2009 Nissan 370Z Expert Review:Autoblog
The first Datsun 240Z rolled into American showrooms in 1969. Four decades later, we've got our hands wrapped around the thick, leather, multi-function steering wheel of its direct descendant, the all-new 370Z. With a 332 hp V6 and a six-speed manual transmission directing power to the rear wheels, our outlook is decidedly positive as we head out on the street (our First Drive on the track was back in December). Is all of the hype surrounding this new coupe justified? How does it compare to the GT-R? Just how did the all-new Z-car fare after a week in our garage? Find out after the jump...
Photos copyright ©2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.
Our test model had been plunged in a bath of Monterey Blue paint at the Tochigi, Japan production facility and with a tint of metallic in its reflection, the all-new for 2009 coupe looks stunning with its shorter wheelbase and wide stance. Still instantly recognized as a "Z," the aluminum and steel sheet metal is wrapped aggressively around Nissan's "front midships" (FM) platform, shared with the Infiniti FX and G37 family. From the toothed front grille to the flared rear fenders, the styling leaves little doubt about its intended sports car mission. With more than a passing resemblance to the Nissan GT-R, the 370Z lures stares and thumbs-up from pedestrians, and stoplight competitions from boy racers.
The interior of the 370Z is just as impressive. Forget everything you knew about the questionable 350Z interior – the 370Z is nice enough to wear an Infiniti badge. Top rate upholstery, plastics, and synthetics exist in abundance within the cozy cockpit. There is storage (or an optional NAV system) above the audio system. The three-pod IP, with three more gauges center-mounted high on the dash, is just about perfect. Unfortunately, the earned grade drops two full letters with the inclusion of that terrible fuel/coolant temperature mess on the far left. While it looks really poor in pictures, it's even worse in practice as the slightest bit of ambient light washes it out (or you find yourself mindlessly counting the remaining dots on the fuel gauge).
This writer's six-foot two-inch frame fit comfortably into the supportive and nicely bolstered cloth seats. The cabin accommodates two with abundant legroom, headroom, and shoulder room. The steering wheel is meaty, and all controls fall readily to hand without a hint awkwardness. Our tested was lightly optioned (at $34,055 it was only fitted with the sport package, floor mats, and splash guards), yet it didn't feel stripped-down or budget-rate. From the driver's seat, the only real drawback – outward visibility – is blamed on the exterior styling. The view of the outside world is hampered by the massive C-pillars just behind the ears, the tiny slit of a rear window, and the oversized exterior mirrors that seem to occupy more than their share of the front quarter visibility. It take several days to acclimate to the sight restrictions, but it does become bearable.
Nestled under the alloy hood of the 370Z is another one of Nissan's familiar VQ powerplants: the all-aluminum VQ37VHR. In Z configuration, it's rated at 332 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque (the identical powerplant under the hood of the G37 is rated at 330 hp and 270 lb-ft, but the Infiniti coupe lugs around another several hundred pounds of weight). Our test model was fitted with a six-speed manual transmission (a seven-speed auto is available) sending power to the rear wheels through a viscous limited-slip differential. An aluminum double-wishbone suspension sits up front, while the rear wheels are kept in check through an independent multi-link setup. Four beautifully-crafted lightweight forged RAYS wheels – some of the most attractive alloy from any OEM – are pushed into each corner. The fronts are wrapped in 245/40-19 tires, with the rears boast meaty 275/35-19 rubber. An extensive use of aluminum throughout (hood, doors, rear hatch, subframe components, etc...) has kept weight down to about 3,250 pounds.
The 370Z features the first-of-its-kind, and all-new, SynchroRev Match system for the manual transmission. Greatly simplified, the throttle is automatically blipped, putting the engine speed precisely where it needs to be when the clutch is reengaged during downshifts. While it does make an occasional erroneous decision (move the stick shift above second gear at highway speeds and it will scare your large intestines empty), its ability to nail every single downshift flawlessly is uncanny. It does exactly what it is supposed to do the manual transmission... but... maybe it shouldn't?
