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This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sat, Oct 18, 2003

By: The LACar Editorial Staff



By HARVEY SCHWARTZ All Photos & © by Harvey Schwartz A bolt of lightning was sent through the sports car world when the all-new 2003 Nissan 350Z coupe starting shipping to Nissan dealers in August 2002. In just 12-months sales topped 39,000 units making the 350Z the world’s #1 selling 2-seat sports car.

The demand for a value priced but powerful and performance driven sports car was clearly there in 2003 because the Chevy Corvette had a base price of $40,000.00, the Dodge Viper starts at $68,000.00 and the base Porsche 911 starts at $69,000.00. It was time that a very capable 2-seat sports car was based priced below $30,000.00. The all-new 2003 Nissan did that, and like the above mentioned sports cars, is a nearly perfect combination of performance and handling, design and durability. Unlike the above mentioned, the new 350Z has added value that these over $40,000.00 world class sports cars lack. Now comes the 350Z Roadster, or a 350Z coupe without the roof, that gives the driver an even closer connection to the Z experience, evoking an adrenaline-pumping spirit and high performance excitement with an open top. The top features a power-operated, heavy-gauge woven soft top with a heated glass rear window that can be lowered or raised in just 20 seconds.

There are two Roadster models available, the Enthusiast model, starting at just $33,850 with all the same standard equipment found in the 350Z Enthusiast coupe, and the Touring model, starting at $36,220.00, and adding heated leather bucket seats, heated power-remote side mirrors, and a 7-speaker, 240 watt, AM-FM/cassette tape player/6-Indash CD player, Bose Audio System. There are only 3-options available in the 350Z roadster-18in. tires/alloy wheels for $1,200.00, a navigation system for $2,000.00, and side-airbags for $250.00. I’d go for the bigger tires/wheels and side-airbags, for a grand total of only $37,670.00. This is the model that I tested. The new Z roadster felt so good that if I were looking for this kind of vehicle I’d go to my nearest Nissan dealer and order one. I am impressed because it offers the best combination of styling, innovation, performance, comfort, luxury and safety in a 2-seat sports car for thousands less than the competition. The 350Z roadster is a great automobile, well designed and well engineered by Nissan. The Z has always been Nissan’s ‘halo car’ and projects the heart, soul and direction of the company as we head into the 21st. century.

Like every roadster, the 350Z looks un-interesting with the top up. But once you easily disengage the unique and easy to use 3-lock, single latch system, which gives a more secure seal, then put your foot on the brake and push a toggle button to the left of the steering wheel, in just 20-seconds the top is closed and secured out of the way under a beautifully designed hard tonneau cover. Like magic the 350Z turns into a beautiful open top 2-seat sports car, ready to tackle your wildest dreams and fantasies with the sun in your face and the wind in your hair. The 350Z Roadster uses the same FM (Front Mid-ship) platform as the 350Z coupe and is specially designed with added structural reinforcements to make the Roadster stiffer and more torsional because there is no roof to tie it all together. Just 230lbs. of mass added to the roadster shows how well Nissan designed the coupe with the beam connecting the rear strut towers that is easily seen in the coupe but hidden in the roadster. Nissan chassis engineers knew that a roadster was coming so they anticipated the need for added structural strength. The roadster has an exclusive steering column support, a cross-car beam that with gussets at the top and bottom of the A-pillar, contributes to sharp steering response. Turn in is as responsive as with the coupe. The side sills are reinforced and tied into the rear tunnel support with a V-shaped crossbar. There is more support behind the top stowage bin and the trunk area in the form of a partition panel. There is a steel tube crossing the car behind the seats that also support the nicely styled inverted V-shaped roll bars. The doors are also added to the reinforcement with special ‘door catcher’ connectors. Nissan also added front and rear dynamic dampers to hinder vibrations and what you have here is one tough sporty roadster. It really feels solid at speed and has very little cowl shake over poorly paved roads.

