This week we’ve been blessed with an overabundance of terrific sports coupes, from an Aston Martin V8 Vantage at the very high end to an affordable Hyundai Genesis coupe. To my mind, though, this retina-searing yellow Nissan 370Z sits at the perfect cross-section of value and performance.
For only about three grand more than our similarly searing yellow Genesis coupe, the 370Z has steering and a chassis that had me thinking of a Porsche Cayman (which also was just in the office). No, it’s not quite as perfect, but it’s pretty damn good. So is the shifter, which requires a good effort to move from gate to gate but is precise and feels just right in your hand. The rev-matched downshifts are also rather neat. I eventually shut off that feature to practice my own technique, and there’s no doubt the computer is smoother. Best of all, the 370Z is fast. I’m not a fan of all the noises the VQ engine makes, but it sure gets the job done when you hit the go pedal.
I took the car all the way to Chicago to visit my parents, and I found its ride firm but livable, and the seats did a decent job of supporting my back. It’s certainly relaxed enough so that you could use it as a daily driver, even if you have a long commute. I took two coolers of free steak back (thanks Mom and Dad!) and was surprised by how easily they fit in the trunk. The only disappointment, it turns out, was my dad’s. He was very excited to see the car, as he long ago owned a Datsun 260Z. I let him wheel the car around our cul-de-sac, which was enough for him to conclude the 3232-pound Nissan has nothing on the 2404-pound Datsun in terms of nimbleness. Even he had to admit, though, that the 370Z offers a whole lot of bang for the buck.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
This car is a riot. Perhaps I’m so happy with the 370Z because I never really cared for the 350Z, but there’s no denying the power or handling this coupe brings to the table. While the 3232-pound curb weight didn’t impress Mr. Zenlea, it certainly looks enticing next to a 3849-pound V-8 Camaro or many of the other heavyweight sports cars on the market these days. The VQ engine could be more refined, but I don’t think the NVH levels are out of line with the expectations of a Nissan sports car shopper.
It’s immensely satisfying to execute a perfect (computer-aided) downshift in this Z before attacking a turn. Once you’re past the apex there’s a lot of thrust, and grabbing the next gear brings a big smile to your face. You’ll certainly notice midcorner bumps, although the Z is far easier than a Mustang to hustle down the broken pavement we use as roads in Michigan.
Could the whole package be more refined? Certainly. But the point of a 370Z is to deliver strong performance at a reasonable cost. If you want refinement, go look at the BMW 3-Series, and expect to pay $50,000.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
Here’s a great aspirational car for all those twenty- and thirty-something single gearheads who want a fun car that makes a statement. The 370Z is plenty quick and very raw yet still reasonably livable day-to-day, so long as you can forgive the roughish ride of a sports car on nineteen-inch wheels. I noticed a bit of gear whine, especially at low speeds, but the overall driving experience is pretty invigorating. The novel S mode of the shifter is pretty cool; I don’t want to like it because it interferes with the purity of driving, but it works really well, matching engine revs on both up- and downshifts. I even tried to make clumsy, clutch-dumping downshifts and upset the balance of the car, but I wasn’t able to fool S mode into permitting a sloppy shift. The gearbox action is quite nice, too, and although it’s a bit too stiff for my liking, it works well with the Nissan’s raw character.
I really like the looks of the new Z-car as well. Its L-shaped head- and taillights are very nice details, as are the badass wheels. I’m not a big fan of this “chicane yellow” paint, though; I thought the deep blue car we had last fall looked much better.
The cabin is well designed and constructed, too, although I thought the seats were a bit flat and I didn’t like the hard plastic around the handbrake lever and the center console. That’s a minor complaint, though, since the cushy dashboard plastics are fantastic. Interior packaging is better than before, primarily in the cargo compartment, which is no longer bisected by the rear suspension-tower brace; the new Z’s brace is farther forward and out of the way. The load floor is still pretty high, but you could easily fit a healthy amount of gear for two people. There’s also space immediately behind the seats for smaller luggage, although you’d need to make sure it was strapped down well, because you’ll be hard-pressed to take a corner calmly in this super-fun ride.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
Zenlea is right that this 370Z is as close as it gets to a poor man’s Cayman. The 3.7-liter V-6 produces enough power to provide thrust at any speed, but rarely overwhelms the Z. The six-speed stick and rev-matching wizardry entice you to swap gears to pour on the power. Weighty steering directs a chassis that wants to be challenged. It all adds up to a very complete sports car.
That being said, the 370Z certainly doesn’t step on Porsche’s toes. The German sports cars feel much more nimble and elegant in carving roads, where as the 370Z feels like a brutish racer. And as Phil hinted, there’s plenty of room for more refinement throughout the car. About 90 minutes into a three-hour drive, I was absolutely beat from the firm, simple seats and the coarse engine.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
This is my first face-to-face meeting with the Z and, after seeing it in photos for six months and not really being wowed, I’m surprised at how much better it looks in-person and how much sleeker and more upscale it looks compared to its predecessor. The sharp lines of Nissan’s new signature boomerang head- and taillights contrast nicely with the taught, aerodynamic sheetmetal. And those wheels! The off-camber “V” detail on the radiating arms is really unique and – combined with the sculpted spokes – almost gives the appearance of motion.
The interior of the 370Z will be instantly familiar to anyone who spent any time behind the wheel of the 350Z as it is a faithful continuation of the design language used in that vehicle. The main difference being the new Z is trimmed in higher quailty materials which gives it a decidedly more grown-up, refined feel. Nissan did a great job of giving the cockpit a more civilized look while still retaining the sporty, driver-focused, almost racer-boy ambience of the previous Z.
The 370Z is so capable and it really shines when it’s pushed hard. But when you’re not driving at eight-tenths or more, the Z feels heavy and almost sluggish. Many of the controls – steering, shifter, accelerator pedal – require quite a bit of effort to use and can make driving the Z exhausting, as several others mentioned. But for those who want a hard-core, racetrack-ready pocket-sized rocket at a reasonable price, the 370Z is manna.
Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
2009 Nissan 370Z Sport
Base price (with destination): $30,625
Price as tested: $34,240
Chicane yellow paint $500
Carpeted floor mats $115
Sport package $3000
-SynchroRev match manual transmission
-Viscous limited slip differential
-19″ RAYS forged wheels
-Front chin spoiler and rear spoiler
-Nissan sport brakes
18 / 26 / 21 mpg
Size: 3.7L DOHC V-6
Horsepower: 332 hp @ 7000 rpm
Torque: 270 lb-ft @ 5200 rpm
Weight: 3232 lb
19 x 8-inch wheels front; 19 x 10-inch wheels rear.
245/40WR19 front, 275/35WR19 rear, Bridgestone Potenza tires