It would be nice if Nissan could stay ahead of the curve instead of playing catch up.
Maybe the heads at Nissan were busy plotting how to pull off a Mitsubishi takeover or maybe they were occupied trying to change the future of the automobile with revolutionary technology, but lately a common theme for the Japanese automaker has been tardiness. The last volley of Nissan vehicles left the world satisfied for the past decade, but staying ahead requires constant hustle. Nissan has been smashing the snooze for a little too long now and it's starting to show.
If the mid-sized Frontier pickup truck stays on sale any longer it will become a modern relic, and not in a good way like the Mercedes G-Wagon, while the Nissan GT-R could stand to be thoroughly revitalized as well. Which brings us to the little guy in the Nissan lineup, the coupe for the boy racers who never grew up and aren’t the least bit ashamed about it. It started out with the 1970 Datsun 240Z, and through the generations it has stayed true to its original recipe that includes a low-slung roofline, a long hood, and a rear hatch opening. Ever since Japan gave up on the mid-range sports car, Nissan’s coupe has remained the entry-level option of choice for those who want a Japanese alternative to the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang.
In its newest guise, the sports coupe takes on the 370Z moniker, signifying the fact that its engine grew from the 3.5-liter V6 seen in the 350Z into a 3.7-liter V6 that produces 332 horsepower. (The 350Z had 306 horses.) The rest of the car got an upgrade over the 350Z as well, resulting in increased torsional rigidity, a smaller overall size, and the addition of lightweight materials. Unfortunately, the new engine and clever engineering didn’t get an exterior that properly advertised the improved performance. Even though the 370Z was considered a new model, minor styling upgrades made it look like it was only a refresh of the older car, which went on sale in 2003. The slightly facelifted 370Z hit the market only six years later.
A resemblance that’s too close for comfort means that the 370Z now bears a grin that looks like it’s 13 years old, or in car years, an eon. Even the interior reeks of musky age with cloth seats, cheap plastic, and styling that appears similar to the Nissan Versa with some seasoning on it. Consumers aren’t idiots, and that’s why sales numbers of the 370Z have been plummeting from once lofty levels. For enthusiasts, the 370Z is just the newest edition of the Datsun that spawned in 1970 and started a cult following. If Nissan wants to continue the lineage, it needs to refresh the 370Z now. To start out, it needs to consider the competition today. At the lower end of the spectrum are cars like the Subaru BRZ and Mazda MX-5 Miata.
In terms of power and price, the two baby sports cars don’t even compete with the higher up 370Z, which nonetheless sits below the Lexus RC-F, and pseudo supercars like the Nissan GT-R and Acura NSX. As far as Japanese sports cars go, there is no in between. The new Toyota Supra will someday sit in this unexploited performance gap, but for the time being Nissan should take full advantage of it before Toyota breaks the market. To do that, it needs to start first with the design. One advantage that the 370Z has is that it is based off of a historical favorite. By pulling a move out of the Mustang and Camaro playbook, Nissan should style the 370Z successor using inspiration from the Datsun 240Z.
Under the hood, Nissan will probably have to downsize to a turbocharged four-cylinder, but if the EcoBoost Mustang has shown us anything it’s that you can still squeeze sports car numbers out of a tiny engine. Like the reformed Mustang, the 370Z successor also needs to begin to take its interior seriously. A visit from an Infiniti interior decorator should do the trick. Ultimately, Nissan has realized that it has fallen drastically behind the curve with many of its models. While rumors of a 370Z successor have been floating around for a few years, it is time that Nissan puts its best foot forward by bringing a new and better looking 370Z to market with enough pizzazz to feel like it isn’t a second place option with a bloated price tag.