The Decade The Affordable Automotive Music Died - 2009 Nissan 370Z Long-Term Road Test
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2009 Nissan 370Z Long-Term Road Test

2009 Nissan 370Z: The Decade The Affordable Automotive Music Died

March 18, 2009

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Brace yourselves for the latest Long-Term Blog textcast, in which we tackle sausage, sportbikes, and the demise of the affordable sporting engine note.

Sadlier: So where's your $30k going. Base 370Z? Genesis Coupe 3.8 Track? 128i? Mustang GT?
Sadlier: Subaru Tribeca?
Magrath: 370Z. The Mustang's better than expected by a lot but I just don't like it. The seating position is too high and I think it looks dumb. The 128 is lame. I would constantly kick myself for not getting the turbo motor.
Magrath: Genesis Coupe is interesting but I don't like being in it. Great to drive but the steering wheel is lousy, the Infinity stereo's lousy and I think the car is ugly.
Sadlier: Huh. The Genesis Coupe's looks have actually grown on me. Plus the doors slam shut like my old prison cell -- very similar to our M3. I seriously think Hyundai benchmarked those doors.
Sadlier: The problem with the Genesis is that the 128i basically matches its acceleration numbers, and it's more refined. I think I would grit my teeth and go with the 128i, horrendous ugliness notwithstanding. With apologies to the Tribeca.
Sadlier: ...unless a cold-air intake or something could fix the Z's gnarly engine note ("the coarse sounds and vibration of this V6 mean you have to grit your teeth and force yourself to keep the throttle floored past 6,000 rpm" -- Engineering Editor Kavanagh), in which case, absolutely, sign me up.
Magrath: You'd pick the ugliness of the 128 over the engine note of the Z? I can understand picking it because of the Z's horrible road noise, but not because of the engine sound. You'd also be stuck with a back seat. I like that the Z doesn't give a backseat. The option of four seats just makes people think it's okay to ask for rides.
Sadlier: Yeah, backseats are overrated. Except that they're really useful. But you know, as far as the engine note goes, I tend to think that if an engine sounds like the Z's, it's because the engine team just couldn't be bothered to fix it. And I want my car's engineers to care about how my engine sounds.
Magrath: You know all they'd do is add a tumor-like snorkus to the intake, a la the F-150 -- which has 4!
Sadlier: Four?!
Sadlier: Well, shoot, if that does the trick, then snorkus away. The snorkus makes the GTI's 2.0T sound good, and that's fine with me. The motor doesn't have to be authentically refined. I'm willing to be tricked.
Magrath: The Z's engine sounds like intake and valves going all crazy, that's what machines sound like.
Sadlier: I disagree. Some engines are just thoroughbreds. They can't help but sound good. Which, by the way, is why mentioning the Z in the same breath as the Porsche Cayman is absurd.
Magrath: And why pitting anything bang-for-the-buck-oriented against anything pure-performance-oriented is absurd. It's lose-lose. Want to compare Wal-Mart knives to Shun Elite? They both cut stuff. Go for it! Artisan-made Italian salumi to that tube of sausage you can buy at the deli for 48 cents a bucket? Sure!
Sadlier: Exactly. I mean, I can't say I was thinking specifically about preserved meats, but, yes.
Magrath: There will be people who get it, and then there will be people who say that the lower-priced item is good enough and the other is a waste of money. So it goes.
Sadlier: But you know, even cheaper sports/sporty cars used to sound pretty damn good sometimes. With the notable exception of the V8-powered Mustang/Challenger/Camaro trio, why do they mostly sound like crap these days?

