Nissan 350Z Design

The 2003 Nissan 350Z was designed to be practical in terms of technology and price.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The Z's role as symbolic flagship of Nissan is an important one, and the Nissan 350Z design reflected that role. The prior Z car, the 1990-1996 300ZX, was a technological showcase. It demonstrated that the corporation's engineering talent could build a car every bit the match of long-respected sports and GT cars, such as the Porsche 944 or the Corvette -- and then some.

But in so doing, the prior 300ZX lost the scent of the affordable-performance trail pioneered by the original Datsun 240Z.


In contrast, the 350Z's engineering was best described by the term "appropriate technology." There was no ultra-trick systems that might push its price too high. No Super HICAS 4-wheel steering, as on the 300ZX. No twin turbochargers. No active damping. No voice-recognition functions. No variable-induction manifold. And so on.

Although the new Z was right up to the minute in features and technology, there was nothing that was untrue to the original Z concept. After all, what good is it to build the best car in the world if only a few can afford to buy it?

To deliver everything customers expect of a high-quality, state-of-the-art sports car, a good foundation is crucial. Nissan called the unit-body structure of the 350Z a High Damping Body, in essence a dynamic spring with a stabilizing effect.

The body wasn't designed to achieve just high static-bending and torsional-rigidity numbers. The rigidity was designed as a dynamic system with the tires and suspension in place in order to improve driving stability and ride comfort. It resulted in a body with significantly higher torsional and bending stiffness than that of the previous 300ZX.

The unit body of the 350Z was designed to be rigid yet devoid of performance-robbing weight.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

But the body wasn't just stiff for stiffness' sake. It had been analyzed not only on computers but also through multiple trial-and-error procedures using actual prototypes. This resulted in the placing of extra beef where it needed to be for strength, and the removal of excess fat where a weight reduction would contribute to performance and efficiency.

Key structural elements of the car's design included a double-panel floor, a double front bulkhead and large-section door sills. The double-panel floor gave the necessary foundation for future bodystyle variations. Roof rails and side panels were laser welded for a strong, accurate fit. And a rear strut brace, bolted and welded in place, restored any rigidity lost by adopting a rear hatchback and foregoing the traditional steel rear bulkhead of a notchback coupe bodystyle.

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350Z Aerodynamics

The underside of the car was designed to be perfectly flat and reduce lift.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

In developing the 350Z's body, engineers spent lots of time in Nissan Technical Center's wind tunnel testing the 350Z aerodynamics. But not for the reasons you might think.

This was a sports car, bulging with muscularity and character -- not some bar-of-soap science experiment. The bragging rights for the car with the world's lowest coefficient of drag would have to wait.


Instead, the aerodynamic work was directed primarily at attaining zero body lift. Increased stability would be the benefit, with lower wind noise a pleasant side effect. By managing the airflow under the car, the tendency of the body to lift during high-speed driving was eliminated and the car felt as if it was driving in a vacuum. The precise handling experienced at low speeds could also be enjoyed at high speeds.

The myriad changes that resulted from this research were subtle, but important. For starters, the 350Z's floor was designed to be as flat as possible, with few pieces protruding and creating drag. The exhaust system was routed to hug the underbody, with the crossflow muffler laid out flat.

The fuel tank was tucked up under the floor beneath the luggage area. The front bumper and engine undercover were shaped to help compress the air and increase its velocity -- thus decreasing the pressure and creating a vacuum under the car, sucking it to the ground.

At the rear of the engine, undercover airflow was dispersed to reduce lift. Air was guided and further hustled along through floor side farings and underfloor deflectors. In addition to a rear diffuser to reduce rear lift, the Track model featured a small chin spoiler behind the bumper and an equally minimal deck spoiler at the rearmost edge of the hatch door.

Considering the not-inconsiderable bulges over its wheelhousings, the base 350Z netted a respectable 0.30 coefficient of drag. For the Track model, the Cd dropped to a rather slippery 0.29.

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350Z Front Suspension and Steering

Despite sharing its platform, the 350Z had unique engineering in the front suspension system.
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Building on a sound aerodynamic platform, Nissan engineers added a design for the 350Z front suspension and steering that would enhance the driving experience.

Overall, they kept two main goals in sight. First, the driver should experience a "flat ride," a stable platform for the enjoyment of driving, And secondly, the car must deliver a natural and nimble response. As a practical matter, the new suspension had to be compact to package within the requirements of the new front mid-ship platform.


Both the front and rear suspension utilized a large number of lightweight, aluminum-alloy components to reduce unsprung weight so the tire and wheel had less inertia to overcome to follow the undulations of the road. In the front suspension, these included the aluminum axle housing (upright), upper link and lower links (consisting of the transverse link and compression rod). Compared with the previous 300ZX, the total weight reduction of the 350Z's front suspension was 25 percent.

