It’s said your first love is always the most memorable. As far as test cars goes it was the ‘power bulge’ Nissan 350Z for me. No Nissan Micra Active, thank you very much; no wonder I became a little obsessed with this motoring journalism lark. I mention it because it just so happens the ten-year anniversary of that exhilarating first drive passed not so long ago. Ten years! Wow, there was barely Facebook ten years ago. Since then the 350 has been replaced with the Nissan 370Z (2011) and… we’ve waited patiently for seven years for Nissan to wheel out a replacement. Sure, Nissan Z cars, of which there have been many, in all shades of ‘70s brown and leisure-suit green, have always had a long gestation period, but in an automotive world that’s changing quicker than the updates in your app store, can it still cut the mustard?
It’s customary for a facelifted model to brandish some more power; however, the 2018 MY (model year) 370Z does not – sticking admirably to 245 kW/363 Nm from a naturally aspirated 3.7-litre V6 lump. Instead, the designers obsessed with tidying up the exterior and making its innards evermore plush. This pursuit for refinement facilitated the reworking of its droop-snout front bumper for something more aerodynamically efficient, incorporating an attractive band of vertical LED DLRs. Around the rear haunches there’s the impression of extra width thanks to a blacked out rear diffuser. The tailpipes have been enlarged, too, like the transporter made a turn past Powerflow before offloading the new cars. Save for those minor tweaks, I can’t help wonder what the normally diligent busy-bees from Yokohama have been doing for six years.
Climb aboard, sink into the alcantara leather seats that clamp your body in place and the detailed tinkering is a little more obvious. A fresh palette of sporting reds, blacks and faux carbon fibre materials put it a cut above its predecessor. A premium infotainment system, featuring a seven-inch touchscreen, satnav, DVD player, nine-gig music box system and rear-view camera means you’ll want for nothing inside. And your ears will love you for the reduced tinnitus because of the improved sound deadening. On the other hand, they might not enjoy the augmented engine note that’s piped through your BOSE speakers. I know it’s a noise pollution thing – and goodness knows the previous Z’s cement mixer sound profile wasn’t exactly sonorous – but the note it produces is too synthetic for my liking. The fascia is a study in sporty, conical shapes with the rev counter present-and-correct, centrally positioned in the instrument cluster, with ancillary information like oil temperature and pressure communicated via three standalone dials atop the dash. Before you even thumb the starter you sense this’ll be a good ol’ fashioned, fun-to-drive sports coupe.
And so it proves taking it out for its first shakedown on SA soil. We’ve become so inundated with EV-hybrid-eco-turbo-downsizing-ride-sharing-mobility propaganda that driving this hulking sports car feels more than just retro rush, it feels like you’re indulging in a guilty pleasure; a hat-tip to the past with added extrovert appeal. Unsurprisingly, it feels much the same as the old one to drive; however, re-jigged spring and damper rates have slackened the whole thing off to provide a more forgiving ride. More suspension travel means more grip before the large rear tyres let go, which means more pitching and rolling. The clutch on the six-speed manual has been upgraded to a high-performance version from Exedy, and there’s no questioning its accurate, heavy-duty bite point; while the SyncroRev ‘box still cleverly rev-matches by blipping the throttle as the shifter passes the gate, delivering smooth downshifts every time. You can disable it if you prefer… if you’re trying to get your heel-and-toe braking down pat.
Predictably, with the same power-to-weight as the 2011 car, performance figures are unchanged – 0-100km/h in 5.3 sec and 250 kph top end is not to be sniffed at though. It’s how it puts all that free-breathing oomph into action that’s admirable: a buzzy, coarse V6, hooked-up to rear-wheel drive with a proper, mechanical limited-slip differential. Despite the drift-hungry image its 275-broad rear tyres keep the substantive mass in check. Even with the softer setup this is still a firm riding car, but with enough pliancy courtesy of its multi-link rear suspension to not be undone on rippled roads. Which is good thing because you really need to show some old-school commitment to rip into the higher rev ranges and enjoy the full gamut of the VQ37’s talents – with peak torque and power lurking between 5200-7000 rpm. Do that and the car quite literally comes alive.
Yes, these days, cars like the Toyota 86 do it differently, cheaper and in some respects, better. If the next Nissan Z car could learn anything from it, it’s that less rear tyre doesn’t necessarily mean less fun. While cars like the AMG A45 and Golf R do it faster. By modern standards the 2018 370Z is flawed, no question, but despite this it’s the type of car you still find yourself making excuses for: ‘Yes, it’s a lot of money, but…’ and ‘I know it sounds like a piece of industrial earthmoving equipment, but…’ For the rare breed of human being who still describes him or herself with terms like ‘car fanatic’ or ‘enthusiast’, nothing beats the long bonnet and stubby rear end of a bespoke two-seater sports car. Many of which have gone on to do incredible things.
Nissan 370Z in a nutshell
They don’t make ‘em like they used to…
… on balance, there’s a reason for that.
Engine: 3696 cc, 6-cylinder
Power: 245 kW @ 7000 rpm, 363 Nm @ 5200 rpm
Performance: 0-100km/h 5.3 sec, top speed 250 kph
Tyres: 245/40 R19 front, 275/35 R19 rear
Economy: 10.5 l/100 km
Transmission: 6-speed manual
CO2 emissions: 245 g/km
Price: R661 900
Toyota 86 2.0 High
Nimble, efficient, unadulterated driving fun. Just don’t line-up next to a Z at a set of traffic lights. 0-100kph 7.6secs, top speed 226kph, power 147kW/205Nm, Price R494 400
by Ray Leathern