2012 Nissan Z

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First Drive Review: 2009 Nissan 370Z

This 2009 review is representative of model years 2009 to 2014.
By Aaron Robinson of Car and Driver

The "Year of the GT-R" is finally behind us, but Nissan isn't done polishing its brass knuckles. Attention now snaps back to Nissan's original and more affordable asphalt punk, the Z. Launched in 2002 — ancient days for a sports coupe, which is always a fast-burning candle — the Z was obscured all last year by Godzilla's long shadow. For 2009 it breaks cover, the 350Z now transformed into the shorter, scrappier 370Z.

The Andrew Jackson added to the name means more motor. The V-6 is now 3.7 liters instead of 3.5, thanks to a 4.6-millimiter stroke stretch. Sound familiar? This is the Infiniti G37's four-cam, 24-valve V-6, new in 2008 and called the VQ37HR.

In the Z, it shares the Infiniti's power ratings of 330 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque, up 24 and two, respectively, from the 3.5. Written out that way, it sounds like much ado about not much. Well, Nissan says the 3.7 should cleave a couple of 10ths from the 0-to-60-mph score, down to five seconds flat, a difference your personal whupass meter should register. During a drive of a tape-masked prototype, ours did, and we noted stronger pulls out of corners and more torque in the midsection. However, the prosaic whir heard in the cockpit from the big six is no more scintillating near the 7500-rpm redline. The Z's rumble sounds bad-ass from the sidewalk, but it still desperately needs an inside voice.

Transmission choices include a seven- speed automatic and a six-speed manual. Optional "SynchroRev Match" on the manual mechanically blips the throttle for you on downshifts, so heel-and-toe perfection no longer requires actual toes. An off button locks it out when you wish to row your own throttle. Sadly, our stripper car lacked the feature.

Yes, power is up, but a more startling revelation is what's down. Nissan's Sawzall took 3.9 inches from the previous 104.3-inch wheelbase, all of it between the door and the rear axle, we're told. Stylists kneaded and tugged and shaved, and the result was that overall length dropped 2.7 inches, while width increased by 1.1 inches.

You'll see the Z's new compactness best from the side. The roofline slopes toward the rear at a softer angle, so now there's less of a jutting J. Lo tush. The result is a tidy squeeze-bulb shape even more evocative of the original, the 240Z. Detail changes include revised head- and taillights, tensed up with a sort of Nike Swoosh form that is now part of the Nissan family face (it debuted on the '08 Maxima). The side glass, once a flat line across the bottom, now doglegs upward to lead into the small quarter-window. The stocky door handles were smoothed and reshaped but remain no less startling than before.

Enhancements and Packaging
Factor in a new carbon-fiber front crossbeam holding the radiator (inspired by a nearly identical GT-R piece) and the widespread deployment of aluminum — for the door skins, the roof, and the hatch skin, in addition to the hood, as before — and curb weights should lighten. But, no, they remain roughly the same, about 3350 pounds, with the base model being slightly lighter than before and the top Sport model slightly heavier.

Nissan's proud of holding the line, claiming that revised crash standards alone piled on about 100 pounds. Additional body reinforcements for stiffness, including new bolt-on underbody braces, also pushed the scale's needle back up to break even. The infamous cross-body brace subdividing the cargo area into small, barely usable cubicles is now situated just behind the seats. True, it doesn't strategically span the shock towers as it did before, but Nissan says that aft body stiffness is up regardless. And a more commodious trunk awaits your junk.

We chided the old Z for its taxi-grade interior. The 370Z — even the cheapest salesman's special — finally beats the rap with fancy cloth and leather-like swabs on the dash and door panels, generously garnished with ornamental French stitching. We especially appreciate the stitched knee bumpers on the center console and the silver trim rings around the shifter and the cup holder.

Vital gauges, including the 180-mph speedo and the center-mounted tach, reside in a plate of simulated brushed stainless that tilts with the wheel. The new steering wheel is rounder and more sportif. The three gauge pods to the right remain, revealing oil temperature, battery voltage, and the time. The only gaffe is to the tach's left: a multifunction display with LED fuel-level and water-temperature readouts that look jarringly out of place to us, like a Pep Boys knickknack stuck on with double-sided tape. Nissan says the production version will at least be more legible.

A suspension retune intended to reduce roll and body heaving still supplies an agreeable ride on base 18-inch wheels and Yokohama Advan Sport summer tires. Our prototype lacked the correct steering rack, so we'll defer absolute judgment for now. But so far, at least one important mission — not screwing up what was a pretty good thing — seems accomplished. Our Z zigged with unwavering grip and confident neutrality as it maneuvered through corners. The base brakes proved forceful and perfectly sensitive to small pressure changes. Going fast, this Z feels smaller, probably (and mainly) because the roof is 0.3 inch lower.

The Sport package includes a limited-slip differential, Nissan-branded four-pot front brake calipers (the base calipers are two-piston jobs), 19-inch forged wheels with Bridgestone rubber, and body spoilers. The starting price should not take a giant leap from its current $29,205.

Less Z, more whee.

Performance Data:

PERFORMANCE (C/D EST):
Zero to 60 mph: 5.0 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 13.0 sec
Standing 1/4-mile: 13.6 sec @ 105 mph
Top speed (mfr's claim, drag limited): 160 mph

FUEL ECONOMY:
EPA fuel economy, city driving: 18 mpg
C/D-observed fuel economy: 26 mpg

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BB01 - 9/1/2014 11:44:18 PM