The Nissan 370Z fits between more expensive sports cars like the Porsche Boxster/Cayman and less expensive, less powerful cars like the Mazda Miata. Available as a coupe or convertible, the Z also competes with the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro, though it is sportier and only offers seating for two instead of four.
The coupe version of the Z was redesigned for 2009, getting a new name to reflect a larger engine. The redesigned version sports a shorter wheelbase and all-new styling inside and out. For 2010, the convertible version gets the same treatment. In both cases, the sixth generation of the Z is the best yet.
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. Although the styling has something plainly in common with the pre-2009 model, almost every plane and contour is subtly or distinctly different.
The previous 350Z was fun to drive, but the latest-generation 370Z is a revelation. With the shortened body came increased torsional rigidity, which results in a greater 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. Quick, responsive steering also helps.
The roadster is sturdier than most open-top competitors, but isn't as solid and controlled as the coupe.
The 370Z is fast. The 3.7-liter V6 can motivate the car from 0 to 60 mph in as little as 5.2 seconds. Power is readily available across all rev ranges, but the V6 can sound somewhat gruff during hard acceleration. We like the new SynchroRev feature available with the six-speed manual transmission. It blips the throttle during downshifts to match revs and keep the car from getting upset during performance driving. The responsive seven-speed automatic transmission also has a rev matching feature, and it comes with steering wheel shift paddles for those who want to exercise more control.
The new generation Z is much improved on the inside over the pre-2009 models. The materials are much richer looking and the design escapes the low-rent effect of the old 350Z. Along with the improved aesthetics comes rational layout and control function.
There's still ample space in the seats for two occupants to travel in comfort. The coupe has a modest but usable rear cargo area under the hatch, while the convertible has a small trunk sized for a couple of duffle bags at best.
We did find a couple of minor drawbacks. Rear visibility can be limited in both body styles, entry/exit is strictly for younger and more limber occupants, and engine and tire noise can intrude. The roadster suffers from wind noise when the top is down.
The Nismo model introduced for 2010 is best for track use. It has more performance features but has a very hard ride and is considerably louder than the standard versions.
Fast, agile and with a civilized interior, the 370Z is one of the best performance values on the market.
The current generation of the Z is almost three inches shorter and 1.3 inches wider than the pre-2009 models. The coupe was updated to the new platform for the 2009 model year and the convertible gets the same changes for 2010.
Both body styles exhibit 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. Vertical bars in the front grille opening make the car look a little like a feeding manta ray. We think the front end has a definite aftermarket look, kinda like it was designed by Need for Speed video game players.
Although it's not immediately obvious, one of the most telling aspects of the new design 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.
Nissan chose to retain the vertical metallic exterior door handle, which is not our favorite feature because it's difficult to grasp. As a gesture of respect to the designers of the first Z-car, the base line of the coupe's rear quarter window sweeps up just as it did on the original 1970 Datsun 240Z. We think that little nod to history has been skillfully adapted. In more modern vein, the front and rear lights are hooked or boomerang-shaped for improved visual effect, and they're quite unlike the symmetrical shapes found on the preceding model. Attractive Z-badged turn signal markers fill the void between the front wheels and the front-door shut line.
The convertible is a two-seat roadster with a power cloth top. Nissan knew early in the design process that a convertible would join the lineup, so the convertible top looks to be better integrated this time around. With the top up, the body silhouette looks more natural and less awkward than it did on the 350Z. The roadster comes standard with a black top, and a Bordeaux (maroon) top is optional. The top is cloth, not vinyl, and inside it adds a headliner for better interior isolation. There is no latch for drivers to flip or turn. This allows for remote operation via a button on each door handle.
The surface of the bodywork is comparatively devoid of bling on both body styles. Nissan's hamburger logo graces the front end, and a shiny 370Z badge decorates the rump, but it's otherwise tastefully simple.
At the rear, the new lights combine with more-rounded contours to produce an elegant effect not unlike that of a Porsche. The dual exhaust outlets are tidily integrated with the rear fascia, and so is the rear spoiler when fitted as part of the Sport package. But we think more could have been made of the tail with a diffuser-like lower edge. Altogether, we think the appearance is more subtle and mature than the somewhat squat aspects of the outgoing model.
Models with the Sport package get 19-inch Rays wheels with five artfully faceted split spokes. They look terrific peeking from the 370Z's muscular wheelwells. The base 18-inch wheels are very attractive, too.
The Nismo is only offered as a coupe, and it has several exterior modifications to give it improved aerodynamics and more performance capability. The most noticeable difference is the extended, aerodynamic nose. The base car's fang-like underbite is gone, replaced by a cleaner look with a very prominent chin spoiler. The Nismo also has wider side sills, a unique rear bumper with a substantial lower diffuser, and a taller, functional rear spoiler. All told, the Nismo is 7.1 inches longer than the other models, with most of that extra length in the nose.
