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Nissan turned heads at the 1999 Detroit Motor Show with their awesome "Z Concept Car". Although there have been some design changes during the three years between its unveiling and its release as the 2003 Nissan 350Z, the first Z car since 1996 -- which looks more like an Audi TT than any Z, from the first 240Zs in 1970 or even the last 300ZXes -- is still nevertheless a worthy successor.

While not quite as powerful as the twin turbo 300ZXes it follows, the two seater, rear wheel drive 350Z (known as the Fairlady Z Z33 in Japan) still provides a lot of horsepower for not a lot of money -- the base model's 3.5-liter, quad cam V6 still manages to produce 287 hp @ 6200 rpm (largely thanks to a refined air intake and exhaust system), only a few short of a new Porsche 911 -- which costs over twice as much as the $26,810 Z*. The 350Z makes use of a new engine/drivetrain platform Nissan likes to call FM, or "front mid-engine" -- which is seemingly nothing more than a front engine setup with the heaviest of the machinery towards the middle of the car, creating an even (or very close to even) weight distribution.

Nissan spent a lot of time planning the new Z, especially the suspension, which is now a vast improvement over the 300ZX -- words describing the 300ZX's handling can range from "pokey" to "crappy". Independent multi-link suspension made from a lightweight aluminum alloy is found in both the front and rear of the 350Z. This, combined with the wide, low stance, weight distribution, and advanced rack and pinion steering, creates the best handling Z car ever.

350Z comes in five classes -- the base model ("just a 350Z"), Enthusiast, Performance, Touring, and Track. All models make use of anti-lock brakes and a six-speed manual transmission (a five-speed automatic is optional on the Enthusiast and Touring models). Except for the base model, the 350Z also sports a traction control system and a viscous limited slip differential, or LSD. Some of the cooler features come into play with the Touring and Track models -- Touring already boasts a bumpin' stereo system, with a Bose AM/FM/cassette/CD player (with 6-disc CD changer!), seven Bose speakers, a 10" subwoofer, and even a system to adjust stereo volume based on how much engine noise you can also hear. Touring also has heated, leather power seats throughout the car and even heated mirrors. Very fancy. But where Touring goes in comfort amenities, the Track model shines in performance goodies -- super-lightweight Rays forged-alloy wheels and 18" high performance tires, zero-lift aerodynamics, and a four-wheel Brembo braking system, with four-piston caliper front disc brakes and two-piston caliper rear disc brakes for optimal braking.

While the 350Z may not be considered a true Z by some enthusiasts, it's still a luxurious, stylish ride (for not all that much dinero, either).

* Base model.

I just want to clarify a few things, and maybe offer some perspective on the 350z as an original 240z owner. First of all the 350z is only offered as a 2 seater, not a 2+2, just as the 240z was. Second, compared to the 300zx the 350z has more power per pound. The 300zx was only 300hp in twin turbo form. I believe that this new car has a true 240z soul, which has been gone since the days of the zx's.

The original 240z was such a best seller because it sold for less than $4000. British roadsters like the MG's sold that cheap, but they were not very reliable with a positive ground. The z had two seats, just as the new 350z and unlike the 300zx's.

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