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Driven: A Reluctant Goodbye to the Nissan 370Z Ahead of the 400Z’s Arrival

We’re going to miss Nissan’s old sports car a lot more than we expected.

PASO ROBLES, California—I have been plagued by stories that didn't go as I planned. First was my recent goodbye to the Bentley Mulsanne, in which I discovered Bentley's opulent luxo-barge isn't as bargey as I thought. And now my goodbye to the soon-to-be-replaced 2020 Nissan 370Z, in which I discovered that perhaps this outdated sportster isn't anywhere near as outdated as I thought.

You can thank our Four Seasons Hyundai Veloster N for this particular revelation. With both the Nissan and the Hyundai parked at the curb, I chose the Veloster for a Central Coast getaway to celebrate my wife's birthday because it has a bigger trunk and a softer ride (as long as you avoid the "N" suspension setting) than the 2020 Nissan 370Z. But an hour and a half outside of Los Angeles, and a few miles from the nearest place you could refer to as a town while still maintaining a straight face, we hit a pothole hard enough to lacerate the Hyundai's right-front tire. The Veloster doesn't have a spare, so we nursed it back to the nearest gas station, then holed up in a no-tell motel across the way to await a flatbed. My son came to get me (one of the advantages of buying your kid a car is the fact they are kind of beholden to you), and I returned with the 370Z not thinking of it as a goodbye drive but simply in order to continue our journey.

The 370Z in question was a Nismo model, the track-ready version and arguably best-looking of the end-times 370s (especially compared to that ridiculous looking 50th Anniversary Edition). For those unfamiliar (and really, there's no excuse for that, as the car is largely unchanged since its 2015 refresh) the Nismo gets a stiffer suspension, more horsepower, a better clutch, and a body kit that makes it 3.0 inches longer than the standard Z. With white paint and red trim inside and out—including the seating surfaces of the Recaro buckets—it's a great example of how a body kit need not completely ruin a car's aesthetics.

2020 Nissan 370Z Nismo: The Fundamentals Never Change

This unexpectedly long drive also reminded me that while technology may change, the fundamentals of what makes for a good sports car don't. Out in the curves, this is a classic old-school sportster: Stiff ride, heavy steering and clutch, and plenty, plenty, plenty of power. 350 horsepower and 276 lb-ft of torque (up from 332/270 in the non-Nismo 370Z) are not monster numbers by today's standards, but no one seems to have told the Z that. The old VQ-series V-6 under the Z's hood is a classic stump-puller, and it sounds fantastic as the revs climb, building from a moan to a wail to a metal-gnashing howl. Last time our colleagues down the hall at MotorTrend tested a Nismo Z, they clocked it to 60 in 4.9 seconds, a great number in 2015 and still plenty respectable today. The VQ may be in the autumn of its years, but it sure as hell isn't showing any signs of slowing down.

The 370Z's handling hits a sweet spot as well, with enough grip that you can push it hard, but not so much that you have to flirt with death to get the car to skip around a bit. The ride quality is track-car firm, which I thought would be a deal-breaker on this goodbye ride—my wife has an achy back—but it's not so harsh as to threaten your dental fillings' integrity.

Actually and unexpectedly, my wife objected most to the steering. The 370Z's steering is old-tech hydraulic power assist, and it's alive with feedback, which is great in the turns. But when she took a turn in the driver's seat for a highway jaunt, the constant vibration through the wheel made her hands uncomfortable. It didn't bother me, but I did find the high noise levels, both engine and road, bordering on unacceptable. Really, none of this should count against the 2020 Nissan 370Z Nismo, though. We knew full well this was the track-day version, and had the local Nissan rep known we were planning a road trip in it—which we weren't—she no doubt would have supplied us with a different model. The Nismo was pressed into this job, and it made a better grand tourer than I had any right to expect.

