Without a doubt, our 350Z was good to direct down a twisty road, but it wasn't quite as agreeable to live with every day. Complaints about the harsh ride-exacerbated as usual by Michigan's crappy roads-and tire noise reminded us that there is still no such thing as a no-compromises sports car. (U.S. models now get the same damper valving as those in the European market, for better ride quality.) But we don't expect, and fewer and fewer buyers will accept, compromises in the interior quality of anything this side of an econobox, and in this regard, the 350Z was roundly criticized.
Although the chunky steering-column stalks, the orange-lit instruments, and the cloth-upholstered seats were praised, the plastics and other interior trim were only so-so in quality, and two seemingly minor faults really grated on everyone's nerves. First was the passenger's side seatbelt, which, when unused, banged and rattled incessantly against the B-pillar. Second was a retractable lid in the upper half of the center console, which hides a storage bin in those 350Zs, such as our vehicle, not equipped with the optional navigation system. Clearly a design and production afterthought, this flimsy piece of plastic, about five inches square, had absolutely no damping and less structural rigidity than the door of a Fisher-Price barn, and it didn't even let out a "moo" when you opened it. Fixes for both problems, as well as about a dozen other minor cabin tweaks, were implemented for the 2004 model year.
Aside from those relatively small gripes, our most tangible problem with the 350Z concerned uneven tire wear, especially at the front, which caused the aforementioned tire noise. This has proven to be a common problem with the 350Z, one caused by the soft rubber in the stock Bridgestone Potenza RE040 tires and by a chassis that is hypersensitive to wheel misalignment. At about 24,000 miles, we finally replaced the Bridgestones with Pirelli P Zero Rossos, which immediately muffled the endless droning. On the subject of tires, once the snow began to fly, we called the Tire Rack and installed a set of Bridgestone Blizzak LM-22s, which imbued the 350Z with newfound authority in the white stuff.
Our 350Z was in for service more than we liked, but many of the visits were not the fault of the car. In the process of mounting the Blizzaks, the tire technicians damaged one of the tire-pressure sensors, but that, at least, was replaced during the routine 7500-mile service. During a January snowfall, an Oldsmobile Bravada kissed the rear bumper of the Z on the University of Michigan campus, and that little puncture in the plastic cost us several days in the shop and $884. The metal shift-pattern badge atop the shift knob fell off and was lost; in the process of replacing the shift knob, the dealer's service technician damaged the shifter bushing, which set forth an annoying rattle in the gearshifter that plagued us until we managed to get the car back to have the bushing replaced. One thing leads to another, as the Fixx used to say.
Looking back on our twelve months with the 350Z, it was-as Frank Sinatra used to say-a very good year. The car had some rough edges, and online editor Matt Phenix, who is challenging senior editor Joe Lorio for the title of the crabbiest member of our staff, is uncapping his poison pen at this very moment to tell you all about them in his accompanying reaction. The new Z-Car is not as light and lithe as the Mazda RX-8, nor is it as refined as the BMW 3-series coupes or as raw as the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, but it undeniably fulfills its mission, and, as the 240Z did in its time, the 350Z can hold its own with Corvettes and Porsches. Many of us at AUTOMOBILE MAGAZINE, especially those with offspring, might prefer the Infiniti G35 coupe-which is built on the same Nissan corporate FM?platform and has the same engine-for its more forgiving ride, plusher interior, and plus-two rear seating. But if you're looking for a no-excuses sports car, you'll never have to make any apologies for a 350Z.