It’s only been on sale in Europe for two years, but time moves swiftly in a 350Z. The latest round of changes – which include a significant power boost, subtly revised looks and an improved interior – have been made to keep Nissan’s global sports car at the top of its game.
“In two short years, the 350Z has established itself as one of the most focused, capable and thrilling sports cars available on the European market. Its popularity has also helped SHIFT_ Nissan’s image: we are now rightly seen as a car maker with passion. And that’s a position that can only get stronger with the latest coupé and Roadster versions of the Z-car,” said Carlos Tavares, Executive Vice President, Product Planning and Corporate Strategy, Nissan Motor Company.
In little more than two years, the 350Z has won the hearts of performance car buyers right across Europe as a focused, no compromise sports car.
And now it’s even better. The 2006 model year 350Z has subtly revised looks, a higher quality interior with better ergonomics and more storage space, revised power steering and a new factory fitted satellite navigation option. Best of all, there’s more power – up from 280PS to a serious 300PS.
Although the car’s top speed remains electronically limited to 250 km/h (155 mph) the time taken for the 0-100 km/h sprint (0-62 mph) has fallen to just 5.8 seconds (6.3 for the Roadster).
The result underpins the 350Z’s place as one of the world’s best-loved sports cars. Since its launch in 2002, when sales were initially restricted to North America and Japan, the latest in a long line of Nissan ‘Z-cars’ has gone on to be offered in 95 countries world-wide. Around 160,000 examples have been sold globally to date.
It has also become hugely popular in Europe, where the 350Z coupé – specifically tuned for European tastes – arrived in late 2003 and was joined by the Roadster in March 2005. In just two years more than 12,500 examples of the iconic two-seater coupé have been sold to enthusiastic European owners with a further 2,500 sales accounted for by the critically acclaimed Roadster.
Today, the sales split between the two models is around 60/40 per cent in favour of the coupé, with UK buyers leading the charge ahead of German and French sports car fans.
Winning multi awards from Europe’s top specialist magazines – and more than 40 awards globally – the ‘Z-car’ has catapulted Nissan right back into the heart of the ultra competitive sports car market, despite having been away from the segment for the best part of a decade.
Indeed, in just three years, global sales of the 350Z have already matched the total volume achieved by its predecessor, the 300ZX ‘Z32’ – a feat which took that model some 11 years to achieve.
In Europe, the sales story is even more impressive as the vast majority of cars – some 95 per cent in 2005 – have been sold in GT Pack guise, which adds electrically operated and heated leather seats, cruise control and a premium Bose-developed audio system to the mix. But then, even with the added cost of the GT Pack version, the 350Z remains one of the most affordable cars in its market segment.
Shinjiro Yukawa, Chief Product Specialist, said: “The Z is a car that is loved and sold not only in Japan but on a global scale. We take pride in the fact that Nissan is the only Japanese car maker that can offer such an international, world-class sports car. But a sports car’s development does not end with its release and sale. We believe it is vital for a sports car to continue to evolve.
“We set high objectives and poured our enthusiasm into the new Z, as it was the symbol of Nissan’s revival. But our work did not finish when it was released. Each year since its launch we have ensured the Z continues to shine, and the changes made for the latest evolution are no exception: the 350Z is a shining symbol of Nissan’s enthusiasm and passion.”
At the heart of the 350Z lies a remarkable engine: the award-winning 3.5-litre V6 from Nissan’s ‘VQ’ family. Voted one of the world’s best engines for a record 11 years in a row by influential American journal Ward’s Auto World magazine, the VQ engine is acclaimed across the world for its abundant power and smooth delivery.
But Nissan is not a company to rest on its laurels: the all-alloy, 24-valve twin cam unit, which was extensively redesigned for its role in the 350Z, has been further enhanced for the latest Z-car.
As befits a pure sports car, the changes target performance by enhancing the unit’s free-revving ability. First seen in the limited edition 35th Anniversary edition, launched earlier this year, the engine revisions raise power from 280PS to 300PS and move the rev limit from 6,600 rpm to a heady 7,000 rpm. Peak power is now developed at 6,400 rpm, some 200 rpm higher than previously.
The improvements have been achieved by traditional methods. In other words, the changes have been implemented not by simply ‘chipping’ the engine’s electronic brain but by careful re-engineering of a number of key components.
With the aim of raising the rev limit and boosting power, the major changes allow the engine to breath more freely thanks to a redesigned intake duct. Along with new pistons and a revised camshaft profile, the intake manifold has also been shortened and widened. The timing chain and oil pump have been redesigned and electronic exhaust valve timing control has been adopted.
A number of other components have been lightened and stiffened to reduce internal friction and to enable them to withstand higher engine speeds. As well as raising power output and rev limits, the engine is now fully compliant with Euro IV emission regulations.
The changes have brought about a slight reduction in peak torque, which has fallen from 363Nm to 353Nm at 4,800 rpm. However the revised torque curve is far flatter than before and provides greater torque reserves at higher rpm. Torque delivery in the original 350Z fell off comparatively steeply once that 4,800 rpm peak had been reached. In the latest evolution the torque curve remains more linear as engine speeds rise: at 6,000 rpm, for example, the new engine delivers a full 20 Nm more torque than its predecessor could achieve.
