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Road Test: Nissan 350Z

Review by Feann Torr - 12/November/2007

Nissan 350ZThe Nissan 350Z is one of those iconic cars revered by many and reviled by few. 

The Playstation generation loves it for its rock solid reputation, stand-out styling and burnout capabilities, while the Baby Boomers can appreciate the car's heritage, having seen the Datsun 240Z and its ilk tear up the blacktop in the early 1970s and into the '80s.

Me? I like it because it's one of the most rewarding sports cars of this era and far more affordable than an exotic car.

But the famous 2-seater sports car has been on Australian roads for around five years now, and even the coolest and most revered cars can become passé, particularly as there's more and more competition from the Germans (read: Audi TT).

A mid-life update was always needed for the Japanese racer to keep interest levels from dropping away, and so here we are - road testing the new model.

You wouldn't think so by looking at it, but the new 350Z has some new styling cues and gets some new features, least of which is a more powerful engine tune. The Nissan "Zed's" V6 powerplant spins faster than ever before and the result? Let's take a look:

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Make: Nissan
Model: 350Z (Track)
Price: $67,990
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Engine: 3.5-litre, Vee 6-cylinder, petrol
Seats: 2
Safety: 6 airbags (driver/front passenger (x2), front side (x2) and curtain airbags (x2)), ABS, VDC
Car Supplier: Nissan Australia

Drive: 4.25/5

Nissan 350Z Review

Nissan's 350Z gets more herbs under
the bonnet and a 'power hump' to match

Nissan 350Z Review

Sitting on 18-inch alloy wheels with sticky
tyres, the Nissan 350Z has awesome grip

Engine: Nissan VQ35DE 3.5-litre V6

The longitudinally mounted 3498cc vee 6-cylinder engine features aluminium alloy cylinder heads and engine block. Dual overhead camshafts (DOHC) per cylinder bank actuate a total of 24-valves (4-valves per cylinder) that feature variable valve timing. The engine has an 10.6:1 compression ratio and will tolerate all petrol grades from 95 RON upwards when filling its 76 litre fuel tank.

Fuel consumption: 11.7L/100km
CO2 Emissions: 280g/km

Max Power: 230kW @ 6800rpm
Max Torque: 358Nm @ 4800rpm
0-100km/h: 5.7 seconds
Max Speed: 250km/h

Nissan 350Z Review

The 350Z looks a bit like a Carp from this
angle, but it drives like a true sports car

Nissan 350Z Review

The camera man almost fell down the
hill taking this shot. We had a laugh

Nissan 350Z Review

Though it has a number of shortcomings, the
Zed is one of the most balanced cars out there

Nissan 350Z Review

With 230kW of power from its 3.5-litre
V6, the 350Z is rarely lacking acceleration

Nissan 350Z Review

The interior looks good from this view, the
seats are great, but the plastics are harsh

As one of the most impractical cars ever made (I can fit more luggage on my motorbike) the Nissan 350Z won't win any awards for clever interior packaging or boot space. But by Odin's Axe it drives well.

From the moment you get into the car it's blindingly obvious to all and sundry that this car was built to drive hard and fast. You're hunkered down, sitting low in the car and the steering wheel, gear shifter and pedals are all perfectly positioned.

There are a few changes to the new 2007 model-year Nissan 350Z sold in Australia, including a slightly different engine tune. Power and revs have gone up, torque and drivability have gone down slightly. There is a difference between the old and the new engine but it's only really evident when you're looking for it; suffice to say the Zed has lost none of its refined aggression.

The first thing that pleased me about driving this vehicle was the gearchange. If every car had a 6-speed manual like this, no one would want automatics. It's so tight and precise. The gear shifts provide a feel more like precise mechanical switches than the traditional gate-to-gate movements.

So, shifting into first gear - it's got a firm-ish clutch which bodes well for reliability - ease out the clutch and the car moves gently away. Piece of cake.

The steering is very tight, very precise, and responds instantly to even the smallest of inputs. There's a touch of weight behind it, but I wouldn't call it heavy.

The reason for this super-direct steering ratio is chiefly to give the Zed rapid response for hard driving on the race track and whatnot, but I actually prefer such ultra-responsive steering in everyday conditions too. Obviously it's a personal thing, but in my opinion it makes the drive far more decisive. Call me mad if you like, but I much prefer a tighter, more responsive steering ratio to the loose, vague, and often light steering systems that are the norm in modern cars.

Want to change a lane? Flick your wrist. And attempting a U-turn doesn't necessarily involve palming the steering wheel and painting invisible circles on the dash.

Apart from its tight steering however, it's a pretty average commuter car. The view out the rear windscreen is best described as sketchy, and though the side mirrors do compensate, sitting so low to the ground means that almost every other car on the road will obstruct your view, not just tall 4WDs and vans.

It's also unwieldly to park and has huge blind spots.

But that's not what this car was designed for.

All of the cars foibles are easily forgivable because this car is a drivers dream. My first port of call was the hills. I headed north-east from Melbourne into the emergence of Australia's great dividing range to see exactly what has changed since the last model.

