A year and a bit so far with a 350z GT

RearLeft1_5208ba0a67b9d-lightboxAmongst the cars I’ve owned I’ve managed to include a couple along the way. A VW Corrado 16v (that I still pine for) and a Gen 5 Honda Prelude 2.2vti. The Prelude opened my eyes to Japanese motoring or reliable bliss, but although I loved the Honda’s engine, it’s primarily why I’d bought it,  I missed the handling poise and ability of the Corrado. I’m sure the Honda will live forever, but it was time to move on and my budget had crept upwards to put an early 350z within my reach.

 

The other parts of the dream outline were a powerful ‘V’ configured engine and of course rear wheel drive.  With the boxes ticked the search began relieved at last that I had finally decided and could put my classifieds search in to a more focussed mode.

 

After some failed attempts to see cars that sold en route to viewing, a colleague at work had mentioned a neighbour of his had been on and off about selling his 2004 Uk model, Azure blue GT with 54K on the clock. A quick text was sent and some photos came through it looked great and was about a mile from work, so I had to see it.

The inevitable happened, but it wasn’t out of convenience as the car was near immaculate. On the test drive it felt special and very together, making all the right noises and none of the wrong ones. It had covered less than 10k in the previous 3 years with service intervals of 4k, 2k, 4k it was all adding up to being a good one. I took time to work through the checkpoints I’d read about i.e. factory spec Bridgestones all round, no clicking from the drive-shafts, no clunks from the compression arms and even the boot struts proudly held the boot open. I didn’t need persuading I made my offer.

 

Overall the year and a bit  has been fun, it gets comments regularly as much about its sound as the way it looks, and you quickly learn the sweet spots to make lovely V6 music  just for the lucky bystanders. The guys at work, being petrolheads, would open the windows as I left and I don’t blame them as that’s exactly what I used to do when a colleague would leave in his 313 2007 model. I’d say however that the music does change to less well composed tones as the revs increase, but it remains very purposeful. I’ve never had before a car where the idea of the loud pedal adage is as defined!

 

The drivetrain has probably taken the most to get used to, it’s got so much more mechanical weight than I was used to. You soon learn the benefits of brushing up on rev matching and clean heal and toeing which can make all the difference to the smoothness of a down change, easily more than in any car I’ve owned before. It took a while, but if you get it right, which with a heavy clutch can be a long learning curve, it feels very satisfying and matches the smoothness of the engines delivery. If you get it wrong, you’ll soon feel it.

 

So from high revving Honda to torque laden Nissan. Well I am enjoying the flexibility of a torque rich car and the punch if needed if you open the throttle. My wife described the acceleration, even when short shifting as solid, which is as good a description as I can find. In fact I rarely feel the need to use high rpm. As the red line approaches the delivery ramps up then does flatten a little for the last few hundred rpm, but it’s a strong delivery that belies the cars weight and it really flies.

 

The idea that I was going to become a roundabout drift hero hasn’t materialised, I know that car can do it, and I hope that I could too, but in reality it’s the waggle of the hips and progressive yaw movements on A and B roads that feel very satisfying and put the smile on. It transmits a feeling of throttle controlled attitude and grip really well, but it took me a bit of courage to broach the transition as I didn’t want to break the thing.

If the traction control is left on and it feels the need to intervene it can feel pretty uncomfortable as it’s very abrupt, but I know that it can help out an unwary driver and for most it will help them feel assured that the butch-ness of the car doesn’t have to be intimidating.

The steering has a progressive weight, but even normal commuting pace shows great feel after initial movements about centre, as you turn in, you feel the chassis work, but it’s teamed with damping that allows a more compliant ride than I was expecting and you soon feel a growing confidence.

When the roads allow and you can push on and the more complex a series of bends get, you realise what the journos meant about its balance, it feels nimble and on its toes and relishes fast changes of direction and meets them with composure, it comes alive and feels like it’s shed some weight.

