Back in 1969, Datsun (Nissan now) answered the muscle car with a sports car – the 240Z. It was lighter – and far more agile – than the hulking American straight-line tire-fryers of the day. People snapped them up – especially as gas prices went up (and the original muscle cars began to die off) in the early ’70s.
By the ’90s, the Z-car had become a high-dollar exotic: $44k for a 300ZX turbo in ’96 – that’s equivalent to $64k today. People stopped snapping them up. The Z was – temporarily – retired. Nissan recognized the mistake and corrected it in 2003, when the Z returned.
Like the original 240Z, the ’03 350Z car was a proper sports car – and though not cheap, it wasn’t impossibly expensive, either: $26k to start in 2003 – equivalent to about $32k today. This made it a deal relative to, say, a Corvette – which had a base price back then of $43k and change – equivalent to about $53k today.
The same dynamic exists today – ten years after the return of the Z in 2003: The ’13 370Z is still a helluva sports car – and it’s also still a helluva deal relative to a new Corvette (or Porsche).
Some critics point out that it’s also still mostly the same car today as it was three years ago – and that’s certainly true, too. But change isn’t always for the better. Don’t forget what happened to the Z car in the ’90s. The next-generation Z – probably coming our way sometime in 2014 – might not be as purposeful, as pure – or as affordable – as this one still is.
Which means, it might be smart to get one of these while you still can.
WHAT IT IS
The 370Z is the latest generation of Nissan’s famous Z car, which dates back to 1969. The current car, like the original car, is an aggressive and snug-fitting hatchbacked two-seater – with a free revving six up front and power flowing (as it always should in a sports car) to the rear wheels out back.
Unlike the original, the current Z is available in both hardtop coupe and convertible versions.
The coupe starts at $33,120 with 332 hp 3.7 liter V-6 and six-speed manual transmission; opt for the seven-speed automatic and the price goes up slightly to $34,420. Touring versions of the coupe start at $37,820 with the manual and $39,120 with the automatic.
There is also a higher-performance NISMO option for the coupe. Order this package and you’ll get a 350 hp version of the 3.7 liter V-6, track-tuned suspension, upgraded brakes, “summer” wheel and tire package, standard limited slip differential and unique exterior bodywork, including front and rear fascias and larger rear spoiler.
Convertibles start at $41,470 – and somewhat oddly, the base model convertible comes standard with the seven-speed automatic transmission. If you want a manual transmission in the convertible, you have to step up to the Touring trim – and the price goes up to $44,170.
Competitors include other two-seat high-performance sports cars such as the Chevy Corvette ($49,600 to start), BMW Z4 ($48,650) and Porsche Boxster/Cayman ($49,500 and $51,900 respectively).
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2013
2013 is mostly a carryover year – with a few small tweaks here and there, the most obvious being new-design vertical LED daytime running lamps. This is the first time the Z has come with DRLs – and they cannot be turned off.
Otherwise, the changes are limited to new-design wheels for the base coupe, revised shock tuning if you order the optional Sport package and additional speakers if you order the premium Bose audio system.
Toned and tight, like Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon.
Coupe starts out about $15-$16k less than Corvette, Z4 and Porsche Boxster/Cayman.
Handles as crisply as any of them – better than some. And it’s quicker than most of them.
Not-terrible gas mileage.
Magnificently mechanical six-speed gearbox (with rev-matching downshifts).
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Stevie Wonder blind spots to the sides; Pulling into traffic from side streets can be a leap of faith.
In convertible versions, you lose much of the hatchback coupe’s usable cargo area. You also pay some $3k more to get the stick.
UNDER THE HOOD
The standard engine in the ’13 Z is a 3.7 liter DOHC V-6 pegged at 332 hp. In NISMO tune, the engine makes 350 hp.
It’s the latest, largest and most powerful version of Nissan’s “VQ” series V-6, an engine that’s been used in the Maxima, Altima and some Infiniti models for several years now. The VQ has an established reputation as a durable, smooth and very reliable powerplant – and in this application, can and will safely spin to 7,500 RPM.
Compared with several of its direct competitors, it is also an impressively potent powerplant.
For example, the $48,650 (to start) BMW Z4 comes with a 2.0 liter four. It’s turbocharged – but that still only gets you 240 hp – almost 100 fewer hp than the 370Z gives you for about $15k less. The Z4 is reasonably quick – zero to 60 in just under 6 seconds – but the 370 is much quicker – zero to 60 in about 5 seconds flat. To match the Z’s moves in the BMW, it’s necessary to step up to the $55,150 Z3 3.0, which has 300 hp and can do 0-60 in 5.2 seconds. But then, you could buy the NISMO version of the 370 – decisively smoke the Z4 3.0 – and still have about $12k left in your pocket.
