Nissan 370Z Automatic (2009) Driving Impression

Nissan 370Z 2009

It’s easy to forget that Nissan, the maker of such “people’s” products as the B140 Champ and Tiida, is also a car maker with a rich automotive history, and one with a reputation for developing such a fearsome performance machine as the Skyline GT-R.

And while it is true that a really hot Nissan for the man in the street has been absent since the demise of the Sentra 200 STI, serious – and well-to-do – petrolheads have taken to the marque’s 350Z coupe in a big way. This handsome beast’s macho rear-wheel drive dynamics are increasingly rare in this age of electronic nannying. Can the Nissan 370Z Automatic continue in the same fashion, or has it been tamed?

Aggressive looks

While its predecessor was quite a square-cut machine the new Nissan 370Z Automatic is decidedly voluptuous, with massively flared rear wheelarches, boomerang-shaped front and rear lights, and a particularly aggressive front airdam treatment. Further boosting the car’s visual presence is the standard fitment of large 19-inch alloy wheels, and also the fact that it is wider than the 350Z, yet shorter. The changes in dimensions result in the car looking very squat. In fact, compared with its German rivals, the Nissan looks significantly more brash, which may not appeal to those hoping to make an impression of “sophistication”.

It’s very much the same story inside, with not a trace of subtlety to be seen anywhere. The instrumentation panel is mounted on the steering column, so adjusts up or down with the steering. Unfortunately there is no reach adjustment but perhaps surprisingly this has not compromised the driving position too much.

The instrumentation itself consists of three large dials, along with smaller digital displays, so is very comprehensive, if not very legible at a quick glance. Three smaller dials are mounted on top of the facia in little pods angled towards the driver. So, there’s a lot to take in… Thankfully, the controls for the standard Bose audio and climate systems are straightforward to operate.

Overall, the cabin’s build quality appears to be excellent, with the generous use of soft-touch surfaces and an attractive combination of leather and cloth upholstery making a good impression. Even from behind the wheel it feels like a substantial product, not a lightweight racer. On that note, the more than 1,5-tonne weight is no longer such a big surprise. The 370Z also comes close to achieving the perfect 50:50 weight distribution.

Nissan has been very generous with the standard equipment included with this car – the Bose audio system can hold six CDs, and also features auxiliary support; cruise control, auto lights and wipers, self-levelling bi-xenon headlights and no fewer than six airbags are also part of the package.

Serious power

Under the long bonnet is an Infiniti-sourced 3.7-litre V6 engine that delivers class-leading outputs of 245 kW and 363 Nm of torque. The engine is mounted lower down than before, and also behind the front axle line, benefitting the vehicle’s centre of gravity and weight distribution. Most hardcore enthusiasts will sneer at the thought of a traditional automatic transmission in a car such as the 370Z, but the seven-speed ‘box actually does well.

Of course, it offers manual shifting either via the gearlever itself, or nicely shaped levers behind the steering wheel. Unlike most such transmissions, the 370Z’s gearbox makes the car feel lively even at low speed, boasting very sharp throttle response.  Further good news is that when manual mode is selected, the transmission won’t override the driver and execute a shift as the needle approaches the red line.

The performance, predictably, is electrifying, with Nissan claiming a 0-100 km/h time of 5,6 seconds and a 250 km/h top speed. But it’s the immediacy of the engine that impresses most, and even more so considering the fact that it’s matched to an automatic. Drop a gear or two at any speed, mash the throttle, and the 370Z will squirm as it immediately unleashes all that power to the rear wheels.

Serious drivers only

The 370Z features Nissan’s latest VDC electronic stability system as well as a limited-slip differential. Even with the VDC doing its job, it allows for relatively large slip angles before intervening. This means you can, in relative safety, push the car to its grip limit. Switch the VDC off, however, and you’d better know what you’re doing.

The 370Z’s massive tyres generate a lot of grip, so you’ll be travelling very fast indeed before they will let go. Once they do, you’ll need fast reactions to catch the resultant slide. The car’s short wheelbase amplifies this tricky on-the-limit character. Enthusiastic drivers will, however, love its old-school character. It’s a car that requires time and dedication to get the best out of it, but once you do, the rewards are great.

Verdict

The Nissan 370Z Automatic is an excellent successor to the very endearing 350Z. While it is true that Nissan hasn’t really tried that hard to improve on its refinement and sophistication (relative to the German rivals), this means the latest Z car retains its unique, muscular character.

Hardcore petrolheads will most likely go for the manual transmission model, but the seven-speed automatic surprised during this test and certainly doesn’t spoil the fun. Given its high specification, excellent pricing and the driving enjoyment on offer, it gets two thumbs up.

We like:

Striking looks

Build quality

Standard specification

Performance

Entertaining dynamics

We don’t like:

Ergonomics

No reach adjustment for steering wheel

Not quite refined enough to be a daily driver

Fast facts

Engine: 3.7-litre, V6, petrol

Power: 245 kW @ 7 000 rpm

Torque: 363 Nm @ 5 200 rpm

Transmission: seven-speed automatic

Wheels: 19-inch alloy

Top speed: 250 km/h

0-100 km/h: 5.6 seconds

Fuel economy: 10.4 litres/100 km

Also consider:

Porsche Cayman PDK:

Significantly more expensive and less powerful, but delivers a knock-out driving experience as well as “that” badge on the bonnet. Resale value is excellent.

BMW Z4 sDrive23i A-Sport:

For the same money, you can get BMW’s stylish Z4, but with significantly less power. More of a poseur’s car, complete with folding hard-top roof.

Audi TT Coupe 3.2 quattro S-tronic:

Neither as powerful nor as “macho” as the Nissan, but more refined and stylish. Even with less power, the performance figures are not dissimilar. Quattro all-wheel drive a boon for less-experienced drivers.

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