What the changes mean in practice is simple: sharper acceleration through the gears. With the rev limit raised to 7,000 rpm, for example, maximum speed in third gear increases from 142 km/h to 150 km/h (88 mph to 93 mph). The benchmark 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) figure has been cut from 5.9 seconds to 5.8 seconds (6.4 to 6.3 for the Roadster).
In all other respects, the engine and drivetrain remain as before. The engine is mounted at the front of the car but as far back in the chassis as possible for optimum weight distribution.
When stationary, the front to rear weight distribution is 53/47. The extra weight over the front wheels helps provide sharper turn in when cornering, but when accelerating out of a bend weight transference towards the rear helps to create an ideal 50/50 balance when it’s needed most.
And, of course, drive is to the rear wheels. Power is transmitted rearwards via a short-throw close-ratio six-speed gearbox and ultra lightweight one-piece carbon fibre propshaft.
Just one change has been made to the 350Z’s race-bred multi-link chassis: the adoption of speed dependent power steering. Designed to give increased assistance at parking speeds for easier manoeuvrability, the electric system weights up at higher speeds to provide steering with more positive feel and greater feedback.
In all other respects, the new 350Z’s chassis is as before. When developing the 350Z for Europe, the UK-based Nissan Technology Centre Europe (NTC-E) effected a number of small but significant refinements to the 350Z’s chassis. The changes were designed to take into account Europe’s generally higher average speeds – notably those sections of limit-free German Autobahn – and included subtle modificat
ions to the car’s aerodynamics and cooling as well as to the damping.
The result was greater straight-line stability and more positive handling than cars sold elsewhere in the globe. A firmer, yet still compliant, ride matched the car’s sporting potential. Braking is also unchanged, the highly effective Brembo all-disc set-up also being retained for the new model. Special gold-coloured ‘autographed’ callipers – four piston at the front, two piston at the rear – are easily visible through lightweight 18inch alloy rims.
The 350Z’s purposeful and sporting silhouette remains largely unchanged for the 2006 model, though it does contrive to have a quite different look thanks to a subtly altered ‘face’. A new front bumper incorporates a revised lower grille and a smoother profile with deeper scallops ahead of the front wheels for a more aggressive look.
Above the bumper, the headlamps have been altered considerably. Though the overall shape of the lamp assembly remains unchanged, new bi-xenon projector lamps, augmented by LED side lights, have been adopted. As well as enhancing night-time visibility, the new lamps have a greater ‘technical’ look which complements the engineering purity of the overall design of the car.
At the rear, the dramatic triangular tail-lights now feature no fewer than 42 LED lamps on either side. As well as enhancing the visual appeal, the use of fast acting LEDs for the brake lights means greater active safety.
Two new exterior colours have been added: Universal Silver and a new black metallic.
Engine aside, perhaps the biggest changes on the new 350Z can be found inside the cabin. Although the basic layout of the cockpit remains unchanged, a host of small changes have improved both the ergonomics and the quality of the interior.
But there’s no need to worry that the cockpit remains anything other than totally driver focused: one look at the heavily angled trio of supplementary dials in the centre of the dashboard – providing a visual link to the original 240Z of the 1960s – is enough to be reassured on that front.
Inside, the changes centre on the practical with a new easier-to-assimilate meter design and revised locations for the seat heater and hazard warning switches.
Improved soft-feel materials for the C-Cluster and the centre console and all-new door panel inserts enhance the quality feel of the interior, while there is also a new seat cloth material on entry grade models. Aluminium surrounds for the air conditioning controls also add an extra touch of class.
Further practical touches include greater storage opportunities in the cockpit. There’s a new magazine or map net added to the passenger footwell and a deep compartment on the centre console which now incorporates a cup holder and has a neat sliding lid.
The door pockets, now fully trimmed, are a more practical shape and incorporate an illuminated bottle holder. Other storage opportunities, such as the lidded compartment behind the seats, and which is large enough to hold a briefcase, remain.
Also new for the 2006 350Z is the availability of a factory-fitted satellite navigation system. The DVD-based system features improved processor graphics as recently introduced on the all-new Nissan Pathfinder. The wide screen display can be split to show map settings and realistic visual representations of the road ahead. The Birdview? satellite navigation system also includes Traffic Message Channel (TMC) offering alternative routes to beat the jams. Finally, the 2006 350Z features standard Bluetooth phone integration on both grades (coupé only).
Prices will inevitably go up in line with the increased power and equipment levels. These will be announced closer to the car’s April introduction. But the 350Z will remain fantastic value for money compared to its rivals.
“The changes we have made to the 2006 350Z are subtle but we are confident they will increase even further customer interest in this iconic car? especially if that customer is looking for exhilarating performance from a no-compromise sports car,” said Brian Carolin, Senior Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Nissan Europe.