Nissan gets it. They know how to engineer unbelievably exciting cars. Last year when we tested the GT-R at the North American launch, we carved though dangerous mountain passes and assaulted the racetrack with unyielding vengeance. The GT-R is undoubtedly the best car for the money on the market and easily embarrasses cars costing five times as much. However, for the aging 350Z platform its assertiveness in the marketplace was dwindling. Although the car received minor tweaks, facelifts and add-ons, the rest of the market was catching up, including the Koreans. Now Nissan has just laid down a royal flush in the form of the 370Z.
In pictures it was difficult to determine what look Nissan designers we aiming for. Clearly the car was inspired by the classic Datsun 240Z dating back to 1970. The point of contention for the automotive press was the flying wing headlight and taillight treatment. A radical departure from what was on the market but a signature look that Nissan carried on to both the 370Z and Maxima. All doubts were put aside when the car was finally viewed in person. Its low slung stance with ultra wide rear end gives it some presence. The distinct upswept rear quarter window, wide haunches and deep concave wheels bless the Z with impressive looks that, just like the GT-R, are all born from function
Clad in a sinister Magnetic Black, the Z drew in stares of envy where ever it prowled. The piercing xenon lights and brilliant LED tails were enough to command a double take to determine if this was an entry level offering from Italy. Well, Nissan has done the impossible yet again with a high performance sports car loaded with features for under $40,000. Even with the Sport package, the car is still a bargain given what the buyer receives in return.
At the core of the project is Nissan’s VQ37VHR V6 engine. This 3.7L dual overhead cam engine features VVEL (Variable Valve Event and Lift) and churns out 332 horsepower at 7000rpm with 270lb-ft of torque at 5,200. The powerband is wider with more low end torque and a strong pull all the way to the 7,500rpm redline with the most appealing of exhaust growls, and the engine is lighter The standard powerplant is optimized by the use of either a 7-speed paddle shift transmission with rev match or Nissan’s innovative 6-speed box. A world first in the 370Z is the SynchroRev Match technology which blips the throttle on downshift! The resulting engagement of the gears for smooth cornering enables the driver to concentrate on the apex rather than heel-toe techniques. This technology will surely breathe new life into manual transmissions that appear to be going extinct.
The extra power is but one component of Nissan’s mission to lead the class in power to weight ratios. The other initiative has been to reduce mass both rotating and static. Beyond the carbon fiber driveshaft, the fuel tank, exhaust, suspension, audio system and 19-inch forged wheels have all shed vital mass and several panels were stamped in lightweight aluminum including the hood, front fenders and doorskins. The physical dimensions of the 370Z are more compact than the previous generation with a total of 4-inches cropped off the wheelbase but 1.7-inches of added track. The end result is a curbweight 225lbs (102kg) lighter than its predecessor with a rigid body structure that boasts a 30-percent increase in front body torsion for improved cornering.
The corner has definitely been tamed by the Z. With a new effort to lighten the suspension, the 370Z features a double wishbone front suspension with forged aluminum arms and a lighter and stiffer sway bar. In the rear end, the 1-piece cradle features no welds and houses a 4-link suspension. On all four corners are the fast response coilovers and a stiffer spring to enable the Z with unnatural ability. Our tester came equipped with the sport package, a $4000 option worth every cent. Part of the Sport Package are the 19-inch RAYS forged aluminum wheels wearing Bridgestone Potenza 245/40R19s up front with 275/35R19s on the drive wheels. The Sport package also includes larger Nissan Sport brakes with the room afforded by the wheels. Electronic brake force distribution is onboard to make maximum use of the 14-inch / 4-piston fronts with sizable 13.8-inch rears clamped by 2-pistons.
As with many new performance cars today, the engineers (and the lawyers) believe car control is better managed by the factory. In the case of the 370Z, they have a case since even with the VDC on, there is loads of fun to be had. With the VDC off, however, more torque is available which helps to improved the car’s cornering. During our spirited drives through the twisties, the 370Z carved up the corners with Ginsu precision. As we found the powerband and with the VDC off, the cornering prowess of the Z turned into a Zen-like experience. A rare moment where car and driver were so intertwined, there was no faster way through that passage thanks to the SynchoRev Match technology.
The performance numbers are on par with what you would expect from a Z. While it might lag behind other exotic 2-seaters, it challenges everything else out there. We clicked off a handful of mid-5-second 0-60 mph runs with the VDC off. When it came to braking, the pedal feel was sure and direct to achieve a best stopping distance of 118 feet.
Even the base model is equipped with enough to make for a memorable driving experience. The black leather and suedette seats were heated and provided plenty of comfort and support. The interior is filled with quality materials and the optional Navigation with controls reminiscent of upscale Infiniti models. The Bluetooth link and XM radio is standard on the Z, while the Navigation package also features a handy iPod interface and a 9.3GB music keg to store tunes.
It was a sad day when it was time to hand back the keys to Nissan. The appearance of the car definitely becomes more appealing over time and the combination of features is impressive. The performance of the Z has become dramatically better. The experience left us thinking “now this is a redesign!” Lighter, faster, more agile and more innovative. In an age where sports cars gets heavier, more complex and try to be all things to all people, the 370Z is a breath of fresh air.
2009 Nissan 370Z Touring
Base price: $39,998 (2010 Roadster $46,998)
Price as tested: $46,498 with Sport & Navigation package for coupe
Engine: 3.7L V6 VQ37HR
Output: 332hp / 270lb-ft
Driveline: 6MT with SynchoRev Match
60mph-0 braking: 117ft
Tested with: V-Box Performance Meter www.vboxusa.com