In 2002, Nissan launched its Z33 350Z; a bold new design for the fifth generation of the legendary Z-car and the first tailored for a global audience.
The preceding Z-car line had shown signs of bloat by the mid ?90s 300ZX ? these Z models were fast cars, thanks in part to their turbocharged engines, but they were getting heavier and less-focused on handling from model to model.
The 350Z provided a refreshing change to the Z family tree. Not only did it have the straight-line performance and Gran Turismo comfort of the later Zs, but also the agility and handling of the very first 240Z.
Although the 350Z grabbed its fair share of praise by press and public alike, it was far from flawless. The most prevalent criticisms centred on the poor interior quality and pedestrian exhaust note.
Fast forward to today, and Nissan has now given us the 370Z.
Sure, it?s not as groundbreaking to the Z lineage as the 350Z. Rather, it aims to address the 350Z?s weaknesses while also providing an evolutionary step forward for the Z line into the premium sports coupe segment.
Stepping inside, it?s clear Nissan has put a concerted effort into improving the 370Z?s interior over the model it replaces.
Gone are the tacky plastics and strange little cubby-holes. In their place now is a nicely-designed centre console (with sat-nav as standard fitting) and a quality soft-feel dash.
There are soft suede trims on the doors, heated seats, well laid-out controls and brushed metal trims and highlights.
The electric seats are trimmed in a soft non-slip leather for when things start to get exciting. The touch and feel of the seats and surfaces makes you feel like you?re sitting inside something considerably more expensive than the Z?s $70,000-odd price tag.
A minor complaint here is the 370Z?s poor ?blind spot? coverage. Thick C-pillars and a hatchback frame limit visibility, although the car?s large wing mirrors help somewhat in providing added vision to these areas.
The steering wheel is also a marked improvement to the blocky design of the 350Z. All the steering wheel controls are well laid out and easily operated, from the audio controls to the automatic gearbox paddles.
One of the interesting elements is the instrument gauge cluster, which, like in the 350Z, moves up or down with the tilt of the steering wheel.
Adorning the top of the 370Z?s dashboard are three gauges: a battery meter, oil temperature, and digital clock. They appear somewhat out of place ? perhaps Nissan is simply following the design cues of the former model.
The 370Z?s boot space is ample and, thankfully, Nissan has removed the enormous rear strut brace that restricted the load space of the 350Z. Instead, the brace is now slimmer and relocated directly behind the seats, forward of the strut towers.
Even at a quick glance, it?s evident that the 370Z is like a 350Z on steroids.
Gone is the European industrial look of its predecessor, replaced instead with eye-catching muscle-car lines that take on a side-profile reminiscent of the classic 240Z.
To achieve this look, the roofline now swoops down more sharply to the rear of the car, removing the ?flattened? rear of the 350Z. This also removes all visual cues of a boot and gives the 370Z a distinct hatch-like shape.
Aggressive is certainly the operative word for the 370Z. Striking ?boomerang? headlights and tail-lights, an impressive aero package and a sporty rear bumper that incorporates the twin-tip exhaust system, all made the designer?s final cut.
Up front is a unique ?fanged? air dam, and, most noticeable of all, the very aggressive rear guards (that depart entirely from the curvaceous rear-quarters of the previous Z) feature fully-pumped squared-off lines housing deep concave 18-inch wheels.
One of the aces in the deck of the 370Z is its new-generation VQ37VHR 3.7-litre V6 engine.
This is easily one of the best engines found in a car priced below $100,000.
Red-lined at 7,500rpm, it will howl there effortlessly and willingly. With peak power of 245kW at 7,000rpm (that?s 15kW more than the last of the 350Zs) and peak torque of 363Nm at 5,200rpm, this all-alloy 24 valve twin-cam unit (in which 35 percent of the components are all-new) will have you constantly wanting to push the accelerator.
We tested the automatic version of the 370Z, which, you?ll be happy to know, gets a quick-shifting seven-speed gearbox that can be directly controlled either through the gear-shifter or a pair of F1-inspired paddles located behind the steering wheel.
Moving the shifter from ?D? to manual mode puts the car in a sporting mind-set; in this mode, using the paddles at the wheel produces rapid - DSG style - gear changes.
If using the gear-shifter (and not the paddles), an upshift requires a forward push of the lever, downshifting, a pull back.
It's about time manufacturers found agreement on an action here. It's a bit ridiculous that some favour this mode, while others have a reverse action: pulling back for upshifts, pushing the shift lever forward for downshifts. For our part, we prefer the latter.
