As a rear-wheel-drive, two-seat sports car with a fixed roof, the Nissan 370Z coupe is in a very small class. Subtract the luxury brands, and that body-type class gets even smaller. Toyota watered down and then discontinued the Celica, leaving the likes of Hyundai’s Genesis coupe and Ford’s Mustang, which admittedly are larger cars. Being a convertible, the roadster version of the Nissan 370Z has more peers, though the era of retractable-hardtops blurs the line between what is and isn’t a coupe competitor. See the Nissan 370Z trim levels and body styles compared here.
The 2010 Nissan 370Z roadster stays true to the original Datsun Z-car’s promise of sports-car performance, but in today’s market, Nissan — and the potential 370Z buyer — needs to keep an eye on the price and the competition.
I tested a base 370Z equipped with the optional Sport Package and a couple of cosmetic upgrades.
I’ve long been leery of cars that look like fish, and the Nissan Z-car was a founding member of the Angry Grouper Design Movement. The new generation’s sculpted headlights, which Nissan describes as boomerang-shaped, help tame the fishiness. I think it’s a good-looking car, and it was quite well-received during my time with it. If nothing else, it’s distinctive.
Along with its mechanical upgrades, the Sport Package adds a chin spoiler and a rear spoiler. For 2010, a 40th Anniversary Package adds an exclusive exterior color, special badging, a platinum-smoke wheel finish, red brake calipers and a custom car cover.
The current Nissan 370Z generation is in its second model year, but Nissan deserves many more years of praise for shaving about 100 pounds off the car’s weight. This is rare, to put it mildly; with each new generation, vehicles tend to get heavier and larger. The Nissan 370Z is both lighter than the 350Z and a couple inches shorter. The wheelbase came down almost 4 inches to 100.4 inches. Even so, the 370Z has slightly more passenger and cargo space, with all seating dimensions equal or increased.
The changes make the Nissan Z lighter on its feet, and the shorter wheelbase shaves 2.6 feet off its turning circle. It’s nimble and responsive, with precise steering and good feedback. Our car’s Sport Package replaces the standard 18-inch alloy wheels with 19-inchers shod with Bridgestone Potenza RE050A summer tires rated P245/40R19 in front and P275/35R19 in back. The grip is good and the control is even better. The Sport Package also includes a limited-slip differential that helps maintain traction even as you pour on the torque.
Even though the Z carries 54 percent of its weight in the front, the rear end gains heft as you apply throttle and the LSD reacts quickly enough that the tail responds predictably and gives up traction gradually. You can four-wheel-drift the thing all day, providing you turn off the electronic stability system. A quick push of the button in front of your left knee does the job; you don’t have to hold it down awhile, as you do in most cars.
Last year we reviewed a version of the 370Z called the Nismo Z. “Nismo” sounds like the name of a Muppet, but it’s Nissan’s performance division. The ride quality of that sport-tuned car was punishing enough to earn it the unfortunate nickname “Punish Me Nismo.” Our 2010 test car was much more comfortable, even when equipped with the Sport Package’s 19-inch wheels. It’s not soft in the general sense, but anyone who would consider a sports car should find it easy to drive every day.
Nissan’s six-speed is one of the Cars.com editors’ favorite transmissions. The clutch pedal and gear ratios are amenable, but it’s the shift lever that stands out: It’s at the right location and is the right height; the throws are reasonably short and the gates are well-defined. I also like the slight vibration you feel in the shifter and the way it jogs slightly as the driveline loads and unloads. It reminds you that you’re part of the machine. Too much of this phenomenon usually isn’t appreciated, but I think too little is far worse, as is the case in most BMWs these days. Their rubbery shifters feel like disconnected toggle switches that doink into their gates. (Try it; you’ll be thinking the same thing: doink.)
At the base of the tachometer, which dominates the instrument panel, an indicator shows what gear the stick is in, by numeral, or displays an “N” when it’s in Neutral. It’s a very simple, very useful feature that seems long overdue. Included in the Sport Package, the Nissan-exclusive SynchroRev Match feature automatically blips the throttle when you downshift, matching the revs perfectly. It makes you seem like a rock star, but you’re not — it’s the car. I’m not sure how I feel about this; it’s very cool, but it’s one step closer to being an automatic, which you presumably don’t want if you choose the stick. Thankfully you can switch the SynchroRev mode off and work on your heel-and-toe technique.
You can get a real automatic, too: a conventional seven-speed with a clutchless-manual mode that employs large, steering-column-mounted shift paddles. Though it adds $1,300 to the price, the automatic saves you 1 mpg in overall fuel economy. It’s rated 19/26 mpg city/highway and the manual gets 18/26 mpg, both on premium gas.
The capable, high-revving 3.7-liter V-6 is a satisfying power plant, though it illustrates as well as any normally aspirated V-6 how engine design has changed. Historically, drivers of turbocharged engines had to accept turbo lag at low engine speeds and power peaks at high rpm. Conversely, non-charged six- and eight-cylinders typically had torque aplenty at low revs. Nowadays it’s often reversed. Turbos, often in connection with direct fuel injection, can deliver robust torque that starts at low rpm and continues nearly flat far up the rev range.
