Car reviews - Nissan - 370Z - coupe
10 Jun 2009
FIRST up, I must declare an interest: I own an original bright Jaffa orange Datsun 240Z.
The stunning design drew me to the car. It was only after I bought it, about six years ago, that I also fell in love with the combination of a strong six- cylinder engine with a lightweight body.
The new-age 350Z won over a lot of Zed fans, me included, so I was naturally cautious when I heard the new model would be a 370Z.
It appeared that Nissan might be going down a familiar path, giving each successive Zed a larger engine and also increasing the size and weight of the car along the way.
Although the 370Z does have a larger engine, the car itself is smaller and lighter.
This is quite something in world where all new cars seem to gain significant weight in order to satisfy safety requirements and give customers more space and equipment.
The 370Z is not a radical departure from the 350Z. It’s an evolution, an improved version that does pretty much everything better than the car it replaces.
Nissan said it benchmarked the Porsche Cayman with this car, and a Porsche engineer recently told me that the 370Z would be considered a genuine competitor.
I don’t think Porsche customers would even look at a Nissan, despite the aura surrounding the GT-R, so I don’t think they are true rivals but they are similar kinds of cars.
From some angles, the 370Z doesn’t look all that different from the previous model.
In some ways the shape is not as clean as the 2003 car, and the designers appear to have fiddled with the headlights and tail-lights to make it look different without messing with those attractive proportions.
But in the metal, you start to notice touches that make this design more appealing, especially the side profile.
The highest point of the new roofline is at the top of the A-pillar and it slopes down from there, creating a smooth line running all the way down to the tip of the boot.
This sleek profile is more like the original 240Z and contrasts with the 350Z side profile in which had the roof rose up after the A-pillar and then back down again for a more organic look (similar to the Audi TT).
The new Zed also looks meaner from the rear, with wider and more pronounced rear-wheel arches that have more than a hint of Porsche.
Those new V-shaped headlights will take a fair while to get used to, though. The evolution is more apparent when you get in the new Zed.
The interior of the last model was undoubtedly disappointing. There were some nice touches, like door handles and logos etc, but your first thought was, ‘Oh well, at least it drives well’.
All of the hard and nasty plastics and the poor design, including that silly storage box in the middle of the dash, are gone.
The new cabin represents a dramatic improvement with the use of far better materials, a more integrated design and the addition of a lot more gear.
The suede-feel material on the door trims, the soft plastic for the dashboard and centre console and the stitched treatment on the door trims and dashboard indicates that this is premium car.
Small touches such as padding on the sides of the centre console, to allow knees to be rested there, don’t go unnoticed.
Of course, the interior is slightly familiar to original Zed owners, with three dials mounted on the centre top of the dash.
There is little other retro design in the cabin and that is a good thing, as this is a new car, not a cynical re-make.
The centre console information display (seven-inch), control centre and audio control are shared with other premium models including the Maxima and Murano.
The screen resolution is below par, with some chunky letters, but the inclusion of satellite navigation as standard is still a good feature.
Driver and passenger are likely to appreciate the heating function for the front seats, which provide a lot of lateral support.
Interestingly, the passenger seat is actually wider than the driver’s.
There is precious little storage space in the cabin, and although the glovebox has a handy light, it is very small.
A small centre console provides a little room, and a small hidey-hole behind the driver only has room for the owner’s manual.
At the risk of sounding American, there is only one proper cup-holder in the cabin (in the centre console), which is not so good in this day and age.
There are two semi-cupholders in low down in the door bins, but you are not really going to put hot coffee down there, and I doubt a 600ml bottle would fit.
But, concerns about beverage placement are not high on the Zed owner’s list of priorities.
The upgraded V6 is a great engine. It is doesn’t have the kind of acceleration that hits you like a cricket bat to the back of the head, but it is strong and muscular, delivering a torrent of torque all the way through the rev range.
It has so much meat that on a twisty road on the launch, held on the twisty tarmac out of Adelaide, we left the gearbox in third for much of the action.
Even when slowing down for tighter bends, the stroked VQ had enough urge in reserve to pull you out at an impressive rate of knots.
It will happily rev all the way out to 7500rpm belting a fairly aggressive exhaust note that is joined with an induction roar that seems to really step up about 6000rpm.
Like the 3.5 V6 of the previous Zed, it is not the smoothest revving engine, and would fall short in a comparison to the Cayman’s delightful boxer and BMW’s straight sixes.
The most important thing is that it gets the job done by delivering more than enough power and torque to the rear wheels.
The six-speed manual gearbox is a nice transmission and is well suited to the car. Its clutch is nice and light so you don’t have to strain your left foot like in days of old.
On a performance section of the launch, on an airport runway, there were a few glitches under hard acceleration of manual models.
A sensor on one of the cars decided all was not right and pulled back the engine revs.
Nissan decided it was better to leave the manuals and use the automatics while it worked out what gremlin affected the manual model.
Out on the road, there were no such problems and the manuals we tested performed well.
The Synchro Rev Match system is a bit of fun, blipping the throttle when you go to change down.
For those of us who pretend we are race drivers by heel-and-toeing when in the mood, this feature is superfluous, but for those who are yet to learn the technique it will be quite something.
The Zed’s automatic transmission provides quite a pleasant surprise.
An auto was something to be avoided in the case of the 350Z, but this new transmission shifts quickly and crisply.
It also works well when left to itself – you hardly notice it. Thanks to the seventh cog, it sits at just 2000rpm at 100km/h.
Every car with even a hint of sportiness has paddles these days, but the ones in the 370Z are among the best around as they are intuitive and easy to use.
When it comes to handling, the 370Z is a sharp tool. The steering is lean and direct, giving good feedback and is well weighted.
This is a very agile car and turns in remarkably well. You pick the line and turn and it does the rest.
There is minimal body roll in the bends. While the suspension is firm it does allow a reasonable amount of vertical movement on the bumpier roads to ensure you don’t crash and bash and unsettle the car.
The jury is still out on the comfort provided by the chassis and we’ll need to test it on local familiar roads.
At lower speeds, the 370Z seemed to pick up a fair amount of the bumps and pass them on to the occupants, but was far more compliant at higher speeds.
Still, the ride was not terribly harsh at any point.
Will it handle as well as the Cayman? You would need to do a back-to-back comparison to find out, but my memory of the Cayman would suggest that the Zed is not quite at that level, but it isn’t a world away, either.
Tyre noise is an issue – overly loud on coarse chip – and could spoil a long-range country drive.
The high level of standard equipment is impressive and having all the luxuries like sat-nav, Xenon lights, a Bose sound system and heated seats is going to help a lot of people justify the $70,000-odd price tag.
Until now it really would have been the true enthusiasts who went for a 350Z thanks to its terrific performance, but the new more refined model (and its better automatic) is more likely to appeal to a wider audience.
Despite the intentions of its designers, it is still not quite as great as a Porsche Cayman, but it isn’t far off and is nearly half the price.
To call it a poor man’s Cayman is not right because $70,000 is still a lot of money, but it is a good way to describe the 370Z.
It delivers all you expect from a descendent of the 240Z and throws in some extra luxuries for good measure.
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