This comparison test couldn't have happened just a few short months ago. Sure, the Hyundai Genesis Coupe has been around since 2009. And not counting a seven-year walkabout, the Datsun/Nissan Z has been with us in one form or another since the first moon landing. Want to talk old? The Ford Mustang dates back to the invention of the wheel. At least it seems that way.
So why no comparison until now? Because until quite recently, Ford's entry level V6-powered Mustang was never really a sports car. The heavy, near impotent Cologne iron-block V6 was a joke, fit for little more than rental car duty, and it wasn't even terribly adept at that. But the non-V8 pony car has undergone some significant changes for 2011 – the biggest being its all-aluminum V6 producing 305 horsepower and 280 pound feet of torque – allowing it to finally hang with these two V6-powered competitors from across the Pacific.
At least on paper.
Read on to find out which V6-powered sports car reigns supreme. If you can't wait, skip right to the results.
Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
the Mustang's new 3.7-liter V6 is my top choice. It delivered consistent power at the low end of the tach." Quite unlike the other two. In fact, both the Z and the Genny preferred to tackle the canyon in second gear, while the Mustang was much happier in third. As a result, the Ford was easier to drive and needed to be shifted less. The aluminum-engined Ford also won our informal Best Noise competition.
Looking at nothing but numbers, all three cars match up rather well. All have high-revving V6s that produce in excess of 300 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque. Aside from their potent mills, each ride comes with prima facie sports car stuff: rear-wheel drive, six-speed manual gearboxes and some form of manufacturer-supplied go fast/stop fast parts. For instance, all three cars featured strut tower braces. Better yet, all three lie within 200 pounds of each other.
Specifically, our blue 370Z tester has Nissan's Sport Pack that includes a limited slip differential, sychro-matching downshifts, and massive yet lightweight 19-inch forged RAYS wheels covered in sticky Bridgestone Potenza 245/40R/19 front rubber and 275/35R/19 in the rear. The Z also came equipped with upgraded NISMO brake pads. The Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 Track also sports a limited slip diff, 19-inch wheels and beefed up brakes – Brembo units, in fact. The Genny even featured the same performance Potenzas as the 370Z, only much narrower at 225/40R/19 up front and 245/40R/19 out back.
The Mustang, or as Senior Editor Lavrinc called it, the "Comparison Test Special" featured not a single interior option (honestly, the trim is called "Black Cloth"), yet came with the all-important $1,995 Performance Pack. This includes big 19-inch wheels slathered with Pirelli P-Zero 255/40/ZR19 rubber at all four corners, the same stiffened suspension found on the Mustang GT, the aforementioned strut-brace, heavy-duty brake pads and a limited slip differential tucked into a 3.31:1 rear-end. Once more, just lining these cars up numerically made this look like quite the comparison.
Looking at the cars side by side, it's a much different story. Nissan spilled much ink bragging about the 370Z's "golden ratio" wheelbase. Measuring a scant 99 inches from hub-to-hub and 167 inches long overall, the Z is visually much more compact that its two opponents, especially the glossy red Mustang. While the somewhat lumpen-looking Genesis coupe is actually within six inches of the big Ford's length (182 inches long for the Hyundai vs. 188 inches for the 'Stang), the Mustang is without question the visible heavyweight of the group. The scales bear this out. The two-seat Nissan is still the baby of the bunch, clocking in at a respectable 3,250 pounds. Both the Ford and the Hyundai offer rear seats (and the Mustang's are even inhabitable), inevitably adding to their curb weights. That would be 3,452 pounds for the American and 3,389 pounds for the Korean. To reiterate, while it is physically bigger than both the Nissan and the Hyundai, the Mustang looks it.
An important note about our methodology for this comparison. After some back and forth, we decided that this was to be a sports car competition. Meaning that while other factors will come into play, what would matter most at day's end would be the contestants' inherent sportiness. For instance, the Mustang absolutely dominates the Nissan 370Z in the cupholder department. But we weren't going to let fluff like that – or other trifling non-sequiturs such as day-to-day livability, comfort, ride quality or infotainment systems – interfere with our sporty pronouncement. That said, the bargain basement steering wheel on the Mustang felt like a Tupperware container. As fellow editor Harley commented, "How much does a piece of McDonalds cow leather cost?"
