Some people see life as a contest. Others don't, especially when they're behind the wheel of an automobile. There, they seek enjoyment -- the happy passage of time and space. They want the car to be a part of that happiness, not the essential cause of it.
Nissan Motor Co. understands that philosophy, as evidenced by its creation of the 2003 Nissan 350Z sports coupe, the born-again version of the original Datsun 240Z, which was introduced in late 1969 as a 1970 model.
The 240Z helped to broaden the definition of auto enthusiast, a term normally reserved for people who are enthralled with the nuts, bolts and performance of an automobile. The 240Z welcomed a new group of enthusiasts, people who see cars as the instruments of the journey, not the journey itself.
This new group is less concerned with how fast a car can move from 0 to 60 mph than they are with the overall feel and presentation of the automobile. They look at its comfort, safety, styling, personality, reliability and value. They simply want to enjoy the ride.
The 240Z fostered that kind of enjoyment. It was a simple and, best of all, affordable sports coupe. Almost anyone could own it at a base price of $3,526. Almost anyone could drive it.
At a starting price of $26,269, the 2003 350Z remains "affordable"
in the United States where the average price of an imported new car is $25,971 (compared with an average of $18,684 for a domestic model). The new Z-car remains simple, too. Its exterior is a clean swoop, uncluttered by body cladding and other chest-thumping gimcrackery.
The Track model of the 350Z has a modest rear air spoiler. But it's a functional piece. With the car's "flat ride" design, in which virtually all undercarriage components are packed closely to floor, the spoiler virtually eliminates rear lift during braking.
The interior is equally clean in design. A three-gauge cluster sits atop the center console, reminiscent of the 240Z. The adjustable steering wheel moves up or down in tandem with the instrument panel containing the speedometer and tachometer. That means the steering wheel never blocks the driver's view of those instruments. The close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox is instinctive -- easy to reach and easy to use.
Power? There is plenty of it. The 350Z employs a beefed-up iteration of the 3.5-liter, 24-valve VQ V6 engine found in the Nissan Altima and Maxima and the Infiniti G35. Using that engine and other off-the-shelf parts is how Nissan managed to hold down the price on the 350Z. But the V6 in the Z has been tweaked to yield an impressive 287 horsepower at 6,200 revolutions per minute.
That means the new Z can satisfy people who enjoy timing starts from stops at traffic lights. Nissan's engineers say the car can move from 0 to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds.
I also can tell you that the new Z is a clear winner in the looks department. I've driven numerous other new vehicles that mostly went ignored on the highway and at rest stops. That was not the case with this one. People followed me in the new Z. But here's the kicker: I was followed by police cars, and not one of the officers driving those cruisers pulled me over. Instead, I got a thumps-up from a Delaware state trooper.
That, my friends, is reason enough to love the 350Z.