Quite frankly, something seems just a bit off kilter. The standard transmission elitists among us begrudgingly smiled as the electronically-controlled slush box caught up to the smoothness of a well-shifted manual. We looked the other way when it matched the manual's fuel efficiency and kept grinning even when it was obvious that an automatic could be quicker in a sprint. None of this mattered, as our traditional third-pedal manual transmission was left virtually untouched. Now, this brilliant new automotive technology is encroaching on sacred ground by replacing a time-honed skill (aka rev-matching) with a microchip. Is this no longer considered a "manual" transmission? Where do we draw the line? With a sigh of apprehension, we'll exonerate Nissan this time as the system may be completely defeated at the touch of a button – thankfully.
Nissan doesn't quote acceleration times, but most honest print rags are finding the 370Z hits 60 mph in about five seconds. As expected, it feels quicker than the 350Z. In our unofficial (and non-abusive) testing, we snapped off a 5.1 second run without much effort (our GT-R did 3.5 seconds flat with the identical testing equipment, but with launch control). The limited-slip rear end hooks up well, and a blinking shift light helps the driver stay out of redline above 7,500 RPM. The 370Z will pull away from its cousin, the Infiniti G37 Coupe, but it won't take a BMW's 135i in a drag race (especially if the German is fitted with a chip).
We put about 700 miles on the blue Z over a one-week period. Aside from the inherent inadequacies of owning a two-seat coupe with a family (the GT-R is a 2+2, so it deftly handles carpools in a pinch), the 370Z proved capable and well-suited as a daily driver with only a few minor irritations. First, while the cabin is well insulated from wind noise, it seriously resonates from tire drone. At speeds above 70 mph, or on any unfriendly pavement, the roar nearly drowns out the audio system. Our second gripe is with cargo space. While Nissan moved the rear cargo brace forward, the trunk is still extremely shallow. You may get a framed carry-on bag in there, but everything else will have to be soft if it's going to fit.
During our obligatory 200-mile day trip across the LA basin, the Z proved comfortable in traffic as the 3.7-liter pulled from low on the tachometer, limiting the amount of leg work needed on the clutch. The engine makes a nice growl at idle, but it's quickly lost once the engine spools and the mechanical noises up front drown out the two resonators in the rear (we are still waiting for VQ-equipped Nissan product with an impressive exhaust note). Although it never lets us down, the VQ engine isn't known around these circles for smoothness either. This character trait is immediately apparent once the tach speeds past 4,500 rpm and the stick shift starts really trembling. By 6,000 rpm, it's vibrating like a blender full of margarita mix and square ice cubes. The VQ wins countless awards, but it will never be confused with a smooth-running inline- or flat-six.
At open highway speeds, the 370Z is more stable than most cars are sitting still in a parking lot. It's an amazing trait considering the short wheelbase and wide tires. We don't know if credit goes to the low drag numbers, near absence of lift, or the exhaustive chassis tuning. Whatever it is, Nissan needs to ensure they don't let it slip away as it adds a layer of confidence that is often absent in cars costing five-times as much. Straight-line stability is one thing, but the true assessment is found on the corners.
State Route 23 (aka Decker Canyon Road) kisses the Pacific Ocean on its southern end, and then winds steeply up the mountain as it makes its way inland. Banned to vehicles with more than two axles, the first ten miles of the freshly-paved road delivers more twists than a full season of Desperate Housewives. Not as popular as Mulholland Drive (or as crowded), it is an excellent place to wring the guts out of a small sports car. It also happens to be the identical road that faced its sibling -- the Nissan GT-R -- last summer.
Without a doubt, the GT-R is quicker and more surefooted of the two, especially on the public canyon road. It will easily distance itself from the hapless 370Z (to be expected – especially at nearly triple the price). With electronic subsystems manipulating nearly every moving part, the GT-R claws at the pavement and puts the power down perfectly. The 370Z is lacking nearly all of the masterful processing power and electronic trickery of the flagship, so it relies on its much lighter curb weight and immense cornering grip to try to play in the same league.
