It was a big deal when the Z-car came back from the dead in 2002.
The Z-car has been one of the great constants of the American road since 1970, when it single-handedly grabbed us all by the lapels and made us take Japanese cars seriously. When the recession of the early 1990s took its toll on sports car sales, Nissan couldn't make a business case for the Z-car anymore and ended the Z-car's presence in the U.S. in 1996 with a giant, full-throttle, multimedia sendoff on an outdoor stage at the Petersen Automotive Museum. It seemed like the end of a dream. Somewhere, Yutaka Katayama was weeping.
So we all celebrated when the 2002 Nissan 350Z appeared. Just as with the original Z, it signaled a sudden resurgence in Nissan's fortunes, not to mention those of the Japanese carmakers in general. And just as before, the Z-car quickly established itself as a real sports car that real people drive in the real world.
So with the appearance of the 2009 Nissan 370Z, we were practically at the factory door, waiting for the first one. While cars today are getting bigger, heavier, duller and blander, the Nissan 370Z remains true to the whole sports car deal. It's shorter, wider, lighter and powered by a 332-horsepower 3.7-liter V6 with variable valve timing and lift. It's a serious car, not just a stylish one.
When a new Z-car appears, it means something.
Why We Got It
By the time the 2009 model year rolled around, we were ready for a new Z-car. Ajay Panchal's geometric theme for the fifth-generation Z-car's bodywork had become a little familiar, and the interior's drama continued to be undercut by all that plastic. Even the VQ-Series 3.5-liter V6 now seemed a bit breathless.
The 2009 Nissan 370Z looked good to us. The styling work done by Nissan Design America's Randy Rodriguez had the same aggressive spirit as the Nissan GT-R and yet also recalled the original 240Z. The interior had the look of luxury instead of cost-effectiveness, including leather and suede trim, the Nissan navigation system that we like so much, and even iPod integration. Then there was the magic in Nissan's trick no-need-to-heel-and-toe technology for the manual transmission, SynchroRev Match. Plus the VQ-Series engine had 3.7 liters of displacement and a rev-happy nature, so we assumed it had become smoother as well as more powerful and fuel-efficient.
So with a new engine, more power, class-leading interior refinement and a crazy technological aid to help us optimize our driving skills, we eagerly made room in the garage for a 2009 Nissan 370Z Touring with the Sport package and navigation. The MRSP came to $40,320.
We assumed that we'd embrace this high-performance dream car even in a world of stop-and-go traffic, concrete freeways and potholes. And freeway hop, don't forget that. Plus noisy rain grooves in the concrete. Did we mention freeways? Well, you know what they say about assumptions.
You know the goal of a long-term road test: 20,000 miles.
We keep tabs on our long-term cars throughout the year, making sure they are on track for 20,000 miles when it's time to tear off the 12th page of the calendar. Yet even with rigorous attention and some last-minute road-tripping, we just couldn't do it. This 2009 Nissan 370Z left our offices with 18,755 miles on the odometer, a full 1,245 miles shy of our goal.
Well, how about road noise? As Executive Editor Michael Jordan noted, "About 90 minutes of driving at a time proved to be as much as I could stand. It's the tire roar. It's bad enough when you're driving on asphalt, but the grooved concrete of freeways in Southern California really makes this car a penalty box on any kind of real trip. And it's not the tires themselves; it's the lack of acoustic refinement from the car. It makes the 2009 Nissan 370Z seem like a cross between a dump truck and a National Guard Humvee. As near as I can remember it, the 350Z was a whisper-quiet limousine in comparison."
And another editor said, "This is a sports car, so why doesn't it sound like one? And it's all well and good that the interior is nicer than a G37's, but why does it have more road noise than an '87 Pathfinder?!" Added Vehicle Testing Manager Mike Schmidt, "I don't remember the tire noise from our Nissan 370Z being so loud the last time I drove it. It's obnoxious. My ears were bleeding before I could crank the radio loud enough to drown out the tire drone."
And then again from that first guy, "And I like the Z-car. Seating position, ride quality, good navigation, satellite radio. And there'd be a good trip across the Coast Range at Coalinga and then a drive in the Santa Cruz mountains on Skyline and then down Page Mill when I get there, which is the whole reason for taking the Z-car in the first place. Then I thought about the sound of those tires filling the cabin on the trip up Interstate 5. Like being 50 feet from a cement truck for five hours. So I decided not to go at all."
Think we're just being whiny? We're not. The tire noise, apparently, comes from less-than-ideal cabin-air extractors, and a fix for the problem is in the pipeline. Future 370Z owners, you're welcome.
But even when that's fixed, there is still the issue of engine noise: "The 3.7-liter V6 makes big power, but it sounds like a Frontier on steroids." And then there was this: "Good grief this car is noisy. I know we keep going on about it, but there's really not much else to dislike about this car — but it's damn near a deal-breaker. The solution? Loud music. Really, really loud music."
