2018 Nissan 370Z Roadster Test Drive Review: Leave Technology Behind, Just Drive

Test Drive

The 370Z is starting to feel its age, but it still has some tricks up its sleeve.

When I told my friends and family I’d be testing a 370Z convertible, the response was unanimous: “Nissan still sells those?” The 370Z has been on the market since 2008, and the general public has forgotten all about it. Even seasoned car enthusiasts I spoke with were flabbergasted to see Nissan hasn’t replaced this car with something new. My expectations for the 370Z were low, but spending a week with the car reminded me Nissan’s sports car still has a few tricks up its sleeve.

Since its introduction, the 370Z has occupied a unique place in the market. The most basic 370Z Coupe starts just under $30,000, but my fully loaded Roadster Touring Sport tester rang in at $51,210. With such a healthy price spread between 370Z trims, Nissan has invited competition ranging from the Toyota 86 and Mazda MX-5 on the low end, to the Porsche 718 and Chevrolet Corvette on the high end. Though the car hasn’t received a significant power boost since its introduction—aside from the Nismo, of course—the 370Z can easily best the lower tier sports cars in terms of raw speed. Unfortunately, pricier trims start to approach the base model Corvette and 718, starting at around $55,000.

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While other sports cars have downsized with turbocharged engines, Nissan has kept the 370Z recipe pure with an old fashioned, naturally aspirated V6. The VQ37VHR V6, used in a variety of Infiniti products over the years, produces 332 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque in the Z car. This iteration VQ engine has mostly been replaced with the new turbocharged VR-series engine in other vehicles within the company. Rumors have been circulating about an upcoming 400Z, which could use Infiniti’s 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, which currently produces 400 hp in the Q50 and Q60, but this rumored model is still several years out. For now, this current 370Z is Nissan's only sports car below the GT-R.

The 370Z is currently in its 10th model year, which is typically when an automaker has to be realistic about a replacement. The NC-generation Miata sat on the market from 2006 to 2015 with minimal changes, much like the 370Z. Nissan has made small changes to the recipe—some smoked headlights and taillights here, some LED running lights there—but the car still doesn’t feel modern. Behind the wheel, there are plenty of hints to show this car hit the market a decade ago. For starters, the 370Z shares very little with other Nissan products. The Sentra Nismo uses the same steering wheel, but nearly everything else in the 370’s cabin has been phased out from other, more modern Nissan models.

My test car was the Touring Sport trim, which starts at $49,400. This includes pretty much every arrow in the 370’s quiver of features. Though, unlike how Hawkeye never seems to run out of arrows in The Avengers, the 370's level of equipment is minimal. The center dash hosts a 7.0-inch touchscreen VGA infotainment system, which can also be controlled via directional buttons below the screen. This system was once used in the old Infiniti G37, but it has been many years since I’ve seen this system in any other Nissan or Infiniti. Here it remains, a remnant of the past.

The system handles all of the basic functions: navigation, Bluetooth, radio controls, and basic weather and traffic data. There is no app support because apps in cars barely existed back in 2009, and the system looks extremely dated next to more modern infotainment systems. Nissan has included a modern USB port, but the car still has an archaic AV cable in the center console. It's worth mentioning this system has extremely effective voice command recognition, though it forces the user to part out destination commands into city, state, house number, and street. We’d really like to see Nissan pull the same trick Maserati used with the GranTurismo, and retrofit a newer infotainment system into the 370Z.

Along with the functional yet lackluster infotainment system, the Touring Sport trim receives other niceties such as an eight-way power driver seat with heating and ventilation, four-way power passenger seat, single-zone automatic climate control, a rearview camera, and a limited-slip differential. One of my favorite quirks in the 370Z's interior is the partial leather seats with cloth centers. This is one of the only cars I can recall with ventilation on cloth seats, a combination I'd like to see more often. Unfortunately, the seat ventilation in the 370Z is extremely loud on the highest setting, but it becomes less of an issue with the roof down or radio on.

All things considered, the 370Z is clearly not a technology showcase. This car offers nothing in terms of safety aids, such as blind spot monitoring or adaptive cruise control. Not standard. Not optional. Not possible. The 370Z is meant to be one of the last pure driving experiences on the market, so I’d suggest throwing out the option sheet and ordering the base car. This will replace the aging navigation system with a handy storage area where you can stick your smartphone with its far superior navigation from Apple or Google. It will also free your mind to enjoy the best part of the 370Z: the way it drives.

