CARS & BIKES ARCHIVE:
499: Environmental charge
The futuristic electric-and-gasoline hybrid Toyota Alphard aims to take
the financial strain out of owning a large van, while reducing emissions to
boot. Justin Gardiner takes one for a cruise.
497: Thrills and spills
The next two weekends feature Japan's two biggest Grand Prix races, the
Pacific Moto GP, and the final round of the Formula 1 Championship. Justin Gardiner
gets pole position.
495: Time warp
It was christened the Japanese Ferrari when it was launched way back in
1991. Justin Gardiner reckons the intended compliment still doesn't do justice
to Honda's NSX.
493: Point to point
Just how much faster is a 1,000cc superbike than a 50cc scooter in our sprawling
megalopolis? Justin Gardiner borrowed a few Aprilia bikes to find out.
491: Future classic
The Audi TT Roadster has become the archetypal convertible of the decade,
with good looks matched by great handling. Justin Gardiner gets behind the wheel.
489: Name value
Toyota's Lexus is one of the most respected brands in the West, but almost
unheard of in its home country. Justin Gardiner wonders why.
487: Revolutionary ride
Mazda proudly proclaims that its RX-8 is peerless, and for once the claim
is more than marketing hype. Justin Gardiner revs it up.
485: Thinking big
Whats behind the astonishing popularity of oversized scooters on Tokyos
roads? Justin Gardiner and three veteran motorcyclists aim to find out.
483: Off the beaten path
Hondas Element harks back to the days when a 4x4s interior could
be washed down with a hose. Justin Gardiner goes for a spin.
481: Track days
Tokyo offers amateur racers the chance to prove that theyre the next
Michael Schumacher. Justin Gardiner hits the speedways.
479: My Fairlady
The Datsun 240Z changed the fortunes of Nissan Motors back in 1969. This
year, the new 350Z heads up their international line-up for the 21st century.
Justin Gardiner reports.
477: Small is better
Justin Gardiner gets the scoop on scooters to fit every taste and budget.
475: Two for the price of one
Justin Gardiner drives two cars that can fit into a single parking space,
the Smart K and the Suzuki Twin.
473: Multiple personality
In a world of nigh-on-identical minivans, Fiats Multipla dares to
be different. Justin Gardiner drives the distinctive import.
471: Days at the races
Honda, the traditional Japanese champions of motorsports in Japan, are facing
a tough challenge on their home turf. Justin Gardiner looks forward to what
promises to be a bumper year for racing enthusiasts.
469: The ride stuff
Just in time for spring, Don Morton tells you how and where to choose the perfect
467: Most impressive
Justin Gardiner tools around in Subaru's Impreza, the automotive equivalent
of a mild-mannered bloke who turns unruly after a few pints.
465: Outside the box
Justin Gardiner mourns the passing of the Toyota HiACE, a campsite favorite
and the best of a dying breed.
463: Cyber Cypha
Justin Gardiner finds that Toyota's latest super-mini not only takes you
out to dinner, but helps you decide where to go.
461: Award magnet
Mazda's new mid-size Atenza is attracting accolades the world over. Paul
Thompson zoom-zoomed along to find out why.
459: Down the road
After a year of cute cars, 2003 promises more power, pace and raw sex appeal.
Justin Gardiner peers into his crystal ball.
453: Fleet of foot
Japan's convoy of quirky emergency vehicles includes everything from mopeds
to the country's fastest cars
451: Truck and treat
Paul Thompson tracked down the latest automotive trends from the 36th Tokyo
The Datsun 240Z changed the fortunes of Nissan Motors
back in 1969. This year, the new 350Z heads up their international
line-up for the 21st century. Justin Gardiner reports.
