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Tony O'Kane | Jul 3, 2009 | 11 Comments
The Z car is back, or so Nissan says. But is the new 370Z a genuine improvement over the 350Z and, more importantly, is it a worthy successor to the legendary 240Z?

WHILE CARS LIKE the Porsche 911 might enjoy a longer, more storied history, Nissan’s Z has its own unique pedigree.

It might not be as sophisticated, as quick or as desirable as the German, but in a lot of ways it’s equally significant. Here’s a quick history lesson.

Back in the late 1960s, Datsun (which later became Nissan) launched a lightweight, long-bonneted sports coupe into the American market that announced to the world that the still-young Japanese auto industry was capable of building a proper, bona-fide sportscar.

datsun-240z_brochure_01 That car was the 240Z and it almost singlehandedly transformed how the world perceived Japanese performance cars. Prior to the 240Z, with the exception of the hard-running Datsun 2000 Sports, Japanese sportscars were variously seen as too small, too uncomfortable and, mostly, too gutless.

Specifically designed with western markets in mind, the Z changed all that.

The 240Z was a landmark car, and, when it arrived in 1969, absolutely jaw-dropping. But since then, unfortunately, Nissan kept the Z badge alive with progressively bigger, more upscale, and even bloated offerings that crept further and further away from the original's lightweight, agile beginnings.

In 2002, the 350Z brought back some of the qualities of the original and a return to form for the Z badge. A good car, brash and swift, it sold well for Nissan.

Now, with the all-new Z34 370Z, Nissan says it finally has the real successor to the 240Z: the first car to truly share the first Z’s ethos of raw, undiluted (and relatively cheap) thrills.

Let’s see if Nissan has got it right.


The Styling

In terms of aesthetics, the 370Z channels a lot of the venerable original Z's charm.

While outwardly similar to the 350Z that preceded it, the 370Z’s sheetmetal is an entirely clean-slate design. It also boasts entirely different proportions to the 350Z: 100 mm has been cut from the wheelbase, it’s 33mm wider, 7.6mm lower and overall length is 69mm shorter.

Nissan’s dimensional tweaks have resulted in a more cab-rearward design that adds more visual length to the bonnet – much like the 240Z of yore. The shape is still reminiscent of the 350Z, yes, but every detail has been changed.

2009 Nissan 370Z Photo Shoot

The front bumper is now wider and has been given a bulldog’s fangs, the front and rear light clusters now have a peculiar fishhook shape to them and the beltline has been comprehensively reshaped to incorporate a 240Z-esque upwards ‘kick’ around the B-pillar.

It’s a more organic design too, with flowing lines and smooth, almost liquid forms. A pair of longitudinal ridges run back from the bonnet’s leading edge, continuing up the roof before terminating short of the rear glass, and the flared fenders are practically wide enough to sit on. Net result? It looks positively muscle-bound.

2009 Nissan 370Z Photo Shoot

Australian Z34s also come with front and rear spoilers as standard – two elements that greatly augment the car’s already handsome looks. Unfortunately the 19-inch forged alloy rims that accompany sports models of the 370Z overseas aren’t available here. The standard-issue 18-inchers aren’t bad to look at, mind you, but they do appear a tad undersized for the Z’s frame.


The Interior

If the 370Z’s exterior is an evolution of the 350Z’s basic form, then the interior is something else altogether. There are recognizable elements there – like the instrument binnacle tied into the steering column and the ring-pull door handles, for example – but the execution is entirely different.

Gone are the 350Z’s hard, low-rent plastics; replaced by soft, tactile, leather-bound surfaces and more upmarket materials.

The level of fit and finish is also higher – nothing creaks or rattles, everything feels rock-solid and there’s a sense of durability in there. It also carries a premium feel, thanks largely to that big sat-nav console at the top of the centre stack and the healthy amount of leather trimming.

2009 Nissan 370Z Photo Shoot

The sat-nav system and integrated six-CD Bose premium stereo is standard equipment, as is the leather and suede interior trim. There’s a lot of black in the Z’s cabin, but the silver accents on the instrument panel, the row of auxiliary gauges, the door handles and the centre console break it up nicely.

Ergonomically, the 370Z is fairly good. The power-adjusted seats are comfortable and supportive (if perhaps a little small for larger drivers) and the steering wheel is not too chunky.

The gear lever is positioned perfectly, barely a hand-span from the wheel, and the sat nav controls are easy to reach and use. However the buttons for some of the climate control functions are too small and placed too low to be convenient. Activating the demister at speed can literally be a hit-and-miss affair.

2009 Nissan 370Z Photo Shoot

The steering wheel also doesn’t adjust for reach, only rake. The pedals, on the other hand, are perfectly spaced and the floor-hinged accelerator pedal is a nice touch.

2009 Nissan 370Z Photo Shoot Visibility from the driver’s seat is good – as long as you’re looking ahead. You sit reasonably low in the Z’s cockpit, with the high-waisted doors enveloping you and the short windows giving a letterboxed view of the outside world.

The central tachometer is large and clear, however the smaller speedo to the right is a bit hard to keep an eye on. A digital speed readout would have helped.

