This month marks one year since I bought my 2003 Nissan 350Z (heretofore “the Z”). I’ve learned some interesting things about it, about cars, and about myself this past year.
First off, I bought the Z because I like hot cars. I like horsepower, speed, handling, and great looks. I didn’t buy the Z to impress anyone or to try to be cool.
I know that sounds like an excuse, but after a number of comments from friends hither and yon, I really did think inwardly about why I bought that car. I can honestly say that I did it for myself, not to impress people or try to be someone I’m not. I’m relieved to find that out.
That being said, one of the first things I learned about the Z was this: You get noticed. People look as you drive by them on the freeway or as they drive by you. They will comment, “Nice car, man,” or some such, when you park near them in the parking lot, or you’ll catch them walking around your car looking when you come out of the convenience store.
Not most people, but some people. This never happened with my Grand Prix.
Another thing I noticed: It’s kind of a chick car. I had it parked there at the Roosevelt Car Show next to my brother’s Mustang GT and I spent a fair part of the day sitting there while people walked by. When people were walking up, girls would walk to the Z and guys would walk to the Mustang. Guys would look at them both and comment to each other on how they liked the Mustang better; girls would comment to each other on how they liked the Z better. In the latter case, some variant of the word “cute” was overheard a number of times. This was pretty much a universal thing.
So if a Mustang is more of a guy’s car, maybe I should’ve bought a Mustang instead. Except my wife really likes going out on dates in the Z.
A good thing I learned: If you buy a sports car, you need some time to get used to it. Learning where the clutch engage point is, how long it takes for the engine and transmission to warm up, how strong the brakes are, etc. took a while. The friction limits for turning are particularly important. I’ve almost gotten myself into trouble trying to turn with too high a g-load. After a year of driving and about 15000 miles, I’m still learning, so if you buy a sports car, be prepared to settle in and get to know her slowly.
300 horsepower can get you into trouble in a hurry. This is a long-term relationship, not a fling, so get to be friends first.
Now that I’ve had the Z for a year, I can tell you about some of the bad points:
- The blind spot. Holy cow, do the 350Zs have a blind spot. That spot off the left rear corner is completely out of my vision. This is especially true a) if the sun is shining into the driver side window, or b) if it is dark. Now you know — 350Zs have a serious blind spot. If a Z is merging onto the freeway and he cuts you off, just know that he probably can’t see you there and it was most likely unintentional.
- Alignment. You have to be very careful with a Z’s alignment so you avoid tire problems. This means I end up having the tires rotated a lot – every 3000-5000 miles. It’s annoying.
- Expensive repairs. Since I bought it about a year ago, I’ve spent over $4000 in repairs. Here’s what I paid for:
- $1100 – New tires.
- $2600 – New fan, water pump, and thermostat. (Yes, really.)
- $100 – New battery.
- $300 – New serpentine belt and tensioner.
Of course, those are minor in comparison to the good points, some of which are:
- Handling. The Z is like the ideal child: Whatever I tell it to do, it does. Immediately. Turn here? Okay. Stop here? No problem. Jump into that small opening in traffic? Yes Daddy.
- Power. The Z has a weight-to-horsepower ratio of just over 11 (lower numbers are better). Compare that to 19 for my wife’s Durango and my old Grand Prix, or 18 for my CRX. Or compare it to 11 for a Mustang GT, 7.5 for a Corvette, or 9.2 for a Porsche Cayman S. The Z can push you back in the seat and as you climb through the gears it just keeps grabbing at the pavement and lunging you forward. I have no idea how fast it will go.
- Sound. The Z comes with an excellent sound system: The Nissan VQ35DE, an awesome 3.5L multi-port-fuel-injected V6 with variable valve timing. If you romp on it hard enough to cross the variable timing threshold you will be rewarded with an awesome sonic wonder as the engine climbs toward the 6600 RPM redline. And if you don’t like that sound system, or are in a place where you can’t really experience it, the Kenwood/MTX/Rockford Fosgate setup in my Z is a pretty decent substitute.
- Look and Feel. It looks awesome from nearly every angle. It feels awesome when you are sitting inside it. The ergonomics would make Steve Jobs proud. And when you strap into those bucket seats and close those high-sided doors, it feels like your car is giving you a big old man-hug. Sorry, but it is true.
So, am I glad I bought it?
Yes. And no. But mostly yes. I love driving it. Love love love driving it. Even when I’m not speeding, which truthfully is most of the time, I really love to drive it. I love to look at it, and then drive it some more.
I love the thought of owning it. The reality of owning it is less great. It’s expensive to maintain. My other car was fully paid for, and when I sold it there wasn’t a thing wrong with it. Now, every time I make a payment on the Z or have to get something fixed, I think about how the Grand Prix was running excellent and was fully paid for. Maybe I should have just stuck with the Grand Prix instead. Inside my mind, it will forever be running perfect with no flaws.
But it will never be as much fun.