 

Sometimes it feels like a 7 tenths kind of car and if you relax with it, it is a great GT, but I think this can make you feel that there is a barrier to go a bit harder, I find that this is more of a threshold that once on the other side you really can push and it’s here that you really appreciate those big Brembos. They are fantastic and have great feel too!

 

The most memorable drive to date was a time when I took it to the Elan Valley with two friends to go for a proper drive on great roads with surfaces you could rely on.

My companions for this trip were in a S2 Lotus Elise 111s & a hired Caterham 7 they had the initial 0-30 licked, but after that the muscle of the 350z showed them the pace. ‘I was expecting it to be fast’, said the Elise’s pilot, ‘but it’s properly fast’. I was getting pretty smitten, mind you the larger dimensions of the 350 compared to its lightweight companions meant that some of the mountain roads got a little narrow and the Elise walked away.

 

It becomes a bit tiresome however when the road surface has suffered; there are some routes to work that I just avoid as at lower speeds combined with the weight of the controls, you can become quite tired and a bit fed up.

 

 

Living daily with the car.

Sure the cabin isn’t trimmed with the finest materials, but It’s certainly not terrible, the Mk3 MR2 I ran for a short term felt like a Fisher Price toy in comparison, but I’ve no real complaints about its design.

The seats, well the heater elements work well and is a feature that my wife is thankful for, but to position they took me forever to get somewhere near the driving position I wanted. Maybe it was the convenience of the electric controls that kept me fiddling, but now it’s either ok or I’ve simply got used to it. If they just went a little lower they’d be somewhere near right.

The biggest disappointment day to day is the stereo, it says Bose on the box, but the forums shout about its Clarion internals. The Cd player is renowned for skipping and to me this seems like it’s a temperature dependant thing. If it’s cold the surface of the cd gets cold and fogs up slightly, the laser then can’t read them so it skips for all its worth, but for those brief moments of summer where the car as been heated by the sun you can enjoy your cd again. I’ve tried a few solutions and the one I’ve settled on is an old school Sony tape to 3.5mm jack converter into an ipod nano. I Know the forums have the ‘ipod hack’, which basically makes this arrangement in to a more permanent feature of the car, but I just can’t bring myself to take it all apart and make holes in the console.

 

My car has the original non Rays wheels, it’s rare in some ways as most cars with the GT pack came accompanied with the lightweight Rays alloys, so it’s my curiosity as to how much difference the reduction in un-sprung weight will make to me, that has me trawling Ebay often, but for now the heavy ones are staying. I was adamant that I was going to get one equipped with Rays wheels and thought that the look of cars without was wrong without them until I saw mine with its beautiful Azure blue paint. It looked right and the wheels have grown on me massively. Maybe the original owner knew this or stayed away from the options list, but you know I am quite thankful overall.

 

Overall, it’s a pleasure to own it, but I do admit to sometimes having cold feet. Its running costs don’t shatter my world, but it is on the limits of what I am prepared to pay. With Shell’s new VPower Nitro fuel the 350z can eek out very high 20s and on a dual carriage way you’ll see the mpg climb if you sit solidly at the legal limit and 33-4 mpg is achievable thanks to a long sixth gear.

 

Some days, however, if the journey has been just to get from A-B, with traffic and badly repaired roads I can arrive feeling pretty tired, the cabin gets hot especially by you left knee as the transmission tunnel heats up, and it’s these times that I’m unsure about it; but if you relax into these journeys, keep your sight lines far ahead and drive at 7-8 10ths you feel like you’ve bought the accomplished GT you’d hoped for.

Any of the days where I get back and start to browse the classifieds deciding it’s time to part, I’ll catch a glimpse of the car with it’s striking coupe body and attitude or I have a drive that makes it all make sense again and I think, ‘I’m keeping you forever’

 

Well we’ll see, this summer it has to work for its place, with more regular commuting on the cards it’ll be my daily driver so I’ll write back soon.

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Neil Williams