Sadlier: Take that 1990 Miata we have downstairs [a special loaner from Mazda's garage]. I remember reading that the engineers painstakingly tuned the sound until they had just the right sporty roadster character. Fast-forward to 20 years later, and what have we got?
Sadlier: The 370Z, which sounds like a bear whose hibernation was rudely disturbed (as opposed to the old VQ V6s, the 3.0-liter versions, which had a classic turbine-like smoothness).
Sadlier: The Genesis Coupe 2.0T, which, like its Evo/Ralliart/Lancer 2.0 engine-mates, sounds like a vacuum cleaner.
Z music textcast 2.jpg Sadlier : Even Honda's ostensibly sporty VTEC fours don't sound good anymore. Civic Si is one of the better-sounding sporty things currently, and it's a distant echo of the old Integra GSR. TSX, totally boring, forget it -- the '95 Accord EX 5MT sounded ten times better. Only the S2000 has that cool sound I'm talking about. 
Sadlier : The '00s: the decade the affordable non-V8 automotive music died.
Magrath : But hiring engineers to tune a specific sound can't be cheap, and in the current automotive climate, short of exotics, what's the point?
Magrath : If you're in the market for a new car, the engine note isn't going to be a deal breaker. It may be a footnote in stories you tell later on, "aww, my old GSR sounded so much better...," but that story will always end with the classic going away and a new car, better in every measurable way, replacing it.
Sadlier : Well, call me a Luddite (it's been done before ), but with the Genesis Coupe 2.0T/Evo/etc., I think the engine note is a total dealbreaker. It quite literally sounds like a vacuum cleaner. Likewise the 370Z -- the hibernating bear analogy is accurate, I'm afraid. They just don't sound like sports cars. Period.
Magrath : The 2.0T in the Genesis does sound pretty pathetic.
Sadlier : Put it this way. Imagine if a sportbike sounded like that. Dealbreaker, right? Why shouldn't we hold sporty cars to the same standard?
Magrath : Because sportbikes appeal to one person: the sportbike rider. And even those have been tuned down to acceptable levels lately-- show me 10 bikes and I'll show you 9 aftermarket mufflers.
Sadlier : On the contrary, I think the sportbike sound appeals to anyone who likes going fast in things with wheels. There's no mistaking that sound for anything other than an engine that's designed to take you places really quickly. Whenever I hear one, it's like an instant gateway to a daydream about fast driving.
Sadlier : And when I hear the 370Z, I think of an angry bear.
Magrath : But a daydream is a far cry from a purchase.
Sadlier : True, I don't want to die, hence I don't buy sportbikes. But still, if I were designing an affordable sporty car, you know, I think there's a real opening in the market here. Give it a spine-tingling engine note, one that says "I am fast and special" to you and whoever's along for the ride, and that can only help its cause. Affordable non-V8 cars just don't have that anymore.
Sadlier : Though in fact they are (in the Z's case at least, and the Evo's) very fast and pretty special.
Magrath : But most buyers don't want to hear ANY engine noise--even ones who buy sports or sporty cars just want the looks and the concept of fast. They'll never push it. Engineers are tailoring cars to the lowest common acceptability levels and if a car is going to be full of dynamat anyway, why bother tuning the engine?
Sadlier : In the Z's case, they didn't dynamat jack squat. Though they should've at least covered the firewall with it so we wouldn't have to listen to that racket. That's what makes the G37 tolerable -- they put a bunch more sound-deadening material on the firewall.
Magrath : One man's high tech and spine tingling is another fella's buzzy and strained. Who do you appease with your fancy engine note? The ricer crowd who thinks shrill is cool? The pushrod dudes who like the sound of stalling? Take the last gen G35 -- the engine note was lackluster, but they tuned the exhaust to sound like the future and people loved it or hated it. No in-between.Z music textcast 3.jpg
Magrath : Hate = no sale. Ambivalence = possible sale.
Sadlier : Nah, I think it's a win-win proposition. Spend a few extra bucks and turn the vacuum cleaner or the angry bear into a special-sounding machine. You'll impress people who are eager to dismiss the car as "just a Hyundai" (in the GC's case) or cheap sausage (the Z).
Sadlier : And as for those who couldn't care less, well, I'm sure they won't mind driving a sporting car that actually sounds like one.
Sadlier : Follow Porsche's example -- or BMW's, or Honda's with the old VTEC cars, or Nissan in the 3.0-liter VQ days, etc. -- and lead the way. Flaunt your aural excellence. Set yourself apart.
Sadlier : Build it and they will come, Magrath.
Sadlier : A guy who built a baseball diamond in a cornfield said that.


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