Our regular Ask AutoGuide feature is all about helping distressed shoppers find the perfect vehicle, be it a cavernous crossover, a sensible sedan or something else entirely. Patrons send us a list of what they need and we get to work separating gold nuggets from gravel to generate a list of recommendations. But this week things are a little different. James forwarded us a message asking for guidance choosing between two different vehicles. Making things easy for us he’s done all the hard work, now all we have to do is share our opinion.
He’s trying to decide between two legendary performance cars: the high-tech Nissan 370Z and Ford’s powerful Mustang GT. He wants a fun weekend car to augment his daily driver, a Mazda3 sedan. James is after something that delivers a mountain of on-road enjoyment but is equipped to handle the occasional jaunt around a racetrack; upgraded brakes and suspension would be nice. Proving his connoisseur credentials, a manual transmission is mandatory.
Did we just say this was easy? The Z and the GT are formidable performance machines, and both cost around $30,000; choosing a winner is no simple task.
Suggestion #1 – 2014 Nissan 370Z
Since its introduction in late 1969 Nissan’s Z-Car has been a respected nameplate. Even die-hard muscle-car folk acknowledge its performance capability and heritage, giving the rising-sun two-door a guarded nod when spotted on the street. It may not have the ability to outrun a Corvette but it’s got enough power to deliver a nasty surprise to unsuspecting cars in the adjacent lane.
Continuing this performance history is today’s 370Z. The coupe marries expressive design to strong performance, which makes for an all-around capable machine.
As its name suggests the car is powered by a 3.7-liter engine. It continues Nissan’s tradition of building some of the best V6s in the business. Like a hydroelectric powerplant the Z’s VQ37VHR could run a small neighborhood, providing 332 horses with 270 lb-ft of torque. It spins to a lusty 7,500 RPM and can be paired to a six-speed manual or a persona non grata seven-speed automatic.
Excess weight is just as dangerous for vehicles as it is for humans; it degrades performance, impedes handling and lengthens stopping distances. To help cut excess flab the 370Z’s hood, doors and hatch are crafted of aluminum. Suffice to say the Z is relatively light on its feet, weighing in at 3,278 pounds with the six-speed cog-crate.
Inside, the car comes with two seats, three cup holders and four speakers, standard. Automatic temperature control and push-button start are also included, as are power windows and door locks. Additionally, the exterior has its share of handy features including HID headlights and LED tail lamps.
All of these goodies are included in the base 370Z, which starts at about $31,000 out the door. But James wants a little more than just an entry-level model, which is why he’s been eyeing the sport package. This $3,030 option makes a nice vehicle even better, adding special performance shock absorbers, 19-inch forged wheels, sport brakes and a limited-slip differential. Nissan’s innovative SynchroRev Match system is also included, which makes down-shifting a breeze by automatically spinning the engine to the appropriate speed as the driver changes gears. It’s as clever as it is effective and it’s guaranteed to make you look and sound like a professional driver.
SEE ALSO: 2011 Nissan 370Z NISMO Review
There’s a lot to like about the 370Z, but as with everything in life there are a few drawbacks. The car has issues with its cooling system and brakes; specifically they don’t handle stress very well. The vehicle is known to overheat and have stopping issues when driven hard. In our own testing we managed to overheat the car in just a few laps.
Understandably these are pretty dramatic flaws in a product that’s supposedly designed for performance driving, and they should give anyone pause that wants to track their Z-machine. For these reasons we’re leery of Nissan’s offering. Can Ford do better? Let’s find out.
Suggestion #2 – 2014 Ford Mustang GT
Like Budweiser beer, Levi’s jeans and Willie Nelson the Mustang is a flag-waving American classic. It’s a nameplate that’s literally steeped in history; the car was there when man landed on the moon and the Vietnam War drew to a close, more significantly it persisted through the 1970s fuel crunch and the despicable ‘80s.
The car is a survivor, and in the latest century it’s not just getting by, it’s thriving. Today’s ‘Stang is the best ever. Base V6 versions are totally acceptable, the fire-breathing Shelby will eviscerate unprepared drivers, and even convertible models make a compelling argument for open-air driving. Somewhere in the middle of this lineup is the fast and capable GT coupe.
It’s powered by a high-tech 5.0-liter V8. With quad camshafts, all-aluminum construction, 32 valves and variable cam timing this engine is ready for action, be it on the street or strip. About the only feature it’s missing is direct injection. The result of all that engineering is 420 horsepower on premium fuel (a little less on the cheap stuff) and 390 lb-ft of twist, numbers even the muscular 370Z can’t hope to match.
But don’t think this is an over-cammed lumper like engines from Detroit’s glory days. Turns out the “Coyote” is slicker than a Slip ‘N Slide coated in Crisco, and it revs out to a high-strung 7,000 RPM. It’s fantastically refined and sounds positively orgasmic at full song. Can you tell we’re fans?
The most affordable Mustang GT stickers for around 32 grand. At that price drivers get a magical 302 married to a short-throw six-speed manual transmission – something we’ll admit doesn’t feel half as good as the Nissan stick. Functional cloth-covered seats are also part of the deal, as are HID headlights and sequential LED tail lamps. But as with the Z, James wants more.
In Ford-land he needs the $2,495 GT Tack Pack, a surprisingly affordable extra that gets drivers some nice performance additions. It includes a 3.73-ratio Torsen limited-slip differential, a radiator from the BOSS 302 ‘Stang to keep cooling problems at bay (Nissan, pay attention) and upgraded brakes. Special 19-inch wheels wrapped in Z-rated high performance summer tires complete the picture. With the track pack and destination fees the car should cost around $34,190.
SEE ALSO: 2013 Ford Mustang GT Convertible Review
With 420 ponies the Mustang is all about acceleration, but don’t think this old horse can’t turn because she can change direction like the tip of a bullwhip. The Ford handles nearly as well as it sprints, though its rear suspension can cause problems. Like something from a museum the Mustang’s aft-end is supported by what amounts to an iron log. The car features an archaic live axle, something that belongs under a tractor, not a modern performance machine. In its defense it’s probably the most civilized one ever made but it’ll still buck and kick if you hit bumps just right, though that isn’t an issue on well-maintained roads… or smooth tracks.
In addition to this downside there are a couple others. The 370Z is slightly more fuel efficient, though they both sticker at 26 miles per gallon highway; the Nissan does better around town. Also, a brand-new Mustang is just around the corner, one that’s widely expected to feature new powertrains and a modern suspension. It could be something worth waiting for.
Given a choice we’d cast out ballot for the Mustang. Its V8 engine is astoundingly good and it doesn’t wilt under pressure like the 370Z. In his e-mail James said he has a soft spot in his heart for Japanese tuner vehicles, but between these two we feel the American car is a better choice. If you haven’t driven a Mustang recently, trust us, it’s now far less of a pony car and feels dialed in like a true sports car.
As always, good luck James in your quest for a new car and thanks again for taking the time to Ask AutoGuide.
If you need a little assistance shopping for your next vehicle feel free to do the same. Send a short message to ask@AutoGuide.com. Let us know the basics of what you’re looking for. How many seats do you need? What size of vehicle do you want? How much are you willing to spend? With some of those fundamentals out of the way we’ll get busy to come up with two or three must-see vehicles that you’ll have to put on your test-drive list.