The Nissan Z’s 3.7-liter isn’t what I’d call peaky, but both torque and power increase gradually with engine speed. The 332-torque peak comes at 7,000 rpm — just shy of the 7,500 rpm redline — and the maximum 270 pounds-feet of torque arrives at 5,200 rpm. Frankly, I’d like more torque, but the car doesn’t stumble upon launch, either.
I remain surprised by some coarseness in the 3.7-liter, mainly because Nissan’s 3.5-liter was always a paragon of V-6 smoothness. Could it be that’s why the Z’s engine dropped off the Ward’s 10 Best Engines list after only one year when its 3.5-liter predecessor had a 14-year run?
It wasn’t long ago that manual driver’s seats didn’t have height adjustments at all. Now many do, but they tend to consist of an up-down knob or lever. The Nissan 370Z goes a step further by including two knobs to adjust the front and rear of the bottom cushion separately. You can choose whatever tilt you want, which is especially appreciated with a manual transmission because you don’t want the front of the cushion restricting extension of your clutching leg. Bravo. At 6 feet tall, I was comfortable.
Unfortunately, the steering wheel doesn’t telescope, which seems a lapse. It was comfortable for me, but that usually means it won’t be for someone else. At least the instrument panel raises and lowers along with the tilt wheel, as it has since the 350Z made its debut, which makes it easier to see at any height. It doesn’t hurt that the speedometer tops out at 180 mph, which puts the primary zero-80 mph range between 8 and 10 o’clock on the dial — far inboard, where the steering-wheel rim won’t obscure it.
The sight lines are pretty good for this type of car, including the view directly to the rear. It’s the view off-center that’s obstructed by wide C-pillars. A driver can adjust to this through diligent use of the rearview mirrors, but it’s hard to overcome in parking situations. When backing out of a parking space, the pillars are exactly where cross-traffic comes from.
The Nissan 370Z deserves credit for having a quieter cabin than the 350Z, but it’s by no means quiet. Noise increases with speed, and you can’t help but notice this when you have the stereo on, because it lacks automatic volume control. The worst of the noise comes from the rear wheel wells when driving on wet pavement or over gravel, which come with intrusive shhhhhhhhhhhh and pelting-stone noises, respectively. Cabin noise is one aspect that the 2011 Mustang has improved upon markedly.
The interior quality is quite good, especially if your last exposure was to a Nissan 350Z. Gone are the cheap plastics and odd locations for things like 12-volt receptacles. Along with the exterior changes, the 40th Anniversary Package adds red seats and door-panel trim, plus badged floormats and seatbacks.
The 370Z hasn’t been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Like most low-volume sports cars, it’s unlikely to be tested in the future.
The Z has six airbags, including the frontal pair, seat-mounted side-impact torso bags and side curtain airbags that cover the side windows and provide head protection. Other standard safety features include antilock brakes with four-wheel discs and an electronic stability system with traction control. Active head restraints are included. For a full list of standard safety features, click here.
In some regards, the Z is well-priced for what it gives you, mainly in terms of overall performance and aptitude on a racetrack. You get this sophisticated performance in the base model. All the same, as of the close of 2010, it starts at more than $30,000, which gave me a flashback to the Z-car’s earlier history. The Z came along four decades ago under the Datsun name as the 240Z, followed by the 260Z and 280Z. The cars started out very affordable at a time when competent handling was hard to come by, and remained reasonably affordable for a while before cresting $20,000 and then $30,000. By the time the 300ZX left our market in the mid-1990s, it was a big, powerful model whose price ranged from the high-$30,000 to mid-$40,000 range.
Sure, that was when a dollar went further, so today’s $30,000 car is essentially cheaper than 1992’s $30,000 car, but it’s more important to reconcile the Nissan 370Z’s price with the current market than with the old prices. Now dealerships are clogged with non-sports cars that handle better than most drivers need them to on the streets. One of the biggest changes among the Z’s competitors is in the 2011 Ford Mustang, which just got new engines and further refinements. Once an unruly beast that was good at one thing — accelerating in a straight line — the Mustang is now a remarkably capable handler with plenty of power.
Is it better than the Z on a racetrack? No, but it’s damn good and boasts a small but usable backseat, more trunk room, a quiet cabin and higher efficiency. And look at the pricing: With 305 hp, the Mustang V6 costs about $8,000 less than the base 370Z. Not impressed? Think the Mustang’s too heavy for its 305 hp? How about a 412-hp, V-8-powered Mustang GT? It’s nearly $800 less than the Nissan 370Z, with an interior that competes more favorably than the base Mustang’s does.
The Mustang might appeal to a totally different buyer than the Nissan 370Z, but I suspect it’s because of the Ford’s reputation rather than the car it is today. Z-car shoppers might not consider a Mustang, but they definitely should.