We headed out to a very good road in the canyons north of Los Angeles (Harley again: "A road in the top ninety-ninth percentile of all roads on earth!") and would each take back-to-back-to-back 25-mile runs in the cars. At the end, we'd put our skulls together and come up with a winner. Before we began, and because we were running on public roads with borrowed cars, Lavrinc cautioned all of us to "Keep 'em in your pants, boys." As you might imagine, within seconds, our trousers were unzipped. To paraphrase General Patton, we had precisely the right weapons at the right moment in history, and subsequently let it all hang out.
It quickly became obvious that the 370Z and its mighty 332-hp, 270-lb/ft VQ V6 was the stud. On the straights, it could easily pull away from both the Mustang and the Genesis Coupe. That said, the 305-hp Ford and 306-hp, 266-lb/ft Genesis were no slouches in the straight line department. But the Z's engine – and its lighter weight and rear tire-width advantage – simply outgunned the other two.
As fast as the Nissan went, we found the VQ to be overly harsh and buzzy. Same with the Hyundai's powerplant. In fact, both the Z and the Genesis Coupe had to be flogged harder to get at the grunt. Harley noted, "Annoying vibrations aside – and none of these six-cylinder engines would ever win a smoothness contest –
Of course, Harley wouldn't have gushed so hard over our chosen road it if just went straight. With the exception of one or two sections, the road bent mercilessly, with a series of fast lefts and rights for several miles until the stretch we dubbed "the Alpine Section," which was made up of super-tight, decreasing radius turns; huge sweeping circles; and even a tricky changing-elevation 180 that put each car's rear end through its paces. Then it was seven more miles on constant switchbacks. We all agreed that we liked the Genesis best in terms of feel, though Harley felt the Z was a very close second. The Hyundai's steering was light and precise, and the Genesis Coupe was the only car of the group that provided anything resembling feedback. It wasn't Porsche Boxster-like, but it also wasn't muted and heavy like the 370Z or comparatively dead-numb like the Mustang.
The Ford, however, surprised us with its fondness for corners and ability to keep up with both the Z and Hyundai over some severely twisted tarmac. In the same situation, a 2010 Mustang V6 would have rolled over and died. Harley was actually reluctant to drive the 2011 version, fearing he'd meet a similar fate, however, "Its flat cornering attitude had me running hard after just a few corners." The Mustang felt planted and the car's limits were surprisingly high, especially considering its size and history. However, when you did cross the Mustang's threshold, those same limits came up quickly. The other two cars were much more forgiving. Harley said, "Even though it was optioned with the so called 'Performance Package,' the Mustang wallowed too much – it still needs firmer shocks." We all felt the Mustang's bulk on the tight, constantly narrowing back road. While never a serious problem, the Ford's mass made for the sloppiest lines.
The 370Z, however, had the most grip. Lavrinc described its canyon manners as, "Hard. Core." And went on to say, "This is a vehicle designed for backroad bombing – and it shows in nearly every aspect." My own notes state, "GRIP - Big time, big league grip," while Harley commented that the rather harsh suspension tuning, "translated into excellent transitional handling when pushed hard – really hard."
The Genesis Coupe was somewhere in the middle, let down by its skinny tires. While the Nissan and the Ford just dug in and smoothly transitioned from corner to corner, the Hyundai squealed and bopped all over the place. It was without question the most taxing and tiring car of the three, yet paradoxically was also by far the most rewarding, fun and satisfying to drive. The 370Z was like driving a fist. Brutal, mean, unapologetic and somehow mindless. Our Mustang, despite its option-free skid row interior, was the closest to a luxury ride up in the canyons. Easygoing, nonchalant and almost effortless. Harley noted that the Mustang might very well be his pick for a daily driver, but the best of the three for a long distance run. The Genesis, by contrast, was the Goldilocks of the trio. It moved the right way, it's ride was firm without being jarring and was without question the sportiest feeling car on hand. On one run at the limits of both grip and sanity, I was thrilled by the Coupe's excellent moves. However, no matter how hard I pushed the Hyundai there was a bright blue 370Z (and Lavrinc's smile) up my tailpipe.
