Since its 1969 introduction, Nissan’s famous “Z-car” has appeared in many forms – some better, some not so much.
During the ’90s, in particular, it got ever-heavier . . . and also progressively more expensive. By 1996, a 300ZX turbo’s sticker price was pushing $44k and even the base (non-turbo) model was almost $38k. Even without adjusting for 15 years’ worth of inflation, that was a lot of money. Too much money, in fact, for many buyers. The Z got canceled due to slow sales.
But Nissan returned the Z-car to its roots with the 2003 redesign – and that trend continues with the recently updated 370Z, now also available in convertible form.
WHAT IT IS
The 370Z is a two-seat, RWD sports coupe/convertible.
Prices start at $31,450 for the base hardtop coupe with six-speed manual transmission.
A base convertible starts at $38,200.
Luxury-sport Touring versions of both the coupe and convertible are also available.
The hardtop coupe – and only the hardtop coupe – is available in high-performance NISMO trim ($40,830) which includes front chin spoiler and rear wing, upgraded brakes, an aggressive 19-inch wheel/tire package, limited-slip axle and a suspension set up for weekend club racing.
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2011
After last year’s complete makeover, the 370Z carries over into 2011 with few changes other than a pretty startling inflation-adjusted uptick in sticker price.
Base price in 2010 was $29,990; the convertible started out $36,970. That’s an increase of $1,460 and $1,230 respectively.
This isn’t Nissan fault, but it’s still shocking – as an indicator of how the Fed’s printing presses have debased the dollar over the course of just one year.
Toned and tight, like Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon.
Stronger – and quicker – than competitors that cost as much as $20k more.
All business cockpit that’s as serious as the car’s capability – but also extremely comfortable and handsomely fitted out.
Maybe the best deal on a high-performance sports car going.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Stevie Wonder blind spots to the sides; Pulling into traffic from side streets can be a leap of faith.
In convertible versions, you lose much of the hardtop coupe’s usable cargo area.
AC fan control needs some tweaking (more on this below).
UNDER THE HOOD
All 370Zs are powered by a 3.7 liter, 332 hp DOHC V-6 featuring drive-by-wire throttle control and variable valve timing.
This is the latest, largest and most powerful version of Nissan’s “VQ” series V-6, an engine that’s been used in the Maxima, Altima and some Infiniti models for several years now. The VQ has an established reputation as a durable, smooth and very reliable powerplant.
Compared with several key sports car competitors, it is also a powerful powerplant.
For example, the $47,750 BMW Z4 roadster comes standard with a 3.0 liter, 255 hp in-line six. It gets to 60 mph in about 5.6 seconds. The $31,450 Z hardtop coupe gets to 60 in just 5.1 seconds (the convertible is only slightly less quick; more on this below). Even the Z4′s optional twin-turbo six only produces 300 hp – and it still doesn’t get the Z4 to 60 before the Nissan Z – and this version of the BMW Z4 has a sticker price of $53,350.
The 2011 Porsche Boxster is a magnificent sports car – but it also has much less power (2.9 liters, 255 hp) isn’t nearly as quick (0-60 in 5.5 seconds) and like the BMW, also costs a small fortune ($48,100).
A Lotus Elise is slightly quicker – being much, much lighter – but not by very much (0-60 in 4.9-5 seconds flat) and it, too, carries an arm n’ leg price tag of $51,845 – almost $20,000 more than the base price of a new 370Z.
You can choose either a six speed manual transmission (available with driver-selectable computer-controlled rev-matching downshift system) or a seven-speed automatic with manual mode and F1-style paddle shifters.
All 370Zs are rear-wheel-drive and burnout friendly.
ON THE ROAD
The Z is often stacked up against the Chevy Corvette but the Nissan is a physically much smaller car overall. Both have intimate, two-seater interiors but the Z-car is about 8 inches shorter end to end (167.2 inches vs. 174.6 inches) and its wheelbase is only 100.4 inches vs. the ‘Vette’s 105.7 inches.
And of course, the Corvette is powered by a huge V-8 engine with more raw power than the fiercest of ’60s-era muscle cars. It’s also much more expensive; $49k to start and easily $75k with a few choice options.
So, it’s apples and oranges.
The Z feels closest to the Lotus Elise in terms of its instant snap-to reflexes and push-it-til-you’re-chicken cornering prowess as well as its quickness (the Porsche Boxster and BMW Z4 are also superb corner carvers but their base engines don’t quite git ‘er done when the gas pedal goes down).
But unlike the Elise, the Z has at least some cargo room and its ride quality is Lexus-like in comparison with the brutal little Lotus. That car is a terror on the track – and a killer on your back.
The 370Z also doesn’t cost almost $52k – to start.
Despite its high output V-6, the 370Z is as docile as a Maxima when you’re just puttering around. In stop-and-go traffic, a big V-6 (or a big V-8) is preferable to a little four – as in the Lotus – that doesn’t make much power until you spin it past 4,000 RPM.
