By David Haueter
For sports car enthusiasts, the single letter "Z" has become an icon that represents the line of cars from Nissan that first began 36 years ago with the introduction of the 1970 Datsun 240Z, then extended through various 260Z, 280ZX and 300ZX variations over the years before culminating in the modern 350Z that we are familiar with today. My first true sports car experience happened in an original 240Z that a friend in college owned, and I have great memories of taking that car on long drives in search of curves in southern New York just to see how fast we could take them. Usually our better judgment would kick in before the limits of the car were reached, but I do recall a certain curve outside of Nyack, New York that we would go through sideways at full throttle. After spending a week in a new 350Z, I can say that Nissan has remained faithful to the original Z concept, while improving those intangible sports car qualities of power, handling and the ability to form a bond between man and machine.
The modern 350Z has been around for a few years now and to my eyes, it looks as good as the day it was introduced, so I'm glad Nissan didn't mess too much with the original design for its 2006 design "refresh," as Nissan designers only made some minor changes to the headlamps, tail lamps and the grill. On the other hand, mechanical updates are almost always a good thing, and Nissan has made several significant changes to the Z for 2006. At the top of that list is an increase in engine power to 300hp, thanks to a revised intake duct that improves airflow into the engine, an improved intake manifold and new pistons with a revised camshaft profile. Oh yeah, it also gets electronic exhaust valve timing. Curiously, the bump in horsepower is reserved only for the manual-transmission models - the automatic equipped Z's are kept to 287hp. The engine changes actually reduce torque from the 2005 model rating, dropping to 260 lb-ft from 274 lb-ft, but the increased horsepower and higher rev limit make up for the 14 lb-ft loss in pulling power.