Aside from its undersized tires, the area where the Genesis Coupe fell down the hardest was its traction control system. While we were running our tests on a practically deserted stretch of road, 150-foot straight drops were all around us. Because of that, all of our testing was done with the traction control systems fully engaged. On a good run, the Z's yellow idiot light would flicker constantly, but its inputs and corrections were so subtle that you rarely noticed any actual electronic interference other than the blinky light. Similarly, the Mustang's upgraded nanny (part of the Performance Pack) was damn near ideally tuned. A dab of braking would get applied here and there, but you really didn't notice the corrections.
Not so for the Hyundai. Both Harley and myself felt we broke the Genesis Coupe on various runs. Somehow, all the pounding overwhelmed the car and it decided to stop working. Lavrinc determined that what was actually happening was the traction control coming down like Thor's hammer. Lavrinc explains, "If there were ever a vehicle in need of a two-stage TC setup, the Genesis Coupe is it. Coming out of several tight, second-gear turns the traction control would abruptly limit the engine's revs to 4,000 rpm, no matter the actual amount of throttle. The TC would shut the engine down for what felt like eons, but turned out to be three seconds. You could count it: Turn in, overcook it, throttle, flickering dash light and then 1...2...3... power!" Again, it was disconcerting to the point that two of us thought something was wrong with the car. A system this severe in its intervention has no place in a minivan, let alone a sports car.
All three cars featured good-but-not-great row-your-own transmissions. While we all appreciated the Nissan's high-tech auto-downshifting, we all turned it off after a few corners. The reason why is that if you're used to performing rev-matched downshifts yourself, you wind up over-throttling the engine – not to mention all three vehicles had perfectly placed pedals for heel-and-toe downshifting. That said, we all liked the Z's gearbox the best. Oddly, it was the sloppiest of the three, but somehow also the easiest to use – it just worked the best. The Hyundai's was the most masculine of the bunch and featured the longest throws. However, its clutch engaged so quickly (more like an on/off switch than a progressive meshing) that Harley and I wound up regularly stalling the car in first gear. The Mustang's six-speed was the crispest of the bunch, with the shortest throws. However, the throws were so short that downshifting from third to second-gear happened faster than you could reasonably let the clutch out, overwhelming the rear-wheels and sending the car into a tizzy. Says Harley, "I wasted too much time looking for gears."
Our trio all came with excellent (and optional) brakes. In fact, we felt that the Hyundai had more brakes than tires. It also had the best pedal feel. As a result, it was the most reassuring to drive. None of us had any confidence issues while stomping on the big Brembos. Though they did get hot to the point of not only smoking (after a particularly brutal run), but also heating up to the point where the brakes shut down the Coupe's traction control system. Sort of a mixed blessing. The Mustang's brakes astounded us because Fords traditionally have lousy brakes (Taurus SHO, anyone?) and these were anything but. Harley did note that the front calipers were the only single piston jobs of the bunch, and when they got hot, strange and unnerving vibrations would suddenly come shimmying up the steering wheel. That said, we were pushing the base Mustang much harder and longer than most V6 owners ever will. Like everything else about the 370Z, what the brakes lacked in feel they more than made up for in results. Said Harley, "The Nissan's brakes are the strongest – almost too good for a street car."