|Nissan is aiming for
the more mature customer with its new sports coupe
With tears in their eyes, American sports car enthusiasts
bade farewell to the venerable Z car in 1996, when the all-conquering
road and track racer was banned from US shores for failing
to meet new exhaust emission requirements. Four years later,
the final 300Z left a Nissan dealership here in Japan, as
domestic demad couldn't overcome the loss of the lucrative
US market. But during the past 12 months, the company has
revived the brand, and joyful devotees are welcoming the latest
incarnation, a street racer that proudly upholds the Z's
muscle-car heritage while updating it with state-of-the-art
The original Z, or Fairlady Z as it's called here,
became a '70s cultural icon Stateside, and heralded
a total change in corporate Japan's attitude to the
US market. It was far from the first Japanese car to be exported
to America, but it was the first to be designed from the ground
up specifically for the world's largest automotive
market. As such, it led the charge of imports that was to
become the scourge of Detroit in the '80s, and it beat
the Americans at their own high-horsepower game.
Out with the old
Indeed, previous incarnations of the Z were classic muscle
cars, proportionally not unlike the Trans Ams and Firebirds
they battled both on and off the race track. The new car,
though, is closer to the Audi TT than anything else on the
road today, and Nissan claims it has the ideal weight distribution
of 53 percent on the front wheels and 47 percent on the rear.
Whether this results in perfect driving balance is open to
debate, but one thing's for sure: this classic front
engine/rear-wheel-drive powerhouse is certainly not tail-happy.
No amount of lunacy into 90-degree turns will induce the Z's
rear end to slide; the car's natural poise and ever-efficient
traction control allow just a little squeal from the tires
before it follows its nose up the chosen street. But punch
the little button hidden in the footwell to cancel the traction
control system, and donut-burning wheelspin is available aplenty.
In the Version T model, which we test-drove, another switch,
located between the front seats and simply marked "Snow-Neutral-Power,"
can calm the powertrain down when driving in slippery conditions
or punch it up to allow for more excitement on demand.
|Ergonomic and stylish
all in one
With a 3.5-liter V6 lump wedged under the hood, the temptation
is to select the latter option, and leave it there. Squeeze
the accelerator from a standing start and the 280 ponies harnessed
up front rumble the Z past 100km/h in under six seconds. Keep
your foot steady, and the limiter will cut your progress at
the 180km/h mark, which arrives remarkably soon after. There's
no doubt that the car would sail through this electronically
enforced cut-off should an owner elect to get rid of that
limiter, and that it would be stable at Autobahn speeds.
|The Z boasts a state-of-the-art
However, the 350Z is not strictly a boy racer's machine.
The large, torque-y engine and refined cabin make this car
feel more BMW than MR2. The cockpit is as ergonomically satisfying
as it is comfortable, with classic dials joining forces with
a state-of-the-art car navigation system to keep drivers informed
of what's going on around them. Visibility is pretty
horrid, however, particularly out the rear, and the side mirrors
are not large or angled enough to cover any of the multiple
blind spots. The only other niggle is the passenger's
seat belt: if no one's using it, it clatters against
the door pillar infuriatingly. Strapping it across the empty
seat is the only cure.
|The trunk perfectly accommodates
a weekend's worth of luggage for two
Externally bigger than a Tokyo taxi, the Z nevertheless places
its two seats pretty much slap-bang in the middle of the chassis,
leaving a space in back too short for rear seats and too long
to be accessed with ease from the rear hatch. The ultra-cool
strut brace between the two rear suspension mounts certainly
improves the car's rigidity, and thus handling, but
it doesn't do much for the usability of the trunk:
the cavern is perfect for hauling paintings or tabletops,
but not much else.
To be fair, a weekend's worth of luggage for two can
fit in the trunk, but having spent some time with the car,
we suspect that those doing the stuffing will be retirees,
not yuppies. The whole design concept is a departure from
previous iterations-particularly conspicuous in its
absence is the long nose of the classic Zs-and, at
¥3,000,000 to ¥3,600,000 new, few people in their
20s will be able to afford such a toy. No matter: Japan's
younger crowd appears to be more interested in boxy cars like
the Cube than sports coupes, and with the knowledge of the
way this country's, and soon even America's,
demographics are changing, a more mature customer base for
their flagship won't be a bad thing for Nissan. In
other words, those most lustily greeting the marque's
revival may well be the Z's original fans.
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Photos by Justin Gardiner