The Nissan 370Z is a brilliant sports car with a strong performance-value ratio. The 2011 370Z comes in Coupe and Roadster versions, with styling that adheres to tradition and history.
The design of the 370Z Coupe is modern, driven by aerodynamics, but the sweeping rear quarter window harkens back to the 1970 Datsun 240Z, the car that started it all. The 370Z Coupe uses a hood, doors and hatch made of aluminum, lowering weight.
The 370Z Roadster with its cloth top has a natural shape and looks good in black. The power top is well-insulated with a good headliner, and it raises and lowers without a manual latch.
A racy 370Z Nismo coupe, a product of Nissan's NISMO performance division, boasts more horsepower, a stiffer suspension, bigger brakes and aerodynamic modifications.
The 3.7-liter engine loves to rev and produces a unique sound and, with variable valves and four camshafts, generates 332 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque at 5200 rpm, but much of its power is available at lower rpm. The Z accelerates from 0 to 60 in a quick 5.2 seconds.
Cornering is supremely tight, on a short 100-inch wheelbase, with the rotational pivot point in the chassis in its ideal position of balance, right under the driver's seat. The rigid chassis results in responsive handling, even on uneven pavement. It steers with precision and turns in decisively. It changes directions dynamically. And there are no worries about the brakes not bringing you down.
In manual mode, the optional 7-speed automatic shifts quickly. Drivers can use the paddles or lever. The shifts feel direct, like a manual transmission, thanks to what Nissan calls torque converter lock-up logic. With the 6-speed manual transmission, heel-and-toe downshifting easy. The clutch, gearbox and pedals work well together. A computer-controlled feature called SynchroRev Match will blip throttle for downshifts when you don't do it manually.
The interior is attractive and comfortable. The driver's seat is designed to keep the driver in place. The black fabric that comes standard looks and feels sporty while the optional perforated leather is beautiful. There's also a synthetic suede. The instrument panel moves with the adjustable steering column, while the steering wheel spokes are designed to provide a clear view. The gauges are big and clear, white on black with orange needles.
Cargo space is modest. The rear hatch provides easy access to 6.9 cubic feet of cargo space, far less than the 22 cubic feet in the Chevrolet Corvette. The Roadster's trunk has only 4.2 cubic feet of space, about enough for a couple of duffle bags.
Now in its sixth generation, the Z was last redesigned for the 2009 model year. The sixth-generation Roadster was launched for 2010.
The styling of the 370Z might be considered enigmatic. In its third year, it remains original, but not wow-inspiring. There's nothing to dislike, but it doesn't hold the eye. With slab-like sides and a profile set back on its haunches, it's shorter, wider, and less nubile than the 350Z (last seen in 2008). But the shape is driven by aerodynamics, delivering a low 0.30 coefficient of drag.
There's a skillful retro touch in the sweep of the coupe's rear quarter window, suggesting the original 1970 Datsun 240Z.
With big fender flares, the Z has a wide and slippery stance; panel clearances are tight. The standard 18-inch wheels aren't eye-catching, but there are exciting 19-inch wheels available with the Sport package, housing the bigger brakes and looking cool with the aero trim.
The front end has a definite aftermarket look, like it could be your racecar in a video game. Vertical bars in the front grille opening make the car look like a feeding manta ray. The headlights and taillights are shaped like vertical boomerangs, with matching hooks at the bottom just for effect.
The hood, doors and hatch are aluminum, lowering weight. The vertical bright silver door handles are difficult to grasp, literally and metaphorically. They look big and cheap, and we would say they're out of character, except they were on the 350Z too, so maybe that is the car's character, but we hope not. The door handles look like they belong on a quirky SUV.
The roadster with its cloth top has a natural shape, at least in its standard black. There is an optional Bordeaux color and we say gag me with a spoon, nothing personal. The top is well-insulated with good headliner, and raises and lowers without a manual latch.
The bi-xenon headlights pierce the night with safe powerful beams shooting from lenses no bigger than a fat flashlight. At the rear, taillights combine with more-rounded contours to produce an almost 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 with the aero package.
The Nismo is only offered as a coupe, and it has several exterior modifications to give it higher-speed aerodynamics and more performance. The nose is cleaner and nearly 7 inches longer, with a prominent chin spoiler. The Nismo has wider sills, a rear bumper with a substantial diffuser, and taller spoiler. Its coefficient of drag drops to 0.29. The spoilers provide zero front lift and zero rear lift, working with the front bumper that smoothes the flow of air to the sides of the car while the rear spoiler rules the air from the roof to the rear hatch.