At the end of our runs, we sat down to a big, unhealthy breakfast and talked shop. As it turned out, we all agreed on the finishing order of our V6 sports cars. Third place goes to the Ford Mustang V6, The Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 gets second and the blue ribbon goes to the unflappable Nissan 370Z. Said Lavrinc, "I like a little sadomasochism in my cars, and the Z's rough nature and pavement punishing chops easily give it the win." Harley elaborates, "The 370Z is right at home in the canyons. Of the three, the Nissan arrived with the shortest wheelbase, lightest weight, lowest center of gravity, firmest suspension and it threw the most horsepower at its rear wheels." Simply and honestly put, the 370Z is the best sports car of the three, hands down.
However, and riddled with complications, there are several caveats to the Z's win. We all feel that with some tweaking, the Genesis Coupe might have prevailed in our comparison. Going into the day, we all had the suspicion that the Hyundai might just eek out the win. However, the car was massively under-tired compared to its competitors and featured a traction control system that's at least one generation out-of-date. While the 370Z, with its power and weight advantage, will remain the faster car, we felt that the Hyundai could take top honors by dint of its more communicative chassis, better steering and overall "fun to drive" character. But not this time.
Here's the real kicker: Our Nissan tester stickered for a whopping $9,000 more than the Mustang V6. At $34,605, the 370Z is also nearly $4,000 more than the $30,875 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8. This means that our third place Mustang verdict comes with a big old asterisk. We knew the Ford was punching above its weight, but we didn't know exactly how much until we looked at the numbers. At $25,780 then, the 2011 Mustang V6 is something of a hero. Our point is this: if one were to pour $9,000 into a Mustang, not only would that tick nearly every single option box, but you would also get a 'Stang GT stuffed full of Ford's righteous new 5.0-liter Ti-VCT V8 with 412 hp and 392 lb-ft. Gussied up in that garb, and complete with a set of Brembos, we strongly suspect the Mustang GT would wipe the floor with the Genesis Coupe 3.8 and wholly humble the winning Nissan 370Z. But alas, that's another comparison.
Battle of the Sixes: Best V6 Sports Car
New Car Test Drive
Convertible joins redesigned lineup.
The Nissan 370Z fits between more expensive sports cars like the Porsche Boxster/Cayman and less expensive, less powerful cars like the Mazda Miata. Available as a coupe or convertible, the Z also competes with the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro, though it is sportier and only offers seating for two instead of four.
The coupe version of the Z was redesigned for 2009, getting a new name to reflect a larger engine. The redesigned version sports a shorter wheelbase and all-new styling inside and out. For 2010, the convertible version gets the same treatment. In both cases, the sixth generation of the Z is the best yet.
The wheelbase of this sixth-generation car is almost four inches shorter than the previous-generation 350Z, and all of the sheet metal is new. Although the styling has something plainly in common with the pre-2009 model, almost every plane and contour is subtly or distinctly different.
The previous 350Z was fun to drive, but the latest-generation 370Z is a revelation. With the shortened body came increased torsional rigidity, which results in a greater feeling of agreement from all parts of the chassis. It now feels agile rather than brutal, supple rather than rigid, and it is easier to drive as a result. Quick, responsive steering also helps.
The roadster is sturdier than most open-top competitors, but isn't as solid and controlled as the coupe.
The 370Z is fast. The 3.7-liter V6 can motivate the car from 0 to 60 mph in as little as 5.2 seconds. Power is readily available across all rev ranges, but the V6 can sound somewhat gruff during hard acceleration. We like the new SynchroRev feature available with the six-speed manual transmission. It blips the throttle during downshifts to match revs and keep the car from getting upset during performance driving. The responsive seven-speed automatic transmission also has a rev matching feature, and it comes with steering wheel shift paddles for those who want to exercise more control.
The new generation Z is much improved on the inside over the pre-2009 models. The materials are much richer looking and the design escapes the low-rent effect of the old 350Z. Along with the improved aesthetics comes rational layout and control function.
There's still ample space in the seats for two occupants to travel in comfort. The coupe has a modest but usable rear cargo area under the hatch, while the convertible has a small trunk sized for a couple of duffle bags at best.
We did find a couple of minor drawbacks. Rear visibility can be limited in both body styles, entry/exit is strictly for younger and more limber occupants, and engine and tire noise can intrude. The roadster suffers from wind noise when the top is down.
