Sports car dynamics, at least at first blush, are a simple case of Grade 3 mathematics. More power is always good. So is lighter weight. Combine the two so that the power-to-weight ratio is superior to the previous model and simple long division would seem to indicate that your hot rod will be quicker. If you can also simultaneously make the chassis stiffer, it might even handle better as well.
Given these criteria, then, Nissan's 370Z must be considered a success. Its new 3.7-litre V6 is 26 horsepower healthier (332 hp in all) than the old 350. It's also some 50 kilograms lighter, and the combination of the two almost ensure that the 370 will feel sportier than its predecessor. As well, thanks to numerous beams and crossmembers, the new Z is stiffer (between 22 per cent and 30 per cent, depending on the criteria) in both torsional and bending stiffness. Also, in a rare occurrence, the 370 is actually smaller than the 350 it replaces with a wheelbase 100 millimetres shorter (the track width, however, is up by 56mm). And in a final ode to performance, the engine has been lowered in the frame by 30 mm and the passenger hip point by 20 mm, lowering the 370's centre of gravity.
If the numbers are any indicator, then the new 370Z has seen all its performance enhanced. Of course, junkyards are littered with the corpses of automobiles whose marketing mavens trumpeted all the "improvements" that enhance their new cars. But in the case of a sports car, there's nothing like a race track to separate the claimed from the reality. The proof in the pudding in this case was Spring Mountain Motorsports park in Pahrump (yes, there really is a place called Pahrump), Nevada, where even though there are mountains in the distance, the track itself is as flat as a board, save for one giant gully that the designers decided to pave through rather than fill in.
It is, however, twisty as a snake slithering across a desert, most of its corners bending through 180 degrees or more. It poses little challenge to the Sport package-equipped (Brembo brakes, 245/40R18 front and 275/35R19 rear Bridgestone Potenza sport radials) 370. As advertised, the chassis feels both stiffer and more nimble than its predecessor while still remaining stable. In fact, even getting those forged wheels a little light through the gulch doesn't upset it one little bit.
As for the engine, its horsepower does not quite impress as much as its torque which, though only up two pound-feet at its peak, offers up 90 per cent of its 270 pound-feet all the way from 2,000 rpm to 7,000 rpm. It's a miles-wide powerband that makes much rapid rowing of the six-speed manual (a seven-speed auto is also available) superfluous. Like so many new engines, that fat torque band is the result of the 3.7L's high-tech valvetrain that combines continuously variable valve timing with variable lift. Nonetheless, despite the vastly improved spread of power, it is still an engine that thrives on high revs and is one of the few V6s that actually sounds happy when thoroughly thrashed.
But it is the manual tranny that is the 370's biggest powertrain advancement, at least on the race track. Besides offering shorter, more precise throws, the 370Z offers the world's first Downshift Rev Matching system for a manual gearbox. Sensors in the rear wheels and gearbox match the engine revs to the next gear down so that each downshift is absolutely smooth, all without the traditional heel-and-toe dance on the gas and brake pedals. This is definitely a significant advancement.
All that speed, is, of course, appreciated, but performance was never the 350Z's weakness. An interior that looked like it was designed in the dark and constructed in China was. There were no less than four different hues of silver-painted plastic inside the previous Z and, yes, they clashed. As well, there was virtually no rear cargo space. Nissan has done a much better job this time. There is still lots of silver plastic, but it is of much better quality and uniform of hue. There's a bunch of suede-like leather in the seats and door and the majority of the plastic bits are soft to the touch.
Nissan also offers a full navigation system which offers a hard drive with a portion (9.3 Gigs) of memory reserved for music storage. It's far more convenient than trying to find storage in the small cabin for CDs. On the other hand, the Bose sound system, while offering eight speakers and lots of watts, is a disappointment. It sounds overboosted and muddy, but at least there's a convenient iPod interface available.
However, the fuel gauge looks decidedly chintzy, and the entire thing is surrounded by a plastic bit that is painted, rather unsuccessfully, to look like milled aluminum. Other faults inside are the second cupholder being so far to the rear of the centre console as to be all but unusable and the power seats, comfortable as they are, don't have a single button tilt function so you can easily stow stuff behind them. The 370's trunk, however, is more useful than the 350's.
Nissan says the 370Z is its "everyday, affordable" sports car. Compared with the manic buzz-bomb that is the GT-R, it certainly is a more amenable daily driver. And, at about half the price of the GT-R, it's also relatively affordable. One could even make the argument that it is the splashier ride. The 370Z may not alter the time and space continuum as the GT-R does, but it is a marked improvement on its sporty, but seriously flawed, predecessor. It also remains true to the original 240Z's promise of an affordable sports car that you can drive every day yet still turn heads.
The Nissan 370Z will hit UAE showrooms later this year. No price has been determined yet.