2010 Ford Mustang vs. 2009 Nissan 370Z Comparison Test on Inside Line

Comparison Test: 2010 Ford Mustang GT vs. 2009 Nissan 370Z

  • Full Review
  • Pricing & Specs
  • Road Tests (2)
  • Comparison (2)
  • Long-Term

2009 Nissan 370Z Coupe

(3.7L V6 6-speed Manual)

Two Legends Face Off

  • Comparison Test
  • Second Opinion
  • Top 7 Features
  • Final Rankings and Scoring Explanation
  • 2009 Nissan 370Z Specs and Performance
  • 2010 Ford Mustang Specs and Performance

When we last left the 2009 Nissan 370Z, it had just laid a drubbing on BMW's little 135i. We then proclaimed, "The 2009 Nissan 370Z raises the standard for the sport coupe segment to a new level of affordable excellence."

Time to get more serious. It's V8 time. Who's in? Let's see, no Camaro, and a Challenger is not available (don't ask), so that leaves the freshly updated 2010 Ford Mustang GT, a car whose very existence is predicated upon wallet-friendly performance.

Perhaps a reinvigorated veteran can take down the newly crowned king. The particulars might differ — four seats versus two, V8 versus V6 — but the mission is the same. And the 2009 Nissan 370Z and 2010 Ford Mustang GT are priced closer than you might think.

Line 'Em Up
We tested a 2010 Ford Mustang GT Premium Coupe outfitted with the Track Pack, which includes revised dampers, a shorter 3.73:1 axle ratio, a limited-slip differential, better brakes, 19-inch wheels, wider summer performance tires and a few suspension underpinnings pilfered from the Shelby GT500. Add in comfort items and other non-performance options and our tester rings up to $34,775.

As before, our 2009 Nissan 370Z Touring stands in the opposite corner, fresh from our long-term test fleet. It wears the Sport package, which adds bigger brakes, a manual transmission with rev-matching shifting capability, a limited-slip diff, and 19-inch wheels and wider rubber. Our 370Z is also equipped with a $1,850 navigation system that Ford offers but our test car lacks, and its MSRP just crests $40 large at $40,320.

Bottom line, we've essentially gathered the most expensive versions of both cars. Not by choice, it just worked out that way. But they can both be bought for less, much less, and with all their good go-fast parts. In other words, there are cheaper versions of these cars that will perform the same as these loaded examples, only without a few comfort extras. The base price on a Mustang GT Premium is $30,995, while a 370Z starts at $29,930. Add the Track Package to the Mustang and your MSRP is $32,494. Add the Sport Package to the Z and you're looking at $33,625.

But is the new 370Z really worth more than the new Mustang in an economy as brutal as this one? We aimed to find out.

The Light Goes Green
Go ahead; pick a car, any car. Both of them will reach 60 mph in 5.2 seconds (4.9 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip). Similarly, the Z runs the quarter in 13.5 seconds at 103.7 mph and the Mustang a nearly identical 13.5 at 102.9 mph. If their straight-line performance was any closer we'd have to start splitting atoms to measure the difference. And before you ask, we filled the Mustang with premium (91 octane) fuel, which Ford says fattens up the torque curve without affecting the peak.

The difference between the two lies in the power delivery. With better gearing and less weight, the 3,374-pound 370Z's speed sneaks up on you. The 7,500-rpm reach of its 3.7-liter V6 is far around the tachometer dial, and there are no flat spots in the power delivery all the way up to the 332-horsepower peak at 7,000 rpm.

However, 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. Like other Nissans equipped with this powertrain, the din is accompanied by a gearlever that sizzles frantically with high-frequency vibration. We're fans of earlier iterations of Nissan's VQ-Series V6, but the 370Z's VQ37HR could use some finishing school.

If you're cynical, the 2010 Ford Mustang's three-valve 4.6-liter V8 can be thought of as a weaponized version of an engine that dates back nearly a decade and a half (though not that much further than the VQ-Series V6, really). Yet this mill doesn't betray its age willingly. The benefits of continuous improvement are evident in its tractability and willingness to run happily on regular-grade 87 octane fuel.

