Some of us still fixate on the splendid heritage of certain sports cars while pooh-poohing those from the Orient as newcomers whose “soul-less reliability” is no substitute for DNA forged in the heat of wheel-to-wheel combat.
Yes, a Porsche or a Ferrari brings with it the burnt-Castrol haze of hundreds of wins in decades of racing at the world’s storied tracks. Yes, most Japanese cars are pretty vanilla. (That’s what most people want.)
But the exceptions are, well, exceptional. A couple of months ago, we brought you Nissan’s ultimate road-and-track monster, the ferocious $110,000 GT-R. Now here is the GT-R’s stablemate, the 370Z:
Two-thirds of the performance for one-third the cost.
The original Z-car, the Datsun 240Z, was a revolutionary coupe that rode out of the Far East way back in 1970 to challenge the world’s top two-seaters. It’s still around. By now it has a more than adequate heritage of its own and its price, performance, looks and quality still make it a winner. Fortunately, it is not offered here under its home-market name of “Fairlady.”
Over the decades the Z put on weight and got slower, but then it went to the gym, slimmed down and became the athletic 350Z and then the 370Z. (Meanwhile, Datsun somehow became Nissan and, of the original Z’s peers, Porsches and Corvettes can now cost six figures and the Mazda RX-7, Jaguar E-Type and Toyota Supra are extinct.)
For 2013, Z prices start at $33K; the top hardcore model, from Nissan’s Nismo performance garage, costs ten grand more. There is also a convertible. Changes for the new model year include LED daytime running lights in the front, a red reflector panel at the rear, different wheels and a few options such as red brake calipers, “Euro-tuned” shock absorbers and two new colors. The doors panels, hood and hatchback are still aluminum; the cockpit is still a fine place in which to do business; the aerodynamics still cancel all lift, front and rear, at speed.
The high-winding 3.7-liter V6 hasn’t changed either; it’s rated for 332 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque (the Nismo’s numbers are a bit higher) and is attached to a 6-speed manual gearbox or a 7-speed autobox with paddle shifters. The SynchroRev transmission feature that blips the throttle on downshifts to match gear RPM is very cool, if you never learned to double-clutch. Satnav as well as Bluetooth and all the FaceTube-USB gear is available, if you feel lost without it. There are two option packages: Navigation ($2,150) and Sport ($3,030).
The basic Z is pared down to sports-car essentials. Punch the starter button and the motor whirrs and whines, then awakens with a bark. The clutch grabs like steel Velcro; backing out of the driveway, the wide Yokohamas stutter on fallen leaves. The brakes bite hard. In town the suspension has all the give of sun-warmed granite. The Z is mechanical and growly and it constantly asks, “Are you paying attention?” But the driver’s seat adjusts eight ways and is snug and supportive, and the steering tells us exactly what’s going on.
Slip out of town and when there’s an opening in traffic, tug the nose to the right, downshift and go. With a baritone howl the car shoots ahead. Hard corners, emergency maneuvers, full-bore stops—the Z stays planted, never discomposed. On the interstate it can clear the left-lane slugs simply by showing up hungry in their mirrors. At speed it’s noisy enough to discourage cellphone use, which is all to the good, but long runs are exhilarating, involving and not uncomfortable.
So here we have many of the characteristics of a supercar—poor visibility aft, a stiff ride, a steering wheel that hunts back and forth over rough pavement, the decibel output of farm machinery, room for one passenger and barely a weekend’s worth of clothing, and an exciting driving experience—but at the price and the drip-dry reliability of a humdrum family sedan. How great is that?