Few modern sports cars in 2018 deliver such a visceral experience at this price range. The Toyota 86 and Mazda MX-5 do a good job of proving how good electrically assisted steering can be, but the hydraulic rack in the 370Z is hard to beat. The steering feels heavy at lower speeds, but it lightens up at higher speeds while still delivering amazing feedback to the driver. Automakers often mistake good steering for heavy steering, but Nissan hasn’t fallen into this trap. The wheel twitches based on the road surface and communicates every undulation in the road to the driver's fingers. This is what “old school” sports cars are supposed to feel like.

The suspension is on the firm end of the spectrum, but Nissan has made numerous small improvements to enhance the ride on this 2018 model. I drove a 370Z coupe a few years ago and found the tire roar and over stiffness to be unbearable for long distances. One of the small changes for 2018 includes new 19-inch RAYS lightweight wheels, with 245/40R19 front and 275/35R19 fear Bridgestone Potenza S007 tires. The wheel is designed to reduce vibration and improve wheel balance, and the results are noticeable. Road noise is tolerable and the ride is compliant enough to function as an every-day car.

Unlike its predecessor, the 350Z, the 370Z was designed from the onset to be both a coupe and convertible, so the chassis is extremely stiff even with the roof down. Some chassis flex can be noticed over rough sections of tarmac, but body roll through corners is minimal on smooth surfaces. I still prefer the look of the 370Z coupe and its added practicality. The 370Z Roadster’s trunk offers 4.2 cubic feet of space, while the hatch in the coupe allows for a more commodious 6.9 cubic feet. Nissan claims owners will be able to fit their golf clubs in the trunk of the Roadster, though it requires a special procedure to finagle them in with a special diagram hung on the trunk lid.

Overall, the simple soft top does a good job of insulating the cabin when it is up, but emits loud clunks and whirring noises on its way up and down. I timed the top at around 19 seconds from open to close, which feels like an eternity given the operation can only be performed when the car is stationary. The Passion Red test car came equipped with the optional seven-speed automatic transmission, which adds $1,300 to the price of the car. While the enthusiast in me will always favor the manual, the automatic in the 370Z is not a soul-crippling option. The shift paddles are mounted on the column, like in many supercars.

I enjoyed the design and feel of the paddles, which look like aggressive Ninja Turtle weapons. The transmission still trails in comparison to a dual-clutch or a more modern eight-speed unit, but it gets the job done. There is no sport mode, just a fully manual position to take advantage of the Z’s power. Without letting the car get high in the rev range, it is easy to mistake the 370Z as a slow car. Unlike modern turbocharged engines, the V6 in the Z doesn’t deliver peak power until 7,000 rpm and peak torque doesn't come on until 5,200 rpm. Flat out, the 370Z Roadster can hit 60 mph in about 5.5 seconds, which is admirable if not a bit sluggish for a $50,000 car in 2018. The 718 Boxster does the deed about a second quicker.

In normal driving, the 370Z can feel much slower than it actually is. This is due in part to the automatic transmission always being in the highest gear for fuel economy, but even the manual car would require a few downshifts before the power became available. Get the 370Z above 3,000 rpm and the engine starts to come to life. Characteristically, this high-revving V6 behaves a bit like the E46 M3. The VQ V6 engine delivers a throaty hum, but it doesn’t give off the same aural stimulation as cars like the Corvette or Jaguar F-Type. Revving out the 370Z was a somewhat rewarding experience, but Nissan’s VQ engine has never really delivered in terms of sound.

Once the engine finally hits its sweet spot, the automatic transmission does an adequate job of delivering upshifts and rev-matching downshifts. The six-speed manual also offers available rev matching, though I found the clutch to be cumbersome and the rev matching to be difficult to get used to on the quick. Manual 370Z models can achieve 17/24/20 mpg city/highway/combined, while the automatic bests these figures by 1 mpg in each category. I averaged around 20.9 mpg in my week of testing with mixed driving. If I had to choose one of the transmissions, it would still be the manual, but my preference for the 370Z's manual is tempered by its clunky feel and the competence of the automatic.

The hardest part about recommending the 370Z to someone is its age. Buyers in 2018 expect their sports car to also be their tech-filled daily driver, and the 370Z can’t deliver on that experience. The ideal 370Z buyer is someone who thinks modern cars have too many screens and distractions, for whom a back-to-basics experience is the perfect option. At just over $51,000 like my test car, I'd recommend saving up an extra $4,000 to buy a base Porsche 718 or Chevy Corvette. Since this car has been around since the 2009 model year, there are tons of used ones available. In the week I tested this car, I spoke to the owners of a 2009 and a 2011 model 370Z, who paid $13,000 and $21,000 respectively.

Even though I enjoyed the minor improvements Nissan has made for the 2018 model year, I couldn’t justify spending so much on an a dated car. My recommendation? The 370Z is still a fantastic purist’s sports car; just buy a used one.

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