Nissan's Z-cars have been around for a long time: 40 years, to be exact. Now considered an icon that forms a core element of Nissan's heritage, the 21st-century rendition of the two-passenger Z-car has received its first full redesign since emerging as a 2003 model. During the 2009 reworking, every part has been "rethought or redesigned," according to Nissan.
Moving the rear wheels forward helped shrink the wheelbase by almost 4 inches (now 100.4). Overall length has shrunk by 2.7 inches, to 167.1. Width is greater by 1.3 inches. Rear track width has grown by 2.2 inches.
More lightweight body materials have been employed. For example, this is the first use of aluminum for the door panels, hood, and hatch. Structural rigidity has increased - yet body weight has slimmed down a bit.
Though the 370Z looks like a new design, it definitely carries on the nature of the long succession of Z-cars over the past four decades. Design cues from the original 240Z include the basic aero shape and the cantilevered roof. New rear-quarter windows, sporting what Nissan calls a "subtle upswept line," also hark back to the 240Z of 1970.
"Signature" Z-car elements that continue from the past include a long nose and canopy cockpit, along with vertical door handles. New "boomerang" shaped headlamps and taillamps are installed, and xenon high-intensity-discharge headlamps are standard.
Enlarging the engine accompanied by a model-designation change, from 350Z to 370Z. Not only has the new engine increased in displacement, it produces more horsepower along with improved fuel economy. Nissan's navigation system is optional, with Real-Time Traffic Information. The 3.7-liter V-6 produces 332 horsepower at 7000 rpm, and 270 pound-feet of torque at 5200 rpm. In contrast, the prior 3.5-liter V-6 made 306 hp.
Nissan claims the world's first syncronized downshift rev-matching system. Rev-matching (called "Synchro Rev Match") is optional for the six-speed manual gearbox. The available seven-speed automatic transmission includes Downshift Rev Matching, and comes with paddle shifters.
Inside is a deeply scooped instrument panel with a full-length center console. As before, instruments are attached to the steering column, but they're bigger this time. A three-pod cluster shows oil temperature, voltage, and time of day. A new "oval" three-spoke steering wheel features baseball-style stitching. Gearshift padding has changed to improve accuracy of diagonal shifts, and yield a softer feel.
Woven cloth seats are standard, with manual eight-way adjustment for the driver and four-way for the passenger. Touring editions add power heated synthetic suede and leather-appointed seats, satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity, and a six-CD Bose audio system.
Standard aluminum alloy wheels hold 18-inch tires, but 19-inch rubber is available. Seat-mounted and roof-mounted airbags are installed.
Make no mistake: the 370Z is a serious sports car meant for two avid occupants. With manual shift, in particular, the latest Z-car delivers wholly upon its promise, serving as a worthy successor to the 240Z, 260Z, and all the subsequent Z-models.
A notchy but nice gearbox makes it easier to tell which gear you're in. Shifting takes some effort, but it's well worth the slight strain. The same is true of the clutch, which requires above-average effort but is by no means oppressive.
Steering/handling qualify as top-notch, carrying on the Z-car heritage with finesse. Road/tire noise is always present, varying with the surface. On a few pavements, the sounds turn nastily intense, like a storm blowing through. The enlarged V-6 generates loads of exuberant energy to please enthusiasts, but the 370Z can be driven mildly without fuss.
Ride quality isn't bad on easy pavement, and the 370Z deals effectively with some perfections. Certain bumps hit hard, though recovery is nearly instantaneous and fully controlled. On the open metal surface of one bridge, the 370Z proved distressingly jittery - close to scary.
Gauges are distinctive, led by a big center-mounted tachometer. They're not the easiest to read, especially the trio of instruments mounted atop the center dashboard. It's easy to forget their presence completely.
Over-the-shoulder views leave much to be desired, though big mirrors help. Seats are simply stupendous for support and seriousness, without shirking the need for comfort. Getting into the 370Z demends some squirming and bending, so you'd better be looking forward to the road experience before taking on that effort. Because the window doesn't reach to the end of the door, there's a sharp corner on the door that can actually endanger the unwary.
Space below the hatch is helpful, but hardly huge. The cargo area can hold one or two suitcases, plus a few smaller items. Behind the large glovebox door, actual space is limited.
In short, this isn't a car for everyone; but neither were any of its predecessors. For those who can appreciate the Z-car's lineage, the current model is likely to deliver sheer delight.
In base trim with manual shift, the 370Z has a Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $30,650 (including destination charge). An automatic transmission adds $1,300. Touring editions start at $35,180 with the manual gearbox, and the Nismo version stickers for $39,850. With either transmission, the 370Z gets an improved fuel-economy estimate from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of 18 mpg in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway.
Sales of the reworked coupe began early in 2009. A comparable roadster debuts later, as a 2010 model.
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