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Oct 182009
 

370z_leadin001 
Introduction

Although the very last letter of the alphabet, the letter “Z” is certainly not the last when it comes to automotive performance. The Z car has long held the imagination and fancy of car enthusiasts for countless years. Launched in 1969 as the Datsun 240Z (S30 chassis), it introduced Americans to the notion of the affordable sports car and never looked back.

After the demise of the 300ZX with the venerable VG30DETT turbocharged engine, the Z went away for a while. But things were set in motion to bring the it back thanks to, of all people, a Brazilian-born French-Lebanese CEO of French car company Renault. Yes, Renault (in case you’ve been living under a rock for a while, the French car maker has a cross share-holding alliance with Nissan). The fifth generation Z, dubbed the 350Z, was launched in 2002 to wide acclaim. Just one look at cars on the road will immediately reveal the public’s uptake of the Z.

With the 2009 370Z (the nonclementure referring to the displacement of the 3.7L V6), Nissan aims to up the ante established by the 350Z. Although there are few changes visible at first glance, there’s much to see and explore once in the driver’s seat. Our 370Z with Sport Package is really the enthusiast’s models with no bells and whistles but that suited us just fine. We wanted the unadulterated Z experience and we got it in spades with our “Monterey Blue” tester.

First Impressions

370z_leadin01

The basic body lines of the previous Z carry over to the new version – the sloping roofline, high beltline and basic form – but every dimension under the sheetmetal skin has been revised. Wheelbase, width and track have all been improved for the better. There is also a reduction in overall height by 0.7 inches. Even interior cargo room has been improved, due to the elimination of that hideous integrated rear strut bar seen in the previous model.

The front fasica takes a little bit of getting used to as it immediately reminded us of a catfish. But surely enough, you quickly get used to the unique look of the front end and revel in what Nissan engineers have done for the interior.

  • Whereas the previous generation 350Z’s stock seats left very little head room for 6′ and taller occupants, the 370Z seemed more accomodating to those north of 72-inches

nissan_370z_interior01

  • The interior design and materials really belie the affordability of the 370Z, with fit and finish that is really top notch (Touring model w/ navigation shown above)
  • Whereas the 350Z’s interior felt more plastic, the 370Z steps it up a notch with a softer and more luxurious vibe throughout the cabin – but don’t get us wrong – modernity definitely does not mean the 370Z has gone soft

370z_gauges

  • The upper center column gauges have been redesigned for an integrated look, whereas the 350Z left you feeling as if they were an afterthought
  • The instrument cluster features a large tachometer placed prominently in the middle as all sports cars should have

370Z_Fuel_Gauge

  •  If there’s one complaint we can make about the 370’s interior is the new fuel and water temp gauge – rather than simple and functiona needle indicators, they have been replaced by a row of dots that light up to indicate respective parameters; they’re hard to see in bright sunlight and the only thing detracting from a great instrument cluster

Driving Impressions

As with pretty much all Nissans these days, starting the 370Z requires just a simple push of the start button. Doing so brings the VQ37DE to life – thankfully, Nissan has decided to tone down the rather annoying exhaust note from the previous generation Z. The sound the muscular V6 produces is nothing unlike the infamous RB26DETT in the previous generation Nissan GT-Rs, reminding you of the Nissan’s sporting heritage. It’s a good indication of things to come, especially considering the 332bhp and 270ft-lbs of torque on tap for your right foot.

370z_engine2

Acceleration from a dead stop is impressive. It pulls solidly through every gear, in a relentless pursuit of the 7500RPM rev limit. And having that aforementioned tachometer smack dab in front of you, with a built-in shift light, makes things easier. It’s quite a feat that such a large engine just loves to rev all day long, but it does suffer from some excessive vibration and noise at higher RPMs. This is a characteristic carried over from the 350Z / VQ35DE. We wish that Nissan would do a better job of isolating these two minor details – if they can manage to do so, the VQ would truly become the benchmark in production sports car engines.