As a result, the 370Z delivers a more hands-on (and challenging) driving experience than the GT-R. Don't get us wrong, it still isn't as intimate as a Porsche Cayman or Boxster (at double the Nissan's price), but it does give you the close aural feedback that Godzilla retains at an arm's length. Bolted to an amazingly rigid platform, the non-adjustable Z suspension is tight, but there is still noticeable body roll in the corners and nose dive under braking (the Nissan would brush its lower splitter on the asphalt into a tight banked uphill turn). Under throttle, and with a slight flick of the wrist, the rear wheels can easily be coaxed to step out if the overly cautious stability control is switched off. The steering feel and ratios are both good, and the transmission gearing works well. The oversized aluminum-caliper multi-piston brakes (from Akebono, not Brembo) feel like they can stop world hunger.
Parked after a hot run, the new 370Z sits patiently in the shade. The silence, only broken by the metallic ticking of the exhaust components as they discharge retained heat, offers no hint as to the contention in the growing coupe segment. New import competition from below arrives in the form of the Hyundai Genesis Coupe, undercutting the Nissan's price by thousands. Sitting just above, with a sticker too close to be comfortable, is the family's own Infiniti G37 Coupe. Of course, there will always be the comparisons to the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, Porsche Cayman, Chevrolet Corvette, and even the Nissan GT-R. There is much to worry about, especially as customers vanish in today's economy.
Without question, the all-new 370Z is undeniably much more exceptional than any model preceding it. However, the Nissan isn't going to sell itself on a test drive. Fifteen minutes behind the wheel simply isn't long enough to appreciate the power of the engine, the balance of the suspension, or the poise of the chassis. The 370Z improves, and becomes more confidence-inspiring, as time is spent in the driver's seat. While the sixth-generation Z-car isn't exactly the sports car to dethrone all others, at this price point, few others can touch its performance.
Photos copyright ©2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.
Stand on any corner in any city, close your eyes and open your ears. Eventually you'll hear the telltale swell of an engine as someone blips the throttle while braking before the bend. This secret auditory handshake among gearheads signals the arrival of a driver schooled in the art of heel-and-toe. And when the 2009 Nissan 370Z goes on sale in January, you won't be able to tell an aspiring Schumacher from Joe the... shoemaker. Nissan's simple yet brilliant "SyncroRev Match" will relegate the artistry of rev-matching to the annals of motoring history. Other automakers compelled to offer manual gearboxes for the dedicated few will doubtlessly adopt the system, and those of us who care – who've unconsciously conditioned ourselves to crane our heads to catch a glimpse of what's coming – will cease to do so. Progress is a double-edged sword and rarely balanced, but don't fret. The 370Z's overly hyped rev-matching system isn't the end of the world, and it's hardly the best part of Nissan's new Z. Follow the jump to find out what is.
Photos copyright ©2008 Damon Lavrinc / Weblogs, Inc.
The moment the first batch of Z spy shots surfaced, it was obvious that Nissan's sports car was on its way back from the gym. The coupe was wider, shorter and more sculpted, and when the wraps came off at the 2008 LA Auto Show, we finally had proof that at least one automaker gets "it." By "it" we mean lighter. And Nissan has succeeded – just.
Although the Z's overall length has been shortened by 2.7 inches, the wheelbase cut by 3.9 inches and a set of aluminum doors join an aluminum hood and hatch, Nissan has only managed to shave 95 pounds from the curb weight of the standard model. Thanks to a wider track (0.5 inches up front and 2.2 inches in the rear), side curtain airbags and all of the other assorted equipment required by both the government and the public, the weight savings on the base 370Z is negligible, and the car will likely be heavier than its predecessor when kitted out in Touring trim.
But the Z's 3,232-pound heft is used to good effect. Weight distribution remains 54/46 front-to-rear, and a lighter, stiffer aluminum front suspension cradle works in conjunction with a rear-mounted V-bar and a carbon composite radiator housing to stiffen the structure while keeping it light. The result is 30 percent more torsional rigidity up front, a 22-percent increase in the back and a 30-percent increase in vertical bending resistance in the rear. Combined with the new double-wishbone front suspension, redesigned four-link rear setup and new shock valving, the overall effect is – at first – mildly disconcerting.
