|The 350Z vs. the Mazda RX-8|
|Utility (Layout, space)||D-||A|
Consider these hard points:
The Tokyo Motor Show provided the first opportunity for journalists to do a side-by-side comparison of the production-ready versions of the two cars. Here's how this reporters thinks they compare:
Nissan Fairlady Z
Click for larger photo
The 350Z remains a two-seater, but this time the rear cargo area is even more restricted. A support bar runs through the trunk to tie the tops of the rear struts, limiting storage capacity to nothing larger than a couple of grocery bags.
"For a (rear-wheel-drive) sports car we need strong body construction, and the engineers wanted a bar there," said Mamori Aoki, Nissan's chief product designer.
The 350Z's interior is bland. The plainly styled center stack, with its round knobs that are standard-issue items, could be in any modern sporty sedan. The instruments protrude from the instrument panel.
Exterior styling is uninspiring. The front fascia looks heavy, and the large square grille is plain. The bulging rear flanks ape those of the Porsche 911. The sharply sloping roof comes courtesy of the Audi TT. Huge headlights extend far back, almost to the top of the fenders. The only trace of Z heritage is the rear quarter window, which retains the shape of the old 300ZX.
Things look a little better under the hood. The engine, a 3.5-liter overhead-cam V-6 with electronic valve control, will produce between 260 and 280 hp and is teamed with a standard six-speed manual transmission. Suspension is four-wheel independent with disc brakes at all four corners.
Nissan's beloved Mr. K., Yutaka Katayama, the man who introduced the 240Z in the United States in 1970, posed for a few photos with the 350Z. He said he likes the styling and that Nissan was right not to do a retro version of the car.
But Mr. K seemed cautious when asked if he thought the new Z would be a big success in America. "I hope so," he said.
Beyond the four-door, four-seat layout, Mazda has placed a greater emphasis on details. The RX-8 has unique styling touches inside that give the car a custom look and feel.
The top of the RX-8's gearshift, for example, is in the triangular shape of the rotors in the engine. There's a red "Engine Start" button on the left side of the instrument panel. The instruments have nicely styled dull aluminum trim rings with indents, much like those in the Audi TT. There's a stylish circular layout in the center stack for the radio buttons.
The RX-8 has plenty of room inside, front and rear. As with the Saturn SC coupe, Mazda has nicely integrated the doors into the shape of the body. The rear seat is easy for adults to enter and exit. The car also has a trunk, so the interior need not be used for cargo.
"When we brought out the first (RX-8 concept) car, the RX-Evolv, that was kind of a point of controversy," said Charlie Hughes, Mazda's U.S. boss, of the four-door layout. "But as the car has taken a more definitive shape, that's beginning to go away."
Overall, the RX-8's look is fairly tame. The only trace of the RX's lineage can be seen in the sloping rear glass, which is vaguely reminiscent of the glass hatchback of the first generation RX-7.
Mazda says the new nonturbo rotary engine cranks out 250 hp. The last RX had a turbocharged engine, which greatly added to the cost.
"The only problem with the last model was where it was priced. People actually thought the car was pretty sensational; I mean 0-to-60 mph in 4.9 seconds, 5 seconds depending on the driver," said Hughes.
"But at the time we withdrew it, it was a $40,000 car. I think most people would say that's not Mazda territory."