The Z also offers some serious track-minded equipment for when you’re not stuck in stop–and-go traffic, including a SynchroRev Match system for the six-speed manual transmission. It blips the throttle for you in between gear changes, matching engine revs to the speed/gear you’ve selected. The Nismo brake upgrade, meanwhile, will cut the car’s stopping distance from 60 MPH to just over 100 feet, about the same performance as the $84k GT-R supercar.
A not so fun feature is the limited visibility to either side. The coupe’s steeply raked roofline and micro-sized rear quarter windows look absolutely stunning from the outside but can make it difficult to see to your left and right, especially when trying to make a right or left turn into traffic. Even where I live – in rural Virginia where the roads are mostly open and you don’t have to seize the moment to dart into an intersection – the Z’s blind spots can be unsettling.
Same issue as far as seeing what’s behind you. There’s just that narrow slit of flat glass, steeply raked. Trying to scope out what’s behind you can sometimes be like peering through a skylight while sitting in a Barcalounger in the living room.
On the upside, the door-mounted rearview mirrors are very good, with a wide range of adjustment. In addition to improving your rearward visibility, you can use them to visually caress the hunky, 911-style rear fender flares.
AT THE CURB
While the 2003 350Z was intended to resurrect the spirit of the original 1969 240Z, the restyled 370Z’s shape conjures the appearance of the first Z-car much more directly. You can see the old car in the shape of the new car’s upper canopy, its rear quarter glass and the outline of its fenders – as well as its overall “squat” – which is much wider and aggressive-looking than either the original or the clamshell-looking 350Z.
The interior is likewise a homage to the original – with a hooded three pod secondary analog gauge cluster (including oil temperature gauge) sitting on top of the dash, to the right of the main cluster and canted the driver’s way. It’s very similar to the early Z’s layout. The fuel level and coolant temperature gauges use modern LED readouts and are mounted to the left of the main cluster. You sit facing a big, centrally located tach and 185 mph speedo off to its right – the ensemble finished with titanium-looking trim and red-orange backlighting. Just under the tach is a digital LED gear indicator – manual models, too – which was probably inspired by high-performance motorcycles that also have this feature, so you can establish for sure what gear you’re in by quickly glancing at the display. On the track, where fractions of a second count, stuff like this matters. Another nice feature is the AC vent built into each door panel. These help direct cool (or warm) air where it’s needed – plus they just look cool, too.
From a functional point-of-view, there’s is very little to complain about (well, ok, one thing; see below) and everything to like. Especially the way it’s all put together – which is top drawer and not only that nicer than you’ll find in several much more costly cars, including the current Corvette.
There are what appear to be hand-fitted sections of leather on the center console and even the door armrests are softly padded – to mention just two of the many unexpectedly fine detail touches you will discover in this car. Another notable design feature is the way the entire main gauge cluster tilts with the steering wheel – so you don’t have to choose comfort or being able to read the instruments.
Though it is a compact two-seater, the Z’s designers endowed this car with a lot of usable storage space – including two large cubbies behind the front seats, a pop-open cubby on the central stack and a modular storage bin between the seats, with removable cupholder insert.
Pop the rear hatch and there’s yet more storage/cargo space – 6.9 cubic feet, total, for the coupe (convertibles have a conventional trunk that ‘s also a lot smaller, with just 4.2 cubic feet of capacity).
Technology/gadgetry includes Bluetooth audio streaming, hard-drive based Nav system with real-time traffic updates and a 9.3 Gib music hard drive.
The only fault I could find was that the fan speed control is pretty abrupt. I wanted low but I got off. If you then rotate the knob just a touch to the right from off, it comes on – hard. A little more modulation would be nice.
That’s about all I can come up with in the complaints department.
In addition to its handsomely executed interior, the 370Z is beautifully finished on the outside, too – including areas not immediately visible, such as the inside door jambs and underside of the hood. No not-quite-finished (or not clear-coated) undersides on this car.
Convertibles have a form-fitted soft top with multiple layers of insulation. Very little road/wind noise gets in, even at 80 MPH-plus highway speeds.
When you stop to consider that this car is priced literally thousands – and sometimes, tens of thousands – less than several other very desirable high-performance sports cars, including the Porsche Boxster and BMW Z4 – and actually beats them in several key categories of performance – it almost seems too good to be true.
And: Nissan – God bless ‘em - continues to skip the aggravating “Belt minder” buzzer that virtually every other make/model of new car comes with, want it or not. Nissan knows you’re (probably) not 16 – and fully capable of deciding whether and when to buckle up on your own – without harassing you like a junior high school safety officer.
I’d buy the car for this feature alone, almost!
Oh, one other thing.
The 370Z’s fuel efficiency is actually better than the old car’s: 18 city and 26 highway vs. 17 city and 24 highway.
With its 19 gallon tank topped off, the Z can go almost 500 miles on the highway (according to the EPA) before you’re running on fumes. That’s only about 70 miles less than a new Prius hybrid – and the trip’ll be much more fun.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Your sports car dollar won’t go farther.