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2003 ICOTY Awards - Sports Car

Most Sex Appeal - NISSAN 350Z 
2003 Nissan 350Z

Without a doubt, the most eagerly anticipated, most passion-inspiring, indeed, the most wanted new sports car of 2003 is the Nissan fabulous new 350Z. It's hot. It's gorgeous. It's arresting to behold.

The 350Z earns the award by being a genuinely good sports car first and foremost -- the kind of car that gets your palms sweaty and your heart pumping irrespective of its looks. After all, a true sports car is best appreciated from behind the wheel, preferably on a deserted twisty two-laner, where beauty is defined not in terms of visual appeal but rather through engaging all of your other senses as well.

And the 350Z is nothing if not a feast for your senses. It looks, feels, sounds and smells like a pure sports car, just like the original 240Z. Inside and out, its geometric and organic forms reverently recall Z cars of yore without going overboard with retro syrup. Overall proportions and front-end design elements more than recall the original, yet the Z's stacked headlights and stylized exterior door handles are very today. The metal-trimmed interior is clean and modern, boasting an instrument cluster that moves up and down with the steering wheel and terrific sport seats (a la the Infiniti G35). The most controversial part of the Z is its cargo area, which is bisected by a beautifully rendered metal brace that enhances overall vehicle stiffness (good), yet gobbles up precious cargo space (not good).

But who's looking for cargo space in a sports car, anyway? Nissan bred the 350Z for maximum performance, not maximum luggage space. Performance is paramount here. So a sinewy 3.5-liter V-6 sends a whopping 287 horsepower and 274 lb-ft of torque to the 350Z's rear wheels, providing outstanding forward thrust and marvelous sounds to boot. Suspensions are tight and composed, keeping the tires planted on the pavement and limiting body roll to, well, nil. Braking, steering and shifting are nothing short of world class. The penalty for all of this sheer capability is a stiff ride, which in our book, is a small price to pay in a car that goes, stops and turns this well.

Now, considering its legendary bloodlines, the new Z car had to be good. But the 350Z is beyond good. It is scintillating. Tantalizing. Loin-stirring. And the fact that such a lustworthy machine is actually attainable (starting well under $30K) makes us obsess about it all the more. Without a doubt, then it's "Z" sexiest new car of 2003.

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