Car reviews - Nissan - 370Z - coupe
Styling, performance, steering feel, handling, roadholding, ride quality, cabin presentation, comfort, hatch practicality, reliability, outstanding value
Room for improvement
High-speed twitchiness, no more digital speedo, poor analogue speedo location, no reach adjustment for steering wheel, infuriating constant high frequency humming, poor rear vision, inevitable (but forgivable) road rumble
10 Jun 2009
WHAT is a Nissan Zed car to you?
Is it a sexy little Datsun from the 1970s? The 240Z and 260Z was one of Japan’s first classics, driven by the equally alluring Bionic Woman and worshipped by many as a cut-price Jaguar E-Type.
Maybe you think of the 1979 280ZX or original 300ZX of 1984, with their overwrought styling, overburdened performance and over-the-top chintziness.
Or perhaps the latter, the redeeming 300ZX (1990) springs to mind, all respectably attired yet athletic, like a fit Gordon Gekko, epitomising the boundless confidence of a Japanese car industry right on the eve of an economic cataclysm that this Porsche 928 wannabe, its maker or the country itself would not soon recover.
No matter how distorted the dream of the original concept, all represented a continuous line of evolution on that first Zed theme of affordable grand touring pleasure.
So, in contrast, the 2002 350Z that (eventually) followed was altogether a different beast – more of a modern take on what many, with the benefit of hindsight, might have desired that first 240Z and its descendents to be, complete with added rawness and grunt.
Muscular, loud, almost loutish but gleefully fun nonetheless, this Nissan has become, in our eyes at least, this century’s first classic.
Where, then, does this leave its eagerly awaited 370Z successor?
On paper, this car is a bit of a modern miracle, extending the 350Z sphere by being shorter, sharper, lighter and more lithesome, and yet also more controllable, habitable and comfortable.
Even before you turn a key (or press a button in this case) the 370Z promises to be a no-excuses sportscar. At $67,990 plus on roads, it is also squaring up as this decade’s sports car bargain.
Stylistically, the Zed is yet another take on the old theme, complete with a long bonnet, short overhangs, bulging wheel arches and sleek coupe silhouette. The Z-like headlight and tail-light treatment is at least different, if not altogether pretty, but Nissan has hit the right note proportion-wise.
Our test car was finished in a particularly fetching shade of white that solicited admiring glances, although some thought it made the butt look too big.
But the 370Z is not perfect, so let’s get the important bad bits out of the way first.
We found that at high speeds the car seemed a tad nervous, and the steering was a little too reactionary to uneven road cambers, for the driver to feel completely relaxed.
Speeding along on a (private) bitumen road complete with some undulations, we were busy constantly correcting the twitchy wheel to keep the Nissan on track.
This, along with concerns about the longevity of a clutch that seemed to stir up quite a stink at even a drop of the pedal are our only real driving concerns.
However, both problems could simply be confined to our particular test car.
Otherwise, from the moment the 370Z roars into life with a V6 soundtrack that is somehow reminiscent of Stuttgart’s seductive flat-six symphony, you know you’re in for a great time.
A development of the 80 per cent-new VQ35HR rolled out with the last 350Z facelift in May 2007, the VQ37VHR gains 198cc and continuous variable valve timing with variable valve lift for a plumper wad of torque down-low as well as a higher (by 15kW) and fuller power peak compared with the old 3.5-litre unit.
And, sure enough, the muted but still musical metallic rumble of the 245kW/363Nm 3.7-litre V6 springs into life like a jack-in-a-box the instant power is applied to the rear wheels, with the massive grip of the Yokohoma 225/50R18 tyres ensuring that acceleration is crisp and clean.
Nissan seems to have meticulously worked out how much electronic intervention is needed here, because the driver is not aware of any meddling from the stability and traction control unless a) the road is not bone dry or b) that skunky clutch is dropped for a smoking start.
Even with the ESC and TC left on, however, the driver needs to be alert, because the 370Z still feels like a weighty rear-wheel-drive machine, despite being appreciably lighter than before.
