Back in the day, Nismo meant something. TRD meant something. And, until recently, Gazoo Racing meant something. They all held the deepest level of respect among car enthusiasts as these sub-brands of OEMs went racing. And they won. And these brands were attached to some of the most iconic Japanese supercars of yesteryears – namely, the Nissan GT-R, the Toyota Supra and, most recently, the Toyota TS050 LMP1 Le Mans and WEC champion. So, I ask, why take such respected names and just, well, screw it all up?
Nissan isn’t doing much better either. They’ve managed to slap the Nismo branding onto the 370Z and the Sentra. Neither of the Nismo versions offer any performance advantages over their non-Nismo brethren. It’s all exterior bullshit. Might as well add a bunch of stickers to the non-Nismo versions (don’t forget the “NOS” sticker!) and save some money. The stickers will add as much horsepower as the Nismo versions!
Toyota and Nissan: instead of making these cars “sticker-fast,” why not start making some cars that are actually fast? Yes, the R35 GT-R is a fast car, but it’s a bit long in the tooth (probably an understatement) and the latest additions have made the car about as attractive as Pete Burns, lead singer of an old band who’s had one too much plastic surgeries.
The 2014 edition of the Los Angeles Auto Show came upon us yet again and, for the first time in quite a while, we decided to take a look at what the OE world had to offer. We came away a bit underwhelmed. There was nothing revolutionary. Merely evolutionary at best. Nothing blew us away, really. All signs point to yet another year of dull vehicles. Regardless, we thought these following vehicles have some ability to quicken the pulse. Even if just a little bit.
(Incidentally, all photos were taken with a Samsung Galaxy Note 4. Image quality is pretty awesome, especially considering it’s just a smartphone)
The front end of the revised Mustang looks awfully familiar. Gotta say it shares design DNA with the Fusion. And several Aston Martins. And the Nissan GT-R. And the Dodge SRT Hellcat. And the Mazda 6.
The Nissan 370Z really needs no introduction. Selected as our pick for our overall best car of 2009, the new Z represents a phenomenal package that any motoring enthusiast can appreciate. But wait. Could Nissan really take things to yet another level with variants of this FM platform? Would the successful formula that is the Z34 be diluted in any way by offering something for the left and right ends of the spectrum?
Nismo 370Z – The “Left End”
Simply put, the Nismo 370Z is the “normal” 370Z’s evil brother. One quick glance at the exterior accrutrements says this particular 370Z is something a little different…
The extended front bumper and deep chin spoiler look very purposeful, perhaps intended to act as a splitter to increase downforce on the front end
The rear is much more tasteful than the previous generation Nismo Z – the previous generation’s rear bumper looked like it was trying too hard to mimic the looks of race-prepped Zs found in Japan’s Super GT racing series
The rear spoiler is aggressive without looking like a “shopping cart” wing; it does, however, hinder visibility out the rear
The forged alloy wheels made by Ray’s Engineering are much more open in design that those found on the “regular,” perhaps emblematic of greater airflow and cooling of the brake system
Frankly, we believe this is the way the Z should come from the factory, Nismo or not. Sure, it has a strong “boy racer” influence in its looks, but you really shouldn’t drive a Z if you don’t understand concepts such as throttle-induced oversteer, opposite lock and trail braking. To not drive this car HARD is a complete and utter injustice.
The interior is a different story. You won’t find anything particularly special. You get a very basic stereo system and not much more. Even the seats are the same as those found in the regular Z, albeit covered in different fabric and “Nismo” sewn into the backrest for good measure. As we’ll discuss in a bit, the Nismo Z needs a different cockpit environment. The handling characteristics of this vehicle require better shoulder and thigh bolstering and firmer seat cushioning to deal with the stiff suspension settings – our rear ends felt as if it was bottoming out.
These niggles aside, the steering wheel position is excellent. Deep footwells also allow the drive to sit comfortable close to the steering wheel while still maintaining enough leg stretch.
Now that you’re inside, what’s next? Push the keyless start button and bring the VQ37VHR engine to a roar. Slipping into first gear is more notchy and mechanical than we’d like. It’s just not as buttery a transmission you’d find inside a Honda. You’re forced to muscle gear shifts a bit and during very spirited driving, missed gears shifts are definitely a possibility. You won’t, however, find any fault with the SynchroRev Match system. It makes any driver a rock start behind the wheel, the ECU automatically blipping the throttle between every downshift. Heel-and-toe downshifting is an art form that takes much practice to master, but the Nissan system eliminates any need for it. We could call it cheating, but it works so well we can’t say anything to detract from it.