The 370Z eschews its predecessor's rickety ride for the kind of refinement you'd expect from a grand tourer. Puttering around town and mashing on the motorway, you get the sense that the 370Z has matured, dropping any adolescent ideas of performance and instead, making a B-line for Dullsville. That sensation continues right up to the point that you muscle the six-speed manual into a lower gear with a notchy ka-thunk, mash the floor-hinged throttle into the carpet and let the 3.7-liter's exhaust note evolve from a idle buzz to a mechanical beehive jacked up on Ephedra.
As you're likely well aware, the 3.7-liter VQ37VHR V6 is the same engine that motivates the Z's FM-platform stablemate, the Infiniti G37. With the optional seven-speed automatic, complete with paddle shifters, you'd swear you are driving the Z's more luxurious sibling. The thoroughly refreshed interior helps matters, dropping the Playskool plastics in favor of a soft-touch dash, redesigned IP and a leather-stitched center console that bears a passing resemblance to that of the GT-R. The eight-way adjustable driver's seat benefits from a bit more bolstering than the passenger, but both chairs balance the proper amount of coddling with the kind of side-hugging support you'd expect in a sports car. The three-pod gauge cluster still pivots to provide an unobstructed view through the asymmetrical steering wheel (it's not quite an oval, but it's certainly not round), allowing you to keep tabs on the central-mounted tach, speedometer and ghastly LCD/LED read-out.
We're at a loss on that last one. Instead of fitting traditional fuel and coolant temperature gauges – just like the trio perched atop the center console – Nissan decided to go with a set of horizontal LCDs sitting above and below a multi-information display. While the idea might be sound, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The LEDs wash out in all but the subtlest sunlight and the pseudo-techno theme doesn't tie-in with the rest of the analog dials. It's a small gripe compared to the massive blind-spots created by the C-pillars. A back-up camera isn't quite a necessity, but the side mirrors do little to alleviate the pain.
But both of these foibles are forgiven the moment you let out the stiffly sprung clutch and give it the beans. The 3.5-liter V6 fitted to the former Z remains one of our favorite mills, but the 3.7-liter proves that Darwin lives in the details. The new bent-six is mounted 15mm lower, boasts 35% all-new parts, an increased cylinder block height, and with the help of Nissan's Variable Valve Event and Lift (VVEL) system, churns out 332 hp at 7,000 rpm and 270 lb-ft of torque at 5,200 rpm. Along with the increase in displacement and power, redline is up to 7,500 rpm, but getting that high into the rev range comes with an aural cacophony that's far less desirable than the thrust accompanying it.
In Sport Package trim, the 370Z comes equipped with 19-inch forged-aluminum RAYS wheels shod in Bridgestone Potenza RE050A rubber (245/40 front and 275/35 rear). The standard brakes (12.6-inch fronts, 12.1-inch rears) are tossed in favor of 14-inch rotors in front and 13.8-inch discs out back, and the variable ratio brake pedal, Electronic Brake-force Distribution and Brake Assist all work together with the ABS and Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) to provide a suitable safety net for ham-fisted frat-boys intent on exploring the Z's substantial limits of adhesion on public roads.
While the 370Z does its best grand-touring impression in the civilian world, the refreshed Z grits its new air-dam-mounted fangs and goes in for the kill out on the track. Even with the traction control on, the 370Z is a revelation compared to its predecessor. Smooth inputs allow you to brake later, accelerate earlier and rarely worry about the terminal understeer that plagued the last generation. With the traction control off, it gets even better. Trail-braking elicits the perfect amount of rotation towards the apex and with the Sport Package's viscous limited-slip differential, a judicious press of the long pedal provides the perfect opportunity to test the Z's speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion setup.
With redesigned mounting bushings and a solenoid valve that acts like a damper under harsh loads, the weighty feel of a wheel that was mildly cumbersome on the road makes perfect sense when applying quick corrections -- something we had the chance to explore on a particularly short downward slope leading into the first turn at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch. With a slightly off-camber exit following a drop into a right-hand bend, the rear suspension unloaded quickly (for the record, we were forewarned) and the back end lightened just enough to set our neurons on full alert. A quick correction to the left while feathering the throttle brought things right back into line, and we were headed down the straight in third, then fourth gear, ready to tackle the next right-hander.