The 315-hp Mustang's V8 doesn't two-by-four you in the chest when you mat the throttle off idle and then fall on its face, wheezing like some pony car of old. Instead, the torque is soft down low, stacking up progressively as the revs pile on. It needs to be above 3,000 rpm before the V8 starts cashing the checks written by its intake note.

And it is some intake note — Ford has done a stupendous job of replicating the gloriously guttural bark of 1960s-era Mustangs, and it renders the Z's grating high-rpm warble that much more intolerable. The urge to scale and descend the Mustang's rev range just to savor it is irresistible.

A Bend in the Road
Despite the Track Pack's shorter 3.73:1 rear end, the 3,572-pound Mustang is still geared too tall. This dulls the V8's snappiness, an impression exacerbated by the Mustang's overly soft engine mounts. As a result, driveline lash is a companion at low speeds. Pay close attention and you can also feel the powertrain lurching about during quick transient handling maneuvers, such as rapid lane changes.

With that said, the Mustang's initial turn into a corner is immediate, almost disconcertingly so since the steering is lifeless and doesn't build effort commensurate with the movements of the chassis. The new car is an improvement over previous Mustangs, but it doesn't hold a candle to the way the 2009 Nissan 370Z responds to steering inputs.

No review involving the 2010 Ford Mustang would be complete without addressing the live axle. It has its benefits for launching and on billiard-table-smooth road-racing tracks, yet makes its compromises known to you in the real world far too often. Years of development still haven't reversed physics, and you're reminded of this every time the Mustang's rear end encounters a bump and pitches you vertically like a toddler on a parent's knee.

Find a blemish-free stretch of tarmac and the Mustang is an engaging companion, though we expected the Track Pack to be a bit sharper in controlling roll and pitch. The balance is there, though, as long as you let the chassis take a set. Then you can easily transition between steady-state understeer and easily controllable throttle steer. It's fun in the hooligan way that Mustangs have always been, just with a bit more control than before.

Hard braking with the Mustang results in a lot of nose dive and some seriously rapid deceleration — it comes to a halt from 60 mph in just 107 feet, which betters the performance turned in by the Z by just a foot. It's the Z's binders we lust after, though — unlike the Mustang, the 370's pedal feel is consistently solid whether you're strafing the canyons or crawling in gridlock.

Stretching the Gap
If the 2010 Mustang proves a surprisingly capable handler, then the Z is nevertheless in another galaxy. You can see this in the way the 370Z grips harder on the skid pad at 0.94g to the Mustang's 0.91g, but the differences in capability are more prominently evidenced in the slalom. Here, the Z changes direction with more immediacy, returning a 72-mph slalom speed to the Mustang's 68.4 mph.

Putting aside the numbers, you get the first clue of the Z's sporting intent before you're even moving. The steering wheel's sculpted grips hint at what's to come when you bend the car through a chicane. The 370Z's helm is a revelation, quicker and far more precise than the Mustang, with a sporting heft and a chatty nature. Cornering loads build in direct proportion to the steering wheel input angle in a way that's intuitive and confidence-inspiring. You'd be hard-pressed to find better steering anywhere. Jump into the 370Z after wheeling the Mustang and you'll wonder why the Mustang is so sloppy.

The Z's responses are devoid of slack, yet this focus doesn't have the usual tradeoff of a jolting ride. This is a chassis that never needs to take a set — the Z is always poised.

Then there's SynchroRev Match, a feature that every automaker ought to be scrambling to try to replicate. Not only does it let you focus on your braking points when you're driving with full commitment, it also aids in providing engine braking in the crush of traffic. Simply put, it's the most brilliant enhancement to doing it manually since the blow-up doll.

That's not to say that the 370Z's transmission does everything perfectly. Upshifts suffer from a slightly sticky gearchange and the clutch takeup could be more progressive. These aren't showstoppers, but nailing details like these would propel the Z to the sports car elite.

