Route-finding is average. The system provides voice guidance but no voice recognition for data entry--not unexpected for a navigation system in an open sports car, with interior noise levels higher than those in a sedan.Performance is a sports car's primary mission, and the Nissan 350Z in any form does not disappoint. The top of a coupe is very important to its structure, and roadsters related to coupes can be disappointingly flexible, leading to inferior handling and increased interior noise and vibration. In many cases, increased bracing of the convertible's lower structure adds more weight than rigidity. Such is not the case with the 350Z. Yes, the top is gone, but careful engineering of the lower structure, with extra crossbars and reinforcement around the door frames and in the floor pan, gives it nearly as much rigidity as the coupe. Cowl shake and noticeable flex are as close as possible to nonexistent, so handling does not suffer--the wheels go where you want them. Intensive use of aluminum in the multilink independent suspension reduces unsprung weight for precise cornering and ride quality that's appropriately firm but never harsh.
As in other implementations of Nissan's Front Midship (FM) chassis platform, the engine's rearward placement in the chassis improves weight distribution and handling. On the FM platform, most of the engine's mass goes behind the front axle line for a near-50/50 weight distribution. Placing the car's mass toward its center provides the quick-turn handling for which midengine cars are renowned, without the engineering and practical difficulties of a midengine chassis. Moreover, the attention to underbody airflow results in low levels of aerodynamic lift for high-speed stability.