Hard braking induces a small amount of dive, but not nearly enough to break the Z's composure, and body roll in the bends is nominal at best. Despite being aware of the SyncroRev Match system, our muscle memory subconsciously pivoted our right foot onto the gas pedal while braking before the hairpin. As impressive as the throttle-blipping doodad is (it's fun to drag the shifter around at stop lights and let the engine rev), after our third lap we disabled it by pressing the S-Sport button above the stick. The system is nearly flawless, but old habits die hard.
After a full day of flogging, we're perfectly content declaring the 2009 370Z one of the best performance coupe bargains on the market. With a sticker starting at $29,930, a repositioned trim package that only offers two models (base and Touring) and a convertible on the way that will almost assuredly look more attractive than the Z33 (it was designed right next to the coupe, unlike the 350Z), Nissan has hit all of the right pressure points to stir the enthusiast's soul.
Although pricing for the Sport Package has yet to be announced, it's the only way to go. Forget the Touring trim, option up for the NISMO engine oil and LSD cooler (equipped on our tester and highly-recommended by Nissan if you plan to hit the track) and enjoy excessively. As for the styling – get over it. It's impressive in person and has significantly more presence than its predecessor. And if you're worried about the future of heel-and-toe, don't be – you can hold onto the past with the press of a button.
Photos copyright ©2008 Damon Lavrinc / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
All-new, shorter, wider, faster.
Nissan is calling the 370Z an all-new car, and it's hard to argue with that. The wheelbase of this sixth-generation car is almost four inches shorter than the previous-generation 350Z, and all of the sheet metal is new. Overall, the 2009 Nissan 370Z is 2.7 inches shorter and 1.3 inches wider, and although the styling has something plainly in common with the previous (2008) model, almost every plane and contour is subtly or distinctly different.
As a gesture of respect to the designers of the first Z-car, the base line of the rear quarter window sweeps up just as it did on the original 1970 Datsun 240Z. In more modern vein, the front and rear light shapes are hooked (or barbed) for improved visual effect, and are quite unlike the symmetrical shapes found on the preceding model.
At the rear, the new lights combine with more-rounded contours to produce an elegant effect not unlike that of a Porsche. Altogether, we think the appearance is more subtle and mature than the somewhat squat aspects of the outgoing model.
There's still ample space in the seats for two occupants to travel in comfort, but the interior ambiance is now much improved by the new design and the choice of far more suitable textures.
Now enlarged to 3.7-liters, the V6 engine has plenty of power and a high operating speed. It's hooked to a six-speed manual with Nissan's interesting new SynchroRev system that matches revs for you on downshifts as long as the system is switched on at a button alongside the gear position indicator. The seven-speed automatic transmission does something very similar, blipping the throttle to match revs when you tug the paddle for a downshift.
By keeping the model variations to a minimum, but splitting the available options essentially between manual and automatic, basic and Touring, Nissan has broadened the appeal of its iconic Z-car in a meaningful way.
The 2009 Nissan 370Z is offered in just two models: the 370Z ($29,930) and the 370Z Touring ($34,460). Currently, it's only available as a coupe.
The standard 370Z is well equipped, and includes the Nissan Intelligent Key with push-button start, power windows with one-touch auto up/down feature, power door locks with auto-lock feature, a center console box with a new non-intrusive cover design, automatic climate control, rear window defroster with timer, two 12-volt power outlets, four cupholders (two in door panels, two in center console), dual overhead map lights and a AM/FM/CD/AUX four-speaker audio system with illuminated steering wheel-mounted controls. It comes with the standard six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters ($31,230).
The 370Z Touring model adds four-way power adjustable heated synthetic suede and leather-appointed sport seats with adjustable lumbar support, a 6CD Bose audio system with eight speakers (includes dual subwoofer) and MP3/WMA playback, XM Satellite Radio (XM subscription required, sold separately), Bluetooth Handsfree Phone System, HomeLink Universal Transceiver and passenger seat map pocket. It comes with the standard six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters ($35,760).