A strut front suspension would have met the cost and packaging requirements of a high-volume front mid-ship design, but Nissan product planners wanted a better-handling setup. The answer was a multi-link arrangement with upper and lower wishbones or links, but one with an interesting twist.

Nissan engineers split the lower link in two, creating two links, each with its own lower ball joint. This effectively gave the front suspension of the 350Z two separate lower pivot points, one on the outboard edge of the transverse link and the other on the end of the compression rod.

In plain English, this endowed the Z front suspension with a dual personality, one that could optimize wheel alignment depending on whether the car was turning or going straight. Designed with untold hours of computer modeling, Nissan received 14 patents for this new suspension design.

Combined with a long upper link, the double-pivot arrangement provided for a more-optimum wheel center location. The kingpin axis, an imaginary line drawn through the upper ball joints and the intersection of the axis for the two lower links, had a reduced offset providing for excellent straight-ahead stability, even on rough roads, and helped give a smooth, shimmy-free steering feel.

Additionally, the double-pivot and long upper-link setup helped keep the front wheels more perpendicular to the road as they travel up and down with the road surface, effecting superb turn-in response.

The liberal use of aluminum suspension components helped reduce weight in the 350Z.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

With double pivots, optimum wheel-center locus reduced impact harshness, yet provided high lateral stiffness. This stiffness, combined with reduced camber change with wheel travel, made response to inputs, including emergency avoidance maneuvers, more predictable.

Also, unnecessary body movement from small scuff changes in the road was reduced with the new setup. The result was the driver could settle in more and enjoy the drive.

Finally, the double-pivot front suspension contributed to driving enjoyment through a caster-trail change. When the wheels were pointed straight ahead, such as when cruising down the highway, the dual ball joints allowed more caster trail for straight-line stability. But when the wheels were turned as during cornering, less caster contributed to finer steering precision and better feel.

There was just one level of suspension tuning for the 350Z, although both 17-inch and 18-inch wheel/tire packages were offered. The front suspension was carried in a subframe mounted directly to the body structure.

In keeping with the 350Z's intended handling personality, its steering was designed to be straightforward and communicative. This rack-and pinion-system's quick 15.9:1 ratio meant less hand shuffling in the twisty bits, and its 2.6 turns lock-to-lock helped make parking easier.

In the interest of maintaining affordability, the complex variable-orifice, variable-boost system of the previous 300ZX was not used. Instead, a very responsive, linear, and predictable system with engine-speed-sensitive boost provided the kind of handling that allowed drivers to easily trace the line they picked.

At low engine speed, such as when parking or maneuvering in city traffic, generous boost was provided to reduce the effort needed to turn the steering wheel. But at higher engine speeds, as when the Z was cruising down the interstate, boost was reduced.

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350Z Rear Suspension and the VDC

The rear suspension made generous use of aluminum, as does the front, to reduce weight.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The 350Z rear suspension and the VDC complemented the front suspension in its pursuit of a well-rounded driving experience.

The new multi-link design in the rear suspension featured high camber stiffness thanks to the increased distance between the upper A-arms and lower control links. It gave high lateral stiffness and a great sense of stability, but it was also tuned for low stiffness in the longitudinal mode, which contributed to ride comfort. This was done by separating the lateral and longitudinal road loads with a radius rod.


Engineers also placed a high priority on eliminating rear-wheel hop in the axle-windup mode, especially considering the Z's abundance of power.

The rear shock absorbers were now located inline with the wheel center.

Separation of the springs from the shock absorbers resulted in 60 percent less friction in the residual moment, which means the suspension could react faster to road inputs. And this configuration also provided for more luggage space because the wider shock-absorber span intruded less into the cargo area.

To reduce unsprung weight, the rear axle housings (upright), upper A-arms, and rear lower links were made of aluminum alloy. The rear suspension is carried in a rubber-isolated subframe, also made of aluminum alloy. As a result, the rear suspension of the 350Z weighed 20 percent less than the 300ZX's setup.

Along with handling prowess, the 350Z's sporting mission demanded exceptional stopping power. The base 350Z brakes were a power-assisted 4-wheel-disc arrangement with high friction-coefficient pads.

The goals of this system included smoothness, linear performance, and easy controllability. Engineers aimed for a firm pedal feel that wasn't high-effort. Even with the standard 4-wheel discs, the plan was for the 350Z to deliver shorter stopping distances than a BMW M Roadster, Honda S2000, Porsche Boxster S, or Chevrolet Corvette.