What will quickly become a benchmark is the new SynchroRev-equipped 6-speed transmission. The 370Z’s transmission feels much more refined than its predecessor’s. Throw in the new rev-matching technology that basically eliminates any need for heel-tose downshifting, even the most amateur of performance drivers can shift like a professional. The SynchroRev system just does not let ANY downshift perform or sound incorrectly. Even while humming around in a parking lot, the 2nd to 1st downshift was match perfectly, quickly putting the revs right where it needs to be. We fancy ourselves as pretty good drivers, but this system is 100% accurate whereas we would be 70% accurate on a very good day. The 370Z owner is going to be very well served by this awesome technology, even more so if he intends to track his Z on occasion.

The chassis and suspension carry on this fine-tuned level of performance by offering just the right about of stiffness without being too harsh. Blasting down rough city streets without worries of bouncing around and hitting our head on the headliner is a sure sign that Nissan got it right. Point it toward the apex of a corner and the Z telepathically guides you to it, aided by the standard limited slip differential and massive, gummy Bridgestone tires. Although there is some tendency toward throttle-induced oversteer, as most rear wheel drive sports cars tend to have, it’s very controllable and certainly easy to either power through it or pull back the reins. Quite simply, it’s an amazingly fun car to drive.

Braking for the 2009-and-up models are courtesy of the typical sliding caliper set-up or the multi-piston set up found on our base 370Z with the Sport package. From what we could tell, Nissan has potentially lowered costs by moving away from the Brembo-based braking package to an unbranded package made by Akebono, but this certainly has not hurt braking performance.

Conclusion

The Nissan 370Z delivered miles and miles of smiles and thrills for us. It’s such a great package out of the box that we feel it’s the closest thing anyone can come to the GT-R without paying GT-R prices. Sure, it may be impractical for some people considering it holds only 2 people, but the 370Z isn’t a car for someone who’s looking for practicality. It’s truly a car for those looking for performance, fun and an outlandishly high satisfaction of ownership. At a tad over $32,000 for our Z with the Sport package, it’s a steal and offers everything a car lover wants. And there’s such a huge level of aftermarket suppot, upping the ante in performance is easily within reach.

Buy a Nissan Cube for your commute. Own a 370Z for everything else.

Now… how can we get one from Nissan for a long term test…?

Sourcebox

Nissan North America
P.O. Box 685003
Franklin TN 37068-5003
(800) NISSAN-1

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Apr 152009
 

While we are evaluating the 2009 Nissan 370Z with Sport Package…

The 350Z was hugely popular with the aftermarket crowd and we foresee the same level of popularity and aftermarket support for the 370Z. It is a new platform so it will take a bit of time for manufacturers to develop parts for the car. We will update this list as often as necessary to provide you with as comprehensive a list as possible.

Some of the parts listed below have been introduced / launched in Japan, but not in the States. Please verify compatibility and availability with each brand’s respective distributor in the US.

**Brake pads listed below are designated for the optional sport brake package (4-piston front / 2-piston rear) ONLY**

Brake Pads (OE Replacement; F/R) – Street

Brake Pads (OE Replacement; F/R) – Street & Track

Brake Pads (OE Replacement; F/R) – Track

Brake Kits

Engine – Exhaust

Engine – Intake

Suspension / Chassis

Sourcebox

Endless / Zeal USA
18421 Gothard St. Suite #200.
Huntington Beach, CA. 92648
(714) 847-0694

HKS USA
13401 S. Main Street

Los Angeles, CA 90061
(310) 491-3300

Mackin Industries (Project µ)
9921 Jordan Circle
Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670
(562) 946-6820

Tein USA (Tein / Fujitsubo)
9798 Firestone Blvd.
Downey, CA 90241
(562) 861-9161

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Apr 092009
 

audi_tts_side_profile

Introduction

“The Strip.” Slot machines. Blackjack tables. Buffets. Bright lights. What happens there supposedly stays there. Yes, I’m talking about Las Vegas. And it’s where we discovered the true magic of the new 2009 Audi TT-S Roadster.

Designated as the top-of-the-line model in the TT offering (until the TT-RS is released to the public, at least), the Ingolstadt make has pumped up the base TT’s 2.0L turbocharged to produce 265hp and 258lb-ft of torque. And as we were about to discover once behind the wheel, the TT-S offers fresh competition against the likes of the BMW Z4, Mercedes SLK and Porsche Boxster.