Options are limited to a Sport package and a Navigation package. The Sport package ($3,000) adds 19-inch forged lightweight aluminum-alloy Rays wheels, fitted with Bridgestone Potenza RE050A high-performance radials. Spoilers are fitted fore and aft, and lower the car's drag coefficient from 0.29 to 0.28. Also included with the Sport package are higher-spec brakes with 14-inch front rotors and 13.8-inch rear rotors (versus 12.6/12.1-inch standard rotor sizes) with four-piston front and two-piston rear aluminum calipers. The chassis calibrations are otherwise the same as on the base car.
The Navigation package ($1,850), offers a GPS powered by a hard drive and featuring a touch-screen display. The system includes real-time traffic information from XM NavTraffic, which requires a paid subscription. Also bundled in this option is a 9.3 Gig Music Box hard drive and interface system for iPods and other MP3 players.
Safety features include dual-stage front airbags plus front seat-mounted side-impact supplemental air bags for torso protection and side-curtain airbags for head protection. Active head restraints are also fitted, as are four-wheel tire pressure monitors. Active safety features include anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control.
Now shorter and wider than before, the Nissan 370Z exhibits crisper contours and tighter surface tension on the panels. Front overhang is perhaps still a little long, but it is in the best interests of efficient aerodynamics and, besides, styling that emphasizes the rear-wheel-drive nature of the beast is an important part of the car's image.
Nissan chose to retain the vertical metallic exterior door handle, which is not our favorite feature because it's difficult to grasp, and to echo the rear quarter-window look first seen on the original 240Z. We think that little nod to history has been skillfully adapted. Attractive Z-badged turn signal markers fill the void between the front wheels and the front-door shut line, while vertical bars in the grille opening up front make the car look a little like a feeding manta ray.
The surface of the bodywork is comparatively devoid of bling. Nissan's hamburger logo graces the front end, and a shiny 370Z badge decorates the rump, but it's otherwise tastefully simple.
The Sport model gets Rays wheels with five artfully faceted split spokes, and look terrific peeking from the 370Z's muscular wheel wells. We've only seen the base car's wheels sitting apart from the car, but they don't look bad either.
At the rear, the dual exhaust outlets are tidily integrated with the rear fascia, and so is the rear spoiler when fitted as part of the Sport option. But we think more could have been made of the tail with a diffuser-like lower edge. See what you think.
Although it's not immediately obvious, one of the most telling aspects of the car's body is that the doors, rear hatch and hood are all made from aluminum, obviously in the quest for lower weight. Although the hood of the previous Z was aluminum, it used steel supports. Not in this one. Despite the added strength in the body, Nissan claims a 90-pound weight reduction.
The interior is hugely improved in this sixth generation Z-car, with much richer-looking materials and a design that escapes the low-rent effect of the old 350Z. A high-tech looking steering wheel (shared with the Maxima) is a bold centerpiece in the dash, a large Z gleaming in its center boss. The wheel was skimmed to produce differing thicknesses around its circumference, and tightly clad in solid and perforated leather at the appropriate segments. Buttons stud the beefy spokes for close-at-hand control of the stereo and cruise control.
The instrument panel still moves with the adjustable steering column, and still has a passing resemblance to a motorcycle gauge cluster, but the gauges are large and clear, with a 9000-rpm tachometer sitting dead center. A 180-mph speedometer is set off to the right, and a rather unusual aluminum circle at left contains two rows of LEDs for temperature and fuel level indication.
Naturally, the three auxiliary gauges that have always graced the Z-car's dash top are there, providing the time, oil temperature and battery state of charge. The seats in the new 370Z are larger and more supportive than before, and are of slightly different design right to left. Fittingly, the driver gets more aggressive bolsters than does the passenger.
