370Z: Our First Drive
We’ve been looking forward to driving the new 370Z as we watched spy pictures develop over the past few years.
As of the last week in January, they’re available for sale. We had our test drive a few days ago. The old 350Z, and even more so the old Nissan/Infiniti FM platform it was based on, was – let’s face it – dated. The heavily reworked FM platform as it first appeared underneath the new G35 Sedan (now G37) has been one of our favorite rental car rides on business trips – and if that trip included some twisty bits then even better. A personal trip a year ago dedicated to canyon drives in California (and an art museum visit just to keep the balance!) was made in a rental G35 that proved very competent and reassuring in the twisty bits.
Our analysis of a Nissan engineering mule in June 2007 (http://www.drivingenthusiast.net/sec-blog/categories/nissanZ/2007/06/21.html#a2128) indicated the new Z would be both shorter and wider… and maybe lighter. Our hope then was that the interior would shed the hard plastics.. and take on a more Infiniti-type design.
Our wish was answered, because the new 370Z adopts the new FM chassis and gains an interior very similar to it’s Infiniti platform-mates.
That’s the background, but now it’s time to report on the drive.
A yellow Touring model with the Sport package and 6-speed manual had come into the dealer just a few hours before our arrival - so we had the honor of the first drive of it. An odd side story – this particular car had been sold, but the owner decided at the last minute he wanted an automatic instead. And his trade-in? A yellow Lotus Elise. That’s a considerable change, to say the least!
We first saw the car in the garage getting it’s registration sticker and wheel locks installed. Next to it on the rack was a blue 350Z ‘vert, with a Nismo exhaust system. We compared the suspension systems side-to-side and again marveled at how impractical the old models convertible top was (and the upcoming 370Z ‘vert looks to be all but the same). The huge “x” chassis braces underneath the 370Z (not found on the G37) look like those of the 350Z ‘vert, but are even more beefy. And while the rear suspension is all but identical, the front suspension is very much different and far stronger on the new FM platform. All this is very good news.
Next we walked around the 370Z examining the changes. First, under the hood, where a massive shock tower brace covers the engine and integrates with the firewall. The engine and underhood area is otherwise identical to the G37. Then walking around to the hatch, we first noticed how light the hatch was. It’s outer shell is made of aluminum, part of Nissan’s goal to keep weight the same as the outgoing Z (you’ll hear stories about how the new car is lighter, but given the increased safety requirements it meets and a couple of options on top of that it weighs almost exactly the same). The first thing we noticed was the area under the hatch – without the massive brace found on the 350Zs (350Z vs 370Z brace comparison pics here: http://www.drivingenthusiast.net/sec-blog/categories/nissanZ/2008/11/16.html#a2544) there is actually some usable (although very shallow) space under the hatch. The new cross-brace is an aluminum tube, and comes from the factory wrapped in protective plastic. This suggests that it will get scratched over time. Structurally, I have to question the purpose of this brace since since it is immediately located over a very beefy steel connection between each B-pillar. We suspect it’s there solely to tie the car back to the 350Z. It probably doesn’t serve any real purpose.
Another major difference between the 350Z and this new Z is that the floor is much higher it the new car. That’s not a good thing – you won’t be able to carry very much in this new Z. If you want it for a weekend car, you’ll just barely be able to carry soft luggage for 2 and a set of golf club bags. Even then, the bags would have to rest on top of the new brace. It’ll be a tight weekend ride.
Now for the big moment. Moving to the drivers door, the first thing you notice is that it’s outer shell is aluminum. That’s very very bad if you have to leave your Z in parking lots – a door ding here will be far more expensive than with a conventional steel door. This, along with the aluminum hatch and hood, is part of the weight saving measures. Oddly, the roof is still steel. Aluminum here would have further increased production costs, but would also have cut weight and lowered the center of gravity a bit further.
Incidentally, a kickpanel with a lighted Z emblem is a 200 dollar factory option, and this Z had it. We’re not sure what the point of this is, but a lot of cars offer it these days.
While climbing into the drivers seat, you’ll notice how small the door opening is – the doors are much shorter than in the prior Z. The drivers seat itself is different than the passengers seat – the bolsters are larger and the seat is narrower. That’s a good thing for an enthusiast car… but the seats still do not hold you as well as those in, for example, an S2000. In fact, they’re in a different league and confirm yet again that this new Z is much closer to an Infinity than to a purebred “sportscar”.
The door closes as quietly as you’d expect an Infinity door to close. Even before you start the engine, you’ll be surprised by how quiet it is inside the car. Starting the engine (with the push-button) doesn’t produce much of a change. It’s that quiet inside this car. We opened the door to listen to the engine outside of the car and it sounds nice. But inside the car? Nothing to very little.
The dashboard is a bit over-styled, and takes after the very similar dash in the 350Z. Like the last Z the dashboard tilts with the steering column. The LCD gas gauge is as bizarre as the early magazine tests confirmed – but unlike what they told us the gauge hasn’t been changed for production. The dashboard itself seems oddly high, and the 3 supplementary gauges to the right on top of the dash seem much higher than those in the last Z. We think they are also unnecessarily over-styled, but they do work. As you’ve seen in the early magazine reviews, there is no telescoping steering column option and that is a clear omission. Very odd… since the mechanical bits are obviously shared with the G37.