Take the six-speed manual gearbox. It demands to be man-handled in a way that would make gear changes seem ham-fisted in, say, a Mazda MX-5 or Honda S2000. But it isn’t heavy and clunky like a Commodore V8’s Tremec shifter, just solid, measured and very satisfying to use.
It doesn’t really do ‘hurried’, but so much torque is available at every gear, dripping from every ratio, that it really is not necessary to rush it through the six forward cogs. The engine does not relish being over-revved, anyway.
We felt we could accelerate from standstill in fourth or even fifth gear, but didn’t try because of the doubts about our smelly clutch.
The manual’s shift pattern, by the way, is a close double-H pattern, so we were grateful for the gear ratio indicator in the central dial. And we never grew tired of the SyncroRev feature that blips the throttle on down changes, double-declutch style. You can switch it off if you prefer to do it yourself.
What would be more useful, though, is if the 350Z’s big digital speed readout reappeared.
It could take the place of the useless-to-most-owners voltage gauge, because the driver has to really concentrate hard on reading the small analogue speedo tucked away near the right-hand corner of the dash.
So there is every likelihood of exceeding the posted limit because this sub-1500kg Datsun is deceptively fast point-to-point.
Power piles on pretty much all the way to the 7000rpm peak, meaning the car bolts forward in every gear as if something is goading it on just ahead. Nissan says the 0-100km/h sprint is over in 5.4 seconds, and ours felt fighting fit.
That’s not shabby at all, and the fact that we averaged about 10.5 litres per 100km in everyday driving conditions – with the occasional blast through the gears included – has us convinced of the VQ37 unit’s impressive efficiency.
Economy is probably far from your mind most of the time, however, because even in second, you soon become cop bait, while third gear is where the Nissan’s performance comes on especially strong, vying with the likes of the Porsche Cayman S for outright speed.
Find a bunch of bends and those two gears are all you need to have fun, since you can power through as if pushed along by a giant hand pressing down from up above. There is a delicacy and poise hitherto unknown in the Zed. But there’s also enough lairy tail-out action should the mood take you.
That progressive ESC means it intervenes oh-so-gently gently, so you can still kick the tail out as required, but with an electronic safety net to catch you.
Be brave and kill the ESC switch, however, and you are out on your own. The Nissan will sign its name across the road Terence Trent D’Arby style. That’s the viscous limited slip diff in action for you.
Alternatively, you can have yourself flung straight into the Armco barrier going backwards if you’re not on the ball at ballistic speeds across a wet and winding way. ESC left on it is, then.
Nissan’s engineers have also dialled in just the right amount of steering effort and response, so keeping the car in check is richly rewarding as you’re roaring along a set of apexes.
In these conditions, the Zed feels more planted than a Cold War double agent. Nevertheless, when gunning it, we were grateful for the Nissan (rather than Brembo) in-house brakes, washing off speed with effortless ease, especially when things did get a tad twitchy.
Maybe we should blame the fundamental changes made to the chassis, as the 370Z is 65mm shorter, 8mm lower and 30mm wider than the 350Z 100mm is shorn off the wheelbase and the footprint is fatter (front and rear track are 15mm and 50mm wider respectively), the seats are set 100mm lower, and the suspension is significantly lighter than before.
We cannot recall the last 350Z we drove in 2007 feeling like this at similar speeds, albeit on very different roads.
Or perhaps it has something to do with the ride, which has gone from being a deal-breaker in the earlier versions of the 350Z to astoundingly pliant for the level of sportscar handling and roadholding on offer. Whisper it: this car borders on being comfortably absorbent.
And, by golly, it is a whole lot quieter than the boomy old car.
Yes, road noise is still present, and you won’t mistake the Zed for a Zeppelin airship, but it only becomes tiresomely vocal on certain coarse bitumen, and then nowhere near as loudly as before.
By contrast, the 350Z was downright rumbly, droning incessantly from the road like its tyres were cast in concrete.
You do sit lower in the 370Z, so a bending knee and swinging hip is recommended when lowering yourself down into that tight interior. Nissan’s brochure describes the seat as a “sports leather interior with non-slip insert".