Along the way up the Hume Highway I remembered just how coarse the ride in this thing is. Very. But knowing what this vehicle is capable of, I was more than happy to put up with it as I cruised along the highway at 112km/h, every little bump in the road shooting spears of agony up my spine.

When I finally got to the hills and began snaking my way through amazing Eucalyptus forests, it wasn't long before I recalled just how balanced this car is.

It streaks through corners with such speed and confidence that it's hard not to smile. Though it has a firm ride there is just enough compliance in the suspension so that mid corner bumps don't throw your rhythm as you carve ever faster from apex to apex.

It has a brilliant attitude through corners with low levels of body roll, heaps of tyre grip, and levels of communication that would make many long-term relationships look shallow.

I reckon the seats could do with a touch more lateral support considering the level of G-forces this thing can develop, but they are leather and with good cushioning are more comfortable than the race-bred stuff you get from Recaro et al.

With sharp steering and excellent response, the Nissan 350Z is an absolute joy to drive at full tilt, and there's feedback aplenty: you can feel the road underneath you as well as predict when the rear end is about to fishtail.

There's a real sense of connection with the car as well, one that almost goes beyond inspiring confidence. You can feel the car's front outside wheel as an extension of your hands on the tiller. It's a brilliant car to drive. I don't think I could ever get bored of accelerating out of corners in this thing. 

With it's low centre of gravity the car doesn't wallow when quickly changing directions and the huge grip thanks to the Bridgestone Potenza RE 050A's is addictive. Sitting on 18-inch alloy wheel rims, the front tyres are 225/45 R18s, and the rears are slightly wider 245/45 R18s for more rear end traction.

The tyres also provide for impressive feel when you hit the anchors, which themselves are incredibly strong. Would you expect anything less from Brembo? While the entry-level 350Z 'Touring' model ($62,990) gets non-Brembo brakes, the Track model on test features 324 × 30mm ventilated front discs and 322 × 22mm ventilated rear discs clamped by golden Brembo calipers.

Okay, so the car is as dynamically gifted as the previous, but what's changed? Mainly the engine's characteristics.

It revs higher and harder and while torque suffers slightly, it's more thrilling. It rockets out of corners with more urgency than ever before and the acoustics that accompany the modern Nissan 350Z as it revs beyond 7000rpm only add to the experience.

Sadly one of the less impressive aspects of the original 350Z hasn't been improved - VDC. The Vehicle Dynamic Control (ESP by any other name) hasn't been changed and it can't compare to European systems which are far less obtrusive. Take the Audi TT for example - it's a seamless and smooth system that keeps you from losing traction or understeering too much without you knowing it. In the 350Z, you know very clearly when the VDC kicks in.

That said, when the heavens opened up I was glad it was there, and you can turn it off you don't like abruptness. And on that point, I've got to say that I was quite shocked at how well it performs in the wet. The tyres can take much of credit for maintaining impressive grip, but overall it's a very quick machine in all conditions.

While the new BMW M3 has been engineered to be 'safe' and exhibit neutral understeer the harder you push it, there's no such compromises made with the Nissan 350Z. It's still the ball tearer it always was with a strong kick from the rear end that never feels completely out of your control thanks to the viscous limited-slip rear differential

Nissan has nailed the car's balance and as a result it's one of the best drivers cars money can buy. It feels utterly confident with progressive oversteer increasing with the throttle. Indeed, it has a surfeit of grip but can be easily overridden if you like steering with the throttle.

Overall, and when played against its rivals, this vehicle is incredibly competitive. Simply put it's one of this era's best sports cars.

Engine: 4/5

Nissan's VQ line of V6 engines are well known for their exemplary characteristics. Strong power and torque, refined character and relative fuel efficiency. 

The first 350Z we tested was more than four years ago, back in August 2003, and in its original state of tune the 3.5-litre V6 output 206kW @ 6200rpm and 363Nm of torque @ 4800rpm.

Then in 2005 we tested the 25th Anniversary Edition 350Z (known as the Gran Turismo Edition in Japan) which pushed the rev ceiling higher and therefore output more power, 221kW @ 6400rpm. But torque dropped by 10Nm to 353.

Now we have the third state of tune for the VQ35DE Nissan V6 engine, which is arguably the best yet. 

Outputting 230kW @ 6800rpm, the rev ceiling has gone even higher, making the car a effective low cost alternative to the Porsche Boxster. 

The increased power and revability come are the result of a few ECU tweaks and a higher compression ratio: now 10.6:1 up from 10.3:1. Torque has risen by 10Nm to 363Nm compared to its predecessor, but is still 5Nm shy of the original engine.

It's not quite as tractable as the original Zed we tested in 2003, but it's much of a muchness really (I'm still nostalgic about my first encounter with the car). Because the 350Z is equipped with a lighter-than-normal carbon-fibre composite driveshaft, less power is lost through the driveline and this improves the cars tractability. As an example, the car will pull from as low as 1200rpm in 4th or 5th gear without bogging down.

