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2006 Nissan 350Z Review

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Fast and Furious
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Nissan

Here’s another of those cars I really don’t want to give up at the end of the week. As regular readers have probably come to know, I’m particularly fond of sports cars. And this is a great one.

Thinking about the Z ahead of time I’m reminded of my brother-in-law, Jim, who was a young engineer at Oldsmobile when the first 240Z came out. Don’t ask me what year – it just seems a long time ago. Oldsmobile dealers commonly were Datson, and later Nissan, dealers and somehow Jim, with his Olds connection, finagled into position to buy the first 240Z delivered in our area. And, for some reason, he was foolish enough to let me drive it. It was great! A long hood covered a competent in-line six with lots of torque. Its style and ambiance were everything a sports car enthusiast could want with its sophistication, speed, handling and great looks. It was much less brutish than a Corvette but way more sorted out than the British or Italian sports cars of the day. Best of all it was affordable. The 240Z was an immediate hit and has become a classic.

With each new Z-Car Nissan got farther away from the original formula. Like just about every car in the late 70s and through the 80s, power was eroded by Federal emissions regulations, and crash regulations interfered with graceful styling. For a while, after the 300ZX, the sports car just went away. Finally Nissan brought it back, and we’re grateful they did.

After picking up my silver test Z-Car in Detroit I headed downtown for a press conference. You’d think I was in something pretty exotic considering the attention it received. The parking attendant, the doorman, and even the PR gal, who watched with envy as I pulled in, commented on the Z’s good looks – but not on mine, understandably. With almost no overhang front or rear, a low-slung stance (the nose spoiler is just 6-inches off the ground) and the huge, aggressive 18-inch front and 19-inch rear Rays® super lightweight, forged-alloy wheels with Brembo brakes peeking through, along with the squat 265/35 Bridgestone Potenza tires bulging out from flared fender wells, the Z just looks fast.

Those stylish Brembo® brakes feature 4-pistion calipers with 12.8 by 1.18-inch vented front discs and 2-piston calipers with 12.7 by .87-inch vented rear discs. We can see them through the wheels. Four-wheel Anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brake Force Distribution.

Contributing to the fast, aggressive ambiance of the Z is styling that has an otherworldly sort of feel. Its lines and details are unlike anything else, although looking across its rear flank you might get a Porsche sort of feel. The unusual outside door handles which have a machined look, and inside details like the instrument cluster speak of Nissan’s dedication to being a bit different from competing main-stream products. The roofline is unusual as well with hints of the Audi TT Coupe shape. Taillights extend forward to a point just above the rear wheel well and headlights extend rearward to hint at graceful speed. Large dual exhaust tips poke out from the rear like a two-headed kid sticking his tongues out at us.

Layout is traditional for a sports car – front, longitudinally mid-mounted engine with rear-wheel drive. The six-speed, close-ratio, manual transmission is standard and a 5-speed automatic is optional on most models. A carbon-fiber composite driveshaft leads to a viscous limited-slip differential. Traction Control and Vehicle Dynamic Control are standard on the Touring model like our test car.

Power comes from the venerable 3.5-liter V-6 that powers half the Nissan fleet. This version, called VQ35DE makes 300 horsepower as it approaches the 7-grand red line, and 260 lb.ft. of torque at 4,800 rpm. Continuously Variable Valve Control System is applied to both intake and exhaust valves, and a high-flow intake system facilitates air movement on this normally aspirated engine, which also features molybdenum coated pistons, and microfinished crank and camshafts.

Inside the Z is entertaining and comfortable. The seats, while a bit narrow for a fellow as broad in the beam as I, are firmly bolstered. Materials and fit are excellent. The tilt wheel has only a few inches of range but the instrument pod moves with the wheel. Pretty cool. My only complaint inside is the lack of a hatch release.

Acceleration is strong and exhilarating. The engine makes enough rumble and vibration to feel like V-8, especially up around red line. The 6-speed stick takes enough effort so you know you’re in something that wasn’t designed for the woosie masses. Rather, it feels like a well-designed, sophisticated competition car. It’s a real pleasure to drive hard and fast. This is a V-6 with the feel of a V-8. Even with all this power and panache EPA fuel mileage estimates are 19-city and 24-highway. I could live with that.

Handling, as you might expect with this modern sports car, is excellent. Front suspension is a 3-link aluminum-alloy arrangement, and the rear is a similar 4-link system. Stabilizer bars, ripple-control shocks and strut bars secure both front and rear as well, making for a rigid, sturdy feel in hard cornering. The rear strut bar intrudes on the rear cargo area and there is a diagram on the inside of the hatch lid that shows how to get two sets of golf clubs in there. They must be thinking of a small “Sunday” bag. I can’t believe we could get two full-size bags in there.

I played pretty hard with it this week but never came close to its limits. The speed-sensitive power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering feels precise and smooth. We have a nicely paved, wide, straight country two lane between us and town where I made her dance by whipping the wheel back and forth, getting a nice rhythm going. Next I’ll have to find a slalom course to test her mettle. Obviously, my colleagues have been having some fun with this Z as the tires are well worn on the edges, and the car only has about 4,500 miles on it.

Warranty coverage is 36-month/36,000-mile and 5-year/60,000-mile on the powertrain.

Our test car is the Z Grand Touring model, top of the line. List price is $35,650. The base model can be had for $27,650, a tremendous value in a performance sports car. Ours comes with a Bose sound system with MP3, a 6-CD changer and 7 speakers including a sub-woofer, High Intensity Discharge (HID) Bi-Xenon headlights and all the stuff already mentioned here and all the power and leather stuff we expect in a luxury sports car these days. With the XM ™ Satellite radio option at $350, fancy floor mats for $90, optional side and curtain airbags at $650 and destination charg of $605, the total sticker is $37,315.

I can’t find much to criticize about the Z. It is probably the best value on the market for a main-stream sports car.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Right Reserved