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Expert Reviews 3 of 9
By Kelsey Mays
December 30, 2009
Editor's note: This review was written in February 2009 about the 2009 Nissan 370Z. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2010, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
Lighter, smaller and sharper-looking than its predecessor, the redesigned 2009 370Z is a flat-out performance machine in all its unmitigated glory, and those who want nothing but performance should give it a serious look. The new 370 designation reflects the jump to a 3.7-liter V-6 from a 3.5-liter in the outgoing 350Z.
That car was a legitimate muscle coupe, distinct from the high-strung sports cars Japan regularly produces. Fast but portly, it had too much bulk for the chassis to keep all four wheels glued to the pavement. The 370Z fixes most of those issues without joining the torque-deprived ranks of peers like the Mazda RX-8 and Honda S2000, now in its final year. With a $29,930 starting price, the Z presents an attractive performance value.
Where the car falls well short is as a daily driver. Competitors from three continents have roomier interiors, more convenience features and less eardrum-throbbing road noise. None perform at the same level as the 370Z, but if you're looking for a sports car that suits your weekday grind, the Z may not be it.
The rear-wheel-drive, two-seat 370Z comes in base and Touring trim levels with a manual or automatic transmission. (You can compare it with the outgoing 350Z coupe here.) A Sport Package adds larger wheels, aerodynamic enhancements and various mechanical upgrades to either trim. I tested a Sport Package-equipped base model with the stick shift. The 350Z lives on for the 2009 model year in the convertible version of the outgoing Z (covered separately in Cars.com's Research section), but Nissan says a droptop 370Z is due for 2010. Quicker Than Ever This is no 350Z — that much is apparent as soon as you fire up the engine. The 370Z trades that car's high-pitched wail for one a few octaves lower, where it's turned into more of a roar. It's less distinct, to be sure, but I suspect the potential it indicates will stop you from caring. Pulling power is fierce, particularly at higher revs, and there's no sign of letting up through the 7,500-rpm redline. Deactivate the Z's standard electronic stability system, and it's possible to roast the tires through all of first and second gear. I may or may not have done that a few times.
Nissan's 3.7-liter V-6 isn't as torque-endowed as the BMW 1 Series' turbocharged-six or any of its Detroit competitors' V-8s, so low-end thrust is less energetic, and not as much as you'd expect from a 332-horsepower engine. Once the tach needle crests 3,000 rpm, though — which a concerted prod brings up in short order — all complaints are forgiven. Work the clutch just right, and the Z will crank out some stout numbers: Motor Trend magazine clocked a manual-transmission model hitting 60 mph in just 4.7 seconds and nailing the quarter-mile in 13.3 seconds. That means the 370Z is quite possibly the quickest production car for the money — at least until Chevrolet's forthcoming Camaro SS shows up.
$35K Rear-Wheel-Drive Performance Compared
2009 Nissan 370Z
2009 Mazda RX-8
2010 Ford Mustang GT*
2009 BMW 128i*
$29,930 - $41,110
$26,435 - $34,800
$27,995 - $41,595
$29,400 - $43,220
Horsepower (@ rpm)
332 @ 7,000
232 @ 8,500**
315 @ 6,000
230 @ 6,500
Torque (lbs.-ft. @ rpm)
270 @ 5,200
159 @ 5,500
325 @ 4,250
200 @ 2,750
6-sp. man.; 7-sp. auto
6-sp. man.; 6-sp. auto
5-sp. man.; 5-sp. auto
6-sp. man.; 6-sp. auto
Weight dist. (front/rear, percent)
Acceleration (0 to 60 mph, sec.)***
EPA combined city/hwy. gas mileage
18 - 19 mpg
*Hardtop versions. **With manual transmission. Automatic transmission has 212 hp @ 7,500, with identical torque. ***With manual transmissions, per Motor Trend's tests of 2009 370Z, 2004 RX-8, 2010 Mustang GT and 2008 128i. Source: Automaker and EPA data, Motor Trend testing data. Price ranges reflect base price to fully loaded model with all factory options.
