PAHRUMP, Nev. -- With ten tight turns curling over two miles of tumbleweed-strafed asphalt, the Spring Mountain race track in the Nevada desert fills the raked windshield of a GT-style sports car.
We're strapped in the driver's seat and waiting for a starter's signal to unleash the strength of so many ponies from a new engine and allow this sleek composition of aluminum, steel and carbon fiber to send our speed-addicted selves into triple-digit nirvana on forged aluminum wheels and Bridgestone Potenza tires.
Our test car at Spring Mountain, a slinky two-door coupe with hatchback styling and sport-tuned hardware rigged for serious pavement performance, is a new incarnation of the fabled Z-car of Nissan.
Call it the all-new 370Z of 2009.
The iconic sports hatchback coupe from Nissan tracks back in a line from the original Datsun 240Z of 1970 to the 1996 twin-turbo 300ZX and a swift 350Z of 2003.
Like the original 240Z, this new 370Z conforms to hatchback styling with the front-mounted powerplant, rear-wheel-drive (RWD) orientation and ample piston power.
It's a genuine GT sports coupe, muscular in shape but lethal in monochromatic treatment with two doors on the flanks of a snug two-seat cockpit.
And it looks so lean and mean, the exaggerated prow fixed with big boomerang-shaped HID (high intensity discharge) bi-functional xenon headlamps, fenders bulging to cover the oversized rubber rollers, a broad windshield cocked back at an extreme angle and the low roofline tapering past a hatchback window to the curt tail interrupted by an edgy spoiler wing and lamps defining back corners in streaks of red.
Of course, it is lean and mean -- the most powerful Z-car ever.
It packs a larger V6 engine with 26 more power points.
The V6 displaces 3.7 liters and carries dual cams on top with VVEL (variable valve event and lift control). Output climbs to 332 hp at 7000 rpm, with torque pumping up to 270 lb-ft at 5200 rpm.
Then Nissan offers a choice in high-tech transmissions.
Stock is a six-speed manual featuring synchronized downshift rev matching in the first application for a production vehicle.
Optional is a new seven-speed automatic with downshift rev matching and adaptive shift control for quick driver-controlled shifting via standard paddle shifters or the console-posted shift lever.
New 370Z has a wheelbase that's nearly four inches shorter than the 350Z (100.4 inches versus 104.3 inches), as the rear wheels set further forward on the platform.
Nissan labels the platform as FM (Front Midship), which describes the engine's position on the chassis as front wheels move forward to the extreme and the engine mounts so its center of gravity falls behind the front axles. This arrangement results in a weight distribution for the car of 54 percent over the front wheels and 46 percent at the rear.
A sophisticated multi-link suspension at all four wheels employs aluminum-alloy components to trim the unsprung weight.
Other weight-saving components include a carbon fiber composite radiator housing and aluminum for the front hood, rear hatch and both side doors.
The suspension's double wishbone design up front mounts on a new diecast aluminum alloy cradle to reduce lateral bending of the front body structure, while the multi-link design in back gains structural reinforcements and a new underbody V-bar to check rear lateral bending.
Special shocks set up responsive control yet also deliver a stiff and sporty ride quality.
Standard 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels roll with Yokohama ADVAN Sport tires -- 225/50R18 in front and 245/45R18 in back.
Choose the Sport Package and wheels and tires upgrade to 19-inch RAYS forged super light alloy wheels capped by Bridgestone Potenza summer tires -- 245/40R19 up front and 275/35R19 in the rear.
For keen stopping power, the standard brake package consists of ventilated discs (12.6-inch front and 12.1-inch rear rotors) with computer linkage to an anti-lock brake system (ABS), brake assist (BA) and electronic brake force distribution (EBD).
Further, every Z-car carries Nissan's vehicle dynamic control (VDC) device which automatically checks lateral skidding on slippery pavement. The equipment features new electronic hardware with all-new logic.
The optional Sport Package nets brake upgrades to Nissan Sport Brakes with larger rotors (14.0-inch front and 13.8-inch rear rotors) and four-piston front and two-piston rear aluminum calipers.
Z's cockpit has only two seats in a cozy space divided by the center console, which extends the full length between seats and houses the transmission lever.
Driver's seat varies from the right seat -- the seat cushion has cut-outs on flanks which allow a Z driver to pump the pedals without interference from the seat.
Three round analog gauges in the instrument cluster attach directly to the tilting steering column.
Behind the seats is an open cargo area with storage space and a new shelf in place for stowing a briefcase.
Standard gear on 370Z ranges from Nissan Intelligent Key with Push Button Start to power controls for windows and door locks, automatic climate system, two 12-volt power outlets, overhead map lights and a four-speaker audio kit with AM/FM/CD/AUX and illuminated controls on the steering wheel.
A step up to 370Z Touring brings four-way power adjustable heated sport seats with adjustable lumbar support, a Bose audio system with eight speakers and 6xCD/MP3/WMA, Bluetooth hands-free phone kit and a map pocket for the right seat.
Then there are option packages -- Sport and Navigation. The Sport Package for $3,000 installs the RAYS wheels and Bridgestone Potenza tires, aerodynamic front and rear spoilers, Nissan Sport Brakes, SynchroRev Match six-speed manual transmission and a viscous limited slip differential. The Navigation Package at $1,850 adds a Nissan Navigation System with 9.3-GB Music Box Hard Drive and Interface System for iPod.
Nissan's new 370Z lists for $29,930 (manual shift) and $ 31,230 (automatic) plus $4,530 for Touring versions.