Test Drive: 2009/2010 Nissan 370Z Enthusiast

At lease end time and with all these deals in favor of the consumer or at least that is what they would have you think, I drove onto the Nissan lot and test drove a Nissan 370Z Enthusiast with 6-speed manual transmission. I can say it is phenomenal fun to drive, impressive performance and now is more refined but provides the same giddishness of a purist sports car. With a 330HP 6-cylinder naturally aspirated engine, the Nissan 370Z is available in Coupe or as a soft-top convertible two seater. Base model with Sport Packages has been quoted at $31,995US and around $40,000CAD.

One neat feature is the Synchro-Rev technology which is when the engine revs up while down shifting blipping the engine when it becomes available with the use of S-Mode. Also available is the 7-Speed automatic with paddle shifters on the automatic models which doesn't tout Synchro-Rev matching but has an effective engine blip on down shifts in manual mode with the paddle shifters. All but the base model includes a Vicious LSD. Every 370z comes with rear wheel drive and with 18" or 19" wheels. The Nissan 370Z interior is a bit nicer than in the past. All models but the base model has radio and cruise controls on the steering wheel. The features can be added to the base model if desired. The smooth plastic texture of the interior in previous 350Z models have been replaced with a faux suede like material. Included is a good stereo system, heater, AC, optional navigation system and plush body hugging cloth racing seats also available in leather. As much as the car is great, there were a couple things to adjust to. The shortfalls is that the rear view visibility in the hardtop and in the convertible with the top up, the view is very narrow but the side window are long and offer a good view around the car. Also the model I test drove carried a full size spare in the boot which means minimal usable space as it is.. I imagine one could remove the spare and reclaim some trunk space. Nissan got rid of the gaudy rear tower strut bar arch thing from the 350Z with a smaller and less gaudy but still obtrusive rear tower strut bar. I test drove the 6-speed manual and loved it but perhaps my age is showing as I preferred the 7-speed automatic with paddle shifters. It's Tiptronic and not Double-Clutch paddle shifters so there is about a 2-3 second delay in gear change. Drivers of the automatic transmission models won't be missing much, you still get the growl, handling, noise and cockpit.

The handling is top bar, the car feels like it is turning on your hips. With a shorter wheel base than its predecessor, wider body and  19" wheels, this car turns and grips the road like a hawk gripping its dinner. Tight cornering, responsive handling and constant acceleration is all full of fun and adds to the spirit lifting, deep, raspy 330HP V6 engine. Then there is the Sports Mode button...   synchro-rev engages and the sports car becomes even more sports car. Why would one ever turn it off?

The ride is medium stiff but not a nasty stiff. I'm familiar with after market sports and racing suspension and I find the set on the 370Z is not as extreme. Perhaps though, if you're used to driving a Camry or Accord, the difference will be quite different. Thus this car isn't the best for long distance drives unless the roads are smooth and well maintained. The racing style cloth seats are comfortable and wrap around the body comfortably and ergonomically. The leather seats are very good too.

The engine noise definitely is heard through out the cabin and has deep muted tones out the exhaust however road noise is not bad (the 2005 350Z is by far the most insulted from the exterior) but it's hard to tell because the engine, wind and stereo will over power most road noise and I kind of like that. The 6-speed manual has fairly short throws but not as short as the Honda S2000. It also feels a little notchy but solid. The manual 6 with 19-inch tires looked great but the finite feel and control on 18-inch wheels was preferable. Of course, purists will exclaim owning an automatic 370z is a sin but I don't think that's the case with pure sports cars these days.

The nearest competitor for performance and price is the BMW 135i which is no slouch itself. However the Nissan 370Z redefines what a sports car in its price range should drive like, look like and feel like. A possible competitor to these is the newer model Corvette and Camaro. The Ford Mustang must start designing well rounded handling and rear suspension in it s base models to compete which may happen with their 2011 models when they bring back their famous V8 version.

Other two seater sports cars to think about if $33000US is a bit much are a used 350Zs. Not much changed between 2003 and 2006 so I would highly recommend a year 2007 and newer unless a 2003-2006 model is available at a bargain price. In 2007, Nissan introduced the improved 330HP V6 engine with dual intake manifolds, which provides 90% of all the torque at 2000RPMs and also with the first round of interior improvements. In 2009/2010 the re-designed and improved the entire car.

Others to consider are a Honda S2000 or  Mazda MX5, both thousands of dollars less. On the other end, the Porsche Cayman S and Porsche Boxer S which costs two brand new 370Zs but it can keep at the heels of a Porsche 911. The Honda S2000 comes with 236HP, good amount of torque, rear wheel drive w/ helical LSD, 6-speed manual only while the more affordable Mazda MX5 with 178HP but on very light chassis is available with 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic in many trims.

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