If you are wide, you are likely to be feel the pinch of the otherwise fabulously comfortable, supportive and attractive seat, that slides back to accommodate beanpoles. Annoyingly, raising the driver’s chair is a chore, since Nissan inexplicably travelled back in time to fit a pair of hard-to-get-at knobs from a 1984 Gazelle, so the hapless occupant must slowly and painfully tilt the cushion up one end at a time.
Exacerbating this is a steering column that rises on the vertical axis but does not extend.
Speaking of time travel, the dash design is best described as an interesting yet mostly effective mishmash of split-level opulence and old-school 1960s design cues.
You will immediately recognise the trio of dials that sit on top of the dash like an afterthought from the 240Z that you probably have never actually sat inside.
But Nissan has pilfered its upmarket Infiniti satellite navigation screen, placing it in the spot previously reserved for that tacky storage slot blighting the interior of the 350Z.
A horizontal ‘shelf’ area backs this up immediately below (very ‘80s Renault 25 chic), featuring a BMW-style control knob and associated piano-key style buttons for the various sat-nav functions.
It all looks and works superbly, although the screen itself uses surprisingly low-res graphics that seem like escapees from 2002 – even though the sat-nav operation is as modern and intuitive as today’s best.
Under that are more Infiniti-esque switches that are satisfying to the touch, for the climate control and audio systems. The stereo, by the way, rates highly for both sound quality and operation simplicity.
Stitched leather and suede swathes the doors and lower console areas as well as the seats, presenting a sporty yet luxurious touch to proceedings. It’s also on the handsomely styled and perfectly sized three-spoke steering wheel. That ‘Z’ emblem in the middle is far more alluring than a boring old Nissan logo, so thanks Nissan.
What this all proves is that the Japanese listened to critics of the old 350Z. Finally, the Zed’s overall finish and presentation corresponds to its $70,000 price tag.
If you want to see how far Nissan has come, just cast your eyes down to the seat switches nestled near the hand brake. They’re nasty 350Z carryover items with a brittle snap action. Best to avert your gaze forward and admire the retro pedals instead. Nice.
However, just like the driving experience, there are some confounding developments going on inside.
Why is a whole third of a binnacle dedicated to a trip computer that is appallingly fiddly to use and at odds visually with the rest of the instrumentation pack? This is almost as useless as the vacuum gauge that used to blight old Holden Commodores and Camiras. Surely Nissan could have fitted that digital speedo here instead?
Placing the tacho centrally is silly as well as pretentious now that the driver has to actually read the analogue speedo. C’mon, Nissan, this car has so much torque that few drivers are going to bother visiting the 7500rpm red line anyway.
Furthermore, it is clear that the speedo is located for left-hand drive, because at least then it is in the driver’s forward sight line instead of where some cars have their outer vent outlet.
Vision out is not great in this car either. A hefty B-pillar and tiny side windows, combined with the steeply raked rear window, conspire to keep you guessing what’s beside or behind you. Parking sensors should be standard.
On the other hand, equipment levels are high, and include an excellent Bluetooth device.
Nissan’s decision to greatly reduce the size of, as well as move the internal strut brace that decimated the 350Z’s boot capacity forward and closer to the seatbacks, means that the 370Z has a fairly practical and useable – if still comically quite shallow – hatch area.
Indeed, usable best describes how much more the 370Z has moved on from the 350Z.
Nissan should be applauded immediately for creating such a spellbinding sports car.
That it costs about the same as before yet delivers more enjoyment through its increased performance and improved control, as well as greater comfort and convenience, is a major achievement.
The previous Zed was fabulous but flawed, while the 370Z is more fun and yet more serious about providing the sort of features today’s consumers demand.
We sincerely hope that the slight high-speed nervousness our car displayed is a one-off (anyway, after all, on Australian roads a twitch at high speeds is largely academic), while the few (mostly cabin related) foibles are minor irritations in the grander scheme of things.
Unlike the loud and jarring old car, there is nothing here to break a deal.
Whatever the previous Zed cars meant to you, the 370Z is an A-grade sports car proposition, and already one of our favourites to boot from this dying decade.
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