2020 Nissan 370Z: Old-Style Transmission, New Twist

My favorite throwback here is that the 370Z can still be had with a six-speed manual transmission. (A seven-speed automatic is an option for all models, including the Nismo.) One bit of modernity in the 370Z is the manual's rev-matching feature: Turn it on and it blips the engine to the right speed as you downshift, so you can change gears smoothly like a race driver without a rapid rear-to-front transfer of weight. Saves wear on the clutch, too.

Personally, I stubbornly despite such systems; I have owned a non-synchronized transmission, still know how to drive one, and can match my own revs just fine, thankyouverymuch. For some reason, though, I found matching revs in the 370Z harder than in other cars, which I blame on a jumpy throttle. (It's fine in most situations; it's only downshifting that gets tricky.) I'm sure if I owned a 370Z I'd get my technique down, but as a temporary steward, I sheepishly turned the rev-matching system on.

2020 Nissan 370: Dated Cabin Still Looks Good

Old car designs usually give themselves away in the cabin, but the Z? Not so much. I can't really call it modern, since this is the same basic interior we've been looking at for the dozen years the 370Z has been on sale (and, let's be honest, it's really not all that different from the 350Z that came before it). The dashboard's monochrome LCD data display is a throwback, as is the undersized infotainment screen, the lack of a telescope adjustment for the steering column, and the presence of a CD player. (What, no cassette deck?)

But old as it may be, the 2020 Nissan 370Z's dashboard is chock full of good ideas. The instrument panel is a classic, with a big analog tachometer right in front of the driver, and the whole instrument pod moves up and down with the steering column. Nissan was, I believe, one of the first automakers to use both a dial controller and touch-screen for infotainment. And those simple climate and stereo controls make it easy to switch tracks on your favorite compact disc without taking your eyes off the road; aren't we lucky to be alive in this glorious year 2003!?

Packing the Z did prove to be tricky; we'd brought a lot of stuff, including a hard-sided suitcase and a bunch of my old film-camera gear, including a rather large bag filled with an old medium-format Mamiya and all of its accessories (which, of course, I never ended up using on the whole trip). All of which fit neatly into the Veloster's trunk, but the Z? Not so much. When Robin found herself a pair of cowboy boots on sale, I was afraid to close the trunk lid for fear the whole car would explode. With some creative Tetris-ing and judicious use of storage space behind the seats, we just barely squeezed everything in.

2020 Nissan 370Z: Wait, Do We Really Have to Say Goodbye?

So yes, the 2020 370Z Nismo proved to be more adept at a goodbye road trip car than I thought it would be, and that was a pleasant surprise. But the bigger surprise was just how good the aging 370Z is, even by today's standards. I expected a car that felt behind the times and ready for retirement, but the 370Z Nismo felt reasonably up-to-the-minute, and gave me a much-needed reminder that a good, purist-oriented sports car can transcend time.

When Nissan first showed the new Z Proto, our closest preview of the upcoming 400Z, I thought, "Good, and goodbye; the 370Z is badly in need of replacement." But now that I've had one last drive in the 370Z, I'm starting to think it's going to die before its time. I hope the new Z is going to be pretty darn stellar, but I'm going to miss the old one a lot more than I expected.

2020 Nissan 370Z Nismo Highlights

2020 Nissan 370Z Nismo Pros

  • A great-handling, traditionalist sports car
  • Simple, functional interior
  • Ancient stereo helps to keep old non-recyclable CDs out of landfills

2020 Nissan 370Z Nismo Cons

  • Car is loud, rides firmly
  • Over-communicative steering can cause fatigue
The 2016 Nissan 370Z NISMO features exterior, interior and performance refinements, along with an expanded model selection that includes both 6-speed manual and 7-speed automatic transmissions and a new 370Z NISMO Tech grade.
2020 Nissan 370Z Nismo Specifications
ON SALE Now
PRICE $46,715 (base)
ENGINE 3.7L DOHC 24-valve V-6/350 hp @ 7,400 rpm, 276 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual
LAYOUT 2-door, 2-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE 17/26 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 170.5 x 73.6 x 51.8 in
WHEELBASE 100.4 in
WEIGHT 3,457 lb
0-60 MPH 4.89sec
TOP SPEED 155 mph