Compared to the previous engines, the all-alloy, quad camshaft V6 engine is much livelier with a more energetic top end. To say the 350Z likes to rev is underplaying it a bit.

Providing the 350Z with a prodigious amount of power right across the rev range, there's virtually no holes in the 3.5-litre motor's power delivery. It's got a strong mid-range punch and revs out rapidly, not unlike a highly strung 4-cylinder engine. Nissan claims a 5.7 second 0-100km/h and I'm inclined to agree. It feels seriously quick off the line.

Fuel economy isn't completely shot to pieces either. The engine will tick over at 2100rpm in 6th when you turn on cruise control at 100km/h, which is good for under 9L/100km on the highway. Overall fuel consumption with the combined city/highway cycle is rated at 11.7L/100km. We managed 490km on the first tank of fuel which I thought was pretty good, considering less than half of those kays were on the highway. Though it should be said that the fuel tank is massive - 76 litres.

Exterior: 3.5/5

Nissan has been marketing the new 350Z in Australia with the catch cry "Speed Hump" which talks up the most recognisable visual changes in the car. And perhaps something else... 

Gone of the two feature lines of the previous model Nissan 350Z's bonnet, replaced by a power dome that hints at the power gains. It's a small change, but it does add a touch more impact, and Nissan needed to do something prominent to prompt previous buyers into trading up.

Though there's something a little dumpy about the cars design from some viewpoints, it's nevertheless photogenic. The long bonnet, rounded silhouette, and short overhangs draw comparisons with vehicles like the Porsche 911 and Audi TT, but it's got its own special flavour, one that's not easily mistaken.

As well as the new new power 'hump' on the bonnet, there's LED brake lights and, well, that's about it really. Nissan is working on an all-new 350Z for 2009/2010, but as it stands this car sends all the right signals. It's low, sleek, sits very confidently on 18-inch alloy wheels, has xenon headlights, and plenty of machismo.

Interior: 2.5/5

This car is pretty nice to be inside with decent head and leg room but apart from the seats, the gearshift, the pedals and steering wheel, the materials quality is lacking. On that point, it does feel rather nice to sit in and drive because these elements are what you'll be in contact with for the majority of your drive time.

Still, I don't think the interior looks as good as the exterior. There's no conventional glove box, average plastics have been employed and I kept asking myself why I'd buy this over a Mazda RX-8? And then I hit the throttle and all became clear.

The seating position conveys the cars single mindedness: you sit low in the car, and the leather sports seats balance comfort and support. The window sills are high which mean fat-arming it in summer is out of the question and the wing mirrors are daringly close to your face which provides very good rearward vision along the car's flanks. The central rear view mirror offers a less encompassing view due to the steeply angled rear windscreen.

The steering wheel stalks for indicating and windscreen wiping are quite cool and very different from what you get in normal cars, but like pretty much everything else in the interior, they are not new. The only areas that appeared to be changed were the doors, which now get leather inserts instead of just plain plastic.

There's also audio controls on the steering wheel which were not present in the first generation 350Z models, but the same stereo returns - which is no bad thing because having a huge sub woofer right behind the drivers back can be quite an experience. It's got all the features necessary for comfy everyday driving, like cruise control, climate control, CD stereo with 7-speakers (and a tape deck!), a very impressive trip computer, electric seats, six airbags and a new cup holder behind the handbrake.

Though the dash plastics are unforgiving, there's precious little luggage space and only two seats, the Nissan 350Z is still a cool car. It's priorities are not about plastic moulding or creating a luxury feel. It's not about creating ambiance - that's why the Audi TT exists. But the Audi TT doesn't have carbon composite drive shaft nor rear-wheel drive. In summation, the interior might look average and have compromised storage space, but after a session on the track you'll be glad Nissan puts its concentrated on the engine and driveline instead.

Overall: 4/5

Saying that the Nissan 350Z is a compelling drivers car is like saying George W. Bush likes to explode things. It's stating the obvious, but the fact of the matter remains that the 350Z is a sensational sports car. 

It goes, stops, and turns with such alacrity that any of its foibles are quickly forgiven. It's an accomplished sports car in every respect, and it makes me shiver to think what the new Nissan GT-R is going to be capable of.

If you bought the first generation 350Z, should you upgrade to this newer model? I'm not 100 per cent sure about that one, but I'm leaning towards a yes. The extra herbs in the engine and way it revs higher help extend the performance envelope and if you plan on hitting the race track, it's definitely worth checking out.

The Nissan 350Z is still one of the automotive industry's best value sports cars in my opinion, with levels of driver involvement that are hard to come by at this price. This update will ensure the vehicle's legions of fans from the Playstation, Baby Boomer, and every other cleverly-named generation will not be disappointed.



  • Grip & Handling
  • V6 Engine
  • 6-Speed Gearbox
  • Driver Involvement
  • Archaic Stability Control
  • Dash Plastics
  • Luggage Space

Comments on the review? The Car? Your Car? Email us.

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