May 31, 2009
Chevy has the Camaro; Ford, the Mustang; Dodge, the Challenger.
Muscle cars that bring to mind memories of a world in which m.p.h. ruled.
Now it's time to pay homage to the original Japanese sports car, a remade version of the Nissan Z, which bowed in 240 form in 1970 under its maiden name of Datsun.
With a dusted-off Challenger and Camaro joining the modern-day Mustang, Nissan responded with a new Z for 2009, a 370 upgrade to the 350 last redone for the 2003 model year.
While most automakers operate under the philosophy that bigger is better when redoing a model, Nissan shortened the wheelbase by almost 4 inches to improve balance. It added a new, higher horsepower yet higher mileage V-6 along with a 6-speed manual or 7-speed automatic in the 2009 370Z for quicker getaways.
Z numbers engine size: the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder in the 240, 3.5-liter V-6 in the 350Z and now the 3.7-liter V-6 that achieves 332 horsepower in the 370Z.
As always, Z packs a punch. It doesn't scream and won't make a V-8 Camaro, Challenger or Mustang blush, but Z sizzles in the passing lane. The short-throw manual teams well with the V-6. The 18 m.p.g. city/26 m.p.g. highway rating is satisfactory in a car that focuses on sass over savings.
A 180-m.p.h. speedometer is wishful thinking, but the thick steering wheel keeps the driver in charge. The 18-inch radials grip the pavement well, so the sports machine doesn't wander.
Standard stability and traction control help. Corners are taken without unnecessary body roll, even at speed. Seats do an excellent job of holding occupants in place, thanks to the frames and anti-slip material on the bottoms and back. No sliding in spirited motoring. The driver's seat cushion is lower than the passenger's, so it doesn't interfere with operating the pedals.
The coupe went on sale as a 2009 in January; a roadster bows as a 2010 in late summer or early fall. A high-performance Nismo version of the coupe for enthusiasts is due in June. Nismo is to Nissan as AMG is to Mercedes-Benz.
The remake features soft-touch and neatly stitched surfaces that give the cabin a more quality look; a stylish front and rear with low-sloping hood, lightning-bolt-like headlamps; and rear quarter panels that harken back to the 240Z. It carries the Z DNA: long hood, canopy cockpit, flared fenders and vertical door handles.
Sadly, in profile the huge door panels make the performance machine look more pudgy than lean and mean. The belt line, where door panels meet side windows, is very high, making driver/passenger look like they are sitting in a hole.
Inside, the cabin feels a tad confining. Though it is 1.3 inches wider than before, the shorter wheelbase -- 2-inch shorter overall length and little less than an inch less height -- contribute to the snugness.
A sharp slope front and rear not only limits vision out the back but also cuts down on useful space in the cargo hold. A duffel bag or two will fit. Nissan insists two sets of golf clubs will too. No clubs were handy to check that out, but it would seem to mean that two sets would fit if you took each separately. A shelf behind each seat back will hold a briefcase or small package, but the Z is meant simply for a couple people.
Nice touches include push-button start, outside temp readings in the instrument panel and lots of nifty chrome accents in the cabin. Too bad the glove box is minuscule, and the outside mirrors are too small.
The 370Z starts at $29,930 with power windows and locks, side-curtain air bags, automatic climate control, rear-window defroster, two 12-volt power plugs and AM/FM/CD player. Navi with real-time traffic is optional.
Read Jim Mateja Sunday in Rides. Contact him at email@example.com.
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