First drive Nissan 370Z

To be perfectly honest, the new 370Z doesn’t look all that different to the outgoing 350.

But examine the exterior closely and it quickly becomes obvious that Nissan designers have tweaked virtually every surface, edge, corner and line on the coupe’s exterior shape.

The new 370Z has been put on a crash diet and has frequented a first-rate cosmetic surgeon called Nissan Design America.

Employed are stylish new boomerang-shaped headlights and taillights, flared rear guards, an upslanting C-pillar that harks back 40 years to the original 240Z’s design, and shorter front and rear overhangs.

And if you think it appears trimmer, that’s because stylists have sliced 100mm from the 350’s wheelbase and another 65 mm from the car’s overall length. It’s also five millimetres taller and 25mm wider, but the tracks have grown by 55mm.

The 110kg saved in the downsizing and incorporation of aluminium doors, rear hatch and all-aluminium bonnet (the 350Z’s is alloy with steel reinforcement) was mostly injected back into better crash integrity and chassis rigidity. The end result is a new coupe that tips the scales at 1480kg. It’s still no featherweight, but it is 40 kilos lighter than the 350Z.

We reckon the 370Z is fairly handsome, but were curious to find out what a Zed expert thought about Nissan’s new-gen coupe. At the launch in Tokyo, we ran into the father of the Zed, 99-year-old former Nissan USA president, Yutaka Katayama (aka Mr K). Mr K is famous in industry circles as the man who pressured Nissan bosses to build the 240Z for the US market back in the late ’60s. The rest, of course, is history.

What he saw at Nissan�s showroom made him smile. “I like the overall silhouette,” he says. “But I especially like the way designers have sculptured the roofline and that C-pillar. It takes definite design hints from the 240Z, but also has many new good-looking features. And yes, I do think it’s sleeker than the outgoing version."

The 370Z’s shortened shape went through some extensive wind-cheating development. It is claimed to have a reasonably slippery drag coefficient of 0.29 – identical to its 350Z predecessor – while achieving zero aerodynamic front and rear ‘lift’. And this is despite the fact that it’s all-new. In fact, everything about the 370Z is new.

“It had to be,” says chief engineer Shinjiro Yukawa, who led the comeback team that created the 350Z more than six years ago. “We’d revised the 350Z every year since 2002, until there was nothing left to tweak.” Not only is there a new, smaller body, but a new chassis, new transmissions, and a new on-road feel as well.

But the term ‘new’ is relative – the Zed now shares a lot of kit with the Skyline Coupe, including a shortened and tweaked FM platform, 3.7-litre V6, suspension set-up and brakes.

Nissan engineers have focused more on structural rigidity than before. There’s a new front suspension cradle, a vee-shape reinforcement bar under the body, and detailed structural enhancements at the rear. As a result, the new Zed’s front torsional rigidity has been improved by 30 percent, the rear torsional rigidity has increased by 22 percent, and the bending rigidity has gone up 30 percent.

The 3.7-litre V6 is inherited from the Infiniti G37/Skyline coupe, complete with variable valve timing and variable valve lift, and pumps out 247kW at 7000rpm – up 17kW over the 350Z.

Torque has also increased, though only by 7Nm, to 365Nm at a fairly steep 5300rpm. But over 90 percent of maximum torque is on tap from 2400rpm and stays on the boil right up to the 7500rpm redline.

It’s a superb engine, the 3.7, although we did notice that vibration grows more intense the closer the tacho needle swings towards the limiter. Power delivery is more progressive than explosive, which is not out of character for a naturally aspirated Nissan bent-six, and the new exhaust has a throatier note, but is more difficult to hear from the cockpit due to the incorporation of more effective sound-deadening materials.

The Zed always had a great six-speed manual gearbox, but the new version is undoubtedly the highlight of the 370. It has a nifty function Nissan calls Synchro Rev Control (see p.49) that, it claims, is the world’s first engine rev-controller that synchronises downshifts and upshifts for a conventional manual gearbox.

The effect? It makes you feel like your gearshifting skill has lifted to pro-driver levels, and not having to use the heel-and-toe technique lets you focus more on getting your late-braking and turn-in points just right. It’s one of the most fun, well-executed pieces of technology we’ve tried in a long time. And if Synchro Rev Control is all a bit too Big Brother for you, one flick of a switch on the dash will disengage the device, leaving you to heel-and-toe to your heart’s content.