There’s also the Z’s signature trio of auxiliary gauges lined up on top of the dashboard, with battery voltage, oil temperature and a digital clock.

2009 Nissan 370Z Photo Shoot

Rearward visibility is pretty terrible though, a fact not helped by those tiny rear three-quarter windows. Mercifully, the wing mirrors are big and eliminate blind spots effectively enough.

The boot does away with the bulky rear strut brace that spanned the 350Z’s cargo area, and is much more useable because of it. It’s still pretty shallow, however Nissan assures us two golf bags can be shoehorned into it. Beneath the floor lies an alloy space saver and a subwoofer for the Bose sound system (yet another standard feature).


Mechanical Package

As impressive as its design is, the real essence of the new Z lies beneath the skin. Built on a shortened version of the V36 Skyline’s FM platform (itself a highly-tuned evolution of the 350Z’s architecture), the 370Z is already off to a good start.

The Z’s all-alloy double wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear suspension has been retuned with new geometry to take advantage of the shorter wheelbase, and springrates and damping characteristics have been completely revised.

Nissan has also taken the opportunity to shed some kilos with the Z, utilizing lightweight aluminium for the bonnet, doors and bootlid. However, the addition of extra safety features and creature comforts means that despite the weight-saving measures, the 370Z still weighs much the same as the 350.

2009 Nissan 370Z Photo Shoot

Weight distribution is a near-optimal 53 percent front, 47 percent rear

Big Akebono brakes are standard on Australian Zs (optional overseas) and they clearly have the mechanical muscle needed to haul up the 1471kg coupe. Never heard of Akebono? The Japanese brake manufacturer also supplies its stopping hardware to the Williams F1 team, not to mention Japan’s famous Shinkansen bullet trains.

But the key component in the 370Z’s mechanical arsenal isn’t its brakes, nor its suspension. It’s that 3.7 litre V6 engine, and what a pearler it is.

This is essentially the same engine used by Nissan in the V36 Skyline 370GT (which we’ve also tested) and it thumps out an impressive 245kW and 336Nm.

Dubbed the VQ37VHR by the engineers that created it, this high-tech V6 utilises a clever new system to bump up power and efficiency. Called Variable Valve Event and Lift (VVEL), the system replaces the conventional lobed camshafts with a complex variable-fulcrum reciprocating mechanism.

The VVEL system allows the ECU to adjust the intake valve lift and timing infinitely, fine tuning the engine on the fly for either maximum performance or fuel-sipping economy.

2009 Nissan 370Z Photo Shoot

The 370Z has another mechanical ace up its sleeve – the SynchroRev Match system. What it does is automatically control the throttle on downshifts (and upshifts, as it turns out) to match engine rpm to the gear that you’re about to select.

It means the dark art of heel-toeing no longer needs to be learned in order to drive quickly and that downshifts are much smoother.

It’s a clever piece of kit, and it’s a wonder more manufacturers have not tried it. Rather than being a mechanical component within the gearbox, it’s a software tweak to the ECU that senses what gear you’re about to slot in and adjusts engine rpm via the electronic throttle bodies. Internally, the 370Z’s six-speed manual gearbox is a direct carry-over from the 350Z.

In terms of safety equipment, the 370Z ships with front, side and curtain airbags; Vehicle Dynamic Control (Nissan-speak for stability control); ABS; traction control; electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist – all as standard.

It also features a pedestrian-friendly pop-up bonnet, that raises the rear of the bonnet when something soft (such as a person) is hit, reducing the risk of injury from a pedestrian’s head hitting the bonnet and contacting the engine mere millimetres below.

2009 Nissan 370Z Photo Shoot


The Drive

And so we move onto the most important topic of them all: the driving experience. With its aggressive stance, purposeful cockpit and high-tech powertrain, the 370Z promises much to the driver before even sitting in the car and taking the wheel.

The starting procedure - tinged with a little race-car drama - uses a proximity key and a starter button nestled to the left of the steering wheel. Press the button once to power up the instruments, twice to prime the fuel pump, then once more to engage the starter.

The 3.7 litre VQ motor fires up to a noisy idle before settling down and humming with a typical V6 smoothness. The gearbox is a little stiff when cold, but muscle the lever into first and move off anyway.

2009 Nissan 370Z Photo Shoot

Immediately after first startup on an icy morning, the Z is a cantankerous, reluctant beast. The engine is more than willing to go, but the gearshift throw is slow and notchy, communicating to the driver that the car isn’t ready to hustle just yet. It’s preparing itself.

No matter. A sedate cruise is the best way to get the engine, ‘box and diff warmed up and a good opportunity to relax in the Z’s well-appointed cabin. It is in fact a very capable cruiser. In normal driving the Z’s ride and nice interior comfort belies its sporting pretensions.

The suspension doesn’t crash over bumps, nor does it feel too firm in either its springing or damping. The shorter wheelbase had me anticipating a lot of pitch movement when traversing urban obstacles like speedhumps, but the Z is pretty well controlled in that department.

