The Nissan 370Z a 'real kick in the pants'


by By TOM VOELK / Special to

Posted on April 2, 2009 at 1:46 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 23 at 3:06 PM

Video: Driving Northwest: Nissan 370Z a 'real kick in the pants'

At Nissan, Z has always been the first letter in performance. Back in 1970 the 240Z put Datsun - as they were known then - firmly in the minds of Americans for the first time. Sure the 510 had a following but the Z showed that the Japanese brands could do more than just econoboxes.  Nearly 40 years later it's evolved into the 370Z.  Like many alphanumeric names, the Z's moniker comes from the engine size, a 3.7 liter V6. More on that later.  First some Z car fun facts.

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In Japan, this car has always gone by the name Fairlady Z. According to David Halberstram's book "The Rekoning," Japanese executives at Nissan were so taken by the movie "My Fair Lady," they named their new sports car after it. While it sounded very Western  in the home market, Datsun  executives in the U.S. were horrified their hot sports car was named after an Audrey Hepburn flick. Legend has it that the president of the U.S. arm, Yutaka Katayama (famously known as Mr. K), went to the receiving dock with Datsun employees and literally pried off the Fairlady badges. The 240Z emblems represented an internal development code.

The growing years

Over time the Z car followed the "Thunderbird path," getting bigger and heavier with every new generation.  It not only grew another letter to become the ZX, a model with a backseat was added. I desperately wanted my dad to buy one. In 1996 the ZX ended production (please pause for a brief moment of silence … thank you).  The Z triumphantly returned sans X as the 350Z in 2002.  370Z is the 6th generation.  Class dismissed.

The 370 is more than fair, ladies and gentlemen; it's a real kick in the pants. Prices start at $30,800; my fancy pants Touring model tester with precious few options stickers for 38 large.  You can get a Z convertible but it's a 350.  For a 370 droptop you must show restraint and wait until next year.

Not bigger, just better

In a world where cars get bigger and heavier, the 370Z is actually lighter than the 350 by around 95 pounds.  The hood, doors and hatch are made of aluminum.  A new fuel tank saves almost 14 pounds; the drive shaft is a carbon-fiber composite. The wheelbase is almost 4 inches shorter now. Length is down by 2.7 inches, overall width is by 1.3 inches.

Nissan engineers gave 370Z a slightly lowered center of gravity, stiffer body and 26 more horsepower than the 350. And if I remember my high school physics, a car that's lighter, more powerful and better balanced means enhanced fun. See? Physics can be fun in a roundabout sort of way.

Stoplight to 60 miles an hour happens in a rapid 5 seconds according to the Dynolicious app on my iPhone. The engine pulls hard at any speed, making passing on two-lane roads a breeze.  Let's talk about that powerplant.  Nissan calls it the VQ-series. The tech specs are 332 horsepower @ 7,000 rpm and 270 lb-ft of torque @ 5,200 rpm. Compared to the outgoing 3.5 liter engine, 35 percent of the parts are new. It uses Nissan's VVEL system that optimizes intake valve open/close movements, getting air to the combustion chamber at the just the right time.  Emissions are cleaned up because the catalyst warms up faster, among other things.

Open it up on the open road

Hook that motor up to a solid rear-wheel drive chassis and razor sharp steering and you have all the makings for a personal party on twisty pavement. The Z slings through corners confidently and effortlessly. Body roll? Puh-leeze. There is none.  The standard suspension I'm driving is pleasantly firm - what you'd expect in a performance car.  Buy a Lexus if you want a cushy ride. The normal setup should be fine for 75 percent of the owners.  

370Z will of course attract hard core enthusiasts, tempted by the Sport Package with its stiffer suspension and 19-inch RAYS aluminum-alloys. The handsome wheels are shod with Bridgestone Potenza RE050A P245/40R19 front/P275/35R19 rubber. The Sport Package also upgrades the brakes to 14.0-inch front and 13.8-inch rear rotors (from 12.6-inch front/12.1-inch rear). Just so you know, the standard binders with 18-inch wheels are no slouch. 

There are two transmission choices: a new close-ratio 6-speed manual and a 7-speed automatic with great steering wheel paddle shifter for manual gear changes. SynchroRev Match  automatically controls and adjusts the engine revs to the exact speed of the next shift.  In other words, it blips the throttle to smooth out any up/down shifts, effectively making average Joes and Janes drive more like a professional race car driver. SynchroRev is on both manual and automatic transmissions.  It comes with the Sport Package.

Sound, and a lot of it

The Z is not a quiet car.  All the better to hear the throaty engine under hard acceleration.  That also means other sounds like tire noise and road gravel sound like intimate friends  inside the cabin. It makes the Bose sound system a little hard to rate. On specified premium I'm averaging  16 miles to the gallon in mixed driving. This Nissan is about performance, not frugality.

Compared to the outgoing 350Z, the snug interior gets material upgrades. Some of the details, like white stitching on console pieces, are quite nice.  Others like the gas and temperature gauge remain rudimentary.  The gauges are larger now with the tach taking center stage. Bluetooth handsfree for cell phones comes with the Touring  Package, dedicated iPod interface is optional (the Bose system has a simple audio jack). Single zone auto climate control has no digital display, just marking on the knob. Seats are heated but more importantly well sculpted to hug tight during high speed cornering.

Remember, it's not a minivan

Gripes? With narrow windows visibility isn't great, especially the view out the back. Want to charge your cell phone?  The power port is located down below the small glove box, impossible for even NBA players to reach while driving. Order the nav system and storage on the center stack just above the radio is eliminated. You'll miss it too because the center console has precious little space. Even the welcomed shelves behind the seats are tough to access because the backs don't easily flip forward .

This trend continues in the trunk.  I like the function of the retractable security cover but it cuts down on volume. The cargo space is shallow with intrusive strut towers.  Frankly I'm pleasantly surprised it holds four packs of the 2-ply in the infamous Costco Toilet Paper Test.

Apples to apples is tough

Keep the options down and 370Z is a good value.  Nissan has competitors though they aren't exactly direct matches.  Most have back seats including brother Infiniti G37.  Hyundai is using the Z's original recipe of good lucks, great performance and bargain price to sell the new Genesis Couple.  Loosely speaking there's also the Mazda RX-8, Ford Mustang GT and the upcoming Chevy Camaro and Pontiac Solstice Coupe.  The new BMW Z4, 3-Series Coupe, Chevrolet Corvette and Porsche Cayman are all priced higher.  

The stubby stealth fighter look is shorter but wider than the 350Z.   There's a hint of the original 240Z in the side glass, and cues from the current GT-R in the roof. Pictures don't show how three-dimensional the swoopy taillights are.  My eye finds the overall design chunkier than I like my sports cars but hey, design is subjective.  Al lot of people admired the Z.  The real attraction here isn't style, it's performance.  Enthusiasts who engage with their cars will find the Nissan 370Z letter perfect.