This is only a minor quibble, however. With 0.5 second shift times and a high level of lock-up preventing torque converter slip, most drivers will likely post faster point-to-point times with the auto than the six-speed manual 370Z we reviewed some weeks back. (But the 370z in manual form is also a cracker... it will come down to a personal preference thing.)
The redesigned all-independent double wishbone front suspension and revised multi-link rear is similar to the set-up found in the 350Z, but in the 370Z has been tuned more for comfort ? and it shows.
There?s much less of the jiggle and none of the jarring of the first of the 350Zs (which, granted, improved over the life of the model).
Brakes too are nicely weighted and with good pedal feel. Up front, 355mm Akebono sport discs and four-piston calipers do the work while 350mm rotors and two-piston calipers look after things at the rear wheels.
Push the engine starter button and the 370Z will burble to life with an exhaust idle not unlike the 350Z.
As you pull out into traffic, however, the 370Z immediately makes its inner urges apparent.
The ?HR? in the 370Z?s VQ37HR powerplant stands for ?High Response? and it?s no ?marketing speak? here. Even a light dab at the accelerator will generate an immediate throttle response. The pull from 4,000rpm and beyond is like an irresistible wave.
Critics lambasted the 350Z?s dull exhaust note, and even up until 5,000rpm you may think the 370Z will suffer the same fate. However, when pushed into the upper limits of the rev-range, up to its 7,500rpm redline, the car literally roars to life.
Purists may thumb their noses at the thought of an automatic Z car, but the seven-speed gearbox is more than capable of providing a thrilling drive.
Upshifts are not as smooth as a dual-clutch gearbox, but with the brutish performance of the Z, the jarring shift as each gear is punched through using the paddle shifters simply adds to the enjoyment at the wheel.
When braking for a corner (at a rapid rate thanks to the big Akebono brake setup) and shifting down, Nissan has a neat trick up its sleeve with its SynchroRev system.
A pull on the left paddle nets a SynchroRev rev-matching downshift - a 'blip' of the throttle - that lets off a bark from the engine and will convince any bystander you are driving a manual.
The only niggle we noticed is that the gearbox is reluctant to execute seamless multigear jumps. Drop two gears quickly, and the engine briefly hangs up on the first before dropping into the second, sapping some of the joy and confidence from quick overtaking maneuvers.
Aside from that hesitation, though, manually selected shifts are so seemless that a passenger might barely notice that you?re actually changing the gears yourself.
Once the fun has ended, reverting to standard 'D' mode sees the car become perfectly poised as an urban cruiser. Shifts become smoother and the 370Z coasts with much better fuel consumption and less urgency under the right foot.
You will quickly find that fourth and fifth gears offer the most fun in point-to-point driving, while seventh is really a long-legged ratio for the fuel conscious.
Though bristling with power and torque, and as fast as the 370Z is in straight line, a true sports car must also be measured by the way it slices corners ? and the 370Z does not falter here.
Wide, with a short wheelbase and a wheel at each corner, it is arrow-true into corners and beautifully balanced on exit. The 370Z is simply a sublime road handling package.
The steering is not overly light (it has some of the heft reminiscent of a German sports car), but it properly communicates bumps and grooves on the road surface back through the chunky steering wheel.
Underneath, the 370Zs suspension and damper set-up provide a good compromise between ride comfort and handling. There is some body roll in aggressive cornering, however, as a positive consequence, it does not rebound harshly at the slightest contact with a divot in the road.
Finally, at the last interface between car and road, the Yokohama Advans that come standard on the 370Z provide good traction.
Power out of a corner at close to full throttle and the tyres do not flinch, gripping the road without activating the car?s traction control system.
All that ?holding power? does come at a price though, as the tyres emit a fair amount of road noise even on smooth tarmac.
The 370Z is a worthy successor to the Z lineage.
The latest iteration of the Z badge offers an excellent middle-ground between performance and comfort. You get to enjoy the luxuries of heated leather seats and a Bose sound system, while at the same time revelling in the knowledge that there is 245kw of power up front, just waiting to be unleashed.
It?s not all about the power for the 370Z however. The car is defined by the experience behind the wheel.
The roar of the exhaust note, the noise of the tyres kicking up loose asphalt, the flick of the shift paddles and a body that catches the eye of all ages and genders ? the 370Z experience is the performance-car experience.
And a true performance car has to instil a passion for driving; it ought to leave a smile on your face when you open the throttle, and should leave you yearning for more at journey?s end.
The 370Z does all those things ? there really is not much else to ask for.