The 2009 Nissan 370Z is lit for the cameras tonight, and the bubble of white light around it holds back the darkness of this parking lot in Los Angeles. The Z-car believers have come to see the car in its first public showing and Randy Rodriguez is one of them.
Rodriguez has come a long way to be here. Raised in British Columbia, his family ran a small gas station and car repair business and came to specialize in Nissans. His first car was a Nissan 240Z that he rebuilt with his own hands, and he's owned 10 early Zs over the years, though he's still only 31.
As with all Z-car people, Rodriguez doesn't quite fit in the box where you find most car enthusiasts; he's a little out of the mainstream, a little more open to doing things differently, and a little more serious about cars in way that only someone who has had to bring old, second-hand beaters back to life can be.
Rodriguez is exactly the person for whom this new Z-car is meant. Probably there's some kind of magic at work in the fact that Randy Rodriguez's day job is at Nissan Design America, and he was the one who first sketched the lines of what has become the 2009 Nissan 370Z.
Cut Down to Size You can feel the difference in the new Z-car as soon as you roll out of the driveway and into the street. Gone is the creakiness and slightly too-taut springiness of the 350Z. Instead, this new Z feels as supple on its suspension as a European luxury coupe, yet it's as poised on its big tires as a sports car should be.
For this new-generation car, Nissan sought to dramatically reduce the car's weight, and it adopted the simple expedient of slashing 3.9 inches from the wheelbase behind the driver. Now the wheelbase measures 100.4 inches, close to the traditional 99 inches that has been the Golden Mean of sports car geometry through the years. In concert with this, the rear track has been made 2.2 inches wider.
The Nissan engineers have also been more mindful of structural rigidity than before. There's a new front suspension cradle, a V-shape bar under the body and detailed structural enhancements to the rear of the car. As a result, the front torsional rigidity has been improved by 30 percent, the rear torsional rigidity has gone up by 22 percent and the bending rigidity has gone up 30 percent.
Overall, Nissan's engineering teams managed to slice 225 pounds out of the package, although the addition of safety features and convenience equipment put most of it back. In the end, the 2009 Nissan 370Z is only 95 pounds lighter than the 350Z it replaces.
These key changes help elevate the whole car to a higher level. An engineer will tell you that the car's improved structure makes it capable of delivering a more resilient ride while retaining dynamic excellence. We'll tell you that the car feels completely different, more grown up.
Street Ride Its new forged-aluminum double-wishbone front suspension so perfectly absorbs terrain, even concrete slabs, you could easily be fooled into thinking this Z-car is just a coupe now, targeted at BMW owners. And the interior looks it, as the stylish but stark furnishings of the 350Z have given way to softer, more luxurious detailing.
The architecture is familiar, from the eight-way manually adjustable seat to the way the steering tilts up and down with the instrument binnacle as a unified pod. The hip point of the driving position is about a half inch lower. To the rear, you'll notice that there's a hellacious blind spot over your right shoulder, something for which the new, larger outside mirrors can't entirely compensate.
As before, the VQ-Series V6 performs as if it has a far wider and deeper power band than you'd expect. The six-speed manual transmission also feels more refined, yet it still retains the bolt-action crispness of its shift action and gear engagement. Meanwhile, the new variable-ratio brake pedal fosters smooth stops without sacrificing ultimate bite from the stock brakes, which feature 12.6-inch rotors in front and 12.1-inch rotors in the rear.
Then you lay into the new, bottom-pivot throttle pedal and the 3.7-liter VQ37VHR (Very High Revving) V6 comes to life. Why, hello there.
Track Ride So in front you have the 3.7-liter version of the VQ-Series V6 with variable valve timing, variable valve lift and a redline of 7,500 rpm, and it makes 332 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 270 pound-feet of torque at 5,200 rpm. At your right hand you have the six-speed manual transmission.
Our 2009 Nissan 370Z test car also wore the optional Sport package, with forged-aluminum wheels carrying Bridgestone RE050A tires (P245/40R19s in front and P275/35R19s in the back), a brake package with four-piston aluminum front calipers plus 14.0-inch rotors in front and 13.8-inch rotors in the rear, and finally a viscous-type limited-slip rear differential.