The driving compartment is tidy, with a short shift lever with a good leather-wrapped knob at your grasp with the 6-speed manual; or alloy paddles sprouting from the steering column, with the 7-speed automatic. The long humped aluminum hood looks cool out the windshield. The row of three gauges perched on the center of the dashboard is a Z tradition, but they're oil temp, voltmeter and clock, and in a real driver's world they would be oil temp, water temp and oil pressure. Although, come to think of it, which do you look at more often: clock or oil pressure? Guess we're still purists.
The instrument panel moves with the adjustable steering column, with the steering wheel spokes designed to provide a clear view. The gauges are big and clear, white on black with orange needles that look cool especially at night. A 9000-rpm tachometer sits dead center, 180-mph speedometer to the right, and an unusual aluminum-look circle at the left contains two rows of LEDs for water temp and fuel level: gimmicky but we've seen worse. However, it lights up orange at night, and reflects in the windshield; we just wanted it to go away so we could be alone with the car. There's a small digital display with the usual info, including fuel range.
As with many sports cars, climbing in can be difficult, requiring a step down with the Z. However, the doors open fully and the sills aren't too wide.
There's lots of good work in the bucket seats, especially the driver's seat, whose frame, not just the bolstering, is designed to keep the driver in place, with help from small kneepads designed for support during hard cornering. The driver's cushion is cut out to support the thighs while the feet are dancing on the aluminum pedals. We also like the aluminum pedals, including the tight little dead pedal. Both bucket seats use anti-slip material.
We like the standard black fabric, so rugged and sporty that the optional perforated leather isn't needed, beautiful as it is. There's also a synthetic suede.
The grippy perforated leather steering wheel has small outside humps to keep your hands at 3 and 9 o'clock, as well as inside humps for your thumbs, to keep them at 2 and 10; Nissan solves the debate by providing for both positions! Just three buttons on the beefy spokes, for stereo and cruise control.
There's decent storage space, with a glovebox, a storage box in the dash if there's no navigation system, and small shelves for briefcases behind the bucket seats. There's an aluminum crossbar directly behind the seats, necessary for chassis stiffness, but it only gets a little bit in the way of reaching back into the cargo area for stuff, that can be covered under the tonneau.
The optional navigation has a big clear screen, tidily integrated into the center console. Its function is mostly controlled by a clicking knob with scroll arrows underneath, as well as a Nissan ATM-like keyboard with 12 buttons: efficient, not confusing.
Nice center stack with vents, plus climate and audio controls, all good. The setup for two cupholders and one cubby between the seats is good, plus cupholders in the door pockets. The interior lights are simple to turn on and off. Easy rings for door handles.
Luggage space is modest. The rear hatch provides easy access to 6.9 cubic feet of cargo space, far less than the 22 cubic feet in the Chevrolet Corvette. The roadster's trunk has only 4.2 cubic feet of space, about enough for a couple of duffle bags. The convertible top doesn't impede on the trunk space, and Nissan provides a parcel shelf big enough for a laptop bag behind each seat.
Visibility is often poor in sports cars and that's certainly true here. The coupe's big rear B-pillars create a distinct blind spots, most inconveniently over your right shoulder. The roadster has poor rear visibility with the top up.
The standard four-speaker stereo produces good sound, while the 240-watt Bose in our Touring model blew our socks off, with its six speakers and dual subwoofers. The coupe transmits road and engine noise, and the roadster wind noise with the top down.
We've gotten a lot of seat time in the 370Z, including twice on the track in the Nismo version, a 500-mile drive, with 370 of those miles on central California back roads in one joyous day, in a glittering metallic blue 6-speed Coupe (370 miles was a coincidence, but appropriate). Plus, we've driven several models around town. After all that driving, we can't say a single bad thing about the 370Z's performance. And that's saying something.
The engine and exhaust produce a unique deep pitch. Imagine a screaming straight-6 BMW merging voices with a throaty V8 Audi, and you have the song of the V6 Nissan 370Z. Or you might say the 370Z sounds like a junkyard dog howling into a concrete culvert, especially if you're driving through canyons like we were. Without turning to look, we can often identify a Z accelerating by purely by the sound: Rohhrl.