Even with standard brakes, the 350Z was designed to deliver short, sure stops. The gold calipers shown reveal these as the available Brembo-brand brakes.
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For those who needed even more powerful brakes, an optional Brembo system was offered. It featured the same large 27-millimeter front caliper pistons and 13-millimeter rears, as well as the 324-millimeter front and 322-millimeter rear rotors as those on the high-performance Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R. It was available only on the Track model, which also included 18-inch forged-aluminum-alloy wheels and front and rear spoilers.

Electronic chassis enhancements are increasingly common on vehicles in all size and price categories, and the 350Z appropriately offered its share. Available systems included antilock braking, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, traction control and Vehicle Dynamics Control.

Vehicle Dynamics Control

VDC enhanced vehicle stability and improved performance in emergency avoidance maneuvers regardless of the road surface or weather conditions. Working with the antilock and traction-control systems, VDC could reduce engine torque or apply individual brakes as necessary to stabilize the car under severe cornering situations.

For example, if the car were understeering in a turn, VDC could reduce throttle and apply the brake to an outside rear wheel to bring it back to the driver's intended path. Or if the car were oversteering, VDC could brake an inside front wheel to correct the potential fishtail and bring the car back into line.

This feature helped make the 350Z more of an all-occasion, all-weather car. With such a technological backstop, the driver could relax and enjoy the performance of the car a bit more.

Nissan engineers tuned the VDC system to provide necessary intervention, as when a tired or stressed driver finds himself on an icy road, but not to interfere with sports-driving fun on a dry road.

Tire-Pressure Warning System

Another safety enhancement was the tire-pressure warning system. A pressure sensor within each wheel in the center of the rim halves could send a radio signal. An antenna in the 350Z's front roof pillar would relay this signal to a receiver in the dashboard.

That information would appear as a digital readout on the drive computer display in the group of secondary gauges on the center stack. The driver would be warned by both a lamp and a buzzer when low tire pressure was detected.

Low tire pressure reduces fuel mileage, can damage tires due to overheating and results in unpredictable handling characteristics, especially in hard driving.

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350Z Engine Design

An all-aluminum, dual-overhead-cam, 3.5-liter V-6 powered the 2003 350Z.
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The heart and soul of any sports car is its engine. For Nissan's most-famous series, that has traditionally meant six cylinders; a high-strung, peaky four cylinder would not do for the 350Z engine design.

The 350Z engine design needed to offer both good low-end torque for powerful acceleration from a standing start and excellent top-end breathing for high-speed merging and passing. Around-town drivability was important. No lumpy cams or hair-trigger turbos would do.


To meet these demands, Nissan wisely chose to power the 350Z with the third-generation version of its VQ V-6. Aside from the 350Z, the VQ has been used in the Nissan Altima, Maxima, and Pathfinder, as well as the Infiniti I35, G35, and QX4. About half a million VQ engines are assembled annually at Nissan's Iwaki Engine Plant, a factory that's been called the most-advanced of its kind in the world.

Nissan began planning for a front mid-ship application of this engine in 1996. From the start, the goal was to achieve high performance in a compact package. The engine would have to be narrow to work in a longitudinal orientation with multi-link front suspension. And it needed to be short so its center of gravity could be located aft of the front-wheel centerline, front mid-ship style, and not intrude unduly into the passenger compartment.

To help get the sort of effortless power deemed appropriate for a Z, engineers gave this iteration of the VQ engine a relatively high displacement. Bore size for the Z, introduced as a 2002 model, was actually larger than 2002 Q45's 4.5-liter V-8, and nearly as big as the pistons in the 2002 Corvette's 5.7-liter V-8.

The 350Z's engine was also more of an oversquare design than that of the last 300ZX; the new V-6 used a 95.5-mm bore and 81.4-mm stroke, compared to an 87.0-mm bore and 83.0-mm stroke on the 300ZX.

To further boost power, engineers worked to get more air in and out of the VQ engine. They redesigned the intake ports for better flow, increased valve lift and reduced exhaust-system back pressure. High-flow, a straight intake, and equal-length runners allowed free breathing.

A fairly high 10.3:1 compression ratio was chosen to enhance low-speed torque for good launch. By incorporating a knock sensor, the car ran acceptably on low-octane fuel, though optimum performance could only be obtained using premium-grade gas, which Nissan recommended.

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350Z Power and Sound

Exhaust sound was maximized at low engine speed and toned down for normal cruising.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The Nissan 350Z power and sound befit a true sports car.

Continuously Variable Valve Timing Control System (CVTCS) aided drivability and maximized low- and midrange torque. It also reduced valve overlap at idle for smoothness, and at cruising speeds it was configured to enhance fuel economy.


Furthermore, CVTCS eliminated the need for an exhaust gas recirculation valve because the increased valve overlap it allowed permitted sufficient exhaust-gas to re-enter the combustion chambers and reduce combustion temperatures, thereby reducing oxides of nitrogen.