The Nismo model introduced for 2010 is best for track use. It has more performance features but has a very hard ride and is considerably louder than the standard versions.
Fast, agile and with a civilized interior, the 370Z is one of the best performance values on the market.
The 2010 Nissan 370Z is offered in two body styles, coupe and convertible, and three models. The coupe comes in base ($29,990), Touring ($34,660) and Nismo ($39,190) models. The convertible is only offered in base ($36,970) and Touring ($40,520) trim. The 370Z base models come with a 3.7-liter V6 that makes 332 horsepower and a six-speed manual transmission. The Nismo has a 350-horsepower version of the same engine. All models except the Nismo are offered with a seven-speed automatic transmission with manual shift capability ($1,300 to $1,470, depending on the model).
Nissan 370Z models come standard with cloth upholstery, automatic climate control, height-adjustable driver's seat, cruise control, Nissan Intelligent Key with push-button start, power windows with one-touch auto up/down feature, power mirrors, power door locks with auto-lock feature, center console, rear window defroster with timer, two 12-volt power outlets, dual overhead map lights, four-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo with auxiliary input jack, tilt leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, trip computer, automatic bi-xenon headlights, theft-deterrent system, and P225/50WR18 front and P245/45WR18 rear tires on alloy wheels. The convertible comes with a power convertible soft top.
The 370Z Touring model adds heated four-way power alcantara and leather-appointed sport seats with adjustable lumbar support; a Bose audio system with eight speakers (includes dual subwoofer), 6CD/MP3 changer, and XM satellite radio (XM subscription sold separately), Bluetooth hands-free phone system, HomeLink universal garage door opener, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The convertible adds ventilated seats while the hatchback gets a rear cargo cover.
The 370Z Nismo model has several modifications in the interest of performance. It comes only with the six-speed manual transmission with Nissan's SynchroRev rev match feature, as well a viscous limited-slip differential, lightweight Rays forged aluminum wheels with P245/40YR19 front and P285/35YR19 rear Yokohama Advan sport tires, Nissan Sport Brakes, Nismo-brand front strut brace, and firmer dampers, springs and stabilizer bars. The exterior gets a different nose with an integrated chin spoiler, special side sills, a unique rear bumper, and a taller, functional rear spoiler. Inside, there are Nismo logos on the seats, which feature black and red fabric with red stitching, a Nismo tachometer, red stitching on the steering wheel, a smooth-leather-wrapped shift knob, aluminum pedals and a serialized plaque of authenticity.
The 370Z 40th Anniversary Edition is equipped like a coupe Touring model with the Sport package (see below), plus a premium exterior color, smoke-finish wheels, anniversary badges on the rear hatch and front strut tower brace, and red brake calipers. Inside, it will have red leather seats and door panel inserts, anniversary seatback and floormat embroidery, a plaque of authenticity, and red stitching on the center stack, shift boot and knee pads. 40th Anniversary models come with a commemorative satin car cover.
Options are limited. The Navigation package ($1,850) offers a GPS powered by a hard drive and featuring voice recognition and a touch-screen display. The system includes real-time traffic information from XM NavTraffic, which requires a paid subscription. Also bundled in this option is a 9.3 Gig Music Box hard drive and interface system for iPods and other MP3 players.
The Sport package for the coupe ($3,000) and convertible ($2,800) adds 19-inch forged lightweight aluminum-alloy Rays wheels fitted with Bridgestone Potenza RE050A high-performance radials. Spoilers are fitted fore and aft, which help to lower the coupe's drag coefficient from 0.29 to 0.28. Also included with the Sport package are Nissan Sport Brakes with 14-inch front rotors and 13.8-inch rear rotors (versus 12.6/12.1-inch standard rotor sizes) with four-piston front and two-piston rear aluminum calipers. The chassis calibrations are otherwise the same as on the base car.