There's so much tire grip that the engine almost bogs at the starting line, yet 60 mph comes up in just 5.1 seconds (4.9 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip). The new Z-car is no featherweight, as this test car's 3,359 pounds prove, but it does serious business, as the quarter-mile comes up in 13.4 seconds at 104.8 mph. It also comes to a stop from 60 mph in only 101 feet.
There's more than enough tire on the ground, as the 370 circles the skid pad at 0.97g in a steady drift that can be adjusted with the throttle. The shorter wheelbase promises better agility through the slalom, and the 69-mph run confirms it. Basically the 2009 Nissan 370Z fills out the performance envelope of last year's 2008 Nissan 350Z Nismo, but without the Nismo car's wound-up character.
Your Ride You don't have to be a magician to find this extra dimension of performance within the 370Z, either. Partly this is because the engine is in front of you, so the heavy bit of the car leads the way in a reassuring fashion. More important, the car never loses its suppleness over the bumps, although you're aware of it stroking up and down on its suspension because you're closer to the rear wheels than before.
If you were clumsy in the 350Z and braked too late, plunging the corners as if you were flogging a WRX, the old car would understeer and make you feel stupid. The 370Z doesn't push and always makes you feel smart.
You feel even smarter if you use the SynchroRev Match option (part of the Sport package) for the manual transmission, a system of electronic switches that automatically blips the throttle for you during downshifts. It does its job so perfectly that it translates both into painless crawling in commute traffic at low speeds and improved chassis equilibrium and faster entry speed into corners at high speeds.
Of course, as relaxed as the chassis feels at sporting speed, the same can't always be said of the drivetrain. The 3.7-liter version of the VQ V6 often feels like it's stretched to the limits of its capability, as vibration grows disturbingly intense the closer you get to the engine's redline at 7,500 rpm. Meanwhile, the 19-inch Bridgestone tires roar too loudly over some kinds of pavement, enough so that a couple hours behind the wheel can be exhausting if you're traveling on a concrete freeway.
The Price of Greatness The 2009 Nissan 370Z goes into Nissan dealers in January 2009, and so far we know only that the price begins at $29,930. Instead of a fistful of trim levels, there will be only the plain 370Z and the more luxurious 370Z Touring (at least to start with).
If you're someone who does track days, you'll be interested in the optional Sport package with its bigger tires and bigger brakes. You might also be interested in the special Nismo parts fitted to this test car, an engine oil cooler and an oil cooler for the limited-slip rear differential. The engine's extreme output has made it more sensitive to oil temperature, we understand, so if you're looking for the ability to reach redline throughout a long track session on a warm day, the Nismo bits are a good thing to have (especially since there was even serious discussion about making them a part of the Sport option).
The Z-car started out in 1970 as a subversive car at Nissan, the brainchild of Yutaka Katayama, the legendary Mr. K. And it still appeals to drivers who have a subversive instinct for speed, who aren't prepared to accept conventional answers about what a sports car should be. Just like Nissan itself, the 2009 Nissan 370Z is direct, unpretentious and even a little unrefined. It's as if all the artifice of Japanese politeness and philosophy has been stripped away, revealing the pure Z-car.
Z-car people will be pleased.
Lead Senior Editor Ed Hellwig says: I'll admit that the 350Z never really did much for me. It was one of those cars that looked good on paper — small size, powerful V6, stiff suspension, big tires, Brembo brakes — yet never delivered for me on the road. There was plenty of capability built into it, but there was nothing fluid about the way it all worked. It could eat up a twisty stretch of pavement, but I always felt like I was one small mistake away from putting it into a ditch.
Despite a similar-looking spec sheet, the 370Z doesn't scare me nearly as much. It has all the same capability, but it feels far more accessible. Most of it has to do with the suspension, which feels more refined despite only minor hardware changes. Instead of smashing the tires into the ground, this setup actually allows for a little movement. It's supple, not soft, and having that little extra compliance made me feel far more willing to see how far I could push it.
Couple the more compliant feel with a solid shifter, usable rev-matching system, firm brake pedal and quick steering and this Z is the sports car experience I always wanted from the 350. Now that the 370 delivers it, I would seriously consider spending the $30K for it. It's really that much better.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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