Although we weren’t able to drive the auto model, the 370Z’s new seven-speed automatic will match revs on downshifts, too. Nissan also says that the programming of the automatic’s torque converter, with so-called ‘lock-up logic’, translates to manual paddle-shifts performed in half a second – not tardy, but a bit short of some of the gun automatic and twin-clutch systems. Meanwhile, the viscous-type limited-slip rear differential gets the power down with a minimum of fuss.

Suspension changes include a switch from multi-links to a double-wishbone set-up in the front that utilises forged aluminium arms and a lightweight anti-roll bar. In the rear, the multi-link arrangement remains, but it’s also been revised for a stiffer and flatter ride.

The ride quality has been brought up a notch, too, and you could easily be fooled into thinking this Zed is just another plush coupe with little in the way of dynamic purchase. Far from it.

The 370Z has superb weight and feel in its steering and is less susceptible to roll than the 350Z. The standard-issue 18-inch Yokohama Advan Sport tyres offer bags of grip while the four-piston Akebono-designed brake package, with 355mm rotors up front and 350mm rotors in the rear, offers excellent bite and pedal rigidity.

An optional Sport package, with forged-aluminum wheels carrying Bridgestone RE050A rubber (245/40R19s up front, 275/35R19s out back) will also be made available. There’s so much tyre grip, though, that the engine almost bogs down at the starting line. Still, its reasonably handy, 100km/h coming up in just 5.1 seconds and 400m flashing by in 13.4.

Driving the 350Z back-to-back with the new 370 over the same road course, it soon becomes obvious that you can enter corners around 10km/h faster, and with far less understeer than the old car.

It’s no coincidence that the new Z handles so much better than its predecessor. Sure, the smaller body and chassis, more power, greater structural rigidity and improved suspension all do their part. But while it was Yukawa’s job to meld the whole package together on paper and construct it in the R&D department, putting that jigsaw puzzle together on the track was the work of one man, a bloke named Hiroyoshi Kato who Nissan credits as its “technical meister”.

Responsible for the handling traits of the legendary turbocharged all-wheel-drive Skyline GT-Rs – from R32 through to the latest R35 – and basically every rear-wheel-drive car in Nissan’s line-up since, Kato was awarded the Contemporary Master Craftsman medal for services to automotive development by the Japanese government two years ago. No other Japanese test driver has ever received such an accolade.

"The new car has turned out better than we expected,” Kato says, adding rather humbly that “I suppose the fact that I never compromise when it comes to response, linear handling or stability combined to create this sports car.” Yukawa, meanwhile, adds that he wanted to create a car that went back to the Zed’s roots, but take the coupe forward in a new direction, all at the same time. Well, he’s achieved just that.

Inside, particular attention has been paid to the quality of the materials, as well as the fit and finish throughout the cabin, something that many consider to be one of the old 350Z’s shortcomings. The architecture is familiar, from the eight-way manually adjustable seat to the way the steering tilts up and down with the instrument binnacle as a unified pod.

We were surprised, however, to discover that a telescopic function has not been fitted to the new Z, with designers citing low demand for such a weight-gaining feature. It’s been suggested that most drivers might not require such functionality, but if you’re over 188cm like I am, then a telescopic feature gives you that added leeway to find the perfect driving position. As it is, I can get to within about 95 percent of where I’d like to sit, with the hip point of the driving position located about 15mm lower.

The two-seat layout of the 370Z is built around a deeply scooped instrument panel with a full-length centre console separating the driver and passenger's seat. There is now a start/stop button, larger dials and new premium-feel material on the seats, armrest and door trims.

The new interior two-tone colour pattern is a matter of personal taste, but the seats offer loads of support where you need it: down low. One issue is that there’s a huge blind spot over your right shoulder, something for which the new, larger outside mirrors can’t entirely compensate for.

In the rear is an open luggage area with more storage space and better accessibility. The 350’s intrusive rear strut brace has been done away with, creating useable luggage space, while a new compartment area has been added behind the seats for storing briefcases. A retractable cover is standard on the 370Z and a lockable glovebox has been added.

When the new Zed goes on sale about the time you read this (in Japan), it will have just turned 40. First surfacing in 1969, the original 240Z was years ahead of its time with sensational new styling, a powerful six-cylinder engine and a price tag that didn’t break the bank.

The fifth-generation 350Z took the Zed concept in a whole new direction and yet, essentially, it stuck true to core traditions as a well-balanced, satisfying and engaging sportster, and blossoming via running revisions throughout its lifetime.

Thankfully, the all-new 370Z continues the evolution by offering up much of the same, only more. And then some.

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