LAS VAGAS – Sports cars are all about the power to weight ratio. Two seats, more horsepower and less heft translate into more speed. That's the equation that Nissan emphasized with the fabled 2009 370Z two-seater.
The car is smaller and lighter overall with a wheel base that is a sizable four inches shorter. The 370Z is also a bit lower and it has a wider front and rear track. I was told that the 370Z is a much more drivable machine. It rotates around you, has a more natural feel and it has less harshness, more grip and improved handling.
When I started the new Z's engine it sprung to life with a lot more authority than that of the last model. The engine note was robust and guttural; it felt like I had a lot of car under me. Nissan has increased the engine size from 3.5 to a 3.7 liter V6 and increased horsepower by 26 to 332 and torque is up to 270 pounds-feet.
The 370Z is 95 lbs lighter than the model it will replace when it goes on sale Jan. 2. Front body torsion increases by 30 percent while rear torsion is up 22 percent. That all translates into an exhilarating driving experience.
On the twisting road that goes through Red Rock Canyon, the 2009 Nissan 370Z handled well. But my driving partner really didn't push the car beyond the 35 mph speed limit. However, after we left, a couple of driving characteristics did surface.
We had the sport package. Thus, the low profile tires created some road noise. Other than that, the 370Z was relatively quiet. The car tracked well and acceleration wasn't bad. It was steady; while I was cruising at 90 mph on Hwy 160. But the car got a little skittish in the rear when I approaced110 mph.
The sport package featured manually adjustable seats but they could have used some lower back support.
Nissan is keeping the 370Z simple. There are only two models, the 370Z Coupe and the 370Z Touring and two option packages, the sport package and the navigation package. There is a six speed manual transmission and a seven speed automatic gearbox.
I spent most of my time in the manual transmission powered 370Z. The short throw gearbox was easy to shift, the clutch pedal was firm but activation was effortless. Downshifting with what Nissan calls SyncroRev Match automatically blipped the throttle to smooth out the shifts. In other words, down shifting was lurchless.
The 370Z also had two different instrument layouts. Both are much better than the last model. Gone is the silver satin plastic which is replaced by soft polymers. The navigation package featured the three layered look adapted from the interior of the Infiniti M cars, while the sport package is minimalist.
Features included push button stop and start, Bluetooth, satellite radio and voice recognition. The use of aluminum in the front suspension, doors, hood, rear hatch and engine cradle helped reduce weight.
The new Z's interior is simply better, a lot better than that of the car it replaces. The inside now matches the good looks of the outside which is vastly improved. The Z car looks sleeker, it's swifter and it sounds like a powerful and muscular sports car. It now looks the part, sounds the part and drives like an all new American icon that has been around for 40 years.
It's available with 18-inch wheels but the 19-inch wheels have the look of menace. They belie the fact that the starting price of the 2009 370Z is $29,930. Even its 18/26 mpg city/hwy EPA rating is 2 mpg better than the model it replaces.
The 2009 Nissan 370Z sticks to the tradition that made it a hit. A genuine sports car that cost a lot less than you'd expect.