Since the launch of the Nissan 370Z at the Los Angeles auto show I have been eagerly anticipating a test drive. The thought of a more powerful engine matched up to a seven-speed transmission in a package almost 100 pounds less than the 350Z had me dreaming. Actually getting into the cockpit was the beginning of a great day.
Meeting up with the Nissan 370Z is like bumping into your ex after she got implants and lost 40 pounds. The 370Z is hot. The curves are exaggerated in all the right places and tighter in length. Where the 350Z looked like Cameron Diaz the 370Z looks like Selma Hayek. This thing is pure sex and it's clearly built for speed. This Z's proportions are reminiscent of the original Porsche 930--small waist coupled with hips and ass. The increase in track front and rear really help the styling as well as the stability.
The cockpit of the new Nissan 370Z is an evolution of the 350Z. The dash sports a bigger easier-to-read tack and speedo behind the wheel with the triple set of gauges retained in the center. The new LCD fuel and temperature gauge are an unwelcome addition behind the wheel, however, while they might be easier to read at night--they are almost impossible to read with a quick glance unless you're driving through a tunnel. Rear view vision is also a problem due to the big C pillars and the angle of the rear glass. While the big front windshield and large side windows give a very large unobstructed view. The new eight-way adjustable seats offer more support and bigger bolsters than the previous generation and are much more comfortable. The cabin itself is very familiar and easy to navigate through. Climate controls are within easy reach and are user-friendly as is the stereo. Keyless ignition start is a welcome addition as is the very fast sifting new seven-speed paddle shifted automatic transmission. The term slush box definitely does not apply here. A new six-speed rev matching manual tranny is available for the old-school.
There is nothing old-school about the engine, however. The 3.7-liter mill generates 332hp, 500rpm short of the 7,500rpm redline, and 270-pound feet of torque at a very high 5,200rpm. The engine employs the almost mandatory variable valve timing and adds variable lift for bragging rights and added power while keeping the idle sewing machine smooth. Don't let the stratospheric redline fool you. The torque curve is super model flat and almost as long.
We drove the new 2009 Nissan 370Z with the optional sport package at the Batangas Racing Circuit for some hot laps on a very hot day. Half way through the warm up lap it was obvious that this car IS the business. Nissan took the 370Z to the next level the right way. Unlike the new German wave of putting big heavy V8s and hundreds of extra pounds on their sports cars Nissan put the Z on a diet and added 200cc of displacement. This combination combined with a more refined suspension equal a very fun to drive balanced package. Foregoing the original FM chassis that the 350Z rode on, the new Z rolls on the new E platform chassis, which is a major step forward.
The wider track and shorter wheelbase gives the new Z more flick ability as well as sure-footedness in the corners. Double wishbones up front with a very tight redesigned four-link in the rear suspension give excellent mechanical grip. The torsional rigidity is exceptional as well. The chassis braces front and rear are clearly doing their job. Well-behaved in both low- and high-speed corners, the new Z inspires confidence. The re-valved shocks and new springs really shine with the new platform. While they are more compliant and a bit softer, they behaved very well at the track.
The compliant suspension soaked up the bumps without issue and gave good feedback lap after lap. Braking is handled by four-piston Brembos up front with two-piston Brembos in the rear. Those calipers grip 14-inch and 13.8-inch rotors, respectively. To help keep you out of trouble the braking system works in conjunction with Nissan's variable ratio brake pedal, brake assist and electronic brake force distribution all tied into the ABS and Vehicle Dynamic Control.
We triggered the Vehicle Dynamic Control as well as the brake force distribution in a few over-cooked corners. The systems did a great job of keeping us pointed in the right direction while being as transparent as possible. The big discs and Brembos held up to multiple hot laps without a hint of fade.
All the power and braking is transferred to the ground via uber-sticky 245 W rated 40 series 19-inch and 275 W rated 35 series 19-inch Bridgestone Potenza RE050A tires. Those tires are wrapped around a very sexy set of super-lightweight forged alloy five-spoke RAYS 19 wheels. A viscous limited slip differential rounds out a sport package that turned the 370Z into a corner carver with attitude.
Driving the 370Z at BRC was very intuitive. After a quick warm-up lap I felt at home in the Z. The paddle shifters were very easy to manipulate. Steering was light if a little numb but good--very reminiscent of an Audi S4 with less effort and with less feedback compared with a BMW M3. The new suspension layout clearly helped lap times at the track. The tight wheelbase and wide track helped at transitions and low-speed corners while the double wishbones and four-link rear kept the car very stable in the two very long high-speed sweepers. With the well-sorted suspension we were able to carry plenty of cornering speed.
Overall the new Nissan 370Z did not disappoint. It's a great car with very high limits. With the sport package the new Z can be more than just a track car or a grand touring car. It can be both. You can have fun driving from Metro Manila to BRC, have fun on the track, and have very comfortable ride home; while your track buddies are beaten up by a stiffly-sprung car with hard sport seats after a long day in the sun.
This is easily one of the most entertaining cars I've driven in recent memory. Nissan hit a home run with this one.