Just say the letter Z to some Japanese car enthusiasts and they start to get a faraway look in their eyes. Don’t do it completely unprompted, of course, or they’ll wonder why some idiot is reciting the alphabet to them backwards.
But in car talk, yeah, Z carries a lot of weight. It signifies the 1970 Datsun 240Z, the affordable sports car that both legitimized Japanese cars in the eyes of enthusiasts, and brought exotic tech (fully-independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, overhead cam engine) to the masses. And the 280ZX, the car Paul Newman campaigned successfully at SCCA throughout the late ’70s. Or even the ’90s 300ZX twin-turbo, as close to being a sure thing in the young-timer collector market as there is.
After a few year hiatus, Nissan brought the Z car back for 2003 as the 350Z, and it was updated in 2009 as the 370Z. Since then, not much has happened, and the once-mighty Z has suffered for it. It isn’t that it’s a bad car – it’s not – but compared to much newer competition, it feels ancient. To make matters worse, it looks like if the iconic sports car is replaced at all, it’ll be by some kind of crossover. The march of progress continues…
When the Z was revived last decade, it shared a platform with the Infiniti G35, a great-looking luxury coupe with an even greater engine that’s since become the preferred chariot of boy racers, and is generally seen lowered with a big fart-can exhaust today. But the G35 got more action from Nissan than the Z too, getting a refresh and becoming the G37 in 2007, and the Q40 in 2014.
For 2017, it’s getting yet another lease on life. The Q60 is now upon us, and is probably better than ever. But despite its many improvements, it still shares its platform with – you guessed it – the 370Z. So can the Nissan keep up with its bigger, swankier brother? That’s what we’re going to find out in this latest installment of Buy This, Not That.
Tale of the tape
The 2017 Nissan 370Z enters 2017 largely unchanged from the ’16 model, which is largely unchanged from… well, you get the idea. Power still comes from the 3.7-liter V6, delivering 332 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels. The base car starts at $29,990, and is available with either a six-speed manual transmission, or a seven-speed automatic, which shifts slow enough to sap a lot of the car’s fun.
And that’s the point of the 370Z: fun. With its great handling, direct steering feel, good brakes, and handsome (if not dated) styling, it’s still a fun-to-drive statement car. The star of the show, however, is the track-focused NISMO version, which starts at $41,990, and tops out dangerously close to the $50K mark. At that level, the car’s lack of creature comforts makes it right at home in its small class of other race-ready street cars.
The NISMO’s 3.7 is boosted to 350 horses and uses rev-matching (on manual cars), a limited-slip differential, competition brakes, a freer-breathing exhaust, tuned suspension, revised aero kit, and 19-inch forged wheels to bring some of the track to the streets, and isn’t afraid to go back every now and again to prove its mettle.
But the high $40s is still a lot of coin, and for the money, you could also opt for the Infiniti Q60, which is hitting dealerships soon, and is likely to start in the low-$40K range. There’s no manual transmission option, but other than that, the Q60 is much closer in execution to the BMW M4/Audi A5/Cadillac ATS/Mercedes C-Class Coupe than the Nissan. Under the hood lies Nissan’s new 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, which puts out 300 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque in base versions, and 400 horses and 350 pound-feet in performance-focused versions. The latter will cost significantly more than any Z – think mid-$50K range.
Inside, the Q60 is clean and modern where the 370Z is cluttered and dated. The instruments are big and easy to read, and the leather seats are comfortable and well-bolstered. The new car feels modern and luxurious, while still conveying a sense of speed and performance that shows through on virtually every surface, inside and out.
The 370Z is old, dated, and beginning to fall behind the competition. That said, it still does what it’s always done, and while the competition roars ahead, it’s somewhat analog feel still feels charming. At the end of the day, it’s a likable car, and one of the few truly affordable sports cars left out there.
But with a relatively high base price, it’s no match for the newer Camaro or Mustangs in terms of power and comfort, and a spartan, driver-focused interior and similar attitude (albeit with less power) can be had for a lot less in the Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86. And while the NISMO is still formidable and a very good track car, it can’t compete with most muscle cars in its price range, and gets so expensive it comes dangerously close to cars like the Porsche Cayman, Chevy Corvette, and Alfa Romeo 4C.
On the other hand, the Q60 looks, feels, and performs like a thoroughly modern luxury coupe. Its tasteful design puts it as one of the best – if not the best – Infiniti designs of all-time, and the new 3.0 V6 is a gem that we can’t wait to see filter down into the rest of the Nissan/Infiniti lineups. Hopefully Nissan will stick with the Z-car (emphasis on car), update the long-hood/fastback shape, give it a modern interior, and drop that new six under the hood. Then we’d have ourselves a real competition.