2009 Nissan 370Z Coupe

First Drive

2009 Nissan 370Z Coupe
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Nissan’s Z DNA dates back to the original 1969 240Z and subsequent Datsun models (i.e. 280Z). The Nissan 300ZX reigned throughout the ’90s while the last-gen 350Z came out in 2003. The newest member of this 40-year-old club is the 2009 Nissan 370Z.

FAST FACTS

1. New Z gets more powerful 332hp 3.7-liter V-6.

2. 370Z is lighter and wider than outgoing model.

3. Available with a seven-speed auto or six-speed manual with rev-matching.

With an overall shape similar to the 350Z, a higher waistline and tighter fitting skin give this version a more athletic look. Its low stance is bolstered by a cantilevered roof design, broader flared fenders, boomerang-style head and taillights as well as upswept rear quarter windows that are faithful to the original Z cars.

Naturally, this is the most potent version yet with a new 3.7-liter VQ37VHR V6 cannon that fires 332 ponies and 270 ft-lbs of torque through either a manual or automatic gearbox. Fuel economy for both setups is a respectable 22 mpg EPA combined.

I haven’t tried the seven-speed auto, but the six-speed manual is oh-so-sweet! It features a downshift rev-matching system that uses tiny micro-switches inside the tranny and detects clutch position to automatically ‘blip’ the throttle without requiring any fancy footwork from the driver.

Thoroughly redesigned inside and out to be stronger, lighter and faster, this new model stays true to its classic Z predecessors while being totally modern and utterly captivating.

The new engine boasts several improvements over the outgoing 3.5-liter V-6. Most notably, it uses variable valve event and lift technology that combines continuously variable timing control to achieve 90 percent of its torque just after 2000 rpm with a 7000-rpm peak.

Versus the outgoing model, mild wheelbase, length and height reductions go well with the 370s much stiffer chassis, which further benefits from a more extensive use of aluminum throughout. Lighter doors, hatch, suspension, fuel tank and what is now a true dual exhaust system are the biggest losers of weight, 46 per cent of which goes to the rear.

By the numbers, this version is a couple inches shorter and roughly 110 pounds lighter than a comparable 350Z. Also significant is a wheelbase that’s nearly four inches shorter and rear track that’s more than two inches wider.

A viscous-limited slip differential is standard on the 370Z along with ABS, VDC, TCS and Nissans advanced air bag system.

Starting at $29,930, the base coupe comes with a cloth interior and basic stereo. The 370Z Touring model adds a Bose XM-ready eight-speaker audio system with 9.3GB HDD music box, iPod connection and Bluetooth hands-free phone system. Pricing has yet to be announced.

THE DRIVE

Just weeks after its debut at the L.A. auto show, Nissan invited the media to Las Vegas, Nevada to preview the 370Z on and off the track.

It’s 9 A.M. My route begins at the north end of the strip and heads west on Charleston Boulevard. Traffic is light and it’s not long before the 10-Z convoy evokes some stares from the locals. Hot car sightings are not uncommon in Sin City. Nonetheless, people seem impressed.

My vehicle has the sport pack option, which replaces the standard 18s with Bridgestone-shod Rays 19-inch forged wheels that are simply gorgeous, adds front and rear spoilers, larger Nissan sport brakes at both ends and enables the aforementioned rev-matching feature on the manual-six.

Just before reaching the city limit, a guy driving a black 3-series that had been following in my rear view for some time pulls up next to my graphite silver Z, looks over and gives a thumbs-up and nod. His lips clearly read “nice car.”

Leaving town, the worn gray city streets abruptly change to smooth black tarmac. Inside, the transition is barely perceptible, the four-wheel independent suspension with integrated stabilizer bars does a fine job soaking up most bumps without bouncing or harshness.

A few minutes later, I lead the parade into Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area where the gate attendant’s eyes light up at the sight.

The dozen or so miles of scenic road inside the park are jam-packed with countless tight twists, turns and major elevation changes. It’s almost too tempting, but self-restraint gets the better of me. No matter, my ultimate destination on this day is the Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump.

Even at slow speeds is the 370Zs assisted power steering linear, responsive and pinpoint accurate.

ON THE TRACK

Taking the NV-160 west, I arrive at the track in under an hour. After a quick snack and orientation lap on the 1.5-mile west circuit (a.k.a. the Radical Loop), I grab a helmet and hop into one of several track-prepped cars.

In addition to the sport pack, each car also has an aftermarket oil, power steering and differential cooler to help them withstand several more waves of journalists that were trailing my group. These will be available from dealers, most likely as Nismo-branded parts.

After a few laps of this dizzying little circuit, it’s clear this car can perform. The closely-spaced gears are easy-to-find. Clutching is firm with quick take-up. Turn-in is near perfect with almost zero understeer. And, that suspension makes that chassis behave exactly how you’d expect it to. Potenza RE050A summer tires offer tons of grip while the upgraded sport brakes worked and resisted fade well.

Though the new Z doesn’t rocket off the line quite like a GT-R does, its powerband is linear and strong. Nissan makes no official zero-to-60 mph claim, though it has been clocked in under five seconds.

It takes some time to get used to the automatic blips, but once you figure it out you might just forget you ever learned that heel-toe move. It can be turned off, though it is so accurate there’s really no reason to. The VDC can be completely shut off to allow some ego stroking.

THE VERDICT

Nimble handling, crisp steering, good power and excellent quality are all hallmarks of the 2009 370Z, but it doesn’t stop there. Its good looks extend to the driver-centric cockpit that includes heated leather/Alcantara seating, more usable cargo space, enhanced quality throughout plus improved vision and ergonomics.

PLUS

Quick and agile Comfortable interior Slick exterior

MINUS

Requires premium fuel Plastic digital fuel gauge

The sport pack can be tacked on to either model, with no official word on pricing yet. Estimates place it around $3,500. As such, expect a fully-loaded 370Z Touring to come in around the $40K mark.

I’ll take a base 370 with the manual tranny and sport pack, ‘pleaZe.’

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