Of course, there were some holdouts who talked a great game about the Z-car's freeway persona, but when push came to shove, they ultimately passed on road-tripping the Z with any frequency. Still, they put in their comments: "Do you not remember the noisiness that was the 240Z, the original RX-7 or the Porsche 944 S2 Turbo? Of course you don't.... But let's not put the Nissan engineers and product planners on high alert to dumb down the 2009 Nissan 370Z. Some of us like it just the way it is." Another said, "This is a fantastic car. Don't let others convince you it's too loud and too rough. This is a sports car, a man's sports car, and after driving it those 500 miles this week I'm convinced that the 370Z is just right how it is. If the NVH levels aren't to your liking, dig around in your purse and pull out some ear plugs, but don't ask Nissan to neuter one of the final remaining sports cars that is actually tuned for the male of the species."
No matter which side of the acoustic question our editors took, it's fair to say that we were all surprised that the 370Z spent 13 days out of service, nine of them devoted to replacing a broken transmission (including the clutch) after it got stuck in gear.
Moreover, editors Dan Edmunds and Mike Magrath also replaced the front brake rotors and pads. And the car spent a few days out of the rotation having the bumper repaired from a failed parking attempt. Oh, and a couple of times the key failed to work. And the kick panel fell off and was replaced under warranty. And also the aftermarket oil cooler, highly recommended for aggressive driving, started to leak and required replacement.
Total Body Repair Costs: $994.69
Total Routine Maintenance Costs (over  months): $489.93
Additional Maintenance Costs: None
Warranty Repairs: 3
Non-Warranty Repairs: 0
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 2
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: 3
Days Out of Service: 13
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: 1
Performance and Fuel Economy
At the end of the day, the 2009 Nissan 370Z is a sports car and as much as we were bothered by the noises, some people will be able to wave them off with a simple, "It's a sports car!" End of discussion.
Fuel economy was acceptable from this type of car that was doomed to spend most of its life being flogged daily in L.A. traffic, producing an average of 18.7 mpg with a best of 24.4 mpg. These results, however, are notably lower than the 21 mpg combined and 26 mpg highway rating that the EPA guidelines suggest — apparently your mileage may vary with driving style and circumstance. As it turns out, our one effort of 24.4 mpg was isolated, and no other in the range of 24 mpg was ever recorded. Meanwhile, our tank of 13.2 mpg was joined by many other similar results. It's a reminder that you make power with gasoline. For lots of power, add lots of gasoline. What do you expect? It's a sports car!
When it came to test this Z-car at the end of its time with us, brake performance proved to be an issue. During its initial test when it joined the fleet, the 370Z came to a stop from 60 mph in a scant 105 feet, a result that was easily repeatable. At the end of its year with us, the Z-car was hard-pressed to record a 110-foot stop — mostly a matter of worn tires. But more important, we experienced a couple of stops in which the braking distance inexplicably lengthened to first 130 feet and then 140 feet. And then afterward, the stopping distance was in the normal range around 110 feet. Our test driver said, "As with a previous 370Z test, I experienced some sort of loss in braking (hydraulic pressure? boost? ABS?) from plus/minus 40 mph to a stop. It felt as if only 70 percent of the normal braking [effect] was [available]. Spooky!"
On the other hand, acceleration is just 0.2 second slower than before, as it turned a 5.4-second run to 60 mph from a standstill (5.2 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip). The quarter-mile performance also proved just the same, as it did 13.7 seconds at 103.1 mph. Our driver did notice, however, that an increased amount of driving effort was required to get these numbers.
The Z-car went through our handling performance in much the same way, achieving much the same results with a bit more driver skill required. It went through the slalom at 70.9 mph (1.1 mph slower), yet circled the skid pad at 0.97g (an improvement of 0.3g; skid pads like bald tires). And our test driver complained, "The worn rear tires have changed this car from trustworthy to twitchy at the limit."
Best Fuel Economy: 24.4 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 13.2 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 18.7 mpg
Best Available Cruising Range: 417.3
Depreciation for the 2009 Nissan 370Z ended up on the high side, which is what you might expect for a sports car in this market, and it lost approximately 31 percent of its value at the end of our test according to the Edmunds' TMV® calculator. Compare this with some of our previous sporty toys, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo MR and the Subaru WRX STI, which lost 22 and 24 percent, respectively.
True Market Value at service end: $27,710
Depreciation: $12,610 or 31% of original paid price
Final Odometer Reading: 18,755
Track results and canyon blasts are great, and so is reminiscing about the sports cars we grew up with. Unfortunately, times have changed. A car can't be a single-purpose machine and expect to go unchallenged for its lack of full-service friendliness. If you can't make a car that does mundane as well as it does Mulholland, you're out of the game with most buyers. And unfortunately the 2009 Nissan 370Z falls into that camp.
As Executive Editor Michael Jordan wrote in our logbook, "As much as we all like to pound our chest about sporting automobiles and posture about purity, even a sports car has to also be a car. It has to be able to take you where the roads are good, anyway. And in times where financial resources are spread thin, we're all going to find ourselves forced into appreciating cars with multidimensional personalities. Ironically, the 370Z has been designed to be a better car, not just a better sports car. But it shows you just how crucial even the small things can be, as who would expect that an oversight in the acoustic properties of the interior would play such an important role in this car's personality?"
If we're getting soft, just imagine how squishy those who don't devote their lives to driving performance cars have become. A few tweaks away from being an all-around great car, it's no surprise that our 2009 Nissan 370Z didn't meet our goal of 20,000 miles in a year.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.