By Tim Grey
The Nissan 370Z is both beauty and the beast. It’s a supermodel with a gob like a freight truck driver, all Angelina Jolie on the outside and Ray Winstone underneath.
It’s a weird sensation, stepping into one of this year’s most beautiful automotive releases and finding out it has an industrial soundtrack provided by Trent Reznor and a sports car purist’s heart which cares nothing for the fripperies of refinement or sound insulation.
Nissan, which benchmarked the 370Z against the Porsche Cayman, is effectively using the sixth-generation Z-car to call out all the other sports cars that have, over the years, gone a bit soft. Ever so slowly, that $100,000-$150,000 bracket has followed Porsche’s lead with the Cayman and moved closer to that highly undesirable tag known as “the hairdresser’s car”.
Once the sole ownership of the Mk 1 Mazda MX-5, the local salon car park is now full of Audi TTs ($84,900-$114.900), BMW Z4s ($90,000-$124,900) and next year, no doubt, a few examples of the forthcoming Peugeot RCZ.
In response Nissan has produced possibly the best looker of the bunch, and just to rub everyone’s noses in it they’ve made it the most singularly aggressive as well — both in performance and price.
The 370Z is a whole new beast compared to its forebear (the 350Z) and takes a decidedly old-school, un-reconstructed attitude to performance in a bid to remind Z-car fans of the heady days of the original Datsun 240Z.
Lest we forget, that was the first respected Japanese sports car. Released in 1970 it proved the Japanese could not only compete with the Europeans, but also deliver the same bang for much less buck.
Toyota was actually the first to take a serious tilt at this market with the 2000GT (based, ironically, on a design originally penned for Nissan) but was blown out of the water by the 240Z. This was because the former was more expensive than many European sports cars in the crucial US market, while the latter instead made a mockery of their premiums.
With a fluid five-speed shifter, 113kW of power and that rarity for the era known as fully independent suspension, the 240Z went on to become a classic. Fans of the car will immediately recognise the more coupe-like shape of the 370Z compared to the sedan influence of the 350Z, which is longer and thinner than its replacement.
But Nissan has clearly aimed to make sure the similarities aren’t just superficial, with a back-to-basics approach which is all about wringing the neck of the 3.7 litre naturally aspirated V6 under that long bonnet.
Producing a whopping 245kW at 7000rpm (compared to the 198kW of a $130,000 Porsche Cayman), Nissan’s latest VQ-series engine uses the same valve trickery seen in Nissan’s US luxury coupe, the Infiniti G37, to provide uninhibited performance delivery.
Wrangling this single-minded beast is a choice of a not-so-purist six-speed manual, which we tested, and a seven-speed auto that hopes to compete with the seven-speed double-clutcher seen in the Z4 roadster.
Of course, going auto with the 370Z seems self-defeating given the raw nature of the vehicle, somewhat like ordering a dram of 60-year-old Scotch and then watering it down.
Nevertheless, the six-speed shifter isn’t exactly as pure as the driven tarmac, either. The 370Z is the first production car in the world to use synchronised rev matching software (SynchroRev Match) — which basically works to make you look better when changing gear.
The heavy clutch on the manual can make the gearshift as rough as old guts if you have all the timing of an unwanted houseguest.
Switch on “S-mode” however, and the car takes control of the throttle while you’re faffing about with the clutch to make sure the revs match the engine speed of your next gear. While it may not impress the purists, it can come as quite a relief, especially on cold starts when the 370Z’s transmission seems a little less malleable.
You get the impression, like a stretching athlete, that the 370Z has to limber up a little for the open road. Keeping an eye on the dash-mounted gauge cluster for this very reason reminds one of another, maybe not so intentional, similarity to the original 240Z. While its black monotone dash and central console may have seemed swish 39 years ago, relieving large swathes of black plastic with more black plastic doesn’t impress so easily nowadays, even if you do throw in a bit of stitched fabric.
The large hatch in the centre console, which comes across as the most generous sunglasses holder in history, is a quirk of allocation. Unlike other territories, including Australia, we don’t get the choice of a sat-nav system with steering wheel controls — which explains the empty hatch — but to make up we get the vital components of the Sports Package offered in other parts of the world as standard. This means six-speed owners get SynchroRev Match straight off the bat while we also get the benefit of 19-inch forged aluminium-alloy wheels with Bridgestone Potenzas (as opposed to the standard 17-inchers in Oz), which significantly improve the aggressive stance of the car.
Apart from the hatch — this is starting to sound like an episode of “Lost” — the only real annoyance is the fact that Nissan has forked out on a top-notch Bose sound system you can’t appreciate against the industrial factory noises coming from the bonnet. The cereal box sound insulation of the rear axle doesn’t help either.
At the end of the day the highly synchronised Nissan 370Z may not be a 100 percent faithful 21st Century interpretation of the first affordable Japanese sportscar. But it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing as well as two fat fingers to the European elite who seem to be happy turning out a host of increasingly style-conscious boulevardiers. And while $71,200-$73,200 doesn’t sound that affordable, in the context provided by Porsche, BMW, et al the pricing is actually as savage as the car itself.