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New Car Review: 2004 Nissan 350Z Roadster

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MODEL: Nissan 350Z Roadster
ENGINE: 3.5-liter DOHV V6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 287 @ 6,200 rpm/274 lb-ft @ 4,800rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual
WHEELBASE: 104.3 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 169.4 x 71.5 x 52.3 in.
TIRES: 225/45W18 front, 245/45W18 rear

The Datsun 240Z single-handedly destroyed the British sports car industry in the 1970s. MGs and Triumphs continued to be sold until the 1980s, but their demise was impending. The Datsun was much better built, of greater quality, had synchromesh in all forward gears, and wasn't bad to look at.

I realized the week I had the Nissan 350Z, the direct descendant of the 240Z, that I hadn't driven a Z car since the original 240. And the one I drove had been modified by Datsun racer Bob Sharp for service as the Lime Rock Park pace car. I worked for Lime Rock for a couple of years and was permitted to use the pace car to run errands into town now and then.

So I was most anxious to drive the 350Z. I might have preferred the coupe version, to compare it with the original, but the roadster was even better on warm summer days and cool summer nights. It was a great choice.

The 350Z isn't as sleek as its ancestors were. The new Z is more rounded, but I'm certain the shape has been wind tunnel-tested and probably admits little air under the car, improving adhesion. The shape is more like that of the Audi TT. It has projection headlights and interesting tail lamps that curve around the rear fenders. Behind the two seats are roll bars that will offer some protection in a roll-over, a wind deflector that keep backflow from the passengers' hair, and a neat faring over the top stowage compartment.

This car shares a platform with the Infiniti G35 sedan and coupe, but the Nissan version is pure sports car. The engine is a 287-horsepower 3.5-liter double overhead cam V6 with loads of torque. Power reaches the rear wheels through a six-speed manual transmission with short throws. The gearbox is precise and offers great flexibility, although I had problems finding the right gears at times (second or fourth, sixth or fourth, fifth or third). I'm sure that with more seat time these problems would disappear. There is enough torque form the engine so that you can be "sloppy" in general driving and don't always have to downshift to get decent acceleration.

Acceleration is one of the big thrills with the 350Z because of the exhaust note. We were riding near some Harleys one day and admiring their distinct exhaust note. Well, the Z car also has a distinct note that many of the pseudo racers that kids play with these days would love to copy.

The engine is stuffed into the engine compartment, but all the dipsticks and filelr caps are within easy reach.

The seats themselves were leather, black on the bolsters and orange-to-yellow ventilated net on the inserts. They were gaudy, but I liked them. My wife didn't.

There's no excuse for a modern roadster/convertible not to have a power top. The 350Z's top only requires the driver to unlatch the lock over the center of the windshield, put a foot on the brake, and push a button. All sorts of magical mechanical things begin happening, and a few seconds later the top is stowed safely behind the seats.

There's no great loss of trunk capacity. The trunk is a good size, and this is the first car I've seen that has directions on the trunk lid telling you how to stow golf bags. Well, golf bag is probably a better term, but at least they were thinking.

In front of the driver is a standard instrument panel, with a large tachometer, smaller speedometer, fuel and water temperature gauges. These gauges move up and down with the adjustable steering wheel. Above the center of the dash are auxiliary instruments - external temperature, oil pressure and voltage. This cluster is above a huge storage bin that thankfully did not include a navigation system. It seems to me that a nav system would be obscene in a sports car. Part of the fun is getting lost.

You'll never forget that you're driving a Z car, with all the reminders - on the wind deflector, the floor mats and the steering wheel. But then, after you've driven it for a while, you'll never want to stop driving it long enough to forget.

Our tester was in Touring trim with a base price of $36,220. 18-inch wheels added $1,200 to that price with floor mats an additional $80. Destination charges brought the final sticker price of $38,040.

I paid $2,800 for my MGA 1600 Mk II coupe off the dealer showroom floor, but that was 42 years ago. The Z is a better bargain.

2004 The Auto Page Syndicate