The Flat Ride sports-car concept used in the 350Z suspension development started with a wide track (60.4 inches) and long wheelbase (104.3 inches), providing a stable platform that was almost the size of a Corvette.
Yet overall length was kept to a trim 169.7 inches, shorter than that of a Porsche Boxster. With tires placed at the four corners of the car, uncomfortable roll-and-pitch motions were minimized with vehicle-load changes.
Working within the framework of the front mid-ship platform, engineers and product planners carefully began to select and tune components. As a "Neo Dynamic" sports car, Nissan North America Product Planning Director Pete Haidos pointed out, "the 350Z performance had to be natural, gymnastic and accessible."
In terms of nuts and bolts, that meant a powerful, great-sounding engine, advanced, driver-involved transmissions; and the very latest in suspension design, precise steering and high-capacity brakes.
350Z Chief Vehicle Engineer Kazutoshi Mizuno and his team began applying some of that "LeMans magic" to the Z program. All-new front and rear multi-link suspensions were developed. They made extensive use of aluminum components to reduce unsprung weight, which in turn allowed the wheels to more precisely follow the contours of the road.
The new suspensions also employed "ripple-control" shock absorbers with internal damping-control lips that suppressed high-frequency vibrations. As a result, wide-cross-section 50-series 17-inch or 45-series 18-inch tires could be used for superb cornering performance without any increase in ride harshness.
The 350Z enjoyed a well-balanced 53 percent/47 percent front-rear weight distribution. The engine's center of gravity was positioned behind the front wheel center, which had a positive effect on handling, ride quality and stability.
With the weight on the front wheels deliberately made 3 percent greater, the front wheels were preloaded when the driver steered into a curve. There was a natural weight transfer to the rear as the driver accelerated out of the curve, approximating a 50/50 front/rear split. Therefore, the front mid-ship layout gave the best of both worlds: superb cornering ability and acceleration performance.
Elsewhere on the car, engineers worked with quality experts to achieve the right look and "feel" of many components. A newly developed undercoating expanded during the paint-baking process, filling in small gaps and aiding body damping. It actually became part of the structure in the same sense as a carbon-fiber tennis racket or fishing rod.
Doors had inner reinforcement panels to give a quality closing feel, and triple door seals to keep things quiet inside. The gas-assist struts for the aluminum hood (which weighed nearly 18-pounds less than an equivalent steel hood) were eliminated so customers could see how light the hood was. For a finished look and feel, sealing rubber was added between the hood and front bumper, hatch and rear fenders, and between the resin outside door handles and door panels.
The hard work and attention to detail was immense, but it took just that to build a machine worthy of Nissan's most-famous sports-car name. Chief Product Specialist John Yukawa summed it up best. "With this new car, we have tried to keep the spirit of the Z alive based on its style, its performance and value for the money. It's the Real McCoy of Z-ness. It embodies human-factor technology to find the sweet spot of driving. But most importantly, we have strived to design a sports car for the 21st century.
"We truly believe that the 350Z is a symbol of a new Nissan."