2009 Nissan 370Z Photo Shoot

The steering is well weighted at suburban speeds and the Z doesn’t get led astray by tramlines or ruts in worn asphalt. You get used to the lack of rearward visibility, and it’s fairly easy to keep track of your surroundings.

But make no mistake: compared to your average car, the Z’s cabin is a noisy one. The engine dominates proceedings and seems to channel a lot of its voice directly into the passenger compartment.

The gearbox and differential are fairly vocal too, emitting lots of whine in virtually any gear and at any speed. Not only that, but the rear wheelwells are bereft of sound deadening, generating lots of ticks and clatters from each piece of gravel that the tyres happen to pick up. Tyre roar is also very noticeable in the Z.

2009 Nissan 370Z Photo Shoot In my book though, those are all the right noises for a sportscar to make. Some people may want a quiet, peaceful cockpit, but I’d be willing to bet those people aren’t in the Z’s target demographic.

Pile on the revs however, and the 370Z starts to emit other, truly wondrous sounds. What starts off as a deep growl at low rpm transforms into a guttural roar at full throttle, and a ferocious induction noise that becomes apparent from 4500rpm onwards.

As good an urban cruiser as it is, the full appeal of the 370Z can only be understood by taking it along a winding rural backroad – or a racetrack.

And it doesn’t disappoint in this environment. The suspension, although firmer than most, is still compliant enough to absorb the ripples and bumps of a two-lane B-road while also keeping body roll in check.

It’s a little nose-heavy, so safe predictable understeer will be the result of any ham-fisted manoeuvres. Approach corners properly however (brake before turn-in, neutral throttle, then feed in the power just before the apex), and the Z’s chassis comes alive.

It pushes all the right sensory buttons, and driving, sitting in and perhaps even just seeing the 370Z makes you truly appreciate the Z legend and why it caused such a stir back in 1969.

There’s a very linear feel to the Z’s power curve. There’s no mad rush of torque like you’d get in a turbocharged vehicle, and it makes it easier to both predict and influence how the Z behaves.

Adjusting the car’s attitude with the throttle is easy, although stability control will need to be turned off for more lairy cornering styles. Buyers upgrading to the 370Z from the 350 should be warned: because of the shorter wheelbase and standard viscous LSD, the car’s willingness to break into oversteer is increased.

You’ll need to keep your wits about you when driving this car quickly with stability control switched off.

2009 Nissan 370Z Photo Shoot

It’s also when it’s being driven hard that the SynchroRev Match system makes the most sense. Without the need to blip the throttle, you can slot gears in with just a quick stab of the clutch without having to worry about inducing any traction-breaking driveline shock.

It’s a tremendously well-calibrated system, and will take the engine up to its 7500rpm redline if the upcoming gear demands it.

Speaking of redlines, a small red shift light housed within the big central tachometer blinks as you approach the engine’s maximum speed, turning solid at the rev limiter. Driving this car spiritedly is an entirely heads-up process, and rarely do you need to divert your eyes away from the road ahead.

One thing you will need to keep an eye on is the oil temperature gauge. Ten minutes of hard driving was enough to get the oil temperature to 120 degrees, and continuing that pace for just a few more minutes saw temps approach 130.

2009 Nissan 370Z Photo Shoot

It’s doubtful it will become an issue for the average buyer, but those who intend to track their 370Z would be well advised to invest in an oil cooler.

The body is stiffer (a beautiful, properly-triangulated front strut bar definitely helps) and the steering is both direct and communicative. And those Akebono felt immensely strong and never exhibited any signs of fade.


The Verdict

Everything about the way the Z drives never failed to put a smile on my face. The engine, the brakes, the suspension, that wonderful SynchroRev Match system – all of them impart the Z with a real sense of directness, almost as if the car itself is an extension of the body.

It’s not nearly as agile as an Elise nor does it possess the sheer grip of an Evolution X, but it compensates by giving the driver a more passionate driving experience than either.

2009 Nissan 370Z Photo Shoot

But it’s not just the drive, it’s the whole package. The interior is just so much more refined than any Z before it; there’s a wealth of technology stuffed into its frame and it’s clothed in one of the best bodies in the business.

It pushes all the right sensory buttons, and driving, sitting in and perhaps even just seeing the 370Z makes you truly appreciate the Z legend and why it caused such a stir back in 1969.

For a textbook definition of what constitutes a sportscar, look no further than the 370Z. Everything it does, every noise it makes and every emotion that it stirs up just feels right.

At $67,990 (plus on roads) for the manual and $70,990 for the auto, it's not especially cheap. But for what it is, and in the context of its competition, it is far from expensive.

It’s the quintessential Japanese performance car, no doubt about that.

Big Statement

“The latest incarnation of the Z is also the greatest. Of the original 240Z’s progeny, the 370Z is undoubtedly the fastest, the most capable and the most polished. It’s an immensely satisfying car to drive, and while there are quicker vehicles out there for the same money, none give quite the sense of excitement as the Z does.”



Pretty much everything apart from the slightly notchy gearbox.



The notchy gearbox. Oh, the cup holder is in a weird position too.

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