Nissan 370Z

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Road Test

Nissan 370Z V6

Driven January 2009

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There's no need to wait for the pay off, I'll tell you right now: the 370Z is a performance car bargain. You would have to spend almost double its price on another car to get close to its ability, and you probably wouldn't have as much fun.

That won't come as a shock to drivers of the 350Z. But I think they will be surprised by just how much their favourite car has grown up. The car still retains its raw soul and passion for slinging itself through corners, it still belts out the best V6 soundtrack in the business and it still has chunky controls - it's just that it does it all with a new-found level of refinement and finishing that 350Z owners will not recognise.

The new styling hints as much, being more fluid, squat and muscular than the more upright and angular 350. It's no optical illusion, either. The 370 has a 3.9-inch shorter wheelbase and is 2.7 inches shorter overall than the 350. It also has a rear track that's 2.2 inches wider. If the 350 is a piece of coal, the 370 is that same piece of coal compressed to become a diamond.

The front grille design might look like a giant catfish, but it integrates so well you can forgive it. There's definitely a nod to the GT-R in that roofline - just imagine the A-pillars being blacked out, and you'll see what I mean - and the original 240Z in the rear quarterlights, so there's no mistaking who the 370's parents are. 

The detailing is better too. The Z-badged indicator repeaters on the front wing are a nice touch, the door handles have a more meaty feel to them, and the boomerang-shaped headlights are bigger and slicker than ever before. These are things you can appreciate immediately but will also enjoy while you own the car.

Same goes for the interior, which has been upgraded substantially. Instead of feeling like you were sitting inside a cheap stereo, which the 350 always did, the 370 welcomes you into a much better space to do your driving business. The car we drove had both the Sport and Touring option packages, which is pretty much the top of the range, but I looked at some more lowly versions at the LA Show, and they weren't too bad either. The material quality on all of them is a light year ahead of the 350's.

The main dials are still attachedto the steering column, so it doesn't matter how small or tall you are, you should be able to see them clearly. If you're fat, there's still no other option than to go on a diet, or slide the seat back and stretch your arms if you want to fit behind the wheel, as the column still doesn't telescope at all. All the main controls, the wheel, the gearshift and the handbrake, retain the chunky, wieldy feeling of the original and, if you're slim (best you just lay off the pies if you're thinking about a 370?) the seats suck you into position so you feel ready to sling it violently through a series of bends. 

There's good news in the luggage department too. That massively intrusive cross-brace in the 350 has been moved forward, so your shopping won't be guillotined every time you brake hard in the 370. There's less total space than in the 350, but it's worth the trade-off. Particularly as the 370 is significantly stiffer - the company reckons 30 per cent - front and rear, so the suspension can do its job better and everything gets less shaken around. The ride on the 370 is now supple and composed, not the vision-blurring experience the 350 can be.

This is partly because the 370 has been on a slimming regime, so its suspension has an easier time. Chopping 3.9in out of its middle must have contributed massively to the 225lb weight saving, but with all the new stuff onboard - the safety equipment, the better materials, etc - it's only around 100lb lighter than a similarly equipped 350. Still worth having - or, rather, not having - though.

The V6 engine has adopted an opposite strategy, gaining as many cubes as it can possibly handle. Called the VQ37VHR, the initials standing for Very High Revving, the variable-timing lump is redlined at a teeth-jangling 7,500rpm. Max power of 332bhp is delivered at 7,000rpm, and max torque comes in at a high 5,200rpm, so no one should be under any illusion how you are supposed to drive this car: as hard as you can.

To make this thrashing process as easy as possible, Nissan has added something called Synchro Rev Control - when you spec the Sport pack - that automatically blips the throttle when you downchange to match the revs. It's a genius way of flattering the driver and keeping the car calm through the corners, and it works flawlessly. You can switch it off if you think you can do better, or maybe want to make the back step out, but it worked so well I left it on the entire time I drove the car.

The one thing I didn't like about the drivetrain is the excessive vibration you feel through the gearstick when you are thrashing the car... which is all the time. Above 5,000rpm, the engine really starts to get rough and transmits some nasty vibes back to the transmission. It's not a huge problem, but the coarseness doesn't gel well with the rest of the car. It might just be an early-model issue as we were driving pre-production prototypes, but if it's not, someone at the factory needs to have another look at this set-up.

No complaints whatsoever about the handling, though. We took the car along a stretch of road I normally reserve for supercars - the last time I drove it was in an LP640 - and the new Z shone as brightly as its yellow paintwork. It works so much better than the 350, I was travelling 30mph faster in the 370 and the car was just absorbing all the extra velocity. The 350's understeer has been greatly reduced, and the power oversteer is still as readily available as ever, so after a few miles it's easy to think you're a bit of a tasty driver.

Which you are in the 370Z. That's its real skill, flattering the driver, making you look better than you are. It's still the hooligan it always has been - it's just learned a few manners. Cheap at twice the price isn't quite right, but it's not far off. The Audi TT will still crush it in sales, but the 370Z is the better driver's car.

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