Living in Style
Noticeable improvements in materials quality and NVH were part of the 2010 Ford Mustang's design brief, and you can see it in the soft-touch dashboard materials and hear it in the lack of road and wind noise.

Yet certain aspects of the Mustang's cabin frustrate us — its retro-style gauges belong back in the 1960s, as they're not only illegible but also are prone to being obscured by stray reflections. The cruise control interface was crummy a decade ago. Plus, the steering wheel is too large and its clunky spokes discourage optimum nine-and-three hand placement. But, hey, you can choose from hundreds of different interior lighting color schemes. Really, when it comes to design nuances in a performance car, this isn't what we had in mind.

On the plus side, there's a sense of spaciousness in the Mustang that the Z-car can't match, and the Ford's seats are more comfortable than the Z's, if not quite as supportive. And practicality is a no-brainer — the Mustang has rear seats, and small as they are, this fact alone goes a long way toward daily-driver viability.

If you shied away from the plasticky 350Z, fear not the 370Z. The 2009 Nissan 370Z's cabin is finished to a much higher standard, with synthetic suede and high-quality trimmings. There are lots of gauges and they're all legible, the centerpiece being a huge tachometer that dominates the instrument cluster like the eye of Cyclops.

At the same time, the Z-car is a much more intimate place than the Mustang's cabin, so make sure you shower before picking up your date (don't ask how we know this). You'll also want to be careful when backing out of your beau's driveway, too — that monolithic C-pillar could blot out a Brinks truck.

Wrap Up
Large, gregarious and sporting a fan base of Americans millions strong despite its flaws, the 2010 Ford Mustang is the Rush Limbaugh of cars. It might be outclassed by the 2009 Nissan 370Z, but for many the charms of the Mustang cannot be replaced. At $35 grand, though, the Mustang GT is a tough sell. If you're willing to forgo some amenities, you could have a Mustang GT that performs similarly to our tester for a bit less money. That's the Mustang we'd prefer.

When it comes to delivering the best things about performance cars, the Z-car is a decathlete that leaps higher, throws farther and swims harder than the rest. If you can make the financial stretch for it, the 2009 Nissan 370Z will provide all the stimulus you need.

The manufacturers provided Edmunds these vehicles for the purposes of evaluation.

Lead Senior Editor Ed Hellwig says:
This is a "marry versus date" decision to some degree. The Nissan 370Z? Fun in short bursts, less so day-to-day. The Ford Mustang? A bore on roads that should be fun, yet shockingly comfortable everywhere else.

So which way would I go if it were my name on the check? Sorry, Ford. The 370Z would get my money.

I mean let's face it. If you're going to buy a car like this, practicality and comfort are already out the window. And as close as these cars are in a straight line, the Nissan will walk away from the Mustang at the first sign of a turn.

And can somebody explain to me why the 370Z feels so tractable around town with usable low-end power, while the Mustang is soft anywhere below 3,500 rpm? Uh, isn't it supposed to be the other way around?

And the Mustang's brakes? Steering? Shifter? It's not even a contest.

So yeah, as much as I root for the home team and savor the sound of a V8, it's the Nissan 370Z that would make me feel like I was getting my money's worth.

Integrating features into comparison test scoring is a means to illustrate what buyers get for their extra money when there is a significant price difference between cars competing for the same buyer. We picked options that we feel matter most to buyers shopping for a performance coupe.


2010 Ford Mustang GT 2009 Nissan 370Z
Auto climate control N/A S
Heated seats O O
Keyless entry/ignition N/A S
Limited-slip differential O O
Navigation system O* O
Rear seat S N/A
Rev-matching capability N/A O

S: Standard
O: Optional
O*: Optional but not equipped on test vehicle
N/A: Not Available

Auto climate control: By letting you set the temperature and forget it, automatic climate control lets you focus on driving.

Heated seats: These aren't a performance aid, but they sure do make a difference on cold mornings.

Keyless entry/ignition: Fishing keys out of your pocket to enter the car and start the engine is made unnecessary by this very handy system. When you walk up to the car, it senses the proximity of a sensor in your pocket and unlocks the door to let you in. Then you simply press a button to start the engine.

