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"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
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Last revised on 06/04/2005 at 21 months and 15,400 miles from purchase.
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
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.
For a Sunday before Labor Day (2003), we found the roads curiously uncrowded,
but the unsettled weather probably had something to do
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
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
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.
Ambient temperatures fell in the 45-80°F range, cooler in the
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
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.
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.
|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
good power, but it clearly wanted more oxygen.
|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
|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
| 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.
|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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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."
Noticeable but by no means intrusive with the
17" OE Potenza 040s, even with morning road temperatures in the
Quite acceptable but hopefully better with Michelin
Pilot Sport A/S tires I'll be mounting soon.
Mild to moderate with the top down; faint with the top
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.
|Worked perfectly, sealed perfectly, kept out most of the external noise.
|With an 18-second cycle time, there's little need to plan
| 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.
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.
|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.
|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.
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.