The stick shift loses some of the 350Z manual's delicate precision. Still, it's no softie: The throws are a bit longer and a smidge more rubbery, but there's a hefty sturdiness going into each gate. That's well-appreciated when ramming through upshifts with the gas pedal to the floor.
New this year is a feature Nissan calls SynchroRev Match, essentially an automated throttle-blipper for downshifts. It comes with the Sport Package on manual cars, and if you truly hate it you can turn it off. I balked at the concept early on — any decent stick-shift driver should match revs as second nature — but after using it a dozen or so times, I was sold. As soon as you downshift to a new position, the engine spins high to effect a seamless transition upon releasing the clutch. No matter how fast I shifted, the rev-matches never missed a beat — nor did they fall prematurely if I delayed my clutch release.
The feature knows just how much to rev, too. Downshift two or three gears instead of one, and the tach needle bounces high enough to accommodate whatever new gear ratio is in store. Though I didn't drive the Z on a racetrack, I suspect SynchroRev Match could seriously aid braking before turn-in, where expert heel-and-toe shifting can make or break lap times. Maybe I'm the target audience, as heel-and-toe shifting ranks about as high in my skill set as baking.
Nissan's new seven-speed automatic, which comes here with steering-wheel paddle shifters, is optional. Turning & Stopping As you might expect in a sports car, the Z's steering wheel takes medium effort to turn, but it's not too heavy for close-quarters parking. Turn-in precision is sports-car sharp at all speeds, and on the highway the wheel feels well-anchored when pointed straight ahead, with none of the twitchy vagueness that creeps up in some cars.
Nissan says the Z's body is more rigid — a change that critics of the prior generation said was necessary — with additional underbody reinforcements and a double-wishbone front suspension replacing the prior multilink setup. Indeed, the car exhibits little of the 350Z's worminess. Hit a bump mid-corner or under hard acceleration, and the wheels stay planted. Abrupt elevation changes leave the car unfazed, and body roll, acceleration squat and brake dive are well-controlled.
Though the car's weight sits as far forward as the 2010 Mustang GT's (54/46 percent front/rear) there's no premature understeer in hard corners. Instead, the car sits on its rear tires and comes loose with fairly neutral balance. My car had the Sport Package Bridgestone Potenza P275/35R19 summer tires. Without the low-end torque of V-8 cars in this league, it's not quite as easy to hang the tail wide with power-induced oversteer, but with a proactive right foot it's still possible.
Four-wheel-discantilock brakes are standard. The 350Z's Brembo brakes are no longer available. Instead, the Sport Package swaps the standard 12.6-inch front and 12.1-inch rear discs for oversized 14.0-inch and 13.8-inch rotors, respectively. With this hardware, the pedal elicits strong, linear response. After hammering the brakes on back roads all afternoon, I noticed only moderate brake fade. Ride Quality Here's where the Z's bid to be an everyday sports car falls short. Without the Sport Package, the regular car has 50-series front and 45-series rear tires, and it's possible they'll exhibit less road noise, but it would have to be a seismic change to bring the Z up to livable noise levels. My Sport Package-equipped tester had more road noise than any car I've tested in recent memory. On anything but perfectly smooth pavement, the tires howl endlessly once you reach 40 or 50 mph. Nissan's basic four-speaker stereo is no match — was that Billy Joel or Billy Squier? — and neither is the engine, whose exhaust note fades into the background. Wind noise seems under control, but amid the swell of other sounds, that may not be saying much.
