The verdict: The 2018 Nissan 370Z’s wild appearance remains unique, though the coupe feels dated, having received few big changes since its 2009 introduction.
Versus the competiton: Not only has the number of traditional 370Z competitors increased since 2009, but muscle cars have turned into sports cars — and new entries rival the Z.
There’s no nice way to say it: The Nissan 370Z is old.
You may ask, “How can a 2018 car be ‘old’?” Well, the Z hasn’t received a major update since 2009, and the changes that have come along the way haven’t significantly altered how it drives. The 2018 model year welcomes just a minor styling update and a new Heritage Edition with a lot of nostalgia. Heritage Editions are available only on the base model, and the one I tested, with a manual transmission and no other options, rang the register at $31,665 including destination.
The Heritage Edition was inspired by the 1977 Datsun 280Z ZAP Edition. The ZAP is an appearance package likely known only to the hardest of hardcore Z fans; it’s so obscure, Nissan didn’t even have a photo in its archives for us to publish. The ZAP was a yellow 280Z laced with black accents, and so is the 2018 Heritage Edition.
The new-for-2018 package is a collection of aesthetic add-ons for yellow or black Zs. My yellow 370Z test car had black racing stripes. On the side, black decals ran from the back of the front fender to the front of the rear wheel arch. The mirrors were also black, and the cabin had yellow highlights. Those who buy the Heritage Edition in black get silver exterior graphics and the same yellow interior trim.
While driving home in the Nissan 370Z Heritage Edition, a kid about 10 years old shouted, “Hey mister, nice car!” from the street. That’s always a great feeling — especially after my wife tells me I look like an idiot driving a bright yellow car covered in stickers.
How It Drives
The Z’s 332-horsepower, 3.7-liter V6 has immediate throttle response and a wide powerband, with good punch at both low and high engine speeds. Yet the experience needs more pizzazz: The exhaust is barely audible from inside the cabin, and that’s an integral part of what makes a car fun to drive. Granted, that’s easy enough to change with the available NISMO exhaust system. A 2017 Chevrolet Camaro, with its 335-hp V-6, has an optional multi-mode exhaust that wails once it’s open and sounds exotic.
My test wasn’t a Sport version with optional performance equipment, which meant it didn’t have Nissan’s trick auto rev-match feature that works so well to smooth downshifting. It’s been copied by many automakers. The Camaro’s auto rev match is standard with the manual transmission.
While rowing through the Nissan 370Z’s the gears of the six-speed manual, the clattering of the valvetrain and the moans and groans you hear aren’t pleasurable noises. More expensive trims have an optional Bose stereo with active sound cancellation that’s supposed to mitigate some of those noises and electronically augment engine noise.
I was surprised by how well the new Nissan 370Z coupe rode at highway speeds. It was comfortable and handled bumpy roads well for a coupe. I took the Z-car out of town for a weekend trip, and it was perfectly pleasant at highway speeds. On the flip side, I don’t think it’s a very engaging driving experience — the car drives heavier than its 3,300-pound curb weight suggests. Perhaps a 370Z Sport with aggressive summer tires and a limited-slip differential would make for a more lively experience, but in the one I drove, steering movements were slow and spongy compared with the delightful 2017 Subaru BRZ with Performance Package or — gasp — even the Chevrolet Camaro V6. We’ve had the Camaro on a twisty track, and it makes for crisp and sharp driving. The Camaro is only 130 pounds heavier than the Z; the Chevy is 3,463 pounds and the Nissan is 3,333 pounds, while a BRZ with Performance Package is 2,813 pounds. Compare the Z’s specs with those of the Camaro, BRZ and its related Toyota 86 here.
The Z’s mechanicals haven’t changed much for 2018 except for a new clutch from aftermarket manufacturer Exedy. A Nissan spokesman said the new clutch has smoother operation and finer control than the outgoing Z. The clutch felt ordinary to me, which isn’t bad. Annoying, however, was the clutch safety switch I could feel and hear click on and off every time I pressed the clutch pedal. Plus, the shifter is heavy, making it tough to engage gears quickly. It’s not as smooth or quick-shifting as the BRZ/86 twins — though, to be fair, just about every car’s manual transmission shifter could be more like the BRZ and 86’s.
And I thought the 2017 Camaro’s visibility was bad. It’s almost imperative to always have a passenger with you in the Nissa 370Z just to check blind spots or jump out and flag cars to a stop in the grocery store parking lot so you can back out of a space. Spaciousness, however, is decent for a coupe, and the Z has a higher seating position than the BRZ/86 that’s easier to get in and out of. The Z’s front seating position is more like a Camaro or Ford Mustang than the low, laid-back position of the BRZ/86.
Where the Z shows its age is that there’s no standard touchscreen, no standard backup camera, no telescoping steering wheel and the standard Bluetooth system is for hands-free phone use only (no streaming audio). Voice commands are the only way to pair Bluetooth. An available navigation system adds a 7-inch touchscreen with a backup camera, Bluetooth streaming audio and satellite radio, but it’s a $7,000 jump compared with the base model to get the system, which is standard on the Sport Tech trim and not available on the Base or Sport trims.
The Nissan 370Z hasn’t been crash-tested, which isn’t unusual for low-volume sports cars. It’s also not uncommon that the Z doesn’t have a blind spot warning system, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, or a lane departure warning system — at any price. The Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 also skip out on these collision-avoidance features, but they max out around $30,000, while the Z starts around $30,000.
The Camaro can be equipped with a blind spot warning system, lane departure warning and cross-traffic alert, while the upcoming 2018 Mustang will have available forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and lane departure prevention (which moves the car back into its lane).
A standard backup camera is one omission that’s much needed, however, because of the Z’s poor visibility.
In the Market
The Heritage Edition and a few tweaks keep the 2018 Nissan 370Z in the car-news, but the model doesn’t move the needle very far. The biggest upside is that the car I tested was $31,665. It seems you can’t get a decent-sized family sedan for $32,000 anymore, yet this looks the part of a legit sports car. The trouble is, for $32,000 you can also get a Subaru BRZ with Performance Package, which has the usability of a real trunk and a half-real backseat, not to mention it’s a car I find much more entertaining to drive. Ditto for a Chevrolet Camaro V6 with optional sports exhaust, which sounds like the old Nissan 350Z (a good thing), plus standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Any way you slice it, the 370Z faces stiff competition, and while its base price looks enticing, there’s not much substance in what’s new for 2018.