First Impressions

audi_tts_frontquarter

Even at first glance, the TT-S is a looker. The addition of a revised front fascia, with a deep chin spoiler and splitter, gives the roadster a much more aggressive, masculine feel over its non “S” brethren. The optional 19-inch five-parallel-spoke star design wheels on our tester elevated the ante even further – if you are considering purchasing the TT-S, definitely opt for the 19-inch wheel option. Even in a city as jaded as Las Vegas, the TT-S garnered more than its share of looks, from fellow drivers and pedestrians alike.

Step into the TT-S’s cabin and a sheer truth becomes very apparent – there are few manufacturers that can construct a vehicle interior as well as Audi. Whether it be materials, construction quality or sheer design, Audi does it better than just about anyone out there.

  • The seats are firmly bolstered, without being constrictive or cumbersome, with plenty adjustment and room to comfortably fit 6’+ drivers; the same cannot be said for Japanese cars or even other German roadsters
  • The flat-bottom steering wheel is solid and comfortable to hold, with a simplified set of buttons and controls for the radio and Bluetooth mobile phone interface
  • Speaking of Bluetooth, it automatically downloads the mobile phone’s phonebook so that you can search and dial directly from the dashboard-based interface
  • The dashboard is comprehensive, offering every bit of pertinent information to the driver
  • Climate control is easy to use, without referring to the manual, and dials look and feel upscale
  • The navigation system, unfortunately, is a little more difficult to use; there is no touch-screen functionality and you must manually rotate the control knob and select destination information letter-by-letter
  • Overalll, the Bose sound system is excellent, offering solid bass and clean mids and highs
  • The trunk features a surprising amount of space, big enough to hold two fully packed carry-on bags and two briefcases
  • The soft-top requiring about 17 seconds for operation, opening and closing with ease; whether the top is up or down, the cabin is surprisingly quiet and does not require yelling at the top of your lungs in order to have a conversation

Driving Impressions 

audi_tts_engine

Turn the key and the engine starts with a solid feel that you’d expect from a premium German car. But unlike the previous top model in the TT line up – the TT 3.2 with a naturally aspirated V6 – the TT-S takes the 2.0L turbo from the base TT and fuses it with a bigger turbo, intercooler, more boost and fortified internals to handle that extra boost. A full bar (14.7 psi) of boost, as a matter of fact. That extra boost is more than noticeable once on the throttle. Acceleration from a standing start is smooth, getting the roadster up to freeways speeds and beyond without much fuss.

We tried out the launch control system standard on the TT-S to see if we could achieve a more thrilling experience under WOT, but came away completed unfazed. Following the directions in the owner’s manual, we anticipated instant forward motion. What we got was an initial bog, followed by the usual acceleration levels we were experiencing. We tried again. And again. The results were the same. There wasn’t any smell of burning rubber. Rather, the smell of a burning clutch was all we were left with.

audi_tts_interior

Aside from the case of the missing launch control system (at least for us), the DSG gearbox works wonderfully well and we did not miss not having a third pedal to deal with – left foot braking is so much fun! Whether left in automatic D mode or switched over to manual shifting mode, DSG simply works. Shifts were crisp, instantaneous and even under heavy flicks of the left paddle under deceleration, the system never downshifted in a violent manner as exhibited in other vehicles (3rd to 2nd and 2nd to 1st gear shifts in the Lexus IS-F are absolutely terrifying). One thing left us scratching our collective heads, however…

As wonderful as the DSG system is, we’re perplexed by the shifter. Once pulled into the manual shifting slot to the left, the shifter presents the driver with a secondary shifting option. And shifting in this manner produces the same, quick gear shifts as found via the steering wheel paddles. Upshifts are literally “up,” as you push the shifter forward / away from you, where as downshifts are literally “down,” as you pull the shifter down towards you. For all intended purposes, however, this action for up and downshifts is counterintuitive. Perhaps it’s a literal translation for the novice driver who has never encountered or completely unfamiliar with a true sequential gearbox. Perhaps Audi is “dumbing down” the TT-S for the lowest common denominator. Whatever the reason may be, even simple physics suggest that upshifts should match the momentum of the body during acceleration (pull the shifter towards you) and during deceleration (push the shifter forward, away from you). Granted, other car makers make the same mistake, but Audi, the company that produces the multi-24 Hours of Le Mans winning P1 RACECARS, shouldn’t follow suit.

