2009 Nissan 370Z

Don Sherman

Although Nissan put this Z on a diet with tighter dimensions and aluminum replacing steel or composite in the hood, doors, and decklid, keeping up with more stringent collision-protection and occupant-entertainment standards is no small task. The 370Z's unibody is noticeably stiffer and more substantial feeling in the driver's hands and the optional Sport package includes wider rear tires and significantly larger brakes. So the geared-to-go base model (with the Sport upgrade) we tested weighed 3380 pounds, 120 more than the 350Z mentioned above. While Nissan quotes a credible 88-pound weight savings with comparable equipment and 26 more horsepower than the final 350Z brought to the party, the real-world speed gains are nominal. The most noticeable acceleration improvement is the 0.4-seconds trimmed from third-gear passing ability: previously 6.5 seconds, now 6.1 seconds.

Handling and braking enhancements are more substantial. Thanks to a new cast-aluminum front cradle bolted rigidly to the unibody, a carbon-fiber reinforced radiator support, and a triangular underhood reinforcement, there is no wasted motion when you wheel the steering to enter a bend. The variable-assist rack and pinion is quick to act, free of friction, and perfectly weighted. The shorter wheelbase helps the new Z feel light on its feet. There's minimal understeer at the adhesion limit - especially during left turning - and the tail steps obediently wide with indulgences of the throttle. You can back this car into a bend like a drift pro thanks to its well located drive wheels, a substantial rubber-isolated rear crossmember, and stiffening tubes running every which way under the car. While conducting an underbody inspection tour, we also spotted a differential cooler plumbed with the aluminum fittings and braided-stainless-shrouded hoses like you'd expect to see on a racing car.

The Sport package's massive brakes boast four pistons per wheel in front, two in back. The brakes are no longer supplied by Brembo, but Nissan engineers have obviously paid rapt attention to that Italian brake master. The pedal is not only firm feeling and linear in response, a heavy brake application triggers deceleration forceful enough to pump bodily fluids. We measured a 70-0 mph stopping distance of 154 feet, a seven foot improvement over the 350Z. No hint of fade was detected.

There are two unexpected pleasures. One is a remarkably pleasant ride. This is one of the most livable sport suspensions in captivity and downright BMW-like in the way it manages speed-related rock and roll while coddling the occupants. The other is a nifty gimmick that blips the throttle during downshifts like a pro heel-and-toe artist. Real pros will surely turn it off but hot-shoes in training can put it to good use while they ascend the learning curve.

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