Nissan's Z sport coupe remains an affordable performer

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Posted: Feb 25, 2015 12:04 PM
Nissan's Z sport coupe remains an affordable performer

Thank you, Yutaka Katayama.

Katayama, who died last week at age 105, was the executive who renamed the sports car Nissan exported to the United States in the late 1960s. It had been called the Fairlady, and nothing against "My Fair Lady," but it wasn't an appealing name for a sports car in America. The new name, the company's code designation for the project, had more pizazz: the 240Z.

Almost a half century later, the Nissan Z sport coupe remains an affordable sports car. Today's Z car — now called the 370Z to reflect today's engine displacement — ranks as America's two-seater with the most power for the lowest starting retail price.

In other words, it's a performance bargain, and it doesn't rely on turbo, supercharger, direct injection or hybrid technology. Instead, it uses Nissan's tried-and-true, stalwart VQ V-6.

A base, 2015 370Z Coupe has a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $30,815 with manual transmission and $32,115 with automatic. This is less than the average price for a new vehicle — car, sport utility vehicle, van or truck — today.

The base 370Z with 3.7-liter V-6 produces a full 332 horses and 270 foot-pounds of torque at 5,200 rpm.

This is nearly twice the horsepower and torque that's in the two-seat, 2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster that starts at $24,790 with manual transmission. It's more than twice the 130 horsepower and nearly twice the torque that's in the two-seat, 2015 Honda CR-Z that starts at $20,935.

Performance two-seaters have much higher starting retail prices. As an example, the new-for-2015 Alfa Romeo 4C starts at $55,195 with 237-horsepower, turbo four-cylinder and automatic.

The 370Z's sexy styling is unmistakable. The car sits low to the ground, hugging the pavement. Sinewy curves highlight the sides and emphasize wheel wells that, even on the base model, hold sizable, 18-inch tires.

Inside, everything is oriented to the driver, including a tidy-sized, tilt-only steering wheel and three top-of-the-middle-of-the-dashboard gauges that provide information such as oil temperature and time.

Push-button start and an intelligent key fob that can remain in a driver's pocket even for entry — the driver merely needs to touch the button on the driver door to unlock the car — are standard. So are automatic temperature control, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, six air bags, electronic stability control and traction control, among other things.

For 2015, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity also is standard on all Z models.

But true to its sport and racing heritage, seat adjustments for the 370Z are all manual and not necessarily the easiest to operate.

For 2015, Nissan revised the steering feel, adjusted suspension tuning and added new trim levels while eliminating option packages.

Also new for 2015, Nissan offers an automatic for the first time on its top-of-the-line, 350-horsepower, 370Z Nismo. Nismo is Nissan's motorsports and performance division, and the automatic has seven speeds with downshift rev matching, adaptive shift control and manual shift mode.

The 2015 Z Nismo also is restyled outside with a more subtle rear spoiler, new hyper light-emitting diode daytime running lights, black headlight bezels and attractive red striping around the car.

The test car was a 2015 370Z Nismo Tech model with six-speed manual, navigation system, 7-inch display screen in the dashboard, rearview camera, Bose audio, SiriusXM satellite radio, automatic dimming rearview mirror, suede-like interior trim and special Recaro sport bucket seats.

The Recaro seats are deeply sculpted, so slim and medium-sized bodies feel firmly planted and held tightly within the side bolsters. The Alcantara fabric helps hold passengers in place during sharp turns but can make exiting the car a bit of a chore as there's no sliding or slipping off the seats.

The car's immediate response to steering inputs — it uses power rack-and-pinion steering with a quick ratio — can quicken a driver's pulse during sudden maneuvers. But the Z Nismo's 19-inch sport tires gripped the road like glue.

The nearly 3,400-pound 370Z Nismo test car felt solid but not ponderous, and the V-6's easy power-on-demand got the car up and going with gusto and revved all the way to the 7,500 redline. The 3.7-liter, double overhead cam V-6 is well known and variations are used in many Nissan vehicles.

In the 370Z Nismo tester, the Nismo-tuned, dual exhaust ensured the strong engine sounds were heard inside and outside the car. Combined with substantial road noise that came into the car cabin, it made for a sporting experience that was anything but quiet.

On pock-marked streets and highway expansion cracks, the ride can feel choppy, bumpy and jolting.

The tester averaged 21.4 miles per gallon of premium gasoline during driving that was split 50-50 on city and highway roads.

This amounted to just over 400 miles of travel on a single, 19-gallon tank that cost $52 to fill up.

Watch the long doors in close parking spots. They can bang into adjacent cars.

Cargo space is just 6.9 cubic feet and is shallow, so the liftgate can crush grocery bags.

The rearview camera was a must, as large rear window pillars obscure views.