Other options consist of performance brake pads for the Touring convertible ($490), an Aerodynamics package with a front air deflector and a rear spoiler ($650), aluminum door sills ($200), floor mats ($115), mud guards ($220), a cargo mat ($95), and a spare tire for the convertible ($490).
Safety features include dual-stage front airbags plus front seat-mounted side-impact supplemental air bags for torso protection. The coupe also has curtain side airbags for head protection. Active head restraints are fitted to both body styles, as is a tire-pressure monitor. Active safety features include anti-lock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake distribution, traction control, and electronic stability control.
The current generation of the Z is almost three inches shorter and 1.3 inches wider than the pre-2009 models. The coupe was updated to the new platform for the 2009 model year and the convertible gets the same changes for 2010.
Both body styles exhibit crisper contours and tighter surface tension on the panels. Front overhang is perhaps still a little long, but it is in the best interests of efficient aerodynamics. Vertical bars in the front grille opening make the car look a little like a feeding manta ray. We think the front end has a definite aftermarket look, kinda like it was designed by Need for Speed video game players.
Although it's not immediately obvious, one of the most telling aspects of the new design is that the doors, rear hatch and hood are all made from aluminum, obviously in the quest for lower weight. Although the hood of the previous Z was aluminum, it used steel supports. Not in this one. Despite the added strength in the body, Nissan claims a 90-pound weight reduction.
Nissan chose to retain the vertical metallic exterior door handle, which is not our favorite feature because it's difficult to grasp. As a gesture of respect to the designers of the first Z-car, the base line of the coupe's rear quarter window sweeps up just as it did on the original 1970 Datsun 240Z. We think that little nod to history has been skillfully adapted. In more modern vein, the front and rear lights are hooked or boomerang-shaped for improved visual effect, and they're quite unlike the symmetrical shapes found on the preceding model. Attractive Z-badged turn signal markers fill the void between the front wheels and the front-door shut line.
The convertible is a two-seat roadster with a power cloth top. Nissan knew early in the design process that a convertible would join the lineup, so the convertible top looks to be better integrated this time around. With the top up, the body silhouette looks more natural and less awkward than it did on the 350Z. The roadster comes standard with a black top, and a Bordeaux (maroon) top is optional. The top is cloth, not vinyl, and inside it adds a headliner for better interior isolation. There is no latch for drivers to flip or turn. This allows for remote operation via a button on each door handle.
The surface of the bodywork is comparatively devoid of bling on both body styles. Nissan's hamburger logo graces the front end, and a shiny 370Z badge decorates the rump, but it's otherwise tastefully simple.
At the rear, the new lights combine with more-rounded contours to produce an elegant effect not unlike that of a Porsche. The dual exhaust outlets are tidily integrated with the rear fascia, and so is the rear spoiler when fitted as part of the Sport package. But we think more could have been made of the tail with a diffuser-like lower edge. Altogether, we think the appearance is more subtle and mature than the somewhat squat aspects of the outgoing model.
Models with the Sport package get 19-inch Rays wheels with five artfully faceted split spokes. They look terrific peeking from the 370Z's muscular wheelwells. The base 18-inch wheels are very attractive, too.
The Nismo is only offered as a coupe, and it has several exterior modifications to give it improved aerodynamics and more performance capability. The most noticeable difference is the extended, aerodynamic nose. The base car's fang-like underbite is gone, replaced by a cleaner look with a very prominent chin spoiler. The Nismo also has wider side sills, a unique rear bumper with a substantial lower diffuser, and a taller, functional rear spoiler. All told, the Nismo is 7.1 inches longer than the other models, with most of that extra length in the nose.
The interior is hugely improved in this sixth generation Z-car, with much richer-looking materials and a design that escapes the low-rent effect of the pre-2009 350Z. A high-tech looking steering wheel (shared with the Maxima) is a bold centerpiece in the dash, a large Z gleaming in its center boss. The wheel was skimmed to produce differing thicknesses around its circumference, and tightly clad in solid and perforated leather at the appropriate segments. Buttons stud the beefy spokes for close-at-hand control of the stereo and cruise control.
