Nissan's new-for-2007 350Z is still a cracker
The 2007 350Z looks the same as the old one, doesn’t it?
If you look carefully there’s a bulge in the bonnet and therein lies the story. The new-for-2007 350Z gets an engine that’s 80% new – and 8mm higher. Hence the purposeful swelling on the bonnet. The charismatic 3.5-litre V6 gets longer con rods, a wider range of operation for the variable valve timing and equal length exhaust manifolds. For the first time too, there are dual intake manifolds. The compression ratio is up from 10.3 to 10.6 to 1, all of which allows the new unit to produce 309bhp. It’s what Nissan’s sports car always needed.
I’ve heard that the engine started life as a Renault unit
So the story goes. In reality this V6, in 2.5 and 3-litre guise, gestated in the infinitely forgettable Maxima QX and was then adopted by Renault in 3.5-litre form for the oddball Vel Satis and Avantime. In the 350Z it started life in 2003 with 276bhp, which then rose to 296bhp in its 2006 iteration. Now its got 309bhp – a useful 33bhp hike over the original, but only 13bhp more than the 2006 model.
Sounds like a pretty radical and expensive exercise for a mere 4% gain in power
Yes, quite. Except in a way all this is correcting some of the shortcomings of the 296bhp engine. Although the rev limit rose from 6500rpm in the original to 7000rpm, there was a penalty in the peakier torque curve. The new 2007 unit may rev even higher - to a howling 7500rpm – but the torque graph is flatter once more and idling is smoother. That annoying vibration through the gearlever is now modulated, but one thing that Nissan has not changed is the urgent, determined mechanical growl of the engine that is so enticing throughout the rev range.
And the improvement in performance?
A tenth off the 0-62mph time, now 5.7 seconds, and the same limited 155mph top speed. Hardly even pub bragging rights let alone perceptible away from the lights. But Nissan claims driveability is slightly improved with the torque improvements. We were honestly hard pushed to tell the difference, and so was someone who lives with an original 276bhp 350Z on a daily basis. But hey, any improvements should be welcomed for it keeps the 350Z story on the boil, and there’s certainly no need for the Nissan to be consigned to the bin in favour of a new contender.
And the 350Z story is…
The same as ever. It a damn fine sports car. The fact it’s quick goes without saying, but it’s visceral element elevates it to a higher level. The steering is tactile and accurate, with power assistance falling off as the speed rises to increase road feel. There’s a short-shift change that needs a firm hand but then snicks rapidly to the next ratio, all eased by the possibility of a flatteringly easy heel and toe blip on the down change. And it handles pretty neutrally too, the enormous depths of grip finally giving way to understeer. Of course you can play with the stability system switched out but it’s hardly intrusive. And every mile is accompanied by that distinctive 350Z exhaust burble.
But the Boxster is still better, right?
That’s a tricky one. The Boxster has more chassis finesse and is rather more comfortable and precise. On the other hand the 350Z’s real rival, the Cayman, needs Porsche’s active suspension management option if you are to keep your fillings in place. Neither Porsche manages to better the Nissan’s levels of excitement, and that’s surely what true sports car driving is all about. The 350Z is a genuinely thrilling machine, coupling ample power with that old 911 feeling of wondering quite how hard you dare push the boundaries before it bites back.
So the 350Z is a car for real men then? If you insist, yes it is. It has the right credentials in terms of its power plant, the arguably perfect 53:47 weight distribution (a bit more weight in the nose can help stability in bumpy corners) and a set of beefy Brembos. It’s also something of a bargain. Prices are up just £300 over the earlier car, which means that the coupe kicks off at £26,795 and the roadster £28,295. Even with the essential GT Pack (leather, Bose sounds and cruise control) plus satnav you are still well short of entry-level Porsche money. But you really don’t need to get into that Nissan versus Porsche argument at all. The 350Z still stands up a brilliant sports car. No compromise necessary.