My date took one look at the Nissan 370Z and proclaimed it a "smurfmobile." Yes, sure, the Monterey blue paint job of our test 370Z Touring automatic does look a bit Smurf-like. The comparison gets a little murky from there.
While the Smurfs have Belgian roots (those crazy Benelux minds), this Nissan coupe was born in Tochigi, Japan. Smurfs eat smurfberries, while the Nissan prefers a strict and plentiful diet of 93 octane premium unleaded. A Smurf is all about kindness, modesty, sharing and helping. The 370Z is about being fast, loud, and leaving you in a cloud of exhaust. It will flaunt its good looks while blowing your white pants and hat clean off.
Don't bet your mushroom house on it.
Several have called the 370Z a pint-size version of the larger Nissan GT-R supercar. Based on looks alone, sure, the Zed car could have easily shared a daddy with the bigger, badder GT-R, although the smaller Nissan is certainly the better-looking car. It's flawless from almost any angle, at least to me. Drive past a building with mirrored glass on the exterior and you will watch the car pass through the reflection every time. It's aggressive: It has "fangs" in the grill for crying out loud!
Performance-wise, we all know the GT-R specs are more impressive. To drive that point home, one afternoon a black GT-R crested a hill as I'm waiting in the Z to pull out onto a main road. I saunter up behind him at a red light and figure, "we both have cool Nissans, maybe he'll wanna run together for a little while?"
Three seconds after the light turns green, I am immediately reduced into the much younger brother, crying as his older brother and friends ditch him. "Aww c'mon guys"¦ wait for me!"
Despite that experience, the Zed is still a pretty quick car. Hand-timed runs to 60 mph came in at 5.1 seconds, courtesy of the 332 horsepower mustered from Nissan's 3.7-liter V6 motor. Nissan's "VQ" motor certainly isn't the smoothest, most refined V6 you'll find, but part of me likes its gruff character. The exhaust has a barbaric undertone and the power on tap at any given time is plentiful.
In automatic guise, don't forget the 370Z has a seventh gear in the transmission as you snap off gear changes on the paddle shifters. Shifts are fast and smooth for the most part. If you're motoring in sporting fashion, those downshifts at speed can get a little jerky, however.
In a sense, this 370Z is supposed to be Nissan's Mustang. That means the Nissan needs to be able to do a huge, smoky burnout. Just one problem - it can't. We tried. The traction control was off, but apparently "off" is a relative term with the automatic transmission model. Even with the electronic nannies turned off, the computer controlling the motor will still cut the power off at the first hint of wheel spin. It's a result that left a colleague and I sitting in an empty industrial park with a cabin filled of disbelief rather than smoke. In fact, in several conditions, we found the traction control overbearing, stepping in when we'd have rather it didn't.
A Pony car that won't do burnouts? Get out!
Ignoring its inability to destroy rear tires, the Zed handles the bends fairly well. The suspension, and the chassis as a whole, has a nice firm feel to it and cornering is fairly flat. Brakes are grabby, occasionally making a slow smooth stop challenging without a hint of whiplash. Pulling up from higher speeds, the car can feel a bit unsettled, wobbling one way or the other.
During brisk, backcountry driving, the lateral grip in the corners was good, and even surprising at times. And by surprising we mean "wow it hung in there" surprising, not "wow, how much is a new fender" surprising.
At some point, between back roads bombing, and serious sport driving, we reach a problem: Understeer. If your idea of fun in the 370Z is going out to winding country roads on a Sunday afternoon to drive 60 mph, in the 30 mph zone, then you're still in luck. If your weekend involves going to a place with the word "Raceway" in it, hold off. Push this car hard into a corner and the front end will plow substantially. A tire with more grip may buy you a few more inches, but if you're heading to the track, might we suggest waiting for the high performance-oriented NISMO edition of the 370Z.
If there was one thing that the 370Z's predecessor, the 350Z, was criticized for, it was the interior. Low quality materials made for a cockpit that reeked of cheap. Fast forward to the 370, and it's problem solved. Much nicer leather, plastics and suede grace this interior. Well, fake and more durable suede, but nice, nonetheless.
Good interior, yes, but seeing the outside from the inside can be challenging. Visibility out the back window rates somewhere between hilarious and scary. The 370Z has a rear view mirror, but you might be left wondering why. The rear glass is small, but lessening the view even further is the large stabilizer bar that runs the width of the cabin. Peering out of the gun-slit, side windows proves to be better, but you're sitting awfully low in the 370Z, so prepare to stretch your neck a bit.
If you have lower back issues, this car might not be for you. This is a low ridin' car and getting in and out isn't exactly the easiest thing you've ever done, even by sports car standards.
The various controls look and feel solid and the displays are easy to read for the most part. In the main trio of gauges behind the steering wheel, the display farthest to the left, which displays the amount of fuel and the engine temperature, seems a little ridiculous. Instead of a needle, however, Nissan gives you 16 dots that light up. The more dots you have, the more fuel or the higher the temperature. Depending on where the sunlight is, the display can be quite hard to read and it seems like something you'd find in a low-cost car aimed at third world countries. The 370Z - not so much.
Also consider that, with a needle, you usually know how far below "E" you can go before you're absolutely sucking fumes. With this set up, who's to say how far that last dot will take you?
Look for a gas station honey, we've only got two dots of gas left.
Why you would buy it:
Fantastic looks, exciting speed. Smurfs don't have fangs!
Why you wouldn't:
If you're a track rat, you're going to need something more track-oriented handling, or several thousands bucks more to customize the 37 Z to your needs. The 370Z NISMO edition may also fill the bill.
2009 Nissan 370Z Touring base price, $35,760; As tested, $36,865.
Floor mats, $115; Illuminated kick plates, $200; Trunk mat, $95; Destination, $695.
Words and photos by Chris Doane.