The instrument panel still moves with the adjustable steering column, and still has a passing resemblance to a motorcycle gauge cluster. The gauges are large and clear, with a 9000-rpm tachometer sitting dead center. A 180-mph speedometer is set off to the right, and a rather unusual aluminum-look circle at the left contains two rows of LEDs for temperature and fuel level indication. We're not particularly fond of these.
Naturally, the three auxiliary gauges that have previously graced the Z-car's dash top are there, providing the time, oil temperature and battery state of charge. The seats in this generation are larger and more supportive than before, and are of slightly different design right to left. Fittingly, the driver gets more aggressive bolsters than does the passenger.
In the coupe, the inconvenient shock-tower support bar that seriously compromised luggage space in the old car went the way of the shortened midsection, and there is now a less-intrusive cross-car bar directly behind the seats. Rear luggage space is quite usable now. While the rear hatch provides unimpeded access, there is only 6.9 cubic feet of cargo space, far less than the 22 cubic feet in the Chevrolet Corvette. The convertible's trunk has only 4.2 cubic feet of space, about enough for a couple of duffle bags. Thankfully, the convertible top operation doesn't impede on the trunk space, and Nissan provides a parcel shelf big enough for a laptop bag behind each seat.
Small-items storage is just adequate. Unlike the last generation, this one has a glove box. There are two cupholders in the center console, with one located in a shallow center bin, and two more in the doors. Models without the navigation system also have a dashboard bin that'll fit items as large as CD cases.
The coupe's big rear B-pillars produce distinct blind spots. Drivers can work around this by positioning the large outside mirrors to compensate. The convertible has predictably poor rear visibility with the top up.
On automatic-transmission equipped cars, alloy shift paddles sprout from the steering column, their rear faces coated with a matt texture for positive finger actuation. In cars with the navigation system, the screen is tidily integrated into the center console, the usual Nissan ATM-like keyboard neatly incorporated at its base.
Along with the improved aesthetics comes rational layout and control function. Operating the stereo system is straightforward, and learning the navigation functions shouldn't require any reference to the manual. The standard four-speaker stereo produces pretty good quality sound, so we expect exceptional performance from the 240-watt Bose unit found in the Touring model, with its six speakers and dual subwoofers, though we haven't listened to it.
Access to the car, as with many sport coupes, can be difficult, requiring a step down. However, the doors open fully and the sills are not unduly wide. For those inclined toward sportier cars, the new interior now compares favorably with cars costing a lot more. Interior noise, however, may prove burdensome. The car transmits a lot of road and engine noise. The convertible also has a problem with top-down wind noise. This is caused by a pair of seals for the convertible top that located behind the occupants' outside shoulders. Wind seems to be drawn to these areas with no easy escape. Rolling the windows up about a quarter of the way eliminates the problem.
The pre-2009 350Z was fun to drive, but the Nissan 370Z is a revelation. Where the 350Z was somewhat crude in certain circumstances, this one is much better integrated. One can better appreciate a cohesive sense of control from the wheel and pedals. The control relationships just seem better networked, all on the same page.
With the shortened body came increases in torsional rigidity at both ends of the car, and this solidity concentrates the feeling of agreement from all parts of the chassis. It now feels agile rather than brutal, supple rather than rigid, and it is easier to drive as a result. To make up for the loss of the top, the roadster gets additional reinforcements in the A pillars, side sills and behind the seats, as well as an underbody M brace. The Nismo gets a front strut tower brace.
We tested a 370Z coupe with the Sport package at Spring Mountain Motorsports Park in Nevada, and the car took to the course as if it was born for the track. The Sport package adds wider 19-inch wheels, a limited-slip differential and Nissan Sport Brakes, with 14-inch-diameter rotors up front and 13.8-inch rotors in the rear. Since the 370Z uses a much-modified version of Nissan's FM platform, we expected some of the tail-happiness we've seen in cars using that chassis. But while we could occasionally provoke a spot of tail-wagging by adding too much power at corner exits, or by turning hard on a trailing throttle, the transition was progressive and easy to read. We were also pleased that the electronic stability control system left plenty of room to kick out the tail, but we were more impressed that the tail was so controllable with the ESC turned off.
