The Nissan 370Z is more powerful, lighter and faster than the 350Z. But has it lost some of its fun in a drive for greater performance?
At 120 MPH in the 2009 Nissan 370Z my friend Dan calmly asks if we're going over 100 MPH, proving you can go fast without feeling fast. But where's the fun in that?
When Nissan reintroduced the Z to the U.S. in the form of the 350Z they didn't just resurrect a beloved nameplate, they reminded us of a time when you could have a fun and athletic Japanese car without spending a fortune or driving something that looked like an octopus.
For 2009, the 370Z improves on the previous model in almost every measurable category. With the increase in displacement comes an increase in power and torque, to 332 HP and 270 lb-ft, respectively. With that 26 HP boost comes a weight decrease of almost 100 pounds to a svelte 3,232 pounds.
It's also quicker, achieving 60 MPH in a scant 5.1 seconds (auto; the manual runs 4.7) thanks to the improved power-to-weight ratio and two new gearboxes. There's the 6-speed manual with SynchroRev Match downshifts, essentially mimicking the old heel-and-toe. Then there's the new, paddle-shifted 7-speed close-ratio automatic transmission. Normally, we wouldn't spend any time talking about the automatic transmission but, due to some bad karma, an autotragically-equipped Z is what we got.
Sadly, a lot of people are going to buy the car with this transmission. It appeals to people who want a sports car for looks and image, but neither have the time or inclination just to drive. I do like to drive rear-wheel-drive sports cars because they're the most fun, even for a driver like me.
This is why Dan and I ditched the city and our ladyfriends for the weekend, setting out for
BFE Houston's rural Montgomery Country. Actually, we went further out than Egypt because, sadly, Egypt, Texas is now a suburb. Our mission? To find the two treasures of the thick Piney Woods of Texas: long stretches of unsupervised woods and BBQ sandwiches out of a shack.
In the dense suburban traffic between the city and the unspoiled woodlands a few of the vehicle's unfortunate quirks reveal themselves. The sharp, sculpted exterior and aggressively angular greenhouse make for a pleasant exterior but essentially rob the vehicle of visibility. Combine the low driving position with the lack of glass and the aluminum strut brace running behind the front seats acts sort of like a mid-mounted engine, obscuring rearward vision. Sadly, that doesn't translate to mid-engine-like forward visibility, which is more like a front-engine muscle car in that you have to look over the bulging hood to see the road in front, restricting vision further, which in turn restricts speed.
Finally, we make our way to the right road, as signified by the occasional passing biker and lack of driveways or cross streets. This is where the fun starts, where having lots of power going through the rear wheels, a well-tuned suspension and nothing better to do on a Saturday morning pays off. Or, at least, where it should pay off.
As mentioned, the new 370Z is better in almost every measurable category. The one subjective category where it fails to meet high expectations is giddy enjoyment. How can a car be better and simultaneously less fun? It's a philosophical difference because, as is, the new Z is a great car.
It's the difference between President Obama and President Clinton. Both are liberal Democrats but the latter gave us sex/drugs/violence and the former just gives us macroeconomic policy lessons. Drama makes for awesome television, competence doesn't.
Compared to the ubiquitous 3.5-liter VQ V6 in the 350Z the rush of awesome-yet-fleeting power has been replaced with a stronger, yet flatter power curve from the new 3.7-liter V6. Run through the well spaced 7-speed, this allows me to avoid hitting the shift paddles every 10th of a second. This is "better" but unrewarding. I want to launch my pelvis backwards into the persimmon-colored seat all at once, but this new Z wants to deliver a faster, but controlled and prudent experience.
The handling has also been improved from the previous version with a new double-wishbone front suspension and lighter/firmer parts all around. Paired with precise steering the new Z takes to the corners like a scalpel, exhibiting almost no understeer nor much oversteer when pushed hard. Well, at least as hard as I can push it. There's barely a hint of roll and grip to spare. These are the ingredients for a great sports car but I don't want a scalpel. I don't drive to shave seconds off my lap time on this country road. I drive to break things. I want a sledgehammer.
Fearful of attracting police attention and a little disappointed with the experience, we head out in search of barbecue. We could use the built-in GPS system but, if you want good shack food, you wouldn't want a place you could easily find on a map. With little effort we find Holder's BBQ in Dobbin, Texas, home of the "Best BBQ sandwich in Montgomery County" according to the beaming and polite women behind the shack's window.
Boy, she wasn't lying. Slow-cooked beef with too much sauce drenched over pre-packed buns and served with extra salty fries never fails to disappoint. I start to think about what a Nissan engineer would do to make it better. They'd probably cut some size from the meat, which flows over the side of the sandwich and onto the plate. The bun, too, could be smaller. Oh, and they'd probably complain about Holder's having a sign shaped like a pig even though, inexplicably, they sell beef-based BBQ.
Maybe I'm too picky. Maybe some people don't like to eat off plastic trays or get sauce on their face. The new Z is better but, by being better, it's a worse car for a mediocre driver like me in search of thrills beyond just speed.
If your idea of fun is shaving seconds from your lap times around a sunny Nevada racetrack or you're an expert driver looking for a precise tool with which to exploit your skills, you'll appreciate the 370Z's stunningly competent performance. Just buy one with the 6-speed manual. It's also a great car if, like most buyers, you just want something that looks cool. But if, like me, you're only a mediocre driver and you're just looking for cheap thrills, then the new Z probably isn't the car for you. It's almost too competent for its own good.