The power output, on the other hand, is strong from idle to redline. The VQ simply does not quit in laying down power to the ground. The VQ in the Nismo has a slightly higher rated horsepower rating than the standard Z but this is offset by the added weight of the body kit. No matter. This car is fun to drive. Stoplight to stoplight drag races are disposed of with ease. Is it any wonder that the VQ38DETT found in the GT-R is based on this engine? Absolutely fabulous.
Handling is pure bliss on the Nismo Z. By combining the gummy Bridestone tires, a limited slip diff and properly stiff suspension settings, this rocket holds its line and then some on smooth roads. When the road turns a bit rough, however, you truly realize just how stiff the suspension is. With much more aggressive compression / rebound settings and a very stiff spring, the Nismo Z WILL toss you around when traveling over rough, urban streets. And as mentioned before, better seating accommodations would have come in very handy in this driving situation.
370Z Roadster – The “Right End”
Indeed, if the Nismo 370Z is the tattooed brother, then the Roadster is the pinstripe wearing sibling. The moniker alone implies this car is meant for grand touring. It’s for open top motoring in the country side, with the wind blowing through your hair with an unrushed destination in mind.
On the outside, there’s not a whole lot to distinguish the Roadster from the Coupe until you look at the back half of the car. The antenna mounted smack dab in the middle of the trunk is a dead giveaway that this car is a little different – we think this is a rather poor aesthetic choice. Indeed, looking at the posterior of the Roadster really reminds us how big and wide this car is. While we don’t notice the bulbous rear section on the Nismo and Coupe renditions of the Z – perhaps the lines being broken up by the rear spoilers present on both – the Roadster continued to remind of us of the song “Baby Got Back.”
The fabric convertible top opens and closes in about 25 seconds each way. The operation is a choreography in moving parts, the top and hard tonneau cover adjusting, opening and closing with a degree of precision. Although the action is very smooth – save for the big thunk of the tonneau cover closing or the top sealing itself over the same over when the top is up – we wished it would work a little faster.
Climb inside and you’ll find familiar territory – interior accroutrements are the same as those you find in the coupe.
Seating position is fine save for the tallest of drivers; for my 6’3″ frame, the steering wheel was situated directly in front of my chest, mimicking the kind of steering position found in a touring race car
With the top up, getting in and out of the car required a bit of contortionist-like moves; getting in required the head going in last, while the opposite was required when exiting the vehicle
Speaking of the top, it left very little headroom for yours truly, although I suspect most “normal” sized individuals would have no headroom issues
Legroom was still substantial thanks to the deep footwell design found in all Z34 models
Our tester was equipped with the 7-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters; somehow, the automatic seems more appropriate for this model and we’re guessing that it is probably the more popular option
Firing up the engine and flicking the paddles elicits nearly the same level of acceleration found in the Coupe. Throttle response is excellent, thanks to the throttle-by-wire system. Downshifts are fairly smooth courtesy of rev matching on the down cycle, but when engaging 1st from 2nd under aggressive driving, there is a noticeable amount of shudder and engine braking. We don’t see this as a problem for 99% of prospective Roadster buyers out there as we suspect they are more than happy to let the ECU figure out the downshifts in fully automatic mode. We just can’t see the same owners downshifting with aggressive abandon as they enter a 1st gear corner “hot” and punch it at the apex to generate maximum corner exit speed.
Unlike its sister car under the Infiniti brand – which we would describe as “noodly” over railroad tracks and uneven terrain – the Roadster was firm and displayed none of the cowl shake and noise we’ve noticed in other open top variants. Taking the car to limits of adhesion presented no problems for the Roadster and we were impressed at how hard it would bite the pavement. Tail-out maneuvers were never a surprise, as it was very progressive and didn’t snap out the rear in unpredictable fashion.
With the addition of the Nismo and Roadster models, Nissan has created a powerful trio of sports car options. With a truly ready-to-race Nismo Z, the “civilized” Roadster and the do-everything-well Coupe variant, the 370Z line is a powerful offering like no other on the market today. We can’t think of a common platform line up from any other manufacturer that offers the same level of performance, value and ownership experience that the 370Z brings to the table. It’s truly worth your purchase consideration if you care for a car that inspires you as a driver.
The Nissan R35 GT-R, one of our all time favorite performance platforms, is an awesome package right out of the box. But as any die-hard gearhead can attest, there’s never enough power to go around. In that spirit, HKS USA recently introduced a new front mount intercooler system for the Japanese supercar.