It's a shame, because the suspension does an admirable job sorting things out. Highway undulations can occasionally yield bobbing motions, but major bumps generally come and go without jarring the cabin — for a car at this performance level, that's not bad. Sleeker Looks, Smaller Size I've always found the Z attractive, if never captivating, but at least it looks consistently muscular from any angle. I can't say the same for a lot of sports cars; the RX-8 has one of the slickest side profiles on the market, but head-on it looks like a rat. In any case, the 370Z maintains its predecessor's general shape, with overemphasized fenders and a seamless transition from the roof to the tail. Close observers will note that the roof crests farther forward, while the front bumper sheds the old Z's vertical side markers for some interesting diagonal protrusions. Probably the most noticeable differences are the headlights and taillights, whose boomerang-shaped lenses echo those on Nissan's Maxima sedan.
The 370Z weighs about 95 pounds less than its predecessor thanks to lighter wheels, aluminum door panels and a lighter fuel tank, among other measures. The car has also shrunk: Though it's 1.3 inches wider, Nissan reduced the wheelbase 3.9 inches and overall length 2.6 inches. That easily makes it one of the smallest in its class: Rear-wheel-drive competitors — from the RX-8 to the Mustang and 1 Series — are anywhere from 5 to 20 inches longer. All three also have a backseat.
Eighteen-inch wheels are standard. The Sport Package adds front bumper extensions, a rear spoiler and 19-inch rims. The larger wheels raise the Z's turning circle to 34.1 feet, from 32.8 feet with the 18-inchers, but both figures are comfortably low, even for this segment. The Inside The cabin makes logical progressions over the 350Z's, with better materials and a bit more room, but space is still tight. The base model's cloth seats are laterally supportive but marginally cushioned; sit down hard and you'll feel the anchors for the active head restraints dig at your upper back. Base models lack lumbar support, and after a few hours behind the wheel my back was killing me. Touring models have lumbar support along with leather and faux suede upholstery, and all trims have upholstered pads alongside the center controls to cushion your inboard knees.
The dash carries a generous expanse of wraparound soft-touch material, and the moldings surrounding the center controls and gearshift are covered in leatherette. The steering wheel feels hefty, with a design similar to the Maxima's. It doesn't offer a telescoping adjustment, but does carry the gauges up and down when you tilt it — a carryover from the 350Z that keeps the gauges in view no matter the position of the wheel.
Headroom and legroom are adequate — I'm 5-foot-11 — but cargo space isn't. Nissan ditched the 350Z's colossal trunk brace for a smaller one that sits farther forward, but overall cargo volume, at 6.9 cubic feet, still slightly trails the RX-8 and lags the 1 Series and Mustang considerably. All of those cars also have backseats, albeit small ones. For all its performance virtues, the Z offers minimal accommodations for people or cargo. Safety, Pricing The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has yet to crash-test the 370Z, and its predecessor went untested — as low-volume sellers often do — so I wouldn't hold my breath. Standard safety features include front, side-impact and side curtain airbags, along with active head restraints, antilock brakes, traction control and an electronic stability system.
The base 370Z starts at $29,930, a few grand more than an RX-8 but not far off a Mustang GT or 128i. Standard features include all the usual power accessories, keyless access, xenon headlights, automatic A/C, cruise control and a rather basic stereo with an auxiliary MP3 jack and steering-wheel audio controls. The 370Z Touring ($34,460) upgrades to Bose audio; it also has heated leather seats with synthetic suede inserts and four-way power adjustments. On either trim, the Sport Package runs $3,000 and the automatic transmission is $1,300. Throw in a navigation system, and the Z tops out around $41,000. 370Z in the Market A recessionary economy ensures that sports cars will be a discretionary purchase, often postponed by the reality of job situations and mortgage payments. In such times, a sports car that's a cross between performance, value and practicality might be just what's needed. I don't debate that Nissan accomplished two out of three — Meat Loaf fans would say that ain't bad — but I can't abide by the third. The Z might very well be the performance value of 2009, but as a daily driver it doesn't stack up: It simply requires too many compromises that its four-seat competitors don't demand. If you don't need the practicality, consider the 370Z and enjoy it for all it is. The rest of us will have to find something that's a bit more justifiable on a day-to-day basis.