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  2004 Nissan 350Z Touring Roadster

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"Adventure is inconvenience properly perceived."  Llewellyn Thomas
"Places to go, things to do, Porsches to pass..."  350Z showroom banner
"Think of it as a high-performance park bench with a mechanical beauty far exceeding any external good looks."  the author

350ZR Shake-down Cruise

On this page...

 

Maiden Voyage

Findings

Conclusions

Last revised on 06/04/2005 at 21 months and 15,400 miles from purchase.


Maiden Voyage

The roadster's shake-down cruise came early in the 1,200-mile break-in period, with only 290 miles on the odometer. Our first 8 days with the car had been around town and tame, but now it was time to hit the open road. It would be a time of great temptation. The first stress fractures had already appeared in our resolve to follow the break-in rules. We chose a 208-mile, 9-hour loop that included 7 hours of actual windshield time. We logged 30% of the miles on freeways and the rest on mountain roads and passes, nearly all at 5,000-11,000' elevations in the magnificent Front Range of the ^Colorado Rockies


The Route

Route Map

For a Sunday before Labor Day (2003), we found the roads curiously uncrowded, but the unsettled weather probably had something to do with it. We headed out from Denver on westbound Hwy 6 and I-70, then turned north onto US40, which took us up and over Berthoud Pass (11,315') to Granby. While toying with the driving computer, I happened to reset the average fuel consumption calculator somewhere near the top of the pass. Halfway through our coast down the Fraser River canyon on the other side, I spied a whopping 63 mpg on the readout! That number's never been seen since, but our 27 mpg trip average was still impressive for an engine this highly tuned. 

From Granby, we followed Hwy 34 through Rocky Mountain National Park, where it's famously known as Trail Ridge Road. Between Fall River Pass (11,796') and Iceberg Pass (11,827'), Trail Ridge Road hits its high point of 12,183', but the roadster took it all in stride. We lunched and shopped in Estes Park, then took Scenic Highways 7, 72 and 119 south and east to Boulder. (Hwy 72 bears the name "Peak to Peak Highway" for good reason.) From Boulder, US 93 took us south to Hwy 6 and home.


The Weather

Ambient temperatures fell in the 45-80F range, cooler in the morning. With sun one minute and rain the next all day long, our determination to keep the top down as much as possible resulted in a thorough test of the powered ragtop. It passed with flying colors. The 18-second total up or down time made the top a snap to manage. Stop-light top changes were easily accomplished with no one delayed.

 

 350ZR & G35 SC

In Rocky Mountain National Park, we parked in the rain next to the other car we seriously considered   an Infiniti G35 Sport Coupe (right). As you can see, the weather wasn't conducive to photography at the time.

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Findings

After reading half a dozen 350Z coupe and roadster magazine reviews and many positive and negative owner comments regarding the 2003 coupes in forums like 350ZMotoring.com and 350ZFrenzy.com, I had an idea of what to look for in our shake-down cruise. Here's what we found. 

Item

Findings   

Comments

Power at lower elevations Clearly ample at all engine speeds, but no good data here   break-in rules were generally observed. I can already see that the VQ's wide and even power band will be a lasting pleasure.
Power at high elevations Surprisingly good for a normally aspirated engine. At 11,000-12,000' along Trail Ridge Road, the roadster still delivered good power, but  it clearly wanted more oxygen.
Gear box Excellent feel, well-chosen ratios. Around town, a smaller gap between 2nd and 3rd would be welcome, but that might not work as well on the open road. The 6-speed manual is very gratifying hope mine stays healthy.
Pedals Comfortably positioned, at least for me, and easy to heel-and-toe. The clutch spring was easier than I'd expected after coming off the moderately stiff but survivable aftermarket clutch in our 1990 300ZX 2+2 To my great surprise, the cowboy boots we picked up in Estes Park turned out to be excellent driving shoes! The slightly elevated heels make a perfect fulcrum for the right foot, at least for me.
Steering Quick and precise; the wheel is comfortable. Like everyone else, I noted a little understeer in some of the more exuberant turns, but that's a virtue in my book.