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 pre-2009 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. 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-look circle at the left contains two rows of LEDs for temperature and fuel level indication. We're not particularly fond of these.
Naturally, the three auxiliary gauges that have previously graced the Z-car's dash top are there, providing the time, oil temperature and battery state of charge. The seats in this generation 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.
In the coupe, 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 less-intrusive cross-car bar directly behind the seats. Rear luggage space is quite usable now. While the rear hatch provides unimpeded access, there is only 6.9 cubic feet of cargo space, far less than the 22 cubic feet in the Chevrolet Corvette. The convertible's trunk has only 4.2 cubic feet of space, about enough for a couple of duffle bags. Thankfully, the convertible top operation doesn't impede on the trunk space, and Nissan provides a parcel shelf big enough for a laptop bag behind each seat.
Small-items storage is just adequate. Unlike the last generation, this one has a glove box. There are two cupholders in the center console, with one located in a shallow center bin, and two more in the doors. Models without the navigation system also have a dashboard bin that'll fit items as large as CD cases.
The coupe's big rear B-pillars produce distinct blind spots. Drivers can work around this by positioning the large outside mirrors to compensate. The convertible has predictably poor rear visibility with the top up.
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 shouldn't 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, can be difficult, requiring a step down. However, 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. Interior noise, however, may prove burdensome. The car transmits a lot of road and engine noise. The convertible also has a problem with top-down wind noise. This is caused by a pair of seals for the convertible top that located behind the occupants' outside shoulders. Wind seems to be drawn to these areas with no easy escape. Rolling the windows up about a quarter of the way eliminates the problem.
The pre-2009 350Z was fun to drive, but the Nissan 370Z is a revelation. Where the 350Z was somewhat crude in certain circumstances, this one is much better integrated. One can better appreciate a cohesive sense of control from the wheel and pedals. 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. To make up for the loss of the top, the roadster gets additional reinforcements in the A pillars, side sills and behind the seats, as well as an underbody M brace. The Nismo gets a front strut tower brace.
We tested a 370Z coupe with the Sport package at Spring Mountain Motorsports Park in Nevada, and the car took to the course as if it was born for the track. The Sport package adds wider 19-inch wheels, a limited-slip differential and Nissan Sport Brakes, with 14-inch-diameter rotors up front and 13.8-inch rotors in the rear. 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. We were also pleased that the electronic stability control system left plenty of room to kick out the tail, but we were more impressed that the tail was so controllable with the ESC turned off.
The steering is weighted just about perfectly for a sports car. The Z 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 quite well. We were able to get them smoking, however, after several strenuous laps around Spring Mountain. We would definitely recommend the Nissan Sport Brakes to anyone intending to drive their Z regularly on twisty canyon roads or occasionally take it to a racetrack.
During aggressive maneuvers, the Nismo performs very much like a coupe with the Sport package, only with a considerably harder ride. The Nismo's performance tuning makes it too harsh for street use, unless you live in an area with glass smooth roads. The suspension is so stiff, in fact, that it can make the car skip over highway joints and tar strips when there is a lateral load. In these instances, the base suspension would be more likely to maintain contact with the road.
The roadster, on the other hand, is softer than the coupe. Without a solid roof structure, it is more prone to flex, though we find it to be one of the most solid convertibles on the market. Buyers who don't regularly push the car to or near the limits of adhesion will notice little difference in handling. However, if ultimate performance is the goal, the coupe is the choice.
For those not practiced at the art of double-clutching and heel-and-toeing, Nissan's SynchroRev system, the first ever offered with a manual transmission, 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.
Cars with the automatic transmission also have a rev matching feature called Downshift Rev Matching. This works well, too, preventing the car's balance from being upset as you downshift for that next fast corner. The automatic is also well matched to the engine, making the power easy to tap.
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-series engines 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.
If you didn't know the difference, you might swear the 370Z had a V8. Nissan wouldn't give a 0-60 mph estimate, but Road & Track magazine pushed a Z to 60 mph in just 5.2 seconds. That's faster than the torquier, V8-powered Ford Mustang GT. Drivers will notice little difference between the 332-horsepower base engine and the Nismo's 350-horse version, other than the fact that the Nismo is considerably louder. The Nismo's constant engine and tire drone is another reason this car is meant mostly for the track.
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. Its civilized character and affordable price will likely attract one-car singles for all-around motoring activities. Buyers will find they have purchased one of the best performance bargains on the market. The Nismo, however, lacks the base car's refinement, making it best for hardcore enthusiasts.
Barry Winfield filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the 370Z Sport at Spring Mountain Motorsports Park in Nevada. Correspondent Kirk Bell reported from San Francisco.