Limited-slip differential: Torque works best when it can be transferred away from a spinning wheel to the one that has grip, and a limited-slip differential lets this happen.

Navigation system: Increasingly more capable and user-friendly, a navigation system can do so much more than give you directions.

Rear seat: Standard on the Mustang, not available on the 370Z — unless you count the Infiniti G37 coupe as an option.

Rev-matching capability: Until now, no transmission has ever offered to blip your throttle pedal when it sits alongside two more pedals. Nissan's SynchroRev Match does a darned good job of heel-and-toe downshifting without requiring you to do the heel part. If you don't know what any of this means, maybe you shouldn't be buying a 370Z with a manual transmission and the Sport package.

Final Rankings

Final Rankings
Item Weight 2009 Nissan 370Z 2010 Ford Mustang GT
Personal Rating 2.5% 75.0 75.0
Recommended Rating 2.5% 100.0 50.0
Evaluation Score 20% 80.4 75.5
Performance 20% 99.7 92.3
Feature Content 20% 66.7 38.1
Fuel Consumption 15% 100.0 89.8
Price 20% 84.1 100.0
Total Score 100.0% 85.5 77.8
Final Ranking 1 2

Personal Rating (2.5%): Purely subjective. After the test, each participating editor was asked to rank the vehicles in order of preference based on which he or she would buy if money were no object.

Recommended Rating (2.5%): After the test, each participating editor was asked to rank the vehicles in order of preference based on which he or she thought would be best for the average consumer shopping in this segment.

28-Point Evaluation (20%): Each participating editor ranked both vehicles based on a comprehensive 28-point evaluation. The evaluation covered everything from exterior design to cupholders. Scoring was calculated on a point system, and the scores listed are averages based on all test participants' evaluations.

Performance Testing (20%): Both cars underwent our full complement of performance tests, including 0-60-mph and quarter-mile acceleration and 60-0-mph braking, as well as standardized slalom and skid-pad handling tests. All tests were performed by the same driver at the same location on the same day.

Feature Content (20%): For this category, the editors picked the top 7 features they thought would be most beneficial to the consumer shopping in this segment. For each vehicle, the score was based on the number of actual features it had versus the total possible. Standard and optional equipment were taken into consideration.

Fuel Consumption (15%): Using the EPA combined fuel economy ratings as the basis for the fuel-consumption comparison (or an estimate based on EPA city and highway fuel economy scores in the case of a new car), we awarded a score of 100 points to the more fuel-efficient vehicle. The less efficient vehicle was scored proportionally based on how close it came to the better-performing vehicle's fuel consumption.

Price (20%): The numbers listed were the result of a simple percentage calculation based on the less expensive vehicle in the comparison test. Using the "as tested" prices of the actual evaluation vehicles, the less expensive vehicle received a score of 100, with the remaining vehicle receiving a lesser score based on how much each one costs.

