Note: this preview of the Nissan 370Z is based on our drive of a US model. Australian pricing, specification and suspension tuning have all yet to be finalised.
Nissan's Z car tradition goes back to 1969, when the company was called Datsun and the Z launched with a 240 designation. The latest Z came out as the Nissan 370Z, its new name reflecting a bigger engine and the long ago jettisoning of the Datsun brand. In US-spec the 3.7-litre V6 musters 248kW of power and, during our time with it, managed 12.7L/100km.
The first thing we noticed about the little Z as we drove it out of the parking garage was its extremely smooth shifts. In racy little sports cars, we expect to feel some surliness at low speeds, with temperamental gas pedals that make first and second gear shifts difficult when you need to drive below 15km/h. Not the 370Z. It was easy creeping out of the driveway, then shifting up to second into typical Los Angeles street traffic.
On the freeways, we used the 370Z's impressive acceleration and nimble handling to merge with traffic and change lanes adroitly. The shifter, while not a precision short throw like we've seen in some Hondas, is solid and sufficiently notchy. Veering off the interstate for Paso Robles, a town nestled in the mountains, we quickly forget about all those long miles on the freeway — this windy side trip was what the car was made for.
The big front brake callipers took some speed off as we entered each turn, and the car's party trick, the SynchroRev Match system which maintains engine speed between downshifts, not only kept us from losing any power as we raced up and down the rev range, but also made for very smooth transitions. With its short wheelbase and rear-wheel drive, it was a joy to take it through what corners we could find. If SynchroRev isn't enough to convince you of the joys of manually shifting gears, a seven-speed automatic is also available in addition to the six-speed manual we tried.
Our review car lacked the cabin tech options available on higher-spec US models — such as navigation and mobile phone integration — so we were stuck with a basic stereo head unit with a single CD slot. As the CD player couldn't read an MP3 CD, the only saving grace to this system was the auxiliary input on the face plate. The audio system itself was pretty weak, producing muddy sound from two tweeters on the dashboard and four woofers around the cabin. The system had some power to it, giving some oomph to the bass, but overall it lacked separation and clarity.
We like the looks of this car, especially in comparison to its predecessor, but because of the angle of the hatchback glass, rearward visibility is poor. Looking in the rear view mirror, you get a gun-slit view out the back. With a four-wheel drive behind us, all we could see were a bunch of headlights and a strip of grille.
During our preview drive the 370Z performed well in spirited driving, uses some interesting tech to help the driver and is a great looking car, inside and out; in short, we can't wait until it lands here sometime next year.