The inconvenient shock-tower support bar that seriously compromised luggage space in the old car went the way of the shortened midsection, and there is now a cross-car bar directly behind the front seats, where it performs more of a locating role than an obstructive one. Rear luggage space is quite decent now, and the rear hatch provides unimpeded access. The big rear B-pillars produce distinct blind spots, but can be worked around quite well by positioning the large outside mirrors to compensate.
On automatic-transmission equipped cars, alloy shift paddles sprout from the steering column, their rear faces coated with a matt texture for positive finger actuation. In cars with the navigation system, the screen is tidily integrated into the center console, the usual Nissan ATM-like keyboard neatly incorporated at its base.
Along with the improved aesthetics comes rational layout and control function. Operating the stereo system is straightforward, and learning the navigation functions did not require any reference to the manual. The standard four-speaker stereo produces pretty good quality sound, so we expect exceptional performance from the 240-watt Bose unit found in the Touring model, with its six speakers and dual subwoofers though we haven't listened to it.
Access to the car, as with many sport coupes, is a little more difficult than with your average SUV, but the doors open fully and the sills are not unduly wide. For those inclined toward sportier cars, the new interior now compares favorably with cars costing a lot more.
The previous 350Z was fun to drive, but this new 370Z is a revelation. Where the 350Z was somewhat truck-like and crude in certain circumstances, this one is much better integrated. One can better appreciate a cohesive sense of control from the wheel, the pedals and the levers. The control relationships just seem better networked, all on the same page.
With the shortened body came increases in torsional rigidity at both ends of the car, and this solidity concentrates the feeling of agreement from all parts of the chassis. It now feels agile rather than brutal, supple rather than rigid, and it is easier to drive as a result.
We only had the Sport model to try out at Spring Mountain Motorsports Park in Nevada, and the car took to the course as if to the manor born. Since the 370Z uses a much-modified version of Nissan's FM platform, we expected some of the tail-happiness we've seen in cars using that chassis. But while we could occasionally provoke a spot of tail-wagging by adding too much power at corner exits, or by turning hard on a trailing throttle, the transition was progressive and easy to read.
For those not practiced at the art of double-clutching and heel-and-toeing, Nissan's SynchroRev system helps out enormously by blipping the throttle on downshifts to match engine speed with rear-axle speed for smooth synchronization.
Unlike true double-clutching, SynchroRev does not first select neutral then rev the engine to the required speed, so the synchronizers are still called upon to help out. You can feel the sensation through the shift lever as the synchros clutch in, and the purists among us would still prefer to do our own legwork. But there's no denying that it's a brilliant idea for most people, and even for purists on occasion.
Nissan's VVEL variable-valve timing systems has endowed the 370Z with a very broad torque spread, so forays to the 7500-rpm redline are not often needed. But when you do venture there, the famous high-rpm hullabaloo and clutch growl we know so well from the VQ-engine series turns back up. But it's hardly there at all at lower engine speeds, and that's another sign of the car's improved manners.
With steering that is weighted just about perfectly for a sportscar, the 370Z steers with great precision, turns in decisively, and will tighten the line even at high lateral-g loadings. There's simply more grip than you first think. And the big brakes as fitted to Sport models work as well as advertised.
Apart from some tire roar on rough surface textures, the ride is surprisingly calm and quiet on the public road for such a close-focused sportscar. The 370Z will undoubtedly make a fine grand tourer, particularly with the standard 18-inch wheels and tires.
Improving technology lends a broad operating range to the new Nissan 370Z in every aspect, making it a usable everyday commuter as well as a fun track day car, but the Sport package is nonetheless aimed directly at enthusiasts. As is the unmistakable visual signature. Here's a car that really looks like it's doing 100 mph while parked. Yet its civilized character and affordable price will likely attract one-car singles for all-around motoring activities.
Barry Winfield filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the 370Z Sport at Spring Mountain Motorsports Park in Nevada.
Nissan 370Z ($29,930); 370Z Touring ($34,460).
Options As Tested
Sport Package ($3,000) includes 19-inch forged lightweight aluminum-alloy wheels, Bridgestone Potenza RE050A high-performance radials, front and rear spoilers, bigger brakes.
Nissan 370Z ($29,930).
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