The 3.7-liter engine loves to linger at 6000 rpm, where it feels like it can run all day, although you almost have to run it up there to hear it, because the cabin is so well insulated. Nissan's V6 features VVEL (Variable Valve Event and Lift Control) technology, like having four camshafts, two for torque and two for top end. Redline 7500 rpm is reached with little effort, and the rev limiter strikes softly, after a convenient red light in the tachometer starts blinking at 7000 rpm, where horsepower peaks at 332. There are greedy few who will pine for more, because 332 feels just right, given the car's size.
The Z accelerates from 0 to 60 in 5.2 seconds. Its 270 pound-feet of torque peaks at 5200 rpm, quite high, but there's still plenty of torque down low, enough torque to easily spin the rear wheels coming off a second-gear corner with the stability control turned off. The VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control) is fairly sensitive in a straight line, and will barely let the wheels bounce under acceleration if the road is bumpy, but it leaves sideways room to kick out the tail without interfering.
With that torque, third gear has a broad range, to take the work out of cruising. Sixth gear is a super overdrive to achieve 26 highway miles per gallon, while making 75-mph cruising understated.
The rigid chassis uses ultra high-tensile steel, a triangular brace over the engine and aluminum cradle under it, a carbon-fiber box around the radiator, and inverted struts and a crossbrace in the cargo area. It's still 88 pounds lighter than the 350Z, thanks to the double-wishbone suspension and aluminum hood, doors, and hatch.
The Roadster is inherently less rigid than the Coupe, but it's exceptionally solid. It's beefed up at the A pillars, side sills and behind the seats, and adds a brace under the body. Drivers who don't regularly push the car near its limits won't notice any difference in the handling between the Roadster and Coupe, but if ultimate performance is the goal, the Coupe is the choice.
The cornering is supremely tight, on a short 100-inch wheelbase, with the rotational pivot point in the chassis in its ideal position of balance, right under the driver's seat. It's called the moment of inertia or, in layman's words, the spot where the spinout starts.
In those places and situations where you might expect a car to dance around, the 370Z turns. For example during hard cornering on uneven pavement, it grips like a cat. It might twitch once, and then take a set. If it responds this way to big challenges, it can breeze through others.
The Z steers with precision and turns in decisively. It changes directions dynamically. It encourages smooth driving. The threshold of grip is impressive. Feels like a big go-cart. Doesn't need much road.
The long high-speed straight ends with a sudden S curve behind a 35-mph sign. No worries about the brakes not bringing you down. Especially the big brakes on the Sport package, 4-inch rotors in front, 13.8 inches in rear (12.6-inch rotors are standard). But, like a racecar, you have to release the brakes smoothly, especially at turn-in, because the car responds so quickly.
In manual mode, the 7-speed automatic shifts quickly, 0.5 seconds, as fast as some sports cars costing two and three times as much. Drivers can use the paddles or lever. The shifts feel direct, like a manual transmission, thanks to what Nissan calls torque converter lock-up logic.
With the 6-speed manual transmission, heel-and-toe downshifting easy. The clutch, gearbox and pedals work well together. So it's ironic that the Z is the first car equipped with a computer-controlled throttle blip during the downshift, called SynchroRev Match; it comes with the Sport package. However there is a debate: Maybe you don't want the car to take over your right foot during downshifting; only dolts need it. However, it's moot because: If you don't like it, or if it gets in the way, you can turn it off. Mechanically, it only makes sense. During aggressive downshifting, four limbs have to do five things. Left hand steers, right hand shifts, left foot clutches, right foot brakes and blips the throttle. SynchroRev relieves your right foot of multi-tasking. We tested SynchroRev on the track and we can say its timing was perfect even if we don't like the concept. Notably, it seemed to stay out of the way and let the driver take control whenever we blipped the throttle for a downshift. We wouldn't have known the feature was there except when it stepped in and blipped when we lazily coasted up to an intersection.
We also got seat time in a Nismo 370Z, whose suspension tuning makes the ride too harsh for the street, if you care about a comfortable ride. But it sure is great on the track, where we tested it. It's totally confidence-inspiring. At Willow Springs Raceway in Southern California, we ran a couple laps on the tail of a Mustang Shelby GT driven by a racer, and it was the best four minutes of a day full of testing hot cars.
Great power, light weight, fantastic handling, beefy brakes, slick aerodynamics, bold styling, good fuel mileage, great 6-speed gearbox; optional 7-speed automatic with paddle shifters, even a Roadster. Base price $32k out the door, whale of a performance bargain.
Sam Moses reported from the Pacific Northwest, with Barry Winfield reporting from Spring Mountain Motorsports Park in Nevada, and Kirk Bell in San Francisco.