The new Z roadster shares all of the coupe’s key performance features. Power comes from the award winning 3.5liter VQ35DE DOHC V6 engine that makes 287hp at 6,200rpm and 274lb.ft. of torque at 4,800rpm. The engine’s intake port design and continuously variable timing control system (CVTCS) technology give the Z a flat torque band to deliver both quick start-off acceleration, high-speed passing performance, plus exceptional low-end torque in slower city driving. The engine also features molybdenum-coated pistons, an electronic throttle for enhanced response, and a highly rigid alloy block and heads. The compression ratio is set a 10.3:1, the bore & stroke is 95.5X81.4. Fuel is fed into the injectors with sequential multi-port electronic fuel injection. The free breathing exhaust system gives a great sounding growl with the hot gases exiting through 2-4in. round, chrome exhaust tips spread out in the rear. The torque is transferred to the rear wheels via a slick shifting, close ratio 6-speed manual transmission or an optional 5-speed automatic with semi-manual shift mode. Each comes with a viscous limited-slip differential; traction control, and a carbon fiber reinforced plastic drive shaft. You have to test the Z with the 6-speed for optimum fun and performance. The leather wrapped stick shifter is perfectly placed and fun to use. The high performance suspension system is the same in the 350Z coupe and performs just as well with razor sharp response and control. Shut off the traction control system and you can shake it loose with some oversteer in the turns, then quickly get it back in line with a slight ease-off of the throttle. Up front is the same multi-link setup with aluminum pieces, coil springs, gas-charged shocks, an aluminum front strut tower brace and thick stabilizer bar. The rear also features the same multi-link setup with aluminum pieces, coil springs, gas-charged shocks, a hidden rear strut tower brace and stabilizer bar. You easily guide the Z roadster with Nissan’s engine speed-sensitive power rack & pinion steering system. The feedback from the road is excellent with great on-center feel. The roadster does exhibit a little softer and more luxurious ride but it is not because the shocks and coil springs rates have been lowered significantly. It is really because of the different type of tires and tire pressure. With the added weight, the roadster’s Bridgestone ‘Summer’ 225/50R18in. front and 245/45/R18in. rear tires need a lower psi of air pressure, plus, the compound is slightly softer than the coupe’s Bridgestone Pontenza 18in. ultra-high performance tires. These tires are wrapped around the same 18X8in. alloy wheels as the coupe. Even so, you will not really miss out on any of the fun and excitement while piloting this extra-ordinary sport roadster.

The Z roadster’s acceleration and handling specs are very good. The car rockets out to 60mph from a standstill in just 5.8sec., covers the 1/4mi. in 14.3sec. at 101.1mph and goes through the 600ft. slalom at 67.2mph. You quickly brake from speed with big, strong, power assisted, steel disc brakes. Front rotors are vented and measure 11.65in. with a twin-piston caliper. The rear discs are also vented and measure 11.50in. and clamped with a single piston caliper. Unlike the 350Z coupe, there is no Track model which features Brembo brakes with 4-piston calipers up front and 2-pistons in the rear. Don’t fret, these brakes are superb and feature ABS, brake assist and electronic brake force distribution. The new 350Z roadster stops in a very respectable 125ft. Not bad for a 3,468lb. roadster. The styling of the Nissan 350Z roadster is truly unique in the industry. The body looks like it was just ‘cad-cammed’ from a solid block on metal. Without the roof and rear hatch the roadster looks sleeker and sexier than the coupe. The 350Z roadster also shares the coupe’s short front and rear overhangs. The bold and aggressive stance and front fascia exudes power and performance. The flush mounted headlamp cluster behind clear lenses feature xenon HID headlamps, halogen highbeams and projector beam foglamps. The big front bumper has vertical markers on the side, and a large, centered air-intake that would make the perfect place to put an inter-cooler for a twin-turbo or supercharger. Are you listening Nissan?

