We automotive critics have one major thing in common with journalists who review movies: we love to fall back on the cliché that second acts are difficult to pull off. And here we are, doing it again as we step onto the curb outside Automobile Magazine' s editorial offices in Ann Arbor, taking a good, long look at the 2009 Nissan 370z that just pulled up.
Second act, you ask? Well, yes. For the purposes of considering the modern-day Z-Car, let's look back only to 2002, when the Z was resurrected after a six-year absence. The 350Z that went on sale in August of that year effectively reset the Z-Car clock, proving once again that the Z could be desirable - unlike the 1980s models - yet affordable, unlike the famed 300ZX of the 1990s. The question in 2009, then, was whether Nissan would build on the success of the 350Z - some 160,000 examples of which found homes in America - or once again stray from the proper course for what is essentially Japan's version of the Chevrolet Corvette. After all, there are so many bad things that can happen to a sports car in the transition from one generation to another, especially when its maker's resources are diverted by a program to build a world-class hard-core machine like the GT-R. Would the new Z get bigger, heavier, and more expensive? Or would Nissan keep it simple, keep it cheap, and keep it hot? Happily, Nissan has managed to do the latter.
In fact, the new 370Z, which is just now going on sale as a 2009 model, has a starting price of only $30,625, compared with $29,205 for the outgoing 350Z. This is for a car that, as its new name suggests, has a bigger and more powerful engine under its hood. You've probably already figured out that the newest Z-Car gets Nissan's new 3.7-liter V-6 with VVEL (variable valve event and lift), a system similar to BMW's Valvetronic. Known as the VQ37VHR, the new V-6 has an extra 0.2 liter of displacement, which comes from a longer stroke. It debuted recently in the Infiniti G37 coupe and sedan, and in the 370Z it makes 26 hp more than the 350Z's 3.5-liter V-6, for a total of 332 hp. There's also a slight bump in torque.