Thursday, June 6, 2013

Behind the Wheel: Roadster With a Z- 2013 Nissan 370Z Touring

It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been over 40 years since the first Z car landed on these shores- October of 1969, to be precise. In other words, Nissan had a Z before Liza did. Of course, back then it was the Datsun 240Z, and it was a remarkably nice, powerful and well balanced little car. Not quite a Corvette, but a lot of fun for a very reasonable $3601 base price. At the time, it seemed to quickly become a favorite of young enthusiasts and those planning a midlife crisis.

Time marches on for Liza and all of us, and suddenly our midlife crisis cars of yore are old enough to have midlife crises of their own. A lot of sporting cars have come and gone in that time, and those that remain - like Liza herself- have taken on a bit of an iconic status. I welcomed the chance to spend a week behind the wheel of the 2013 Nissan 370Z roadster and see how the I would do with a Z of my own.

The Z car is now in its sixth generation, and its second since returning to the US as the 350Z -it was absent from the North American market from 1997-2003. The roadster made its debut a year later in 2004. The revised 370Z bowed for the 2009 model year and the roadster again followed a year later for 2010.The 2013 model has a fresh front fascia with vertical running lights somewhat reminiscent of Vampira, revised shocks and new 19” wheels and red calipers for the optional Sport package (which I had.)

My test car was a Touring which was loaded with goodies- so many that the base price of $41,170 plus packages - Touring ($3000), Sport ($2830), and Navigation ($2150), floor mats ($125) and destination ($780) added up to $50,055.

It’s powered by the Nissan 3.7 liter V6 in 337 hp trim (VQ37VHR),  in my case mated to a six speed manual transmission. I’ll admit that this particular engine is one of my favorites, with a wide band of torque and a 7,000+ RPM redline, and it pairs beautifully with the six speed stick.

If only everything else paired so well. The exterior styling has transcended time well, it’s instantly recognizable as a contemporary Z car- but the interior seems less defined. Open the door and the first thing that catches your eye are the instruments- three big dials in front of the driver and a row of three instruments to the right canted at the same angle as the old 240Z. It’s a whimsical historical reference harkening back to the 240Z days. Immediately beneath the three gauges is the touch screen for navigation and audio. It’s the same high quality interface that is found in other members of the Nissan family, and is easy to use.  

The dash itself is covered in a pebble grain that looks like it came from the Sentra, the door panels are covered in a handsome black suede and the seat inserts were a gray gore tex material with a nylon netting and grey leather bolsters. Each interesting, but no continuity. Expensive materials come off looking like a sampler platter of interior design elements. Nissan puts some very handsome interiors in some of their offerings and they would do well to spend some time putting the 370Z interior in line with its list price.

The convertible top is nicely done. I’m personally glad that Nissan resisted the hard top fad, opting instead for a fully lined soft top. It operates at the touch of a button, acceptably quiet in the cabin when raised, and just more appropriate for a sporting car than a hard top. Once lowered, the cockpit is delightfully quiet and free from the usual wind buffering thanks to the windbreak between the headrests.

The Z car has always been renowned for its spirited driving characteristics and happily that reputation is still earned. This is a touring car, but with the sport package the car sticks like glue on corners and has a remarkably comfortable ride to boot. The heart of the car is the marvelous 3.7 liter engine, which purrs like a kitten at idle and wails like a banshee all the way up to its 7,000+ RPM redline when you stomp on it, and runs through the gears joyously. It has the usual delightful light clutch and crisp linkage that one has come to expect from Nissan, so there is no shortage of driving entertainment. And as an added surprise, it’s EPA rated at 17 city/ 24 highway, but my highway drive segment returned 26 mpg which was quite welcome indeed.

I came away from it all liking the 370Z better than I had expected to. Yes, I think there are some interior issues that don’t befit a car in this price class, but it’s really quite a charmer overall and the combination of ride, handling, and that nearer-to-heaven 3.7 liter engine really overcomes the few little doubts. With a base price about $14,000 less than a Corvette and $21,000 less than a Boxster S, one can quickly conclude that there are worse ways to spend a mid-life crisis, and the Roadster With a Z will certainly allow you to Ring Them Bells.

Besides, Like Liza, it’s an icon.