Although the very last letter of the alphabet, the letter “Z” is certainly not the last when it comes to automotive performance. The Z car has long held the imagination and fancy of car enthusiasts for countless years. Launched in 1969 as the Datsun 240Z (S30 chassis), it introduced Americans to the notion of the affordable sports car and never looked back.
After the demise of the 300ZX with the venerable VG30DETT turbocharged engine, the Z went away for a while. But things were set in motion to bring the it back thanks to, of all people, a Brazilian-born French-Lebanese CEO of French car company Renault. Yes, Renault (in case you’ve been living under a rock for a while, the French car maker has a cross share-holding alliance with Nissan). The fifth generation Z, dubbed the 350Z, was launched in 2002 to wide acclaim. Just one look at cars on the road will immediately reveal the public’s uptake of the Z.
With the 2009 370Z (the nonclementure referring to the displacement of the 3.7L V6), Nissan aims to up the ante established by the 350Z. Although there are few changes visible at first glance, there’s much to see and explore once in the driver’s seat. Our 370Z with Sport Package is really the enthusiast’s models with no bells and whistles but that suited us just fine. We wanted the unadulterated Z experience and we got it in spades with our “Monterey Blue” tester.
The basic body lines of the previous Z carry over to the new version – the sloping roofline, high beltline and basic form – but every dimension under the sheetmetal skin has been revised. Wheelbase, width and track have all been improved for the better. There is also a reduction in overall height by 0.7 inches. Even interior cargo room has been improved, due to the elimination of that hideous integrated rear strut bar seen in the previous model.
The front fasica takes a little bit of getting used to as it immediately reminded us of a catfish. But surely enough, you quickly get used to the unique look of the front end and revel in what Nissan engineers have done for the interior.
- Whereas the previous generation 350Z’s stock seats left very little head room for 6′ and taller occupants, the 370Z seemed more accomodating to those north of 72-inches
- The interior design and materials really belie the affordability of the 370Z, with fit and finish that is really top notch (Touring model w/ navigation shown above)
- Whereas the 350Z’s interior felt more plastic, the 370Z steps it up a notch with a softer and more luxurious vibe throughout the cabin – but don’t get us wrong – modernity definitely does not mean the 370Z has gone soft
- The upper center column gauges have been redesigned for an integrated look, whereas the 350Z left you feeling as if they were an afterthought
- The instrument cluster features a large tachometer placed prominently in the middle as all sports cars should have
- If there’s one complaint we can make about the 370’s interior is the new fuel and water temp gauge – rather than simple and functiona needle indicators, they have been replaced by a row of dots that light up to indicate respective parameters; they’re hard to see in bright sunlight and the only thing detracting from a great instrument cluster
As with pretty much all Nissans these days, starting the 370Z requires just a simple push of the start button. Doing so brings the VQ37DE to life – thankfully, Nissan has decided to tone down the rather annoying exhaust note from the previous generation Z. The sound the muscular V6 produces is nothing unlike the infamous RB26DETT in the previous generation Nissan GT-Rs, reminding you of the Nissan’s sporting heritage. It’s a good indication of things to come, especially considering the 332bhp and 270ft-lbs of torque on tap for your right foot.
Acceleration from a dead stop is impressive. It pulls solidly through every gear, in a relentless pursuit of the 7500RPM rev limit. And having that aforementioned tachometer smack dab in front of you, with a built-in shift light, makes things easier. It’s quite a feat that such a large engine just loves to rev all day long, but it does suffer from some excessive vibration and noise at higher RPMs. This is a characteristic carried over from the 350Z / VQ35DE. We wish that Nissan would do a better job of isolating these two minor details – if they can manage to do so, the VQ would truly become the benchmark in production sports car engines.
What will quickly become a benchmark is the new SynchroRev-equipped 6-speed transmission. The 370Z’s transmission feels much more refined than its predecessor’s. Throw in the new rev-matching technology that basically eliminates any need for heel-tose downshifting, even the most amateur of performance drivers can shift like a professional. The SynchroRev system just does not let ANY downshift perform or sound incorrectly. Even while humming around in a parking lot, the 2nd to 1st downshift was match perfectly, quickly putting the revs right where it needs to be. We fancy ourselves as pretty good drivers, but this system is 100% accurate whereas we would be 70% accurate on a very good day. The 370Z owner is going to be very well served by this awesome technology, even more so if he intends to track his Z on occasion.
The chassis and suspension carry on this fine-tuned level of performance by offering just the right about of stiffness without being too harsh. Blasting down rough city streets without worries of bouncing around and hitting our head on the headliner is a sure sign that Nissan got it right. Point it toward the apex of a corner and the Z telepathically guides you to it, aided by the standard limited slip differential and massive, gummy Bridgestone tires. Although there is some tendency toward throttle-induced oversteer, as most rear wheel drive sports cars tend to have, it’s very controllable and certainly easy to either power through it or pull back the reins. Quite simply, it’s an amazingly fun car to drive.
Braking for the 2009-and-up models are courtesy of the typical sliding caliper set-up or the multi-piston set up found on our base 370Z with the Sport package. From what we could tell, Nissan has potentially lowered costs by moving away from the Brembo-based braking package to an unbranded package made by Akebono, but this certainly has not hurt braking performance.
The Nissan 370Z delivered miles and miles of smiles and thrills for us. It’s such a great package out of the box that we feel it’s the closest thing anyone can come to the GT-R without paying GT-R prices. Sure, it may be impractical for some people considering it holds only 2 people, but the 370Z isn’t a car for someone who’s looking for practicality. It’s truly a car for those looking for performance, fun and an outlandishly high satisfaction of ownership. At a tad over $32,000 for our Z with the Sport package, it’s a steal and offers everything a car wants. And there’s such a huge level of aftermarket suppot, upping the ante in performance is easily within reach.
Buy a Nissan Cube for your commute. Own a 370Z for everything else.
Now… how can we get one from Nissan for a long term test…?
Nissan North America
P.O. Box 685003
Franklin TN 37068-5003