Model year2009
StyleTouring 2dr Hatchback (3.7L 6cyl 6M)
Base MSRP$35,155
Options on test vehicleHard Drive-Based Navigation System, Sport Package, Carpeted Floor Mats, Illuminated Kick Plate.
As-tested MSRP$40,320
Drive typeRear-wheel drive
Engine type60-degree V6
Displacement (cc/cu-in)3,696cc (226 cu-in)
Block/head materialAluminum/Aluminum
ValvetrainDouble overhead camshaft, four valves per cylinder with variable timing and lift
Compression ratio (x:1)11.0:1
Redline (rpm)7,500
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)332 @ 7,000
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)270 @ 5,200
Transmission type6-speed manual
Transmission and axle ratios (x:1)I--3.794; II--2.324; III--1.624; IV--1.271; V--1.000; VI--0.794; FD--3.692
Suspension, frontDouble wishbone
Suspension, rearMultilink
Steering typeSpeed-proportional power steering
Steering ratio (x:1)14.7:1
Tire brandBridgestone
Tire modelPotenza RE050A
Tire typeSummer
Tire size, frontP245/40R19 94W
Tire size, rearP275/35R19 96W
Wheel size19-by-9 inches front -- 19-by-10 inches rear
Wheel materialAluminum alloy
Brakes, front14.0-by-1.26-inch ventilated discs with fixed 4-piston calipers
Brakes, rear13.8-by-0.79-inch ventilated disc with 2-piston calipers
Track Test Results
0-45 mph (sec.)3.5
0-60 mph (sec.)5.2
0-75 mph (sec.)7.6
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)13.5 @ 103.7
0-60 with 1 foot of rollout (sec.)4.9
Braking, 30-0 mph (ft.)26
60-0 mph (ft.)108
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)72
Skid pad, 200-ft. diameter (lateral g)0.94
Sound level @ idle (dB)49.2
@ Full throttle (dB)82.7
@ 70 mph cruise (dB)70.3
Test Driver Ratings & Comments
Acceleration commentsMore revs are required here to get a sub 5.5-second 60-mph time, but I essentially use the same technique. The Z doesn't seem to like a lot of wheelspin -- it only gets slower. So getting the clutch out quickly and using WOT early is the key. This engine doesn't inspire at high rpm, but it does make power and it lends itself to hard driving in a way the Mustang's V8 never could.
Braking ratingVery Good
Braking commentsVery good distance and pedal feel. We're not anywhere near approaching the thermal limits of these brakes in the succession of stops completed for this test.
Handling ratingVery Good
Handling commentsThe more time I spend in the Z, the more comfortable I become. As of now, I've yet to drive it on the street -- only track testing. Still, it speaks volumes that my first run through the slalom in the Z was quicker than my best run in the Mustang. This is a communicative, direct-responding, focused sports car and it shows when it's asked to turn. Fun and fast. Around the skid pad there's immense grip, which seems to increase in direct proportion to how hard it's pushed. The rear doesn't want to step out and won't until something drastic (like instantly snapping off the throttle) is done. Even then, it's asking the driver if he really, really wants to do this. But it will play tail out it you want. And it's fun.
Testing Conditions
Elevation (ft.)1,121
Temperature (°F)68.1
Wind (mph, direction)7.9 mph SW
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)18 city/26 highway
Fuel tank capacity (U.S. gal.)19
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)3,278
Curb weight, as tested (lbs.)3,374
Weight distribution, as tested, f/r (%)54.7/46.3
Length (in.)167.2
Width (in.)72.8
Height (in.)51.8
Wheelbase (in.)100.4
Track, front (in.)61
Track, rear (in.)62.8
Turning circle (ft.)32.8
Legroom, front (in.)42.9
Headroom, front (in.)38.2
Shoulder room, front (in.)54.4
Seating capacity2
Cargo volume (cu-ft)6.9
Max. cargo volume, seats folded (cu-ft)6.9
Bumper-to-bumper3 years/36,000 miles
Powertrain5 years/60,000 miles
Corrosion5 years/unlimited mileage
Roadside assistance3 years/36,000 miles
Free scheduled maintenanceNot Available
Front airbagsStandard
Side airbagsStandard dual front
Head airbagsStandard front
Knee airbagsNot Available
Antilock brakes4-wheel ABS
Electronic brake enhancementsBraking assist, electronic brakeforce distribution
Traction controlStandard
Stability controlStandard
Tire-pressure monitoring systemTire-pressure monitoring
Emergency assistance systemNot Available
NHTSA crash test, driverNot Tested
NHTSA crash test, passengerNot Tested
