2008 Nissan 350Z Touring Review
By Kevin Miller
Nissan’s 350Z is a study in contradictions. Nissan brand’s only sports car (until the GT-R) and only rear-wheel drive car is at once small and unwieldy, tractable and uncommunicative, confining and cosseting. Wrapped in shapely sheetmetal and emblazoned with many stylized Z logos, the 350Z is the latest vehicle to carry on the legend of the Z car.
The Z’s 306 HP 3.5 liter V6 has plenty of torque and power, but it needs to be revved to take advantage of those attributes. Being caught in the wrong gear will leave you wondering why such a powerful car is so slow. Row through the precise, short-throw (but high-effort) six-speed manual gearbox to a lower gear and you’re good to go. Because the clutch pedal is quite heavy, the Z can be tiresome to drive in stop-and-go traffic.
The Z’s engine and exhaust sound great- at startup, at idle, and under all throttle conditions the exhaust note burbles with an overtone telling of the engine’s power. While the ride can be a bit loud (both from road noise and from rainwater or road debris hitting the inside of the wheelarches), the engine’s note and exhaust are always prominent among what the driver is hearing- in a good way.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find that the 350Z offers very much feedback as handling limits are approached. Neither the impressively-direct steering nor the rigid chassis provided much input as to what the car was doing. Instead, what I mostly found was that if I was ever starting to have very much fun driving the Z, the SLIP light on the dashboard started to flash as the Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) stability system pulled the plug on the engine’s output. If that system was calibrated to intervene a bit later, the car would be much more enjoyable to drive without having to turn the VDC system off. As it was, I often switched the system off around town in order to allow a bit of wheelspin at the rear instead of putting up with reduced power from the electronic nanny while I was trying to pull out into traffic.
With a curb weight of almost 3400 lbs, the Z has a lot of “road-hugging weight” for a car of its size. While the 306 HP underhood was easily capable of moving that mass, there was absolutely a feeling of overcoming inertia when setting off from a stop. The power delivery is such that while it provides adequate pull at lower RPMs, it pulls quite strongly above 4000 RPM all the way to its 7500 RPM redline. While feedback through the steering wheel and the “seat of my pants” wasn’t stellar, the Z was always flat and buttoned-down when cornering.
My first impressions inside of the Z were not good ones. A greenhouse with short windows that start quite high leads to a claustrophobic feeling. There is no glove box, instead there’s a lockable storage bin built in behind the passenger seat- so don’t bother asking your passenger to dig something out of the glove box while you’re underway unless he or she has an extra set of elbows. In addition to that storage bin there are two smaller lidded-compartments also behind the seats, a small box under the drivers elbow, door bins, and bins on the outboard edges of the seat bottoms. The entire cabin appeared well put together, with no rattles or creaks.
The cabin of my Carbon Silver 350Z had leather seats in Burnt Orange, with the rest of the interior a somber black color. Nothing other than the seats was Burnt Orange, which caused them to really stand out. The driver’s seat has more bolstering than the passenger seat, which causes the seats to look like they don’t match one another. The Z was not quite big enough inside for me to drive comfortably at my height of 6’ 4”. Headroom was marginal, and legroom was insufficient for driving the three-pedal car. The steering wheel tilts but doesn’t telescope, meaning that the wheel was a bit too far away from my body, and too close to my knees. The driver’s seat provided great support with generous lateral bolsters and a relatively long bottom cushion.
Dishonorable mention goes to the active headrests in the front seats, which are of the anti-whiplash variety designed to pivot forward in the case of a rear-end collision. There was a very noticeable plate in each seat behind the occupant’s shoulder blades, which was connected through a pivot point to the headrest mount. Pressing my head back against the headrest caused the plate to push forward in to my back. The whole assembly in each seat felt very loose. Similar systems in the Saab vehicles I’ve recently tested provide the same type of protection, but without the “seat-is-falling-apart” feeling I got in this Nissan.
The 350Z Touring does include voice-activated Bluetooth hands-free telephone integration, though unfortunately that system “hung” on one occasion during my test, displaying “PHONE” on the stereo display even though my iPhone did not detect the Bluetooth system. The stereo would not respond to any inputs or button-presses at that point, so I had to exit the freeway and turn the car off and restart it in order to re-initialize the Bluetooth system (and to get the stereo to work). The rest of the audio system worked flawlessly, a 240 W Bose-branded AM/FM/XM tuner with a 6-disc CD changer and a fairly simple single-line display. Because the Z has no back seat, and a large bass speaker is built into the cabin bulkhead immediately behind the driver’s seat, the music is felt as much as heard by the driver.
Although the Z has a hatchback for accessing the cargo area, and although that cargo area looks pretty big, it is actually quite small. A large portion of the cargo space is taken up by the rear strut tower brace and all of the plastic trim that encases it. My typical test load for a vehicle, a large plastic equipment case, would not fit in the 350Z, and neither would my smaller case. There is a sticker inside of the hatchback demonstrating how to load two golf bags into the Z, with a disclaimer that not all golf bags might fit.
Interestingly, the two-seater 350Z has a LATCH upper tether attachment point in the cargo area for securing a child seat on the passenger side of the vehicle. Installing a child seat requires removal of the passenger seat’s headrest, and the child seat itself is secured by the vehicle seat belt and the upper tether. When a child seat is installed, an occupant sensor must detect that the occupant load is less than a certain weight threshold and de-activate the passenger airbag; the owner’s manual says that not all car seats will work for airbag deactivation. The Britax Marathon I first installed didn’t cause the airbag to de-activate, meaning that I couldn’t use the car with that seat to transport my daughter. After trading car seats with my wife the next day, our Graco ComfortSport did de-activate the passenger airbag.
While the 350Z might not be the best tool for transporting children or hauling bulky equipment cases, it is a mighty good tool for driving. The 350 Z Touring has a generous level of standard equipment, including viscous limited-slip differential, 18” alloy wheels, bi-Xenon HID headlamps and LED tail lamps, heated exterior mirrors, power-adjustable heated leather seats, automatic climate control, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and cruise control, and VDC stability control. With an as-equipped price of $34,150 (MSRP of $32,810, $95 carpeted floor mats, $620 seat-and-curtain airbags, and $625 destination charge), the Nissan 350Z is powerful, well-equipped and well-priced for a 300 HP coupe.
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