Nissan 350Z - The Verdict

It comes in a gaudy shade of sunshine yellow and its on-road performance is blinding. David Wilkins tests the 35th-anniversary edition Nissan 350Z

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Price: £29,500
Engine: 3.5-litre petrol
Performance: 0 to 62mph in 5.8 seconds, 31.7mpg
CO2: 280g/km
Worth considering: Audi TT, Honda S2000, Mazda RX8

Let's face it; while Nissan is a hugely successful company that sells millions of cars to highly satisfied customers every year, most of its products scarcely register with your average car enthusiast.

But there have always been a few exceptions to this rule. One of those has been the Skyline in some of its incarnations over the years. Another was the understated 200SX.

Best known, however, is the famous "Z" line of sports cars, although the reputation of the Z resonates more deeply with west-coast Americans than with us Europeans. Furthermore, that reputation rests largely on the charismatic and good-looking first generation 240Z of 1969; subsequent Z models put on weight and were less appealing.

So I have to admit that when the current 350Z was introduced, I didn't really take much notice. It picked up several favourable reviews, but I was still unprepared for just quite how much fun our test car - one of a pricier limited series designed to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the launch of that original 240Z with a tie-in to the Gran Turismo video game - turned out to be once I got my hands on it.

My first impressions were dominated by our 350Z's lurid yellow paintwork. It is difficult to describe the precise shade but I did find a close match; the vividly coloured plastic shopping bags handed out to customers the Netto discount supermarket chain.

On the road, it immediately becomes apparent that Nissan has made a conscious decision to keep the occupants of the 350Z much more in touch with what is going on mechanically than they would be in most other cars. The gear change and other controls are weighty, with comparatively little lost motion. Engine noise is ever present, but most of the time that is not a cause for complaint - a lot of careful work has gone into making it sound just right.

The 350Z's acceleration is fierce; a prod of the pedal is rewarded with a pronounced jolt as the car leaps forward in response. A huge cross-brace divides the rear load area; that helps the 350Z's stiffness - and therefore handling - but makes it difficult to get much luggage in the boot.

A powerful rear-wheel drive machine, the 350Z is the sort of car that motoring journalists love, but which is outside the radar of most drivers these days.

Thankfully, in the form of Mark Berry and two of his fellow members of the Nissan 200SX Owners' Club, I was able to recruit a panel of readers who would really appreciate it.

This lot know their fast Nissans, and as you can see from their comments oppostie they liked the 350Z a lot. So did I.

Mark Berry, 41, test manager, Halifax, Yorkshire
USUAL CAR: CITROEN PICASSO AND NISSAN 200SX

The car arrived sitting on some gorgeous five-spoke alloys that showed off its four-pot Brembos. The exhaust note was divine, and there was a wonderful "bark" when changing gears. The first black spot came when I reversed, as the rear visibility was appalling. On the move the car was fantastic - the steering precise if lacking in feedback. The suspension was superb, and the brakes were strong and progressive. I didn't like the lack of cubbyholes or the gear change - the throw was short but there was huge lateral movement. Would I buy one? It's not much faster than my 200SX and it doesn't have four seats, so I'll wait until the kids have left home.

Jon Henderson, 32, buyer from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire
USUAL CAR: 1995 NISSAN 200SX

How frustrating! A chance to hoon about in a new 350Z, but I was stuck in traffic. When chance arose, the car felt alert and very stable on some ropey tarmac, both under power and on the brakes. The ABS works smoothly, and the V6 exhaust note is addictive on mid throttle. Maybe the full throttle howl is even better - I wish I knew (sulking). In the traffic the oversensitive throttle was a pain - the slightest touch sent the revs close to 2,000 when I just wanted to trickle forwards. Making good use of the boot is difficult due to the huge strut brace. There's a label under the bootlid explaining how to load two golf bags that raised a laugh. I'll have my Z in black please.

Martin Stewart, 31, IT contractor from Bradford, Yorkshire
USUAL CAR: 1991 NISSAN 200SX

I didn't have very high expectations for the turbo-less 350Z. Fortunately I was very wrong. Around town it was perfectly civilised, but the gorgeous exhaust burble was a constant reminder that town is not what this car was made for. When pushed hard it really came to life. The suspension was beautifully set up, the steering ultra-responsive and the ESP so subtle that the warning light on the dashboard was almost the only reminder that it was on. The power came in smoothly and pulled strongly from 3,000rpm right to the red line. Even under full braking it car still felt controllable. It's good to see Nissan hasn't forgotten how to make a fine sports car.

THE VERDICT: If you would like to take part, e-mail motoring@independent.co.uk or write to: The Verdict, Features Department, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, giving your address, phone number and details of the car, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26 and have a clean licence.

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