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Nissan 350Z Track 2003 review

The born-again Nissan sports car isn't perfect, as you discover the first time you try a tight parking space, but it comes close.

The 350Z looks good, drives like a serious sports car, and returns the sort of value-for-money enjoyment that makes a starting price of $59,990 into a genuine bargain.

It's no surprise the first shipment is a sellout, or that Nissan dealers are holding Zed-car orders that will create a waiting list until the second half of the year.

Things will get interesting when the all-new Mazda RX-8 arrives in June, and final judgment on the 350Z will have to wait until it goes toe-to-toe with its only real showroom rival, but our test drive with the Nissan has made us believers.

The 21st-century Zed provides an alternative for people who want Subaru WRX-level performance with a bit more style, or who need somewhere to go now the Nissan 200SX coupe has been dropped from the company's line-up.

The original Datsun 240Z re-wrote the rules for Japanese carmakers in the early 1970s, proving they could build cars with passion.

The Zed car has been on the comeback trail almost since the day the fat-old-fart 300ZX was chopped because people had had enough of the bloated 2+2 in the 1980s.

It took the latest Renault-led management team to finally push the "go" button for a new hero car. It's the car Carlos Ghosn knew was needed to create some real excitement, and a sense of purpose, at Nissan.

The car that's just arrived in local showrooms isn't true to the 240Z concept, but it's close enough. The styling is 21st-century corporate sports car, not a revival of the long-nose Zed design. But the rest of the car is hard edged and just as impressive as the original.

That means a V6 tucked behind the front wheels, a two-seater cabin with grippy bucket seats and no frills, and a performance package built around big brakes and sports-car suspension.

There are two choices in the 350Z family, the Touring and the Track, with prices from $59,990 up to $65,990. The extra cash for the Track pack buys bigger wheels and Brembo brakes, and it comes with only the six-speed manual gearbox.

The V6 engine is a beauty and has been seriously upgraded from the version used in the Maxima. It includes everything from a growling exhaust note to howling induction roar, with a top end of 206kW – the maximum power output for Japanese cars – and a 363Nm wall of torque.

But the new Zed isn't just about going fast: It also has a thumping Bose sound system, airbags for front-side-head protection, leather seats, airconditioning, alloy wheels, and remote central locking with alarm.

On the road

THE 350Z is a great drive. Any time, any speed, any road.

You only have to tickle the accelerator to get an instant response, it lights up when you leave the lights, and when you're ready for fun on a tough road the Zed will quickly move you along. It's the best news from Nissan since we cannot remember.

Let's get the negatives out of the way first, so we can concentrate on the brilliance.

It is tough to park, because the body drops away in all directions and the windows aren't big; the boot is cramped, and divided into two sections by the brace for the rear suspension; the headlamps aren't great, and neither is the horn; and the plastics in the cabin are cheap, more $19,990 Pulsar than Zed-car special.

But that's because Nissan has spent its money on the stuff that counts. Take a look under the body at the beautiful suspension and brake bits and you will understand.

Or, even better, push on the accelerator in second and third gears and be absorbed by the action. The V6 engine roars and goes, howling through the torque band from 3000 revs and on to the redline at 6200 – the gearbox has a clack-clack directness that's close to the Mazda MX-5, and the feel is tight and quick.

The engine response, in any gear at almost any speed, is what gives the Zed its advantage over the push-and-wait turbo cars.

The steering is firm and direct, the brakes – especially in the Brembo-equipped Track test car – are fantastic, the suspension rides all but the worst bumps, and the electronic traction control has been tuned to allow the driver – not the computer – to control the action.

Best of all, Nissan's engineers have developed a car that's a complete package. There are no weaknesses, all the elements are at the same high standard.

Sometimes it's great just to rattle up through the gears on a light throttle, feeling the mechanical action of the driveline, and other times it's rewarding to wait until late to brake to feel the firmness and response from the stoppers.

That's what a sports car should be about, and it's what the Zed delivers.

And the cornering power is fantas tic. It sometimes seems to defy gravity, turning into corners at silly speeds with no drama, and the cornering attitude can always be adjusted with the wheel or the accelerator.

It's also helped by a great-looking body, fantastic seats and a dashboard that has just enough hints of 240Z – the three dials in the centre of the dash, including volts – to remind you the 350Z is drawing on a deep, rich vein of history.

Finding rivals for the Zed is tough, because it's so good and so complete.

Only one question mark hangs over the 350Z: how will it compare to the Mazda RX-8? That's why our comparison box this week is missing a star rating for the RX-8, which won't be available for testing until June.

But the rating for the RX-8 really doesn't matter, and it won't really affect the success of the Zed.

The bottom line

Plus – Sprint speed; cornering grip
Minus – Tough to park; cheap cabin plastics

Pricing Guides

$11,000
Based on 15 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$5,000
Highest Price
$17,950

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Roadster 3.5L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $7,150 – 10,120 2003 Nissan 350Z 2003 Roadster Pricing and Specs
Touring 3.5L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO $5,000 – 17,950 2003 Nissan 350Z 2003 Touring Pricing and Specs
Track 3.5L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO $9,990 – 13,000 2003 Nissan 350Z 2003 Track Pricing and Specs
Pricing Guide

$9,990

Lowest price, based on 9 car listings in the last 6 months

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