To accomplish its tasks, CVTCS incorporated a 32-bit microprocessor for fast response. It analyzed a number of parameters including engine speed, engine load, throttle position and road speed.

The processor directed a duty-cycle electric solenoid atop each cam cover to vary the oil pressure to the intake-cam timing-chain sprockets. As oil pressure changed, it moved the position of vanes inside the sprockets, rotating them relative to the camshafts and thus varying the intake-valve tinning.

The result of all these efforts was a potent, tractable powerplant that was well-suited to a car intended to be both sporty and refined. In the inaugural 2003 350Z, the 3498-cubic-centimeter dual-overhead-cam, 24-valve V-6 produced 287 horsepower at 6200 rpm and 274 pound-feet of torque at 4800 rpm.

That was up substantially from the VQ engine's applications in the Pathfinder and QX4 SUVs. Though peak power occurred at 6200 rpm, maximum torque was moved a bit higher in the rev range. Redline was 6600 rpm, signing off earlier than the 300ZX's 7000-rpm limit.

The Sound of Z Power

From the very start, a core goal of engineers working on the 350Z engine was to deliver a powerful sound from the intake and exhaust, without high-pitched, "tinny" mechanical sounds or the low-frequency booming or rumbling that can grow tiresome on long trips.

From driving Italian exotic cars, such as the Maserati 3200GT and the Ferrari 360 Modena, F355 and F40, Nissan studied the "emotional" aspects of intake and exhaust sounds. Benchmarks for the 350Z's induction sound were the BMW M Coupe, Porsche Boxster, and Nissan Skyline GT-R.

The exhaust sound was maximized at low engine speed (1000-3500 rpm), but quiet at normal cruising. And intake sound maximized at high engine speed (3500-6000 rpm) -- especially at wide throttle openings -- but toned down during cruising.

Nissan used straight intake ducts and removed the 0.5 harmonic to give a "clear" intake sound. A variable intake manifold was not used in the 350Z.

The 350Z's exhaust had reduced back pressure and was freer flowing than in any other Nissan. Its equal-length exhaust-manifold branches fed a large-diameter single pipe, which fluted to dual outlets aft of the rear axle. A complete dual system was discarded due to cost, weight and aerodynamics.

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350Z Transmission and Drivetrain

A lightweight 6-speed manual transmission delivered power to the rear wheels.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Along with efforts to make the VQ V-6 suitably powerful, considerable attention was given to transferring its output through the 350Z transmission and drivetrain in a manner that enhanced the driving experience.

For this, a new, lightweight 6-speed manual transmission was developed. This high-torque unit featured close-ratio gearing from 1st to 5th speed ranges for high-performance driving and a tall, overdrive 6th speed for long-legged highway fuel economy, and reduced engine noise.


Using structural analysis, all parts were reduced in size and weight where possible. The end result was a 6-speed unit that weighed and occupied as much space as the 5-speed manual in the previous 300ZX.

The 1st- and 2nd-gear synchronizers were a durable, double-cone design that used copper-alloy double baulk rings to allow the gears to mesh more smoothly during shifting. New sintered-iron material was used on the single-cone synchronizers for the other gears.

Even reverse gear was now synchronized to help prevent gear clash if reverse were selected while the car was rolling forward. A double-mass flywheel helped eliminate gear rattle noise.

Shift feel was designed to have short strokes between very well-defined gates. Nissan engineers benchmarked the shifter in the BMW M Coupe with the aim of making the Z's stir-stick better still. The shifter stroke of the 350Z was significantly shorter than on the previous Z.

For those who prefer a somewhat less-involved driving experience, automatic transmission was available. The 350Z's all-new 5M-ATX 5-speed allowed full manual control, and was one of the industry's lightest, smallest, most-advanced full-range autoboxes. Compared with the previous-generation Z's 4-speed automatic, the new transmission was 48.5 pounds lighter, yet offered 52 pound-feet higher torque capacity.

Its low-inertia gear train consisted of three planetary gearsets, six clutches, one band, and a single one-way roller clutch with many of the pieces made from die-cast aluminum. The transmission's direct-control system used individual actuators to regulate the pressure of each clutch and band and offered synchronized, torque-managed shifts from 1st to 4th gears.

A real-time learning algorithm helped the transmission continuously tailor shifting performance to the driver's habits and patterns. A new compact E-Flow torque converter locked up in both 4th and 5th gears as part of a strategy to improve fuel economy. It also featured a multi-disc clutch for smoother engagement.

New "fill-for-life" ATF meant the transmission fluid never had to be changed under normal driving conditions. Nissan was justifiably proud of the work it did on the Z's automatic transmission and applied for approximately 100 patents on this gearbox in Japan.

