350Z Platform Development
While designers worked at creating the look that would capture the spirit of the next Z, product planners and engineers proceeded with the 350Z platform development. What they ended up with was a platform called front mid-ship.
This was the first in a series of all-new, state-of-the-art, rear-drive platforms from Nissan. Featuring a front mid-ship engine layout, long wheelbase, four-wheel multi-link suspension, rigid body structure and zero-lift aerodynamics, it was designed to form the basis of several premium and sporty vehicles. Thus, the cost of this platform could be shared with such cars as the Japan-market Skyline, U.S.-market Infiniti G35 Sport Sedan and G35 Sport Coupe, plus other models.
Using such a platform for the new Z allowed it to comply with Nissan President Carlos Ghosn's edict that all models must turn a profit. That left no room for a limited-production, expensive flagship that didn't contribute to the company's bottom line.
That was great news for sports-car enthusiasts. By sharing such pieces as wheelhouse inner panels, partial floorpans, front bulkheads, basic suspension, steering, brake and drivetrain design, unit costs could be trimmed to make lower-volume, higher-visibility cars profitable at attractive prices.
Money saved by not designing every part from scratch could then be applied to adding value in the form of more-expensive interior fitments, surprise-and-delight details and added technical and convenience features. The parts of the cars the buyer saw and used could then be customized to fit the character of the model, be it by changing sheet metal, wheelbase, engine size and power, suspension and steering tuning, available features, or all of these things.
But while any competent, sporty and adaptable platform would meet the letter of such a plan, it needed to offer a host of other virtues if it were to be in keeping with the spirit of a Z.
As 350Z Chief Vehicle Engineer Kazutoshi Mizuno explained it, "We are seeking to achieve a balance of all forces that engage the driver, relaxes the driver and lets him enjoy the sports-driving experience. All these attributes of the car -- the suspension, the steering, the structure, the tires -- these work together.
He continued, "The ergonomics and the visibility around the car help make the driver more centered, more in tune with what he is doing and not distracted by noises and bumps and things that take away from the experience. The mark of a good sports car is one that is supportive in the driving role." In other words, less fatigue equals more driving pleasure.
Achieving such an ideal meant reconciling some vehicle traits that inherently tend to be at odds. Foremost among the contradictory elements the FM platform needed to resolve was the balance between ride comfort and handling.
To make a sports car suitably athletic typically means using high spring rates in the suspension, usually at the expense of compliance. Nissan engineers didn't want such a compromise.
To resolve this quandary, they found inspiration among what are typically some of the harshest-riding vehicles built.