First Look: 2011 Nissan 370Z Coupe

When it first rolled into U.S. dealerships back in 1969, the Datsun 240Z became an instant success. It was simple, fun to drive, mostly reliable, and a Jaguar E-Type Coupe for just over half the cost of a Jaguar E-Type Coupe. In fact, it was more reliable than the Jag. The Z car was discontinued in 1996 only to be resurrected in 2003 as the 350Z. While the new car wasn't quite a Porsche Boxster, it still upheld the traits that made the original one so great.

For 2009, Nissan again did a complete redesign and renamed it the 370Z. Picking up where the 350Z left off, the new car boasts a wonderful 3.7-liter V6 with 332 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque that's mated to a six-speed manual transmission. And in an era where it seems as if the simple sports car formula is often being threatened by increasing fuel regulations, Nissan has made sure their current Z is the embodiment of simplicity, handling, and power. It has taken everything I really liked from the 350Z, such as the styling and overall driving experience to the next level.

Nissan claims their performance benchmark was the Porsche Cayman. By looking at some of the 370Z's numbers, it's immediately clear that Nissan has built a car that's competitive with the Boxsters and Caymans coming out of Stuttgart for nearly half the price. It goes from 0 to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds (4.9 with the optional Sports Package) when mated to the six-speed manual (a seven-speed automatic is optional), which now has an optional SynchroRev Match system that matches the revs for you, allowing the driver to downshift without worrying about the throttle.

And thanks to an abundant use of aluminum in the doors, hood, rear hatch, and various other components, Nissan has managed to keep the car's weight in line, coming in at around 3,250 pounds. In addition to cutting weight, great lengths were also taken to improve ride quality over the 350Z with various structural enhancements. And if you compare the two models side by side, the new car is actually smaller than the previous. Nissan engineers cut 3.9 inches from the wheelbase and 2.2 inches in overall length, but have made the rear wider by 2.2 inches, resulting in better road handling.

Much has also been said of the new exterior design. Again, Nissan's newfound relationship with Weight Watchers came into play, but since it was equally important to drastically improve performance, the smaller dimensions were thus required. As a result, the rear end seems to cut-off a bit too early, resulting in a somewhat stubbly look, as if something is missing. The front end is now adorned with those now notorious "fangs" and Zorro-like headlights, but from all angles, there's no doubt the 370Z is a driver's performance machine.

It's equipped with 19-inch lightweight forged aluminum wheels supplied by RAYS engineering that are pushed to each of the four corners. And where the 350Z's interior may have been lacking in some material quality, Nissan has gone significantly up market with 370Z and could now easily wear an Infiniti badge. Everything from the plastics, seats, and control placement is simply fantastic. The only chief complaint is the lack of rear visibility due to the large C-pillars. Adding features such as the Navigation and Sports Packages can quickly add up, but the base price is still $31,200.

The Porsche Cayman starts at nearly $52k, with the S model starting at $60k. A fully-loaded 370Z Touring is $41,945. So has Nissan built a Cayman/Boxster beater? Not quite, but the 370Z combines great handling and performance, decent fuel economy (18/26 city/highway) and Infiniti build quality into one package that's nearly $20k less than a comparatively equipped Cayman S. And that's a bargain which hasn't changed since 1969.

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Nissan 370Z Coupe
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