Where a two-piece steel driveshaft with a center support bearing and center U-joint once resided, the 350Z featured a one-piece carbon-fiber reinforced-plastic unit. This was a first for Nissan.

Aside from reduced parts complexity, the new driveshaft afforded the benefit of a 40 percent weight reduction. The carbon-fiber material improved noise, vibration and harshness control because it was less of a natural noise conduit than steel.

Also, without the complication of the center bearing on the steel driveshaft, the carbon-fiber unit could be designed to break away on severe frontal impacts, allowing the engine, transmission, and driveline to tilt down and under the floor instead of intruding into the cabin during a collision.

A viscous limited-slip differential was standard on all Zs except the base model. The fluid in the viscous coupling automatically could sense increased demand on either rear wheel and become thicker, taking up the clearance between clutch plates in the differential and evenly distributing the available drive torque to both rear wheels. It could improve traction on slippery road surfaces and enhance directional stability under hard cornering.

And so, with the 350Z's mechanical components squarely aimed at a well-rounded, highly entertaining sports-driving experience, all that remained to complete the picture was a suitable cabin environment.

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350Z Interior Design

Steering-wheel spokes were among the many aluminum accents inside the 350Z.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

It's been said the devil's in the details, and this was true in the Nissan 350Z interior design process. Sure the 350Z looked like a sports car. It packed the hardware to go, turn, and stop as a sports car should. But the essence of a really great machine is intangible. How does it engage the emotions? How does it interact with the senses?

The 350Z's designers were aware of this, and thus sought to create an interior that would dazzle its occupants with an interplay of surfaces, tasteful colors, unique shapes, and a wide array of textures. An aluminum-look door handle greeted driver and passenger as they gripped it to enter the cockpit. More aluminum brightened the overall look inside -- on the door pulls, pedals, steering-wheel spokes, shifter, and instrument-panel garnish.


Tom Semple, president of Nissan Design America during the 350Z's development, recalled the objectives. "One of the things that we really wanted was the authenticity of materials in the car and the way the whole thing was put together. We wanted the fit and finish of everything, the perceived quality to be the highest we could possibly get.

"The benchmark actually was the Volkswagen group, the Audi TT, in the sense that they used real parts. I would say they were the closest we had to a benchmark but we wanted to go past them. You'll see that quest for quality in aluminum details on the new Z's door pulls, steering wheel, shifter and handbrake lever. There's real leather on the shift knob, steering wheel, and handbrake lever."

The shifter in the 350Z had specific padding to feel cushioned moving fore and aft, solid side-to-side.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

But beyond that, there was a deeper functional element to this thinking as well. Not only should, say, the aluminum-trimmed shifter look good, but it should feel right and connect drivers to the soul of the car when driving. Everything they touch should seem natural. Every point of interaction should give a predictable and satisfying response particularly during spirited driving.

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350Z Driving Position

The 350Z driver's seat had extra bolstering for support during pedal operation.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Fundamental to how a car feels is its driving position, which to a large degree is dictated by seat placement. For this, the Nissan 350Z driving position is nearly at the center between the front and rear axles, thus helping provide a balanced vehicle perception.

As with many of the sports cars of its day, the 350Z's seats were designed to be comfortable, as well as provide the lateral support required during aggressive cornering. But the new Z's seats were unique in that the driver's seat was considerably different from the passenger's; both were optimized to suit rather different needs and expectations.


The driver's seat was designed to support the business and pleasure of driving. Like the passenger's seat, it was form-fitting and constructed with single-density urethane foam cushions over S-springs. And it was also similarly well-bolstered to aid comfort and reduce fatigue.

But the driver's seat differed in several significant ways: Its bottom cushion was firmer to support body weight, and longer to aid thigh support; it featured a mound in the center of the driver's legs to give femoral support for pedal operation; its seat-back cushion had larger wings that hugged the waist during lateral acceleration; and it was relieved below the shoulder area to avoid interfering with the arms during spirited shifting or cornering.

The standard driver's seat featured manual fore-aft, seatback-recline, and cushion-height adjustments. On Touring models, both the driver's and passenger's seats featured top-mounted power switches for fore-aft adjustment and seatback-recline angle, and the driver's seat got a manual seat-cushion-angle adjustment.

The passenger seat position could be controlled easily by the driver, who could move it rearward, say, to provide easier occupant entry.
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Located on the outer edge of the inboard bolsters for the seat bottoms, the switches were simple to find and use, especially at night, without fumbling around between the seat and door. Also, the controls for the passenger's seat were easy for the driver to reach and adjust as necessary, such as when the "guest" was entering the vehicle or to move the seat forward to access the storage area behind the seat.

The passenger's seatback could also be tilted forward by the driver by lifting a lever on the rear side of the seatback. Cloth-covered seats were standard with leather-trimmed seats available as part of a Touring model.