Rounding out the outstanding performance of the TT-S is the Audi magnetic ride system. In line with what is quickly becoming the norm in higher price point vehicles, Audi’s system permits the driver to select a “normal” or “sport” mode, which changes damping characteristics on the fly. For the most part, we discovered that “sport” mode is more than capable of handling the roughest of roads with ease. Only when dealing with Interstate 15’s rough patches on the way to Vegas did we switch over to “normal” mode. We did wish, however, that this magnetic ride system would offer another level of damping adjustment on the stiffer end of things. Considering that the “S” is positioned as a more spirited and performance-oriented TT, a third damping level would be very much in line with this logic. The current BMW M3’s electronically controlled suspension system would be a good benchmark to emulate.

Finally, Audi’s ubiquitous Quattro all wheel drive system ensures optimum power delivery and dependable footwork. The return trip from Vegas to Los Angeles presented us with thundershowers and high headwinds, both of which may unsettle many vehicles. The assurance of Quattro inspired confident driving in wet conditions and the TT-S never lost its poise no matter the prevailing weather conditions.

The Competition

Against its German roadster brethren, the TT-S offers the advantage of all wheel drive. Although you would suspect the added weight of the AWD system may hamper its efficiency, the Audi offers the highest mileage rating out of the foursome. The real question will come down to whether you favor the stability of an all wheel drive system or the joys of a rear wheel drive system that will let you hang out the rear with throttle oversteer.

If you have any desire to take one of these roadsters to the track, the Porsche Boxster and the BMW Z4 seem much more appropriate for track use. The TT-S tips the scale at up to 400lbs+ over the Boxster and Z4, and this is sure to pay penalties in terms of braking performance, brake fade and transitional stability. But is the TT-S really a roadster you would take to the track?

Much like the Mercedes SLK, the TT-S seems much more appropriate for gran turismo – long-distance, high speed trip done in both comfort and style. This is where the Audi’s greatest strength exists and sets itself apart from the Porsche and the BMW. As for the SLK350, surely the Mercedes brand means something, but we have to question whether it’s worth the $7,000+ premium. And with the new visual accoutrements added to the TT-S, the Audi is a much more masculine, aggressive form in which to drive all those miles.

Buy the SLK350 for your girlfriend / wife. Save the TT-S for yourself.

Conclusions

Simply put, we like the 2009 Audi TT-S. No, we actually love the 2009 Audi TT-S. Small complaints aside, this roadster does everything well. And in style. It makes the base 2.0L turbo and 3.2L TTs rather obsolete. All things considered, we can’t fathom why anyone would choose to buy anything but the TT-S.

Although it’s certainly capable, we don’t believe pitting the TT-S against the likes of a Boxster or Cayman on the track is a fair contest. We’ll wait for the TT-RS for that purpose. But the TT-S fulfills its duty as a GT incredibly well. And although the $56K price tag may scare away some potential buyers, it’s actually quite reasonable in the bigger scheme of things when compared to other German-made roadsters. Frankly, we wouldn’t mind having one as a daily driver regardless of it higher price tag.

Progress is indeed beautiful.

Notes

  • We achieved a fuel economy of 22 mpg in 70% highway / 30% city driving; although this is far below the claimed highway mpg of 29, there were considerable headwinds during the Vegas roadtrip and we tended to mash the throttle quite a bit
  • Although our test TT-S did have a 6 CD changer, we quite don’t see the point of those anymore; perhaps they have some appeal to the geriatric set
  • We would have liked to see the addition of a boost gauge

Sourcebox

Audi of America, Inc.
2200 Ferdinand Porsche Drive
Herndon, VA 20171
1-800-FOR-AUDI (367-2834)

Thanks goes out to Christian Bokich @ Audi of America and the gang @ STi Fleet Services!

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