This week we’re talking with Merkel Weiss an old associate about his opinion of the 2009 Nissan 370ZX, one of my favorite cars to drive. Ok, so he’s not all that old but you know what I mean. Herewith an automotive engineers view of the Z.
The other night my old friend Que Quan (Q) pulled up to my back yard in a new test car. There it was, silhouetted in the moonlight. This sleek red Nissan thing with giant 19 inch open-spoke silver wheels sat there as we looked on in mock reverence, usually reserved for an Aston Zagatto or the like.
It was the old car but more, and it was the old car but less. Here is my problem. I have at times liked the Z-car and at times not so much. The early 240Z was a nice car to look at and a reasonably well behaved car for its day. It was also one heck of a bargain – I remember the head of the Mechanical Engineering laboratory at Penn State where I was at grad school debating whether to buy the Vega GT or the 240Z. At that time the Datsun (Nissan today) was a bit of a risk because in 1970, nobody had any experience with the brand, especially with the inline 6 sports car shy of the Datsun 2000 which fell short of being a reliable car. Well, he bought the American car and although patriotic at the time, I never looked at him the same way. Driving the Vega had all the thrill and panache of driving a Trabant. Driving that Z-car on the other hand was a serious hoot. Sure they got fat and sloppy in the 70’s and 80’s but didn’t everything?
And so it was last night and this 370 thing sticks like epoxy. It is well behaved and suffers from none of the underdeveloped shortcomings of some of the earlier cars. It changes direction at the mere thought of it, and it has a nice compromise in ride to its prodigious grip. And when the grip runs out, this thing handles like it has some balance to it. Those famous 3 dials in your face and glowing atop the dash remind you constantly where you are. One could argue that not all the information conveyed by the 370s instruments is actually useful, but what the heck. It’s Japanese. The Western mind stretches but fails to comprehend the strangely oriented and only obtusely connected artifacts of the Asian sports car cockpit. And what’s with the mid-dash flap door that opens to a shallow shelf of rectangular configuration, useful for a hankie or maybe some loose soil? It should be lower in front of the 6-speed shifter and a bit deeper for the obligatory gloves.
The 1990s bought a 300ZX that I thought at the time to be the best ever and occasionally my mind wanders down that path again. Lovely to behold (no small thing for any Asian car) and in twin turbo V6 guise, this car was a real rocket ship. Together with the 4-wheel steering setup, gleaned from the all-too-short Mid 4 program, this car was a serious barrel of monkeys to drive, except that it was really buttoned down. Even the 2+2 version seemed to look properly proportioned, unlike the travesty that befell the Jaguar E-Type V12 2+2, when without any warning it turned from the perhaps finest looking sports car of all time into a pregnant guppy with wheels. Truly, the 300ZX was a milestone automobile.
In truth, the 370ZX may be a milestone car as well. There is some real driver feedback and not that it can read and write like an M3, the car has such high levels of grip that when it approaches the edge, you pretty much know that you’re out there on your own. And still the car’s stability control (4-wheel ABS activating as required to stabilize directionality) comes in to rescue you so long as you have not done something beyond Newtonian physics. If you only need 2 seats, you can live with this car very easily on a day to day basis, providing that you don’t have luggage to haul around bigger than a standard suitcase.
The 370ZX is not a pretty car, in my opinion, but it is very close. I say this as a critic because I very much want to like the way it looks; it is sooooo close. The 350ZX was a car that was aesthetically flamboyant. As such, it tends to get old a bit faster than other, more conservative buttoned-down shapes. But the 370 is really quite different, although closely related and easily identifiable, which I like. Along with the shorter wheelbase, the humpy roof line behind the windshield header that stretches out to an interminably long, flat fastback, punctuated by the big-butt Bertha rear bumper is now gone, replaced by a reasonably perfunctory and quite near attractive roofline.
Where the 350 was a collection of horizontal lines of the sports car, clashing with vertically oriented elements of trim like the front side markers/signals, door handles, and long amorphously stretchy headlights and taillights combined in a random if not pointless manner, the 370 seems to mostly fit into a horizontal theme. The 350s undercut along the bottom of the door has been smoothed out on the 370 and now we have a couple of thin bone lines in the rocker panel, much like a BMW E36. The rear window now has a nice shape to it. There is still not a whole lot of rear ¾ vision available, but to be fair the fat pillars dictated by side impact protection in a coupe rarely permit much these days. At least the trunk has a bit more storage space as a result of the elimination of that ridiculous cross brace, emblazoned with the big Z. That was just too close to the screaming chicken for me.
There is much to like with the car inside and out. The apparent quality of the materials used in the interior is hugely improved. The arm rests, interior door handles and wheel/instrument binnacle all seem to be ergonomic perfection. In contrast, the 6 foot + crowd will have some difficulty with the too-short bottom seat cushions and the barely adequate headroom. For the under 6 foot crowd, like my friend Q, I’d say jump on this car now while they are still dealing. This is about as engaging as sports cars get without having to pay the price of a Porsche and then being grateful for the opportunity. Huge Bridgestone RE050A tires, 245/40-19 front and 275/ 35-19 rear, and well sorted 4-wheel A-arm suspension, 0 – 60 in 5.2 seconds, 60 – 0 in 115 feet, and 18/26 mile per gallon EPA city/highway gives a lot for not so much dollars (list below $30K).
One more detail that needs mentioning is the brilliant shift rev-matching (SynchroRev Match) button above and to the right of the shifter. Engage the rev-matching and it is now near impossible to miss a shift, no matter how goofy you get. Go ahead and try but do not get yourself in trouble please. In all the years that we, the car enthusiasts have had manual transmissions, this is perhaps the most useful and meaningful execution I have ever seen. Now anyone can be Stig Blomquist or Michelle Mouton, dancing on the pedals and charging up that windy road. Life is good behind the wheel once again.
Parts – n/a
Assembly – Japan
Class: – Sport
Cars: – Altima, Altima Hybrid, Armada, Cube, Frontier, GT R, Maxima, Murano, Pathfinder, Quest, Rogue, Sentra, Titan, Versa, Xterra & Z
Nissan 370ZX $30-42,000, Infiniti G Coupe $36-39,000, Lotus Elise $47-55,000, Saturn Sky $28-34,000, Audi TT $35-48,000, Chevrolet Corvette $49-114,000, Pontiac Solstice $24-30,000, Honda S2000 $35-38,000, Mazda RX8 $26-32,000, Mercedes SLK $46-66,000, Porsche Cayman $50-60,000, Porsche Boxster $47-57,000, BMW Z4 $46-62,000, 2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe $22-31,000 and Ford Mustang $21-36,000.
$2.69/ Gal avg. July 24, ‘09
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18 City and 26 Highway MPG