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We drive Nissan's junior GT-R

2009-06-11 10:01
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Nissan
Model 370Z
Engine 3.7l V6
Power 246kW @ 7 000r/min
Torque 363Nm @ 5 200r/min
Transmission Seven-speed auto (six-speed manual)
Zero To Hundred 5.6- (5.3 sec)
Top Speed 250km/h
Fuel Tank 72l
Fuel Consumption 10.5l/100km
Weight 1 461kg
Airbags Six
Service Plan 3year/90 000km
Warranty 3year/100 000km

Lance Branquinho

After four decades of Z-cars, does the latest 370Z still have the requisite X-factor of the original 240Z?

This sixth generation Z-car is the latest in a line of Oriental performance coupes which trace their heritage back to the legendary 240Z, which debuted to market in 1969.

Over the years the six-cylinder layout has varied from in-line to V configuration, with some forced induction boosting performance for a while in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

For Z-car engineers though, the focus on driving dynamics has always remained sacrosanct.

Still looks like a proper Oriental two-door

With 370Z, Nissan has taken the wildly popular and formidably capable Z-formula (that fuses rear-wheel drive dynamics with arresting styling), and shored it up with dynamic detailing on every imaginable level.

Drivetrain, sheet metal surfacing and interior ergonomics are all a notch up from the 350Z.

Disconcertingly the Red, Yellow, Blue Citi Golf tagline from the late 1980s perfectly encapsulates additions to the Z-car colour pallette with 370Z. New car is 80kg lighter than 350Z, featuring weight distributed in a 53/47 split, which means it runs pretty close to 50/50 under power out of corners - clever.

Although the shape is instantly recognisable as a Z-car, sporting traditional GT proportions, with an elongated bonnet and truncated, yet shapely rear, it creates the required level of visual tension.

You’ll hardly notice 370Z rides on a 100mm shorter wheelbase than its 350Z predecessor.

The fishhook light clusters are undoubtedly 370Z’s most striking new design cue. They’re a rather unique shape, with sharp edging and open lines, which allow the front lights to adjoin both the defined bonnet edge line and bumper shutline seamlessly. Around the rear, the effect is even more pronounced.

Perhaps 370Z's design lacks the geometric tidiness of a German two-door performance car, or the curvature of a traditional British sportster, but its styling has intrinsic value in a world of increasingly contrived design.

It manages to be neither subtle, nor crass – which is no small achievement considering what aftermarket tuners will do to it…

Vastly improved cabin

In contrast to the deft exterior styling tweaks, the cabin has been significantly improved.

Gone is the Navara/Murano steering wheel and tape deck (which was actually quite cool in retrospect) to be replaced with a hugely improved instrument binnacle and redesigned multifunction steering wheel.

Considering 57% of all performance cars sold locally are of the two-pedal variety, 370Z's seven-speed automatic transmission is a sensible option.

The immense transmission tunnel still runs through the cabin and is padded to brace the driver’s knee when negotiating severe corners at speed.

Although the leather seats are electric, they feature manual squab adjustment for those who wish to angle in some bucket contouring for a more dynamic driving position.

The adjustable steering wheel, which moves the 370Z’s entire instrument pod with it, is an effortless stroke of genius carried over from 350Z.

Why most manufacturers don’t configure their adjustable steering wheel systems in this way is unfathomable, as it affords both tall and short drivers the opportunity to select optimal steering wheel adjustment without obscuring instrumentation.

Accommodating six airbags, the 370Z cabin is a safe and cosseting place to be, finished with materials of an incomparably better tactile quality than its predecessor. The driver’s right shoulder blind spot is of epic proportions, though.

Automatic choice?

If you were on the Highveld on Wednesday, you would know it was beset by peculiarly unseasonal winter rainfall. Trust me, the last car you want to drive on drenched roads around the North West province is something with 246kW and rear-wheel drive.

Nissan seemed unperturbed by the confluence of damp weather and the latest Z-car's forbidding nature. The launch was scheduled to take in the best open roads the North West had to offer, and if they were wet, well, the 370Z has wipers…

I started off driving the seven-speed auto, and its outlandishly large paddle shifters were immediately apparent, which means you’ll have no excuse for missing a gear. Left to its own devices in Drive, the auto' box exhibits a very principled, economy-biased shift regime – obviously aided by the surfeit of ratios.

Slot the selector stick over into the gap to take charge of the shifts yourself via the paddles, and for a single-clutch transmission it’s good, yet hardly exceptional.

The automatic option will certainly find traction in a market where many performance car owners spend hours gridlocked in traffic, yet it feels like a very American-oriented drivetrain – there is an element of quintessential Z-ness amiss.

Engine is a stroked version of the 350Z unit featuring new valve lift and timing - mounted 15mm lower too. Spins effortlessly towards 245kW of peak power at 7 000r/min, turns 363Nm of rotational force at 5 200r/min. It’s allegedly 14% more frugal too - subsequently tank capacity has been reduced from 80- to 72l.