From and angle you quickly notice the bulging front and rear fenders nicely stuffed with big, low profile Bridgestone 225/45R18In. front and 245/45R18in. rear low profile radial tires and 18X8in. alloy wheels. The look is low and sleek. The power remote side mirrors are aerodynamically styled to help keep wind noise to a minimum, more later about interior noise. The inverted V-shape roll bars add high-style and plenty of protection in the event of a roll-over. The unique, vertical silver door handles really contrast nicely against the blue paint of the all steel body. To keep weight to a minimum, the Z roadster uses an aluminum hood and trunk lid. Behind the rollbars it is flat and dives down to the rear bumper with nicely spaced, big, round exhaust tips. The large, unique triangular tail and brake lamps are mounted high on the flanks, while the backup lamps run horizontally from the end of the bumper inward. This further sets the 350Z’s soft corners and geometric lighting style apart from the competition. The flat rear trunk lid cover opens straight-up making it easy to load or unload cargo into the 4.1cu.ft. space. On top of the lid is a lip spoiler enhancing the rear downforce when you are driving at triple-digit speeds on the open road. Weight distribution is a nearly perfect 53/47% front/rear. Many automotive journalists have said that the interior of the 350Z is it’s weakest link because of it’s sparse styling and use of plastics. I say that it works very well with the total feel of the car. I like the wide-opening doors, the roominess of the interior, and the unique outside and inside door handles. The 4-way powered and heated bucket seats are very comfortable and supportive on long cruises or when challenging twisting, curving roads. The 3-spoke leather wrapped steering wheel is tilting for a comfortable angle, and contains controls for the electronic cruise control system, and that’s real aluminum in the center spokes. The throttle, clutch, brake and dead pedal are all aluminum faced to add racecar cue. The 3-pod instrument cluster is straight-ahead and easy to see and understand. The cluster moves with the steering column just like in the 350Z coupe. You get a big, center 8,000rpm tachometer, a 160mph speedo to the right and gauges for fuel and engine coolant temperature on the left side, and bright LED readouts warning you of system or safety problems. On top of the T-shaped dashboard and nicely canted to you are smaller gauges for oil pressure, volts and an LED readout that you can easily use to scroll through and check the outside temperature, instant MPG, average MPG, psi air-pressure in each tire, and up-shift arrow. Just below on the center stack is a flip-open storage bin, if you don’t order the navigation system, easy to use radio controls and large, easy to use climate control dials. All switches, dials and buttons are within easy reach and illuminated for safe nighttime driving.

If I could, I’d move the leather wrapped hand brake lever to the right side of the console and change the hard, flat storage bin in the center console to a more conventional bin type with flip-up padded cover. There is no glove box but there is storage space in each door bottom, and behind the seats are 2-flip-up storage bins plus 1-larger and locking, flip-up storage bin. Other standard features and amenities include full carpeting with floor mats, electrochromic rearview mirror, power door locks and express up/down power windows, 3-cupholders, passenger assist grip, sunvisors with lighted vanity mirrors, a remote keyless entry/lock, plus engine immobilizer and alarm. Safety features include front airbags and optional side-airbags, 3-point seat belts with pretensioners and load limiters, front/rear crush zones and thick steel beams in each door. Ah yes, about wind noise when driving the Z roadster with the top down, there is very little. One of the biggest drawbacks to top-down driving is the considerable amount of wind noise and rattles associated with most convertible designs. With the Z roadster heavy emphasis was put on eliminating as much interior buffeting as possible. During the design phase of the Z roadster, engineers devoted countless hours conducting wind tunnel tests. These test allowed the engineers to adjust the roadster’s design to route air flow to lessen interior noise and turbulence while maximizing downforce at highway speeds. A key component to minimizing interior noise is a tempered glass wind deflector located behind the seats that directs wind out and over the cabin. Seatbelt fasteners, that really work, were also added to help keep the seatbelts from flapping in the wind.

When it came time to photographing the 350Z Roadster, setting it against the many funky buildings and murals of Venice Beach, home to many artists, actors, musicians, and writers couldn’t be more appropriate for this ‘Object ‘d Art’. COPYRIGHT:2003:HARVEY SCHWARTZ

For more photos from Harvey Schwartz


Price: starting at $33,850.00 Engine type: 3.5liter DOHC, 24 valve V6 with aluminum alloy block/heads and molybdenum coated pistons. Horsepower: 287hp at 6,200rpm Torque: 274lb.ft. of torque at 4,800rpm Drive configuration: longitudinal mounted front engine/rear wheel drive Transmission type: 6-speed manual / 5-speed automatic with manual shift mode. suspension: Front - multi-link with coil springs, gas-charged shocks, stabilizer bar, strut tower brace. Rear -multi-link with coil springs, gas-charged shocks, stabilizer bar, strut tower brace Wheels and tires: Bridgestone summer tires 225/45R18in. front/245/45R18in. rear with 18X8in. alloy wheels. Brakes: fron t-11.65in. vented rotors with twin-piston calipers rear -11.50in. vented rotors with single piston calipers Overall length: 169.4in. Overall width: 71.5in. Overall height: 52.3in. Curb weight: 3,468lbs. EPA mileage: 20mpg/city, 26mpg/highway 0-60mph: 5.8sec. 60mph-0mph: 125ft.

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