NHTSA crash test, side frontNot Tested
NHTSA crash test, side rearNot Tested
NHTSA rollover resistanceNot Tested
Model year2010
StyleGT Premium 2dr Coupe (4.6L 8cyl 5M)
Base MSRP$31,845
Options on test vehicleComfort Group, Track Pack, Shaker 1,000 Audio System, Security Package
As-tested MSRP$35,625
Drive typeRear-wheel drive
Engine type90-degree V8
Displacement (cc/cu-in)4,606cc (281 cu-in)
Block/head materialAluminum/aluminum
ValvetrainSingle overhead camshaft, three valves per cylinder with variable timing
Compression ratio (x:1)9.8
Redline (rpm)6,250
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)315 @ 6,000
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)325 @ 4,250
Transmission type5-speed manual
Transmission and axle ratios (x:1)I--3.38; II--2.00; III--1.32; IV--1.00; V--0.68; FD--3.73
Suspension, frontIndependent, MacPherson struts, coil springs and stabilizer bar
Suspension, rearSolid axle, coil springs, trailing links, Panhard rod and stabilizer bar
Steering typeRack-and-pinion with hydraulic power assist
Steering ratio (x:1)15.7:1
Tire brandPirelli
Tire modelP Zero
Tire typeSummer
Tire size, frontP255/40ZR19
Tire size, rearP255/40ZR19
Wheel size18-by-8 inches front and rear
Wheel materialPainted alloy
Brakes, front12.4-by-1.18-inch ventilated discs with 2-piston floating calipers
Brakes, rear11.8-by-0.75-inch ventilated discs with single-piston floating calipers
Track Test Results
0-45 mph (sec.)3.4
0-60 mph (sec.)5.2
0-75 mph (sec.)7.6
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)13.5 @ 102.9
0-60 with 1 foot of rollout (sec.)4.9
Braking, 30-0 mph (ft.)27
60-0 mph (ft.)107
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)68.4
Skid pad, 200-ft. diameter (lateral g)0.91
Test Driver Ratings & Comments
Acceleration commentsEasy to launch. Best technique is to let the clutch out quickly at relatively low rpm and then use the torque to pull through the rest of 1st gear without wheelspin. I drop the clutch from below 3K rpm and transition immediately to WOT. Good shifter -- direct without being too high effort. And thanks to the intake honkus, I like the engine noise. This feels and sounds like a pony car. If nothing else, Ford has that nailed.
Braking ratingVery Good
Braking commentsShort stopping distance is a surprise.
Handling ratingGood
Handling comments"Overall, the Mustang is predictable and easy to throw around. Fun, even. Its limits are higher than before but it's difficult to take it seriously as a handling machine when compared to something like the Z. Still, around the pad, it's totally mild mannered and controllable -- even a knuckle dragger could powerslide this thing until it had no rear tires. Through the slalom its instant turn-in takes some adjustment but it transitions well for a live-axle car and remains impressively composed. Overall, an improvement from the last car."
Testing Conditions
Elevation (ft.)1,121
Temperature (°F)68.4
Wind (mph, direction)7.3 W
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)16 city/24 highway
Edmunds observed (mpg)17.1
Fuel tank capacity (U.S. gal.)16
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)3,572
Weight distribution, as tested, f/r (%)53.9/46.1
Length (in.)188.1
Width (in.)73.9
Height (in.)55.6
Wheelbase (in.)107.1
Track, front (in.)62.3
Track, rear (in.)62.9
Turning circle (ft.)37.7
Legroom, front (in.)42.4
Legroom, rear (in.)29.8
Headroom, front (in.)38.5
Headroom, rear (in.)34.7
Shoulder room, front (in.)55.3
Shoulder room, rear (in.)51.6
Seating capacity4
Cargo volume (cu-ft)13.4
Bumper-to-bumper3 years/36,000 miles
Powertrain5 years/60,000 miles
Corrosion5 years/Unlimited miles
Roadside assistance5 years/60,000 miles
Free scheduled maintenanceNot available
Front airbagsStandard
Side airbagsStandard dual front
Head airbagsNot available
Knee airbagsNot available
Antilock brakes4-wheel ABS
Electronic brake enhancementsElectronic brakeforce distribution
Traction controlStandard
Stability controlStandard
Tire-pressure monitoring systemTire-pressure monitoring
Emergency assistance systemNot available
NHTSA crash test, driverNot tested
NHTSA crash test, passengerNot tested
NHTSA crash test, side frontNot tested
NHTSA crash test, side rearNot tested
NHTSA rollover resistanceNot tested
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