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350Z Control Interfaces

The 350Z steering wheel had varying levels of leather and cushioning, to fit the hands of the driver.
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With the driver comfortable, secure and properly located, the next critical points of contact with the vehicle would be the 350Z control interfaces: the steering wheel, pedals, and shifter.

The steering wheel was 14.5 inches in diameter and was built-up from a lightweight, rigid cast-magnesium core, some 18 percent lighter than the steering wheel in the 1990-1996 300ZX. An extra layer of foam cushioning under the leather wrapping helped increase the grip.


The steering wheel was shaped to fit the drivers' hands, with varying thicknesses of leather, foam cushioning, and the urethane underneath the rim. A small, new-design air-bag module allowed for a trim, sporty appearance, further embellished by genuine aluminum finish on the side spokes.

In keeping with the Z's design theme, the pedals of all but the base model featured brushed-aluminum faces studded with rubber inserts. The clutch, brake, and accelerator pedals were spaced evenly and aligned on the same horizontal plane to facilitate heel-and-toe driving.

Nissan engineers worked to balance the feel and travel of each of the pedals for a satisfying driving experience. In keeping with the short-stroke feel of the manual-transmission shifter, clutch-pedal travel was reduced by one inch and a single-diaphragm vacuum brake booster was used for a firmer pedal feel.

The pedals in the 350Z were spaced in such a way as to facilitate heel-to-toe driving.
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The 6-speed manual transmission's short-throw shifter itself was a stout, very rigid, direct-acting instrument. Its grip, or knob, was the product of considerably more thought than most.

Rather than the usual solid, leather-wrapped shape found on most stickshifts, the 350Z's knob was padded on its longitudinal plane, solid in the horizontal plane.

What this meant was the driver would experience a soft feeling and less "gear shock" when engaging each gear, but a precise, solid feeling when moving across the gate. The result was an immensely satisfying shifter to work up and down through the gears. Reverse was protected from accidental engagement by a guide plate that blocked access to the gear unless the shifter was pushed down in the neutral position.

The manual transmission (shown) had a direct-feeling short-throw linkage. The automatic transmission had a separate gate for manual shifting.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Some Z buyers preferred the convenience of an automatic transmission, but didn't want to give up control. There are times when a driver wants to be in charge of shift points, use the transmission's lower gears for engine braking or maybe just keep the car on a short leash through a tricky set of turns.

The Z's automatic transmission allowed such techniques. Called M-mode and similar in function to the state-of-the-art Tiptronic® system, the driver could access a parallel gate by first moving the gear selector to the D position, then to the right. In the M-mode, sequential upshifts occurred by tapping the shifter rearward, downshifts by tapping forward.

Unlike some other systems, the transmission would not upshift in this mode unless the driver tapped rearward. Therefore, inattentive drivers could visit an automatic-transmission Z's rev limiter if they stayed in the throttle beyond the engine's 6600-rpm redline.

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350Z Instruments and Electronics

The main gauges were housed in a binnacle that adjusted vertically with the steering column.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

As with the car's seating and controls, a great deal of thought went into the 350Z instruments and electronics, with the intent of further reinforcing the impression of convenience, sport, and high quality.

To this end, a trio of large-diameter analog gauges were perched atop the gently sloping dashboard, motorcycle-style. The location put the gauges as close as was feasible to the driver's normal line of sight of the road ahead.


The three pods formed a free-standing triplex meter consisting of a tachometer, speedometer/odometer, and a combined fuel/coolant-temperature gauge. The ensemble moved up and down with the steering column so the view of the gauges was never obstructed, regardless of the driver's size, driving position, or how steering-wheel tilt was adjusted.

Slightly larger than the gauges surrounding it, the 8000-rpm tachometer prominently displayed the Z's pulse. The 160-mph analog speedometer also featured digital readouts that allowed the driver to check the odometer and trip meter simultaneously.

Elegant red-and-silver-pointers and orange illumination put on a dramatic display. Switches for dash lighting and the drive computer flanked the sides of the triplex meter, fingertip-close to the steering wheel.

A lid in the center of the dashboard opened to reveal a storage compartment for small odds and ends. Ordering the optional DVD-based navigation system put a seven-inch LCD monitor in the compartment.

Flipped open, the lid shaded the screen from sunlight. The system displayed a traditional two-dimensional map or Nissan's three-dimensional Birdview with the perspective of a low-flying aircraft slightly behind and above the car. A single DVD disc covered the continental U.S. and Canada.

Center gauges included the drive computer readout.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Atop the center dash stack were three bay gauges, consisting of an analog voltmeter, analog oil-pressure gauge, and a digital display for the drive computer. The drive-computer menus included cruising range, average fuel consumption, outside air temperature, average vehicle speed, distance to empty, a stopwatch function, and the readout for the available tire-pressure monitor.