Handling   

In a word, superb. We got a clean crack at long stretch of Hwy 72 as it tumbled and climbed south against the grain of the Front Range's east slope drainages. There were many long sweepers and 3D turns, along with a few closing-radius and rough-pavement turns. The roadster handled them all with complete confidence.   

Kathy was in white-knuckle mode for most of the Hwy 72 "test". For that matter, the upshift indicator was in red mode most of the time, too. Otherwise, we pretty much stuck to the break-in rules.

Ride   

Athletic but quite comfortable--much like the ride in the 1990 300ZX 2+2 but with much better handling. We had mostly good road surfaces but hit some rough pavement here and there. Even then, the ride was fine.

I'm frankly puzzled by the rough ride complaints frequently leveled at the 2003 coupes, but many factors confound here, including wheel and tire sizes, tire inflation, possible 2003-2004 manufacturer changes, and of course road conditions.

Exhaust noise music   

Perfectly acceptable sound level at cruising speeds with the top up or down; louder when it should have been louder. I love the sound the of this engine so much that I wouldn't have minded more.

Reviewer ^James Healy put it best: "Listening to the engine's song rising and falling as the gas and gears are worked makes the Z Roadster so entertaining that a radio seems superfluous."

Tire noise

Noticeable but by no means intrusive with the 17" OE Potenza 040s, even with morning road temperatures in the low 40s.   

Quite acceptable but hopefully better with Michelin Pilot Sport A/S tires I'll be mounting soon.

Wind noise

Mild to moderate with the top down; faint with the top up.   

Tolerable either way.

Cabin air flow

Surprisingly minimal with the top down, even with the windows down, too. We had much more buffeting in our 1990 300ZX 2+2 T-top with much less roof exposure.

Nissan claims to have spent quite a bit of wind-tunnel time to achieve quiet air in the cabin. I believe it.   

Ragtop Worked perfectly, sealed perfectly, kept out most of the external noise. With an 18-second cycle time, there's little need to plan ahead.
Bose audio I very much like the in-dash 6-CD changer, but no amount of twiddling could get the Bose to sound right with familiar CDs. The sound is thin and clearly lacks a mid-range, even with the top up. The Bose sound quality would be unacceptable in a car costing $20,000 less. In this car, it's still a big disappointment.

Baked ham

I inadvertently cooked my butt 5 times on this trip alone, each time by turning on the seat heater with my right elbow with my right hand on the stick.   

This is already getting tiresome. Of course, my knobby elbows don't help.

Cargo space Between the relatively short wheelbase and stowage for the folding top, there's not a lot of room to put things. Given the strong motivation to take the roadster anywhere we can, I'm sure we'll learn to pack creatively.
Ingress/egress At 6'1" and 200 lbs, getting in and out is a bit of a struggle, even through a wide-open door. In our tight 2-car garage, it's a pretzel workout with the top up, but entries and exits are always fairly easy with the top down. Sacrifices must be made for a car like this.

For further discussion of the roadster's pros and cons, visit the 350ZR Hits, Misses and Fixes page.

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Conclusions

One word summary:    Tight.

Two word summary:    Well done.

Three word summary:  It's a keeper.

The 350ZR has many endearing qualities and few flaws of any significance. For the money, I'll live with the less than luxurious interior, the surprise butt roasts, the awkward entries and exits, the dearth of cargo space and even the Bose audio while thoroughly enjoying the mechanicals and the exhaust note all day long. Hats off to Nissan for the best Z yet by far.

BTW, these conclusions continued to hold, not only at the end of break-in, but at 21 months and 15,000 miles as well.

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350ZR  All material Jeremy McCreary unless otherwise credited. Comments and corrections to 350zr@cliffshade.com.
URL: http://www.cliffshade.com/350zr/shakedown.asp