- The Nissan 370Z is an ageing sports car that’s still brilliant at one thing: being a driver’s car.
- I tested a $US37,605 50th Anniversary edition of the Nissan 370Z.
- A peppy V6 engine combined with a six-speed manual transmission and rear-wheel-drive makes for a throwback that can improve your skills behind the wheels.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
I’ve spent the past few months complaining to anyone who will listen that I’m sick of over-muscled cars. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve driven numerous vehicles that conjoin horsepower with technology to create machines that are both hard to fully embrace in everyday driving and rather distracting from an enthusiast standpoint.
Don’t get me wrong: if you want plenty of beef under the hood and are willing to pay up, good on ya. And if you desire glistening digital instrument clusters and tricked-out driver-assist features, please shell out for those options and be happy.
But if you simply desire a solid rear-wheel-drive two-door with a robust V6 and a slick-shifting six-speed manual, the roughly $US38,000 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition is absolutely, positively your bag.
It’s certainly my bag. Over the past few years, I’ve driven assorted versions of this iconic coupé, which in its current iteration has been around for a decade. No one who reviews the Z car fails to note that Nissan hasn’t updated it since Obama took office. And there, I did likewise.
But I’m frankly glad there hasn’t been an update. The car is perfect.
The best, most boring car money can buy
Yes, perfection often carries with it an embedded flaw; because the 370Z can’t effectively be improved as a driver’s car, the vehicle bores the market. The Porsche 911 also runs this risk, but Porsche makes sure buyers see frequent updates and have dozens of trim levels to choose from. Such is the way if you hope to sell a design from the 1960s for upwards of six figures.
The cheapest 911 you can buy would set you back about $US99,000 (that’s for the new 911 Carrera 992). So, basically, you could go that route, or flip for a 370Z and have enough left over to buy a pair of backup 370Zs. Sure, the 911’s twin-turbo flat-six motor makes about 50 more horsepower than the Z’s all-motor V6, but the Z’s engine is up front, where it belongs, and the Z lacks the 911’s nominal back seat, which is great for carrying a windbreaker and a backpack but little else and certainly not grown humans.
The 911, the 370, and the Mazda Miata are the three automobiles that I always feel utterly confident driving at their limits in the real world. I have to drop the Miata from that trio because its four-cylinder engine gives up so much power. That leaves me with the Porsche and the Nissan, and honestly, it all depends on which car I last drove as to choosing the one I love most.
After a week with the Z, I’m re-enamoured of Nissan’s masterpiece, which dates all the way back to the Datsun Fairlady Z/240Z of 1969. That car proved several things: that the burgeoning Japanese auto industry could produce a stylish Euro-style sportster; that said sportster could deliver stupendous race-track performance; and that Americans would not just buy such a car but transform it into an icon.
Cool, BRE liveries that evoke racing heritage
My 2020 370Z was a special 50th Anniversary edition of the vehicle, with a base price of $US34,820, upped to a still very reasonable $US37,605 with the addition of some big-five-oh extras, including a livery that evoked Brock Racing Enterprises (Peter Brock was a car designer who gained fame in the 1960s for his Corvette styling and his eponymous racing team, which ran Datsuns in the early 1970s). My BRE car was silver-and-black, but it could also be had in red-and-white.
The racing heritage is meaningful. For me, the 370Z is one of those cars that makes for an ideal weekend track warrior platform. It’s relatively cheap, but its 3.7-litre V6, making 332 horsepower with 270 pound-feet of torque, is bulletproof. The six-speed manual transmission is smooth shifting, the clutch is crisp without being heavy, the steering is purposeful, and the car is nicely balanced but with a distinct preference for oversteer (there’s also a convenient rev-matching feature that makes for more precise downshifting – but it can be disabled if you want to practice your heel-toe shifting techniques).
Of course, for all that trackworthiness, the 370Z is also a perfectly docile daily driver. True, there’s no back seat. But the hatchback cargo area is large enough to swallow luggage and groceries, so as long as you aren’t using the car for family duty, you should find that it can handle basic transportation.
OK, the design is severely dated, but at this juncture, I think of the 370Z’s look as more-or-less classic. I know that the loyalists would dearly love to see an all-new Z, an idea that always seems to be trapped at the drawing-board stage. Understandable, given that Nissan hasn’t sold more than 10,000 Z-cars annually since 2010; in 2018, sales hit a decade-low of less than 3,500 units. That might sound alarming, but it’s useful to note that those sales are effectively no-cost for Nissan. The few thousand folks who want a Z get their car, and Nissan doesn’t have to spend millions to update or market the design.
In my tester, this meant an interior that got some cool 50th Anniversary wreath graphics on the seats and a few other nods to the Z’s history – but a no-screen infotainment system that would have been right at home on a 1990s dashboard. There’s nothing wrong with that! Part of me is sick of the elaborate infotainment interfaces that now show up even on el-cheapo cars. There are times when an AM/FM radio are all you want, and besides, the lack of a screen means that Nissan can stick a weird smartphone storage hatch in the middle of the dash.
The 370Z makes you a better driver
I think that cars like this make one a better driver. The 0-60 mph time is respectable at just over five seconds, but that sprint is hardly head-snapping. The real action with the Z comes from learning the ballet of throttle, shifting, rev-matching, and braking, ideally on a long and winding road. Again and again, you can carry speed into a curve, downshift and rev-match, then get on the throttle to power out, feeling that touch of rear-end slide, maybe dabbing some opposition steering into the equation, and feel the car bond with both yourself and the asphalt.
Not for nothing, with a mere 332 horsepower, delivered fluidly, you can get into everything the motor has to offer without leaving literally hundreds of ponies untapped, as you would in a 500-600 horsepower beast on a normal thoroughfare where the legal speed limit is far, far from 100 mph.
This is what driving is all about, and regrettably, there are fewer and fewer cars these days that put as little as possible between you and the joyful experience. The operating system of the 370Z might be echt-early-2000s, but it’s a teaching machine. A week with the car enabled me to shed months’ worth of bad habits induced by perfectly good cars that nonetheless provided far too much in the way of driver assistance.
Yes, that’s a dinosaur attitude. But let’s face facts: sports cars don’t have a boffo future, so we might as well relish the truly great ones while while the relishing is good.
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