Two switches on the right side of the triplex meter-cluster toggled the drive computer between menus. The three bay gauges, as with all other cabin lighting, were bathed in a soft orange hue. Their angled recesses were a subtle nod to the sugar-scoop cutouts of the 240Z's headlamps.

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350Z Storage

The hatchback body style gave the Z a practical dimension with its easy access to storage.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Beyond driving and comfort factors, other practical considerations rounded out the thoughtful elements of the 350Z cabin, including a healthy amount of 350Z storage.

Zs have always been intended as sports cars for everyday use. True to this spirit, the 350Z was a hatchback -- as were all Z cars before it -- which added an extra dimension of cargo versatility and functionality.


Trunk capacity was VDA-rated at more than 200 liters (6.8 cubic feet), which was more generous than in many rivals. There were tie-down hooks for a net in the cargo area to keep smaller, loose items from rolling around during spirited driving. A large suitcase would easily fit inside the cargo area, as could two nine-inch golf bags and two sets of clubs.

The 350Z's cargo bay was subdivided into two areas by an integrated rear strut brace. It was a detail that wasn't created without considerable thought.

"To increase the structural rigidity of the body, the engineers wanted to do a trunk lid instead of a hatch," explained Chief Designer, Red Studio, Diane Allen. "It made sense because there is a suspension strut brace in the back, which could be unsightly and take away some cargo versatility.

"I remember when they were talking about putting a cut line under the sail panel, it just ruined the cleanliness and simplicity of the 300ZX retrospective. We argued that to honor Z-ness, the car must be a hatch because there is more functionality there than those little trunk lids offer.

"So we made a big plea to make the strut brace celebrate the performance of the car. Put a big Z badge there and then when you shut the hatch underneath the glass it's like a watch face. You see this beautiful strut housing and the Z emblem and you celebrate its performance."

The strut brace in the hatch area was dressed up with a Z insignia and was key to the car's rigidity.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

And so was created one of the most striking details of the 350Z's cabin.

But the debate that this structural element sparked was just one example of the emotion and spirit everyone involved brought to the 350Z.

"This was a passionate project for so many people," Allen said. "We had many groups coming down to look at it, to talk about it. The designers would stay until 8 or 10 p.m. every night debating about what constituted a Z. It was because they were all so impassioned with this product and what they were going to try to achieve with it."

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The 350Z Mission

Nissan President Carlos Ghosn was proud to show off the 2003 Nissan 350Z production car.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Every journey has a beginning and an end. But, in the case of the 350Z mission, that end isn't clearly defined.

True, its design was finished, the myriad engineering details were attended to, and the production line had been rolling for years. But the 350Z story was never been entirely about just this one car. It was about reinvention, rediscovery, reprioritizing.


Nissan's product line between the previous-generation Z car and the current one focused mainly on the practical, the rational, the conservative. The creation of the Z was about proving that, in certain situations, the emotional side is the practical side.

A voyage such as this doesn't move in point-A-to-point-B fashion. It is a continual process. The 350Z was a first step.

Nissan President Carlos Ghosn was among the first to see the need for this rediscovery process, and it was clear he had an intuitive feel for how the 350Z would fit into Nissan's brand presence.

For Nissan, the Z was as much of a statement about the company's philosophy as it was a car.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

"The Z is a very strong example about what I call a complete car," Ghosn said. "It's a car that appeals both on the rational part and on the emotional part because it has the design, style, image and performance that makes it a very strong and effective offering.

At the same time, it's a car that is unique in its category, not only by its performance, but by its affordability. So, coming with a new 350Z is for us a sign and a decision made by the company to tell to the public we want to be at the avant-garde of competition. Not only on the rational base, but even on an emotional base.

"In the past, the Z was able to fulfill its mission for Nissan," he continued. "And a lot of people are familiar with Nissan through the Z, especially in the U.S. I was one of them, having once owned a 300ZX when I worked for Michelin in the early 1990s.

"Yesterday, I saw a Fairlady Z driving in Tokyo and I was amazed that the car, which was first a concept some 14 or 15 years ago, still didn't have any wrinkles. It's still modern. It's a car that you might still buy today, without thinking that you are driving a car that is obsolete. It's remarkable that this concept is still up-to-date. And we hope the new Z will continue this reputation of a product that doesn't age, one that's authentic and powerful.

"So putting this Z on the market really is a strong sign that Nissan is back with determination. The Z is a statement to the dealer, to our customers in the U.S., particularly, but even worldwide because this car will be sold in many markets, that Nissan is determined to offer the best for its customers and its potential customers.

