- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2003

Upon reviewing Nissan’s 350Z Coupe earlier this year, I indicated that it was a $50,000 sports car for under $30,000 — and an honest-to-goodness true statement it was.

The original Nissan Z-Series sports car went away from the United States in 1996 and from Japan in 2000. The driving enthusiasts at Nissan recreated the spirit and tradition credited to earlier examples of the Z car with the 2003 350Z Coupe.

It wasn’t an exercise in retro or nostalgia , but rather the development and production of a totally new two-seat sports coupe that successfully blended design heritage with superlative performance and value.

The 350Z Coupe features a long wheelbase and wide stance with elements of the 240Z and 300ZX in a contemporary design execution with a strong, spinelike belt line culminated by large, distinctive taillamps that flank the sloping raised rear deck. Power was generated by a healthy, midmounted, 3.5-liter DOHC, 24-valve V-6 generating 287 horsepower and 274 foot-pounds of torque over an impressively broad range, that drove the rear wheels via a carbon-fiber driveshaft, redlining at 6,600 rpm. Gear changes come about by either a five-speed automatic with a manual mode, or by a newly developed six-speed manual transmission, depending upon the model selected.

There is a Base model Coupe, with a six-speed manual transmission, two Enthusiast models, with either a five-speed automatic or six-speed manual, the Performance model with 6MT, two Touring models, and finally, the Track model with the 6MT. All share the same flaw though — as coupes, they all possess fixed tops. That has been remedied with the introduction of the absolutely gorgeous (to most who view it anyway) 2004 350Z Roadster, which comes in but two models: Enthusiast and Touring (with equipment variations available on each ).

The mechanicals are the same — while the price and fun factor vary. For instance, an Enthusiast model Roadster with a few options may be had for less than a fully loaded Track model Coupe, and everybody knows that open cars are better.

My test Roadster was sprayed silver metallic outside with a black and multicolor woven fabric seating interior. It was an Enthusiast model with 18-inch wheels and tires and carpeted floor and trunk mats. and the five-speed manually shiftable automatic gearbox. The base price was set at $34,820, while the options kicked the sticker to $36,170.

Special features for the Roadster are the power top that lowers and raises at the touch of a button after releasing the single header latch in a scant 20 seconds; a clear wind deflector behind the seats to cut down on buffeting; and head fairings sculpted into the hard tonneau.

The Nissan 350Z Roadster provides a phenomenal and exhilarating ride in either model, which is based on a strengthened platform shared with the Inifiniti G35. The Coupe was actually designed with a future Roadster model in mind, so there is virtually no cowl shake in evidence.

The drive-by-wire electronic throttle delivers instant response, as does the variable-assist rack-and-pinion steering. The Z’s ride quality is satisfyingly firm without objectionable harshness. Seats are highly supportive and comfortable, with the driver’s seat offering a center contour and added side bolstering with an angled, sculpted cutaway on the right to avoid shifting interference.

There is no glove box, but a locking storage bin resides behind the passenger seat. The exterior door handles are unique vertical units with a brushed aluminum look that, for me, tend to break up the car’s clean design on darker exterior colored vehicles — I see owners spraying them body color. For those who rely on the protection of a radar detector, the only power outlet is positioned aft on the rear bulkhead, making it quite a stretch for the cord from the windshield, not to mention getting in the way of the shift lever — an issue that I’m told is being looked at. A really neat feature is that when the tilt steering column moves, the three-gauge major instrument pod moves with it.

Bottom line, for those who relish spirited driving, the 350Z Roadster has everything going for it — especially fresh air through your hair. The car’s appearance is sleek and alluring, with an aggressive look to its stance (enhanced even more by the 18-inch wheel and tire option package. Its performance and handling characteristics are outstanding and on a par with sports cars costing considerably more. It accommodates my hulk better than Porsche’s Boxster, while costing considerably less.

In Nissan’s 350 lineup, the Roadster is truly Z way to go — especially with the top down where you can hear the engine humming its formula-racerlike tune.

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