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.
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 – 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.
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
The first Datsun 240Z rolled into American showrooms in 1969. Four decades later, we've got our hands wrapped around the thick steering wheel of its direct descendant, the 370Z, which reigns supreme in this six-cylinder sports car comparison.
A surprisingly competent first stab at a sports car from the equally surprising Korean car maker. The best driving car of the test, yet one that's desperately in need of larger wheels.
In the minds of most people, the Mustang hasn't changed all that much in the 4.5 decades since it was created... until now. Consider the new V6-powered 2011 model a revelation for Mustang fans.