Some sports cars are purely utilitarian in their designed, carved out of exactly as much steel, carbon fibre, and glass required to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. Others are exercises in fluidic sculpture committed to automotive form, vehicles that are delightful to the eye and erotic to the touch in addition to providing exhilarating thrills from behind the wheel.
Nissan happens to build an example of each of these particular schools of sports car thought, and we recently had the chance to sample not the former (the Nissan GT-R) but the latter - the 2013 Nissan 370Z. Driving the 370Z for a week was very much like carrying a delicious ice cream sundae across a summer camp mess hall, as this car attracted a level of attention that seemed to cut across all demographics. Young and old, men and women, and especially children were drawn to the Z's dramatic looks.
Does the rest of the car live up to the enticing proposition made by its sultry appearance? For the most part the answer is yes, but in a number of important ways it does not. Read on to find out how our time with the high performance Nissan shook out.
Stunning From Every Angle
The Nissan 370Z was the recipient of a primarily cosmetic refresh for the 2013 model, and the effect has been to subtly transform an already exciting-to-look-at design into an even more inflammatory shape. The biggest difference, visually, between the 2012 and 2012 editions of the car is the deletion of the 'fangs' or 'catfish whiskers' as they were more derisively known by Nissan owners not thrilled with the way they hung down in front of the vehicle's bumper. A wide open grille now makes a strong impression for the sporty coupe, and LED daytime running lights inset at the front of the fender serve as the new wrinkle to break up the 370Z's visage.
Also along for the ride is a red light that is found under the center of the rear bumper, adding a distinctive race-ready look to the car - a nice touch for the enthusiasts who will instantly understand the cue. The version of the Z that we piloted also featured the Sport package, which came with outstanding 19-inch RAYS forged alloy rims, a chin spoiler that seemed to rub the pavement regardless of how shallow an approach angle you took to whatever elevation change you had to make, and a rear spoiler.
From the front, from the back, from the side, from above - it really doesn't matter where you happen to be standing, as the 370Z is simply a gorgeous automobile that avoids the brutality that has seeped into the performance segment over the last few years. Instead, the car embraces the lithe muscular looks of a dancer, and is the better for it.
Not Exactly Light On Its Feet
Given its appearance, one would expect that the Nissan 370Z would also feature the precision and grace of a Fred Astaire or Ginger Roberts from behind wheel. Unfortunately, there are several aspects of the 2013 370Z that simply don't allow this analogy to be taken any further than we have already pushed it.
To be sure, the Nissan 370Z's strongest performance attribute is its suspension system, which provides constant feedback from the road as well as the ability to predictably generate oversteer with simple, measured inputs from the driver. The rear-wheel drive platform grips and grips until you tell it to let go, which greatly enhances the feeling of control when the foot is to the floor and a series of S-turns are approaching. The Sport package on the test vehicle we were loaned by Nissan also added four-piston brakes up front, which gave the coupe stopping power to match its agility.
It might be strange to complain about the weight of a car that checks in 1495 kilos, but the mass of the Nissan 370Z simply isn't well-matched with the 3.7-litre V6 engine under its hood. Acceleration off of the line is competent, and while the car does pull strong on the highway its 0-100 km/h time of roughly five seconds is one which can be attained - or surpassed - by a number of other performance cars, some of which have four doors and several of which are less expensive. 332 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque are adequate, but a chassis like the one offered by the 370Z begs for far more than a passing grade in the power department.
The six-speed manual transmission in the car we drove featured the SynchroRev Match feature, which automatically blips the throttle with each downshift and provides exactly the right amount of revs to make gear changes as smooth as possible. This technology is extremely impressive, and while it might take some of the fun out of heel-toeing it yourself, we appreciated how it let us concentrate more on the turns we were heading into and keep the car settled when we changed gears. If only the 3.7-litre's exhaust note was more melodious and less industrial this feature would be even more enjoyable.
Predictably, the Nissan 370Z's small exterior proportions translate into an equally tiny passenger compartment. The two-seat sports car offers good head and legroom for both occupants, but the trunk is quite limited in terms of what kind of cargo it can hold. Even a few bag of groceries can be a challenge for the Z, which makes it much more of a 'second car' than a legitimate daily driver.
Interior materials such as the suede on the vehicle's sport seats, interior plastics, the pleasantly turned-out gauge package were attractive to the eye and soft to the touch, although we could have done with a traditional analog gauge for fuel and engine temperature instead of the LED bars found on its dashboard. Aside from a lack of cargo space, our biggest complaint about the 370Z's insides was the amount of road noise that penetrated the cabin. This was most likely due to a lack of separation between the hatch area and the passenger compartment, but the car was surprisingly loud at all speeds.
A Blast To Drive - But More, Please
Make no mistake about it: the 2013 Nissan 370Z is a very fun car to drive. The excellent handling characteristics and forgiving nature of its suspension system elevate it above the current muscle car crop which its pricing would see it face off against. From a power perspective, however, the Z is stomped all over the place by the gaudy numbers and lightning-quick acceleration times posted by vehicles like the Ford Mustang GT and the Chevrolet Camaro SS.
It all comes down to what, exactly, you are seeking in a performance car. Do you want to rule from stoplight to stoplight, or are you more interested in communing with apexes on the long way home from work? If you don’t need a back seat (or a trunk), and you want to own a legitimately gorgeous automobile, then the 370Z is an excellent option. If you need more rounded performance, or a more refined package, then you might need to look elsewhere - and spend a bit more money.