For the return leg of the test route, I took charge of a six-speed manual 370Z, and suddenly the driving experience was littered with recollections of the 350Z.

Yes, the clutch is still too heavy for a daily commute contaminated by traffic.

Yes, the road noise from those 275/35 profile Bridgestones rolling on the rear axle remains deafening.

Yes, the six-speed gearbox’s shift action is still anything but dainty.

Yes, the ride quality is harsh enough to shake all carbonated drinks onboard to bursting point.

These were all issues with the 350Z and they have migrated into 370Z - as have some other things, which weren’t part of the 350Z dynamic package.

Consider the larger, 3.7l engine, which is essentially a stroked 350Z unit. With new valve timing and lift technology (VVEL), it’s immensely tractable from low engine speeds, whilst managing to spin with fearsome alacrity between 5 000- and 7 500r/min.

Revel, too, in the technical genius of the SynchroRev Match (SRM) technology, which uses a series of sensors at the base of the shift stick to anticipate the optimal engine speed for the gear you are preparing to engage.

The idea is so simple, I find it nearly inexplicable that no other manufacturer beat Nissan to producing something similar for road use.  

Even if you can heel-toe like a pro Touring Car driver, SRM is simple mechanical engineering magic.

I did some high speed runs along a deserted road on the test route. At the end of each run, I was faced with a delicately tight radius turnaround zone, before being able to set off in the opposite direction.

With SRM engaged, all I did was simply flip it from fifth to third, focus on the middle pedal for deceleration, let my left foot off the clutch, and uncannily 370Z’s engine speed and lower ratio engagement were perfectly commensurate to each other before I had to turn-in.

Racers will scoff at my lack of hallowed heel-and-toe dexterity, yet if you walk across a greasy surface before driving a performance car with thin grip strips set in metal pedals (like 370Z), overzealous heel-and-toeing is a disaster waiting to happen.

On a track (or extraordinarily twisty mountain pass) where lower gear, rear wheel spin-locking can be an embarrassing issue, SRM is simply the business. 

The 370Z is independently suspended at all four wheel corners, featuring double wishbones on the front axle with an aluminium subframe and new suspension cradle improving rigidity.

Dynamically, 370 is a busy car to drive - very much in the Z-car mould.

The steering demands a committed touch as it moves around in your hands like a pet in constant need of attention at speed.

When you start loading the chassis through long sweeps or fast third gear corners though, the steering kinetics translate into communicated, weighted feedback – the like of which very few contemporary cars, even rear-wheel drive ones, provide anymore.

With the vehicle dynamic control system disabled, second gear (or third if you have the skill and room) power slides are wonderfully controllable, with the out of sight, but never out of mind, rear axle limited-slip differential keeping traction bias tidy.

Find a good surface and 0-100km/h should tick off in 5.3 seconds, yet the V6's acoustics are a little out of proportion, with plenty of induction noise and too little exhaust extraction crescendo.

New five-spoke Rays alloy wheels repeat 370Z's unique light cluster styling with their offset triangle blade ends. Brakes are now by Akebono (instead of Brembo), which should be less of a financial burden for hard driving Z-car owners.

New brakes

Decelerative prowess is notable too, especially considering the hallowed Brembo brakes have been replaced by Japanese Akebono’s – which are easier to service and cheaper to replace.

The brake pedal features newfangled geometry too, and in practice you end up with a very firm (almost track certified) pressure feel, which works terrifically (even in the wet) and suits 370’s blend of vehicle dynamics flawlessly.

It remains a demanding car to drive, yet the dynamic rewards heavily outweigh the compromises of 370Z’s mechanical robustness - its heavy clutch and harsh ride.

The boss likes his, you should too

Despite his immaculately clipped English accent and disarming charm, Nissan motorsport boss Glyn Hall is not a man who suffers fools gladly.

The indomitable Hall - who undoubtedly has a bit of a hooligan driving streak in him -  has kept a 350Z as his daily driver long enough to provide an interesting reference point for the 370.

Hall is so impressed with the 3.7l V6's spread of rotational force from low engine speeds, the VVEL system is being investigated for those formidable Navara racing bakkies - which are already winning everything anyway.

In fact the only thing Hall does not like about the new Z-car, and it bothered me on the test drive too, were the reconfigured steering wheel satellite controls.

The volume contol tab has shrunk dramaticaly in size, and is repositioned far too low to be intuitively engaged with your left thumb when driving.

A worthy Z-car? The notable celebration of Nissan's four decades worth fiddling around with rear-wheel drive sportscars? I think so.

Very much like an Anime cartoon, the 370Z's line-work appears odd at first yet, when you engage with it, there is something quite enchanting about the Japanese approach to doing things.

Priced to be without direct competitors, 370Z remains the performance car of choice if you are shopping below the R600 000-mark.


370Z 6-speed         R499 000
370Z 7-speed auto  R516 200

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