A Porsche Boxster starts at $49,500 and for that you get a 2.7 liter, 265 hp flat six and 5.4 seconds to 60. Step up to the $60,900 Boxster S and you get a larger, stronger 3.4 liter six making 315 hp that propels the Porsche to 60 in 4.9 seconds.
It’s just slightly quicker than the $32k 370Z.
The $51,900 to start Cayman coupe comes standard with a 2.9 liter, 265 hp boxer six and 5.5 second 0-60 capability. Once again, in order to achieve performance parity with the Z in the Porsche, it’s necessary to step up to the $62,100 Cayman S which – like the Boxster S – just barely (0-60 in 4.9 seconds) out-runs the $32k 370 Z.
The Chevy Corvette is probably the only direct competitor that decisively beats the Z in a straight-up zero to 60 drag race, without needing to step up to its optional engine. It comes standard with a 430 hp 6.2 liter V-8 and is capable of a very quick 4.5 second to 60 run. Still, the base Corvette starts at almost $50k ($49,600) a sum you’d be hard-pressed to spend on a 370 with every possible option, including the NISMO performance enhancements.
Gas mileage is 18 city, 26 highway – not half bad for a high-performance sports car. For some comparison, the V-8 Corvette rates 16 city, 26 highway. The turbo’d BMW Z4 does do considerably better – than both – with a fairly impressive 22 city, 34 highway posting. But the Z4 2.0 also costs several thousand more up front, so it’ll take a good long while before the BMW’s at-the-pump savings amount to much.
Transmission-wise, you can choose either a six speed manual – with driver-selectable, computer-controlled rev-matching downshifts – or a seven-speed automatic with manual mode and F1-style paddle shifters.
All 370Zs are rear-wheel-drive and so, burnout (and tail out) friendly.
ON THE ROAD
The Z is often stacked up against the Chevy Corvette – a legitimate comparison, given that they’re both front-engined, RWD two-seaters – but the Nissan is a physically much smaller car overall. Both have intimate, two-seater interiors but the Z-car is about 8 inches shorter end to end (167.2 inches vs. 174.6 inches) and its wheelbase is only 100.4 inches vs. the ‘Vette’s 105.7 inches. The Corvette – though an excellent handler – is also a handful. It feels big, because it is big.
And of course, the Corvette is powered by a huge V-8 engine with more raw power than the fiercest of ’60s-era muscle cars. It’s also much more expensive, as already discussed: Nearly $50k to start and easily $55-$60k with a few options.
So, it’s apples and oranges.
The Z feels closest to the Lotus Elise in terms of lightness on its feet, its instant snap-to reflexes and push-it-til-you’re-chicken cornering prowess – as well as its quickness. But Lotus isn’t selling new Elises right now. The Elise – and the Exige – are no longer being produced because they could not meet “smart” air bag requirements, among other reasons. The only new Lotus you can buy is the $64k Evora – and its price puts out of the 370’s orbit and makes any direct comparison unfair.
The Porsche Boxster/Cayman and BMW Z4 are also superb corner carvers but their base engines don’t quite git ‘er done when the gas pedal goes down.
And don’t forget what they cost, too.
One of the other appealing things about the Z is that its big V-6 is as docile as a Maxima’s when you’re just puttering around. In stop-and-go traffic, a torquey six like this is preferable to a little four – as in the Lotus – that doesn’t make much power until you spin it past 4,000 RPM.
The Z also offers some serious track-minded equipment for when you’re not stuck in stop–and-go traffic, most notably the SynchroRev Match system for the six-speed manual transmission. It blips the throttle for you in between gear changes, matching engine revs to the speed/gear you’ve selected. The NISMO brake upgrade, meanwhile, will cut the car’s stopping distance from 60 MPH to just over 100 feet, about the same performance as the six-figure GT-R supercar.
A not-so-fun feature is the limited visibility to either side. The coupe’s steeply raked roofline and micro-sized rear quarter windows – which are completely obscured if you have the seats pushed back much – look absolutely stunning from the outside but can make it difficult to see to your left and right when you’re inside, as when rying to make a right or left turn into traffic. Even where I live – in rural Virginia where the roads are mostly open and you don’t have to seize the moment to dart into an intersection – the Z’s blind spots can be unsettling.
