Cars in Real Life: 2008 Nissan 350Z at Coachella

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By Tony Pierce, Los Angeles Times Blog Editor

As Los Angeles Times blog editor I don’t always sit in my big fancy chair and bark out orders to people. Sometimes I get sent on assignment too. Last week I was invited to blog for both L.A. Now and Soundboard as we covered Coachella as well as we possibly could. Simultaneously I had a friend who was flying in from Canada to see the three-day festival in the desert. I asked our senior producer for autos, Joni Gray, what car I should rent to wow my visitor, because I have a ’94 Nissan Sentra that would impress nobody.


‘Rent?’ Joni said. ‘How about reviewing a car for Up to Speed!’

I gladly accepted her generous offer and she went through a list of possible cars. ‘How about this great BMW?’ she asked. I cut her off. Beemer? When I pumped gas at an all-full-serve station in Beverly Hills we had a joke about BMW drivers, comparing them to porcupines. The punch line was that porcupines had pricks on the outside.

‘Jaguar?’ Joni suggested. Do I look like an old lady on the way to Nordstrom? I asked.

I reminded her: desert, rock music, Prince was gonna play, twentysomething Canadian single female....

‘Nissan 350Z convertible,’ Joni gasped. And we were in agreement.

When the car arrived, it was so nice looking that even the security guard of our parking structure was impressed. I asked her whether I could keep the car in the reserved spot, and she said, ‘Car that pretty can sit wherever you want.’ But she later asked me to move it to an adjacent spot. Because I was not adept at stick, it took me a good 15 minutes to realize that because this vehicle is a six-speed, you had to push down on the stick to get into reverse. Annoying. And difficult to master when parallel parking.

If I may continue, let me say I don’t like stick. I like to hold the hand of the hot babe next to me while I drive. Especially if her hair is blowing in the air because the top is down and the tunes are blaring. Somehow I made do with the sleek new Z and its manual transmission. In fact, it made me do all the work and I loved it. The clutch, the gears, the torque, the everything were so forgiving that for the six days I drove the 350Z I stalled only a few dozen times. I should have stalled far more. And may I say that after I was finished, I sorta fell in love with stick when it was attached to such a powerful car.

Plus I was going from this car:

To this car:

Now, anyone can make a fast car. What I needed was a quick one that was a convertible that looked cool. Sadly, I forgot to ask for one with a trunk that could fit two suitcases. But for the things that the Nissan 350Z lacked, it more than made up for in power, acceleration, handling and hotness.

But before we get to the trunk, let’s examine something shocking. Even though the year of this car is 2008, there is no ‘Aux’ button in the stereo. Yes, it has a six-CD changer, standard; yes, the speakers are really good (and right behind you — so be careful if you store big bags of Funyuns with you, as they will rattle quite annoyingly).

But who doesn’t have an iPod these days? Therefore, who wants to be burdened with lugging around CDs when there is so little storage space in this roadster? Not me. For $40,000 there should be a mini-jack in the stereo so one can plug in an iPod. This point cannot be debated.

Now let’s tackle the trunk, because it’s really the only serious reason not to completely fall in love with this vehicle.

This is the trunk. It looks a little crowded even for a baseball cap. It’s so small that there are instructions printed on the underside of the trunk lid to tell you how you can fit a bag of golf clubs in there. But instead of looking at this trunk as half-full, we’re going to look at it as half-empty.

This is the luggage we wanted to take with us to Palm Springs for Coachella for a long weekend (Thursday to Monday). The young lady is shown for scale. Fortunately, it was bikini-top-and-shorts weather, so my traveling companion and I shared one suitcase; we each had a computer bag, I had a small day pack, and she had her purse.

Would it all fit in that trunk?

Why, yes, it would! But snugly. So if your date likes to wear more than little skirts and tube tops, or if for some reason your luggage is on the larger side, this is not the car for you.

But if what you’re looking for is a zippy, sexy convertible that approaches hills by saying to you, ‘You call that a hill?’ then you’ve found your dream car with the 350Z.

Speaking of the convertible — it’s a two-step operation: You unlatch the front part while you’re seated, then you press and hold one button. Everything is automatic. The seats ease up slowly, the windows roll down, and the roof retracts, folds and stores itself where the rest of the trunk would normally be. It’s sweet. It will impress anyone. Then you zoom off laughing.

Finally (even though this photo doesn’t fully prove the point), when the convertible is retracted there isn’t a swirling wind action happening inside the car. Thus the young lady’s hair did not whip around when the windows were rolled up and the top was down. If one wanted more wind, one simply had to roll down the windows. In the desert heat, on the way to the show, we chose the option of more wind. But for those with hair issues, having the top down was no issue at all.

— Photos and post by Tony Pierce

Producer’s note: Our new series, ‘Cars in Real Life,’ will feature real-life car reviews from L.A. Times staffers matched up with popular models.