"So, it's a very important decision. A decision which was backed by a lot of support not only by the North American team, but a lot of people here in Tokyo who are very supportive of bringing a new Z to the market."

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2003 350Z Equipment and Prices

When pricing for the 2003 Nissan 350Z was announced, it was surprisingly affordable.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

On January 8, 2002, at the 2002 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Nissan took an unprecedented step and announced the 2003 350Z equipment and U.S. prices, more than half a year before its first appearance in dealerships. The base manufacturer suggested retail price for the new Z Coupe was set at a surprisingly affordable $26,269 (excluding the $540 destination and handling charges added to all models).

"The new Z, with its standard 280-plus-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 engine, 4-wheel independent suspension and 6-speed manual transmission, offers $50,000 performance for under $30,000," said Jed Connelly, Senior Vice President, Nissan North America, Inc. "We're taking the unusual step of announcing full pricing, equipment availability and even colors, now out of respect for our buyers and Z enthusiasts who have waited so patiently for the Z."


The Enthusiast model with the 6-speed manual was priced at $28,249, while the automatic-transmission version was offered at $29,219. Standard fare on the Enthusiast Model included traction control, viscous limited-slip differential, Xenon headlamps, cruise control, aluminum pedals, HomeLink® universal transceiver, dual illuminated-visor vanity mirrors, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.

The Performance model's price was set at $30,429. Standard equipment upgrades to this model above the Enthusiast model consisted of Vehicle Dynamics Control, 18-inch alloy wheels and tires, and a tire-pressure monitoring system.

Moving up another notch was the Touring model with the 5-speed automatic transmission, priced at $31,589. Standard equipment in addition to that of the Enthusiast model included a 5-speed automatic transmission with manual mode; 7-speaker Bose® audio system with 6-disc in-dash changer; leather-trimmed, heated, power-adjustable seating; and heated mirrors.

Another version of the Touring model, this one with the 6-speed manual transmission, was priced at $33,179, and included all of the automatic version's comfort items plus the upgrade hardware from the Performance model.

Finally, the Track model, the ultimate 350Z performance experience, was announced at $34,079. Standard Track model equipment included front and rear spoilers, vented Brembo high-performance brakes, and special 18-inch lightweight aluminum wheels, in addition to the upgrade equipment on the Enthusiast and Performance models.

Optionally available on select models were a DVD-based navigation system at $1,999 and seat-mounted side-impact air bags and side curtain air bags in combination for $569.

The Nissan 350Z offered a wide range of options to enhance the driving experience.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Thus, in the early-2000s landscape of sports and GT cars, the new Z was not cheap and not expensive. Just as it was among its peers of 1970, the new 350Z was priced in a "sweet spot" that made it an attractive prospect for buyers who might aspire to one of the more-expensive European brands, but couldn't afford the payments. Principle competitors were the BMW Z3, Honda S2000, and Porsche Boxster.

In addition to the "interceptor role," Nissan believed there was a strong market for a new Z among enthusiasts and buyers who loved travel, surrounding themselves with the latest electronics, and were active in sports. Research also indicated that professionals and workers in the technology fields were drawn to the Z's combination of design and performance. The main market for the Z was the U.S.

However, beyond the demographics, projections and focus groups lay a deeper truth. The real market for the 350Z was anybody who sought something special from the driving experience -- people who demanded their everyday transportation be anything but everyday; those who understoond the thrill of the road and the joy of interfacing with finely made machinery.

The Z car was indeed the emotional core of Nissan. It's a car, Nissan President Carlos Ghosn enthused, "that reflects people's values, needs and passions." The anticipation of adventure and driving enjoyment borne of its design led to rewarding satisfaction in its everlasting performance. Lust, then love.

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2003 350Z Specifications

The Nissan 350Z packed a lot of excitement into a body just 169.6 inches long.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Calling upon the Z car's tradition, the Nissan 350Z appealed to driving enthusiasts since its introduction as a 2003 model. With a nice balance of size, power, and price, the modern Z made driving excitement accessible. Here are the 2003 350Z specifications:


Base price: $26,269


Layout: rear-wheel drive

Curb weight: 3,188 pounds

Wheelbase: 104.3 inches

Length: 169.6 inches

Front suspension: Multi-link

Rear suspension: Multi-link

Tires: 225/50WR-17 front; 235/50WR-17 rear

Optional tires: 225/45WR-18 front; 245/45WR-18 rear

Seats: two

Engine: dual-overhead-cam 32-valve V-6

Displacement: 3498 cubic centimeters

Compression ratio: 10.3:1

Horsepower: 287 @ 6200 rpm

Torque: 274 pound-feet @ 4800 rpm

Fuel supply: Multi-point electronic fuel injection

Transmission: 6-speed manual (5-speed automatic optional)

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