What stunned car fanciers and commentators alike back in 1969 was that a Japanese company had developed a fair dinkum sports coupe that actually performed as well as it looked. For the next 26 years, the 240Z and its successors developed an iconic status unmatched by just about any subsequent car produced by the land of the rising sun - that is with the obvious exception of another Nissan product, the GT-R "Godzilla" - another car that has just been resurrected.
The original Z-car had a single overhead camshaft six-cylinder engine that developed - what is by today's standards - a rather puny 112kW of power - less than half that delivered by the new 370Z. It also had a four-speed manual gearbox - two fewer than the new Z - and a seven-speed automatic that is today optional for the 370Z was something in the realms of science fiction. Fuel for the 240Z was delivered via two SU-like carbies and the car could sprint to 100 km/h in a tad over eight seconds - way more sluggish than the new 370's 5.3 seconds!
The Z range evolved from the 240Z through other models including the 260Z, the 280Z and the 300ZX - it wasn't really like a classic Z car - before the model was shelved in 1996. There is no doubt that the later Z models lost their way and the temporary demise of the car allowed a new breed of Nissan designers to go back to the drawing board and revisit the original 240Z's raison d'etre. What had happened before Nissan dropped the Z car was that several versions had became fat and flabby and they morphed into boulevarde cruisers that all but totally forgot their sports car heritage.
In 1999, following the consummation of the Renault/ Nissan alliance, the decision was taken to resurrect the Z car. The plan was to develop a new V6 powered model and it would be dubbed the 350Z. Immediately after its launch the new 350Z rekindled in the minds of sports car enthusiasts the original 240Z's cult status and the Z car legend was reborn. The launch of the coupe version was followed in late 2003 by a roadster version and the soft top version continues with the 370Z. Despite the few years when Z cars were hibernating, more than 1.6 million units, the various guises have been sold around the world. Of these Australian dealers found homes for more than 5000 350Zs. While the 350Z was sold in 100 countries, the new 370Z will be marketed by dealers in 137 countries so the two million global sales figure should not be hard to achieve. Australia followed the US and Japan as one of the first countries to receive the 370Z.
Pricing for the coupe version kicks off at $67,900 (excluding dealer delivery and statutory charges) and rises to $70,990 for the slick-shifting seven-speed automatic version with its fun to use steering wheel mounted paddles. A roadster is in the pipeline for 2010. At first glance it's difficult to pick a 370Z from its 350Z predecessor, but closer inspection confirms they are actually quite different. It's a clever styling tweak that Nissan describes as "super evolution."
One of the reasons the new Z is such an outstanding sports car is that during its development, Nissan engineers benchmarked it against the Porsche Cayman - and it's a strategy that worked. With a bumper to bumper length of 4250mm the new model is 65mm shorter than its predecessor, the roof at 1350mm is 8mm lower and at 1845mm it is 30mm wider. Where the new 370Z is really different is its wheelbase that at 2550mm is a whole 100mm shorter than its predecessor. It also has a 15mm wider front track and it is 50mm wider at the rear. The new 370Z is powered by a 3.7-litre V6 that delivers peak power of 245kW at 7000rpm and maximum torque of 363Nm that arrives at 5200rpm. This compares with the 350Z's 230kW at 6800rpm and 358Nm at 4800rpm.
The engine is one of the new sports car's standout features and it's no wonder it has won a world's best engine gong each year for some years now. It delivers its torque in a seamless, muscular fashion while delivering an aggressive throaty burble that rises to a snarl as the revs rise. While for the 350Z, there were two versions - the Touring and the Track - with the new model there is only one version, and it comes standard with every imaginable goodie.
Ever since the 350Z's arrival, many people saw the Mazda RX8 as the car's logical competitor, but in reality they are quite different cars. For a start, compared with the 370Z's two doors and two seats, the Mazda has four doors and the same number of seats. For this - and other reasons - Nissan makes no bones about saying the 370Z has what it takes to make Porsche Cayman buyers think twice - not the least being a price tag of $67,990 for the six-speed manual version that compares with the entry level Cayman manual's $122,200.
Nissan describes the 370Z's driving dynamics are more closely aligned with the Cayman, the BMW Z4 and the Audi TT and while the Z's automatic is not a dual clutch unit such as those found in some Porsche, Audi and Volkswagen models, its shift times are right up there with these new super slick transmissions.
One feature that makes both the six-speed manual and the seven speed automatic delightful to use is that they come equipped with what Nissan calls its SynchroRev match system that automatically blips the throttle on downshifts. Serious boy racers who want to tickle their aural senses can switch the system off and do their own blipping. The new Z rides on a new double wishbone front suspension set-up and the rear is an improved version of the out- going model's multi-link arrangement. Both use weight saving forged aluminium components.
Also like the 350Z, the new model has a power assisted rack and pinion steering system that has been modified and improved and the new Z's 225/50R 18 Yokohama Advan Sport tyres at the front and the beefier 245/45 R18s on the rear deliver prodigious levels of grip. While the new Z's ride is firm - as it should be for a performance car - it is not harsh and even on the bumpy bits the car remains remarkably poised. The business of stopping is handled by ventilated rotors on all four wheels - 355mm x 32mm at the front that are grabbed by four-piston calipers and 350mm x 20mm units at the rear that run twin-piston calipers.
With a more sloping roofline than the 350Z, the new car's profile is more slinky and it has allowed designers and engineers to drop the seats by 10mm - a move that combined with the great shaped seats really makes you feel as one with the car - especially when the going becomes enthusiastic.
From the rear there are boldly flared Porsche like guards and the Z sings its progress to the world via big twin exhaust pipes. There are also new look headlights and tail lights. Inside there is a classy interior treatment and a menu of standard goodies that outshine virtually anything from the premium European brands. In fact the standard kit inventory is right up there with those found in cars from the king of standard goodies, Lexus. This means that 370Z buyers can enjoy DVD satellite navigation, xenon headlights, electrically adjustable and heated seats, cruise control, climate control air conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, striking 18-inch alloy wheels, a premium Bose audio system, stability control and six airbags. The new 370 has a much classier interior than its predecessor and the outgoing car's hard plastics have been replaced by much higher quality materials. Soft touch plastics are used on the dashboard and the centre console and there is classy looking stitching for the door trims and dash. One particularly nice touch is the knee pads that are mounted on the side of the centre console, and there is suede-like trim on the doors.
One real downside is that the new Z doesn't have reach adjustment for the steering wheel and in fact when you adjust the wheel's height, the whole instrument binnacle goes with it. Sports car buyers take the locking in of the perfect driving position extremely seriously and I for one - at 185cm in height - could not quite get comfortable in the new Z. While the fact that there's only one centre console cup holder is also on the stingy side, there are however two sort of cup holders low down in the door pockets, but they are not suitable for a hot cuppa.
In summary, Nissan designers and engineers have done a top job with the 370Z. Cleverly they have managed to come up with an all-new car that is true to its Z-car heritage but as modern and exciting as tomorrow. What they have developed is a classy, beautifully built and equipped high performance car and they've achieved it at a price that deserves to frighten the life out of the Europeans.