The steering is weighted just about perfectly for a sports car. The Z steers with great precision, turns in decisively, and will tighten the line even at high lateral-g loadings. There's simply more grip than you first think. And the big brakes as fitted to Sport models work quite well. We were able to get them smoking, however, after several strenuous laps around Spring Mountain. We would definitely recommend the Nissan Sport Brakes to anyone intending to drive their Z regularly on twisty canyon roads or occasionally take it to a racetrack.
During aggressive maneuvers, the Nismo performs very much like a coupe with the Sport package, only with a considerably harder ride. The Nismo's performance tuning makes it too harsh for street use, unless you live in an area with glass smooth roads. The suspension is so stiff, in fact, that it can make the car skip over highway joints and tar strips when there is a lateral load. In these instances, the base suspension would be more likely to maintain contact with the road.
The roadster, on the other hand, is softer than the coupe. Without a solid roof structure, it is more prone to flex, though we find it to be one of the most solid convertibles on the market. Buyers who don't regularly push the car to or near the limits of adhesion will notice little difference in handling. However, if ultimate performance is the goal, the coupe is the choice.
For those not practiced at the art of double-clutching and heel-and-toeing, Nissan's SynchroRev system, the first ever offered with a manual transmission, helps out enormously by blipping the throttle on downshifts to match engine speed with rear-axle speed for smooth synchronization.
Unlike true double-clutching, SynchroRev does not first select neutral then rev the engine to the required speed, so the synchronizers are still called upon to help out. You can feel the sensation through the shift lever as the synchros clutch in, and the purists among us would still prefer to do our own legwork. But there's no denying that it's a brilliant idea for most people, and even for purists on occasion.
Cars with the automatic transmission also have a rev matching feature called Downshift Rev Matching. This works well, too, preventing the car's balance from being upset as you downshift for that next fast corner. The automatic is also well matched to the engine, making the power easy to tap.
Nissan's VVEL variable-valve timing systems has endowed the 370Z with a very broad torque spread, so forays to the 7500-rpm redline are not often needed. But when you do venture there, the famous high-rpm hullabaloo and clutch growl we know so well from the VQ-series engines turns back up. But it's hardly there at all at lower engine speeds, and that's another sign of the car's improved manners.
If you didn't know the difference, you might swear the 370Z had a V8. Nissan wouldn't give a 0-60 mph estimate, but Road & Track magazine pushed a Z to 60 mph in just 5.2 seconds. That's faster than the torquier, V8-powered Ford Mustang GT. Drivers will notice little difference between the 332-horsepower base engine and the Nismo's 350-horse version, other than the fact that the Nismo is considerably louder. The Nismo's constant engine and tire drone is another reason this car is meant mostly for the track.
Improving technology lends a broad operating range to the new Nissan 370Z in every aspect, making it a usable everyday commuter as well as a fun track day car. Its civilized character and affordable price will likely attract one-car singles for all-around motoring activities. Buyers will find they have purchased one of the best performance bargains on the market. The Nismo, however, lacks the base car's refinement, making it best for hardcore enthusiasts.
Barry Winfield filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the 370Z Sport at Spring Mountain Motorsports Park in Nevada. Correspondent Kirk Bell reported from San Francisco.
Nissan 370Z coupe ($29,990); 370Z coupe Touring ($34,660); 370Z convertible ($36,970); 370Z convertible Touring ($40,520); 370Z Nismo coupe ($39,190).
Options As Tested
Sport Package ($3,000) with 19-inch forged lightweight aluminum-alloy wheels, SynchroRev Match, Bridgestone Potenza RE050A high-performance radials, front and rear spoilers, Nissan Sport Brakes.
Nissan 370Z ($29,990).
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