Nissan’s Z is one of the rare Japanese sports cars currently on the road to carry a bona fide heritage, dating back to 1970 and the original Datsun 240Z sports coupe. Selling then for a bargain-priced $3,526, the original 240Z packed a peppy 2.5-liter six-cylinder engine and became a smash hit for the fledgling U.S. arm of the automaker. It outsold not only that era’s competition from Fiat, MG and Triumph, but the venerable Chevrolet Corvette as well. The original iterations remain among the few collectable Japanese cars from the early 1970’s.
Over the years the Z grew in size and power, and eventually became just plain bloated in the process. Sales suffered and the car eventually took a six-year hiatus in the U.S. It was redesigned and re-launched here for 2003 as the 350Z. Happily, it returned to its roots as a true driving enthusiast’s car, with a rev-happy engine, precise handling, and head turning styling that pays homage to the original.
The most-recent iteration of this tempting two-seater hit the streets in early 2009, with a ragtop rendition following shortly thereafter for hot fun in the summer sun. It’s named the 370Z by virtue of its 3.7-liter V6 engine. As with the prior generation, it shares components and platforms with its upscale corporate cousin that features 2+2 seating, the Infiniti G37 Coupe and Convertible. The car sees only minor changes for 2011, with a modest cosmetic freshening expected for model-year 2012.
The latest 370Z’s exterior styling can best be described as sleekly blunt, with a wide track, “Boomerang” shaped headlamps and taillights, muscular wheel arches, sloping roofline and a tall rear deck. An optional Sport Package adds a front chin spoiler and a rear spoiler, along with specific 19-inch wheels and tires, while the top NISMO coupe and convertible versions are denoted by an extended nose, side sills and a revised rear-end treatment for improved aerodynamics. The car’s snug two-seat cockpit is driver-focused with the dashboard retaining its signature round instrumentation with a trio of deep-seated gauges set atop the canter of the dashboard. The NISMO models feature heavily bolstered sport seats that favor driver support though sharp turns over sheer comfort in everyday driving.
The aforementioned 3.7-liter power plant delivers an always-entertaining 332 horsepower with 270 pound-feet of torque, which is sufficient for 0-to-60 mph launches that clock in at around five seconds. It comes mated to a slick-shifting close-ratio six-speed automatic transmission that does a terrific job of channeling the V6’s power to the pavement via the rear wheels. Those averse to working a clutch can alternately choose a seven-speed automatic transmission that adapts its shift patterns according to a motorist’s individual driving style. It can also be taken through the gears manually, via either steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters or the shift lever; Nissan claims the transmission can change gears in as little as a half second for more of a direct manual-shift feel than most automatics afford.
Meanwhile, the enthusiast-oriented NISMO models pack a revised 3.7-liter V6 that generates a heartier 350 horsepower and 276 pound-feet of torque. This engine drives the rear wheels via a close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox that includes “SynchroRev Match” technology; this automatically controls and adjusts engine speed when shifting to the exact speed of the next gear position to afford smoother shifts. Rev matching is something accomplished drivers know how to accomplish instinctively, so this feature is aimed more at newbies and casual stick-shift enthusiasts; it can be switched off as necessary.
The Z’s handling characteristics are nothing less than stellar, thanks to a relatively low center of gravity and a double-wishbone suspension up front with a four-link array at the rear. The car rides on 18-inch wheels and performance tires, with 19-inch rims and rubber also offered.
High-speed cornering is crisp and exact, with just the right amount of rear-wheel slippage allowed before the standard Vehicle Dynamic Control (stability control) system intervenes. Braking is smooth and secure even in panic-stop situations; don’t expect much in the way of pliant ride quality, however, especially over pockmarked pavement. NISMO models ratchet up the car’s dynamics a notch via assorted suspension, braking and steering upgrades and specific 19-inch wheels and tires.
Standard equipment includes side and (except in the convertibles) head-curtain airbags, along with a keyless entry/push-button start system. The leather-clad Touring version packs amenities like heated seats, a Bose premium audio system with dual subwoofers and a Bluetooth hands-free cell-phone adapter. An optional Navigation Package includes a touch-screen GPS array with a rear backup camera, XM NavTraffic real-time traffic and weather information (via subscription), 9.3GB hard drive storage for digital music and an iPod interface for the audio system.
Roadster versions feature a fully automatic power top and glass rear window that stow beneath a hard tonneau cover; unfortunately the convertible isn’t half as attractive with the top up as it is with the roof retracted.
The 370Z should continue to appeal to those looking for a quick and nimble car that’s one of the few Japanese sports coupes to enjoy a heritage in the U.S. that extends across four decades. Nissan’s GT-R may be able to outperform it, but the Z delivers better-than-adequate performance that’s sure to satisfy a broad spectrum of driving enthusiasts, and it does so at less than half the price.
Nissan 370Z Quick Facts
Engine: 3.7-liter V6
Horsepowe:r 332 @ 7,000 rpm, 350 @ 7,400 rpm
Torque: 270 @ 5,200 rpm, 276 @ 5,200 rpm
City/Highway: MPG 18/26
Transmission: 6-Spd Manual, 7-Spd Automatic
Wheelbase: 100.4 in
Overall Length: 167.2 in
Width: 72.6 in Height: 51.8 in
Curb Weight: 3,232 lbs
Did You Know?
The Nissan Z continues to be sold in Japan under its original moniker, the Fairlady. Legend has it the president of the company’s U.S. division (then called Datsun) personally pried the Fairlady nameplates off the first models to roll off the docks, which he felt would send a disastrously mixed message to male sports car buyers. It was subsequently rebadged for stateside sales as the 240Z.