One major problem in the new Z is outward visibility. The side windows are completely hidden by the seat headrests, and they are absurdly tiny anyway. The rear window is a narrow slot. Side and rear vision is extremely poor and this will make cut-and-thrust traffic difficult. It would also be a problem on a racetrack where the enormous blind spot would be an issue in passing. The B-pillar is especially thick, and it doesn’t help that part of it is built into the door frame. We don’t understand why Nissan did this, and believe that side windows like those in the 240Z would have been perfect and better looking – even if they would also have required some original thinking in rollover protection.
Next up is shifting. The manual transmission in the earliest 350Zs was very poor – we know several people who went thru multiple transmissions (this is the kind of data you don’t get in car magazines). Not just the clutches – the entire transmission. Some later Zs had issues, as did many Infiniti Gs. Supposedly the transmission has been reworked internally a couple of times over the years, including once again for the latest G37 and with minor updates for the 370Z. Only time will tell… but given some of our past experiences with certain cars we find it particularly lousy when transmissions break.
The shift pattern is familiar here, but a nice surprise was the very short and precise throws. It feels a little more harsh than the high water mark of perfect transmissions (S2000), and the clutch is just a little bit harder. The engagement point is a bit higher than we prefer, but we found we could engage smoothly with a little practice.
As we drove down the road, we found that the engine was torquey and nicely responsive. By this pointin time, our Z had only three miles on the speedometer so we kept it under four thousand RPM. Presented with a few 90-degree turns in the road, we found that the cornering is almost flat. Nissan makes note of the 53/47 weight balance, claiming that coming out of a corner the balance will shift to 50/50. We can believe that, and think that when driven fast the new Z will be far more stable than the old one was. Note that the tires are also taller, and that adds to stability as well. Thanks, FM platform.
What about the famous “SynchroRev” downshift rev matching system? Well, at first we were subconsciously matching revs on our own, as we always do. Then it dawned on us to get out of that mindset and let the Z do it’s thing for us. Yes, the system works great and yes, we’d leave it turned on at all times. It might only get intrusive with a raspy aftermarket exhaust system. It would be a help for autocross events, particularly in the types of situations where after a fast straight you have to downshift to 1st to get thru a j-hook. Let the car match revs for you and the turn will be much smoother, with one less thing the driver would have to do. This makes sense. We’d also find it useful on the road course – for example at MSR coming off the long straight (probably about 120 MPH in a 370Z) into the rattlesnake and while having to drop a couple of gears.
Unfortunately, the drive ended all too quickly and we weren’t in a buying mood. But it left us in a quandary as we watched a friend drive it next. G37S couple or 370Z? That is the question. All but identical suspension and big brakes. Narrower tires on the Infiniti but far more practical. The ability to get weekend luggage and a pair of golf bags into the car (and under cover) is important to us. It would be very difficult in the Z, almost impossible. As an occasional track car, it would work well and the handling is a huge jump up from the prior Z. For long distance cruising with luggage, the car would work but not as well as a G37S. The wide rear Bridgestone RE050 tires on the Z are also a problem – in our experience with those same tires on other cars, we’ve found that they make a constant drumming noise which would be irritating on long trips.
Visibility out of the car? The G37S wins hands-down. Back seats don’t matter to us at all, but they do to most people. Today, several days after the drive, we still haven’t made up our mind – although our friend went out and bought a G37S for all of these reasons.
All in all, the new Z is a very nice car and was extremely well done. But a couple of questions linger:
- Is the 370Z a ”sportscar”? Absolutely not, for all the same reasons we said the last one wasn’t (and the Mustang is absolutely not). Despite having only 2 seats, this is a sports coupe. It’s based on a sedan chassis, and that means that there are certain inherent liabilities such as the shear weight, the height of the door sills, and the compromised H-point. It is an excellent sports coupe, and a very nice little brother to the GT-R “sports coupe”. Here’s my definition of the word “sportscar”.
- What is the competition?
- The Z competes successfully against the Porsche Cayman because it delivers ~95% of the driving experience for less than half the money. The updated 2009 Cayman S with direct injection and the new automated manual transmission will make the difference more apparent, but the Z will continue to deliver against the base model and certainly against the frumpy Boxster. And for half the money.
- At the low end of the scale is the 2010 Mustang, with it’s heavily revised interior and new sheet metal. And the same dated engines as were offered last year. Some people will see these as competitors, but the 370Z is certainly the far superior choice all around. If you need a back seat and think the Mustang is your answer, take a closer look back there and you’ll see they are completely unusable. The Mustang is far heavier than the Z, far less adept at anything adult, and it’s stone-age suspension is far less capable. Ford built the car for kids who only care about getting a momentarily satisfying straight line grunt, and Nissan built the Z for the exact opposite reasons.
- What’s next for the 370Z?
- A convertible model will be introduced in the spring, for delivery later this summer.
- A Nismo model will appear in the June timeframe, along with a number of dealer-installable Nismo parts (the first, an exhaust system, is already in the catalog).
- In the longer term, nothing is clear. We know that Nissan has been experimenting with a V-8 Z for the last several years, and the new 5 liter V-8 found in the FX50 would be easy to offer since it shares a chassis with the 370Z. It would therefore be very easy for Nissan to produce a V-8 Z although the 5 liter engine is very expensive and would also require further updates to the manual transmission. Is the world ready for a ~$48,000 V-8 500Z? Perhaps, and it would slot nicely between the 370Z and the GT-R.
- There may also be a green Z coming since Infiniti has already shown a gas/electric hybrid G37.