The Nissan 350Z sports car, unveiled in January 2002, went on sale in the United States and Canada in August 2002 as a 2003 model. The stylish, 287-horsepower 350Z continues the Z® heritage of design, performance and value that has remained unchallenged since the original Datsun 240Z was introduced 33 years ago as a 1970 model.
In setting the concept for the new 2003 350Z, the creative team of designers and engineers were guided by “Z DNA” – the combination of passion, performance, practicality and value that has marked every generation of Z since the original. For the new Z, this meant developing a perfect combination of performance and handling, value, design, and durability.
“The new Z inspires both appeal and appreciation,” said Shiro Nakamura, senior vice president, design, NML. “First, the design offers strong visual and driving appeal. But the Z can also be appreciated for the more practical side that comes with everyday ownership – durability, utility, comfort, reliability and low maintenance.”
Other “must haves” for the new Z were also taken from the first generation 240Z – a front engine/rear-wheel drive drivetrain configuration, two-seat interior, a powerful 6-cylinder engine and, of course, a simple and honest design. The new Z, like the original, features a true hatchback body.
The 350Z was designed to impress viewers at first sight with its newness as a sports car and to remain an object of unending adoration for ages to come. While inheriting the “Z-ness” passed on through successive generations, this Z embodies many new features for a sports car, all of which have been perfected to exceptionally high quality.
Design cues passed on from the first-generation Z include the long nose and short deck styling, triangular cabin form and the lines extending from the arch-shaped roof to the hatchback opening. To that heritage, a newness has been added to contrast the soft, warm body shape with the geometrical forms of the headlamps and other parts.
Fitting of its sports performance essence, the Z’s design is anchored by very aggressive wheel forms pushed all the way out to the corners. Like a Formula 1 race car, the body’s center of gravity is placed in the middle and the tires are positioned at the four corners to emphasize the car’s nimble agility.
“A long wheelbase and wide stance provided a great starting place,” said Diane Allen, chief designer, Red Studio at Nissan Design America Inc. (NDA). “Our first thought was to recreate the sensation of an open-wheeled Formula 1 car – all wheels and an intimate center structure.”
The Z’s beltline provides a distinctive spine, which crosses over the form in the rear and is anchored in the Z’s strongly visual taillights. The body surfaces are rendered with a certain roundness to impart a soft impression. While the design strongly accentuates the bulge of the fenders, the volume at each corner has been pared to emphasize the shortness of the overhangs. The 17-inch wheels also serve as a design element that hints at superb driving performance.
The projector-type headlamps provide a wider illumination pattern and greater brightness. Careful attention was also paid to the fine design details, including the look of built-in quality and the perceived impression of the materials. The car’s stellar quality is also expressed by the distinctive vertical door handles and the twin exhaust tailpipes.
“We wanted the design to be an expression of agility – very three-dimensional and moving,” said Mamoru Aoki, product chief designer, Nissan Technical Center (NTC). “The Z is very fluid and relaxed, from the curve of the door cut to the freeness and movement of the glass. It looks fast, but not just in a straight line. It’s a simple yet exacting design, which gives the Z a polished feeling.”
“The inside of the new Z is a realm of sensation,” said Allen. “We wanted to emphasize the sport appeal of the car without sacrificing the functionality. The essence of the Z is performance and we wanted the design, inside and out, to reinforce that impression.”
The instrument panel features three gauge pods, similar in design to the 240Z, consisting of the drive computer, oil pressure gauge and voltmeter as well as modern touches such as a navigation system with video display. The door vents and center console have a solid, chiseled-from-a-block-of-aluminum look.
The hatchback design is accentuated by functional storage space. Though the 350Z has been executed as a sports car, thorough attention has also been paid to storage capacity, with sufficient luggage space for carrying two golf bags behind the seats, a lockable luggage floor box capable of storing a briefcase and other storage places. Another interior feature is an integrated aluminum rear suspension strut tower brace. The brace is finished to match the rest of the rear compartment and carries a Z logo, which is visible from outside the vehicle. In addition, the use of aluminum for the instrument finishers, door handles and other places enhances the high-quality look of the interior.
The 3.5-liter VQ35DE V6 engine produces 287 horsepower and 274 lb-ft of torque, an expanded power range that comes as a result of reworking the intake port design and adopting Continuously Variable Valve Timing Control System (CVTCS) technology. This enables the engine to deliver not only outstanding start-off acceleration and high-speed passing performance, but also torque characteristics suitable for city driving. Drivability has been further improved by adopting an electronically controlled throttle, and the use of a highly rigid cylinder block combines with other measures to produce engine sounds worthy of a sports car.
Suspension for the rear-wheel drive vehicle is a 4-wheel independent design. Both 6-speed close-ratio manual and 5-speed automatic transmissions are available.