At R419 500 – Nissan’s recently face-lifted 350Z coupé is as close as you’re going to get to supercar behaviour for less than half a million rand. But make no mistake, with supercar benefits – come supercar drawbacks.
I seem to have angered the 350Z and it’s voicing its disdain at me through the twin tailpipes. Still in first gear, I’ve been doing 20km/h for what feels like an eternity now…The Z deserves much better than this.
After having taken delivery of my Z earlier that morning, I made the mistake of driving straight into the teeth of Cape Town’s N1 inbound traffic and now, through a cruel twist of fate, I’m trapped in afternoon, N2 outbound traffic.
230 kW and 358 N.m is straining to break loose from this gridlock consisting of a seemingly endless supply of white Hyundais, rusting VWs and Kia 1-tonners. Despite being marooned in the traffic the Z’s 3,5-litre V6 still emits an addictive sound. It’s the gruff sound all highly tuned machines take on when they are forced to operate well below their potential. It’s probably what a Metallica sound check echoing through an empty stadium would sound like. I love it… It tells me there is still so much to come.
A typical Western Cape squall is moments away from landing on our little traffic parade and potentially making the trip more interesting. Aside from the Isuzu KB that looks like it’s trying to climb into my back window, I don’t know how much longer I can handle this clutch.
The Z’s short-throw manual gearbox is race bred for punchy up and down jabs at high revs when the going is fast. In the molasses that is city traffic, however, it can be downright thorny.
A feather-light glide on the throttle – timed with a careful ease off the clutch is the order of the day at every single stop. Master it or beware the whooping laughter of gathered onlookers as you stall, or redline the V6, trying to pull away.
At least being in the traffic gives me an opportunity to take in the 350Z’s interior…
It’s spartan but supple with well-fitted leather trim throughout. Two low-slung seats bolster you and your passenger in place. This low seating position within the shell of the car, makes your shoulders (and not the small of your back) the focal point of this car’s thrust.
The rev counter, speedo, and fuel gauge cluster is designed as a series of conical extensions from the dashboard. A design style repeated in the air vents and interior door handles that give the cabin a feeling of speed no matter how fast you’re going.
Three more conical gauges appear in the central dash, one of which has optional displays like true speed, average fuel consumption, a stop watch, and rev limit adjuster. The rev counter sits in the centre of one’s view when peering through the three-spoke, stitched-leather steering wheel, which is equipped with satellite controls for the sound system and cruise control.
Most of the passengers I took for a spin in the morning commented on how plain the interior was, and I can see why they would say that. Except for an aluminium door hold that does not appear on the driver side, the passenger side is pretty bare, without even a glove box to paw through.
Boot space is negligible with a large portion of the already limited space taken up by the rear suspension sway bar and the sub’s that accompany the BOSE sound system. The pleasant surprise is the build quality of the Z’s instruments. Indicator stalks and climate control dials are all of a good quality and I found the padded knee rest against the centre console a thoughtful touch.
From inside the cabin your visibility is surprisingly good considering how rakish the roof line is, but you have little sense of the 350Z’s imposing exterior that surrounds you. Except for the new power bulge in the bonnet which holds the heightened engine position and gives the Z a seriously muscled disposition, you have to be reminded by the occasional shop front reflection just in what a handsome machine you’re driving.
Its cleaved angles, jagged front and rear light clusters, the massively solid wheel arches and long bonnet are just manna from heaven for a dyed-in-the-wool boy-racer like myself.
Much like the performance of the Z, its character and looks are uncompromising and unforgiving.
Look out for Part 2 of Ray’s driving impression of the new Nissan 350Z – coming soon.