Same issue as far as seeing what’s behind you. There’s just that narrow slit of flat glass, steeply raked. Trying to scope out what’s behind you can sometimes be like peering through a skylight in your living room.
On the upside, the door-mounted rearview mirrors are very good, with a wide range of adjustment. In addition to improving your rearward visibility, you can use them to visually caress the hunky, 911-style rear fender flares.
While the 2003 350Z was intended to resurrect the spirit of the original 1969 240Z, I think the restyled 370Z’s shape conjures the appearance of the first Z-car much more directly. You can see the old car in the shape of the new car’s upper canopy, its rear quarter glass and the outline of its fenders – as well as its overall squat – which is much wider and aggressive-looking than either the original or the clamshell-looking 350Z.
The interior is likewise a homage to the original – with a hooded three pod secondary analog gauge cluster (including oil temperature gauge) sitting on top of the dash, to the right of the main cluster and canted the driver’s way. It’s very similar to the early Z’s layout. The fuel level and coolant temperature gauges use modern LED readouts and are mounted to the left of the main cluster. You sit facing a big, centrally located tach and 185 mph speedo off to its right – the ensemble finished with titanium-looking trim and red-orange backlighting.
Just under the tach is a digital LED gear indicator – manual models, too – which was probably inspired by high-performance motorcycles that also have this feature, so you can establish for sure what gear you’re in by quickly glancing at the display. On the track, where fractions of a second count, stuff like this matters. Another nice feature is the AC vent built into each door panel. These help direct cool (or warm) air where it’s needed – plus they just look cool, too.
From a functional point-of-view, there’s is very little to complain about (well, ok, one thing; see below) and a great deal to like. Especially the way it’s all put together – which is top drawer and not only that, nicer than you’ll find in several much more costly cars – including the current Corvette, which seems (to me) a little low-rent, interior-wise, for a $50k-plus car.
In the Z, you’ll see what appear to be hand-fitted sections of leather on the center console and dash – and even the door armrests are softly padded – to mention just two of the many unexpectedly fine detail touches you will discover in this car. Another notable design feature is the way the entire main gauge cluster tilts with the steering wheel – so you don’t have to choose comfort or being able to read the instruments.
Though it is a compact two-seater, the Z’s designers also endowed this car with a surprising amount of storage space – including two large cubbies behind the front seats, a pop-open cubby on the central stack and a modular storage bin between the seats, with removable cupholder insert.
Pop the rear hatch and there’s yet more storage/cargo space – 6.9 cubic feet, total, for the coupe (convertibles have a conventional trunk that ‘s also a lot smaller, with just 4.2 cubic feet of capacity).
Technology/gadgetry includes Bluetooth audio streaming, hard-drive based Nav system with real-time traffic updates and a 9.3 Gig music storage hard drive.
In addition to its handsomely executed interior, the 370Z is beautifully finished on the outside, too – including areas not immediately visible, such as the inside door jambs and underside of the hood. No not-quite-finished (or not clear-coated) undersides on this car.
Convertibles have a form-fitted soft top with multiple layers of insulation. Very little road/wind noise gets in, even at 80 MPH-plus highway speeds.
The only objective negative I could come up with after a week in the car goes back to the too-small rear quarter glass and the limited side visibility this gives you.
That aside, when you stop to consider that this car is priced literally thousands – and sometimes, tens of thousands – less than several other very desirable high-performance sports cars, including the Porsche Boxster and BMW Z4 – and actually beats them in several key categories of performance – it almost seems too good to be true.
And: Nissan – God bless ’em – continues to skip the aggravating Belt Minder (more properly speaking, Belt Fuhrer) buzzer that virtually every other make/model of new car comes with, want it or not. Nissan apparently believes you’re capable of deciding whether and when to buckle up on your own – without harassing you like a junior high school safety officer.
I’d buy the car for this feature alone, almost!
The now-standard DRLs, though, are a bad omen. These are LED DRLs, too. I haven’t checked, but my bet is the multiple little LED bulbs in each DRL cost a pretty penny each – and because they’re a “safety” feature, you’ll be required to replace them when they burn out.
It’s no longer the latest thing, but it’s still a damn good thing, overall.
And bear in mind: The next Z may not be as good. It is entirely likely that, in order to placate the government’s new fuel efficiency mandates (35.5 MPG average by 2016) it will be either less powerful – or a lot more expensive. Maybe both. Maybe none at all. The government killed off the Lotus Elise and Exige – and cars like the 370Z (and Corvette, et al) are likewise under the gun.
Might be time to get while the getting’s still good.
Throw it in the Woods?