SOMEWHERE WEST OF JACKSON HOLE, Wyoming – Nissan 370Zki concept builder Randy Johnson suggests keeping the roadster’s seven-speed automatic shifter in “D”, though after several runs down a short course here, it’s clear the paddle shifters are well-suited for helping the car grab onto the packed snow and ice.
Mash the throttle to the floor and the tachometer bumps off the redline through first and second. The rear tracks catch full traction in third as the 370Zki’s 332 horses make the engine buzz like an angry V-6 snowmobile breathing through dual exhausts.
American Track Truck front skis and Dominator Tracks rear tracks make the Nissan 370Zki a quick, fast, audacious snowmobile that can handle the esses of our course—which is probably between a quarter- and half-mile—like a proper sports car. Nissan has done this sort of thing before, with the ’17 Rogue Warrior at the New York International Auto Show, and in 2016 with a Murano, Pathfinder, and Rogue for that year’s Chicago Auto Show.
The Nissan 370Zki makes its debut Thursday at the 2018 Chicago Auto Show. For us sports car enthusiasts, it’s the most compelling of the full-bodied snowmobiles that Johnson has built for the automaker.
For those who still prefer sport/utilities, the 370Zki offers raised ride-height as the result of the 30-inch high, by 15-inch wide and 48-inch long rear tracks. Front skis are 12-inches wide and 56-inches long, and Johnson has opened the wheel wells and added three-inch wheel spacers for clearance, though the rear tracks chatter against the leading edge of the rear well.
He fabricated custom suspension mountings and relocated the brakes. Simply lifting the throttle will bring the car to a stop, similar to a stock snowmobile, though I couldn’t stop from touching the brake pedal.
Virtually everything else is stock, including the 332-hp, 270 lb-ft. 3.7L DOHC V-6, seven-speed automatic and rear-wheel drive. Nissan estimates the 370Zki weighs about 4,000 pounds.
Though Nissan didn’t have the figure for the Z’s overall height, the snowmobile transformation requires a slight step up into the cockpit. First few runs were with the top up, as it was frozen until several runs warmed it up. The car’s bun-warmers were in constant use.
On fresh snow, the Nissan 370Zki drifts nicely through the gentle, sweeping essess. At the turnaround point, a few runs got the u-turn line to get icy quickly. The front skis don’t provide the tight turning diameter of a stock 370Z Roadster, so after sufficient ice formed at this turn-around, I brought the car to a stop and turned the wheel to its left lock and floored the pedal again, shifting up to second as the car spun a nice u-turn donut. Jim Rockford would be proud.
The return runs were just as much fun. By the end of the day, with a few other auto journos trying their hands, the whole course became a bit icier which added to the fun. On one of these late runs, with Randy Johnson in the passenger seat, the car slid close to the right bank on a left sweeper, and I had to employ some opp-lock to keep it off the bank. Just as on dry pavement, smooth is always fast.
The Nissan folks found this slice of mountain road off the main road just outside Victor, Idaho, near Jackson Hole. The planned location in the Grand Teton National Park got too much fresh powder the night before, which is great for Alpine skiers, but not so great for snowmobiles of any ilk.
Premiering alongside the 370Zki at Chicago is the Nissan Armada Snow Patrol concept, a three-row 4×4 with a Pro Comp three-inch lift kit, designed for adventurous families prone to actually taking their three-row SUVs off-road. Also added to this custom Armada are 35-inch Pro Comp MT2 Maximum Traction Extreme off-road tires mounted on 20 x 9-inch Cognito Series 61 wheels with a satin-black finish, Smittybilt off-road bumpers and grille-protector bar, and a winch mount with a 12,000-capacity winch.
It has a roof-mounted DR36 double-row LED light bar with flood- and spotlights, grille-mounted five-inch LED motorsport lights, M1A running boards and rock-sliders, a one-piece Defender roof rack and premium leather-wrapped seats with Armada Snow Patrol logos. The SUV boasts best-in-class towing capacity of 8,500 pounds.
The name has nothing to do with the ‘00’s pop band, by the way; the Nissan Armada is based on the Japanese-market Nissan Patrol. The automaker says it has no plans to offer a production version.
Despite the serious tires, the Snow Patrol rides nearly as smoothly as a production Armada, on the mountain roads near Victor, Idaho, though you’ll sense the extra three inches of ride height as you tower over sedans and crossovers. The Nissan Armada Snow Patrol is not built for tight downtown parking garages.
Neither is the Nissan 370Zki, though it would be an interesting addition to the trim levels of the brand’s iconic Z sports car.