Featuring two lightweight, large capacity intercooler cores, polished aluminum piping and a size-matched carbon fiber air duct, this setup will improve overall intercooler air volume capacity and cooling efficiency. In addition, the design of the core has been revamped, leading to minimum pressure loss under high boost levels – who doesn’t want high boost levels?! – and should reduce weight.
As the year of 2009 nears its end, there are a number of cars to look forward to next year. The cars below are some of the cars that are likely to excite both automotive consumers and those who are in the automotive industry. Which new cars in 2010 are you waiting to hear about?
Sports Coupe: 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe
The Cadillac CTS Coupe was officially unveiled on November 23rd, 2009. In 2008, the Cadillac CTS was supposed to be the model to uplift the Cadillac brand. It looks like Cadillac is on the ball again, launching their next two-door vehicle since 2002. The only parts that the CTS coupe shares with the sedan are the instrument panel, console, headlamps, front fenders and grill. Another thing that makes this generation’s CTS apart from others is the optional between RWD and AWD. This will definitely be a Cadillac to check out.
Hybrid/Electric Car: 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
With the current mid-sized hybrid sedan market ruled by Toyota and Honda, it is always refreshing to see how other manufacturers answer back. So what you ask did Hyundai do, to take their Sonata one step further? Current hybrids use nickel metal hydride batteries, where as the Sonata will use lithium polymer batteries. Hyundai states that the lithium batteries weigh 30% less, have a 50% less volume, and are 10% more efficient. It will be interesting to see how this new battery, from LG Chem, will hold up against nickel batteries.
Compact Car: 2011 Mazda 2
In 2008, the Mazda 2 was awarded World Car of the Year. Why do most of us not know/remember this? Well, apparently, World Car of the Year, was not good enough for sale in the U.S., mostly because Mazda thought that such a small car would not offer much profitability. Well, with the boom in sales from Nissan’s Versa, and Honda’s Fit (and also partially due to the economy and rising gas prices), Mazda was definitely pounding their foreheads on that decision. It makes one wonder, is Mazda 2 late?
Exotic Car: 2011 McLaren MP4-12C
When McLaren teamed up with Mercedes to build supercars, they awed us all with the McLaren F1 and the SLR. That was the past, and the future will be without Mercedes-Benz. McLaren is now their own automotive division. So what does the McLaren MP4-12C offer that the Ferrari 458 Italia or Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 doesn’t? The entire frame is one piece, which makes it lighter and more rigid. We can’t wait to see how the McLaren will compete against Ferrari and Lamborghini.
Luxury Car: 2011 Hyundai Equus
Hyundai did great things with the Genesis sedan, which went after the Lexus GS and Mercedes E-Class. We are hopeful to once again be surprised by Hyundai’s quality, that will excel the Equus above the Lexus LS, Mercedes S-Class, and the rest of its competitors. Hyundai may have to bring back that commercial of different “manufacturer executives” yelling the name Hyundai.
SUV: 2011 Land Rover LRX
With India’s Tata Motors recently purchasing Land Rover and Jaguar, it will be interesting to see Tata’s future plans for these automotive brands. Apparently, the 2011 Land Rover LRX will be Land Rover’s first more fuel efficient Land Rover.
Touted as “the world’s first affordable, zero-emissions car,” the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle made its way Stateside with the kickoff of the Nissan Leaf Tour. This program will travel around the US, touting the advantages of the Yokohama, Japan- / Nashville, Tennessee-based car maker. We had a chance to check out the car up close and personal in a posh setting complete with an open bar and upscale setting in Santa Monica, CA.
Offering an effective range of 100 miles, the Leaf can be charged up to 80% of its full capacity in under 30 minutes with a quick charger (we have no idea what this charger looks like nor was it on display at the event). Charging at home through a 200V outlet (with which US homes aren’t equipped so a call to an electrician will be required) to full capacity will take approximately 8 hours.
Two immediate points come to mind. One, this vehicle certainly isn’t designed for rural areas where the distance between, say, home and work is longer than 100 miles. It’s definitely realistic for city dwellers who drive no more than 30 miles a day between home, work and play. Two, any vehicle that forces people to change their driving behavior, such as filling up with fuel at a gas station in 5 minutes, and adapting to an 8-hour charging cycle at home is going to be a tough task.
The longer term consideration is this – since only about 18% of electricity in the United States is generated through renewable resources, could this and other electrical vehicles truly be considered as “zero emissions”? The electricity has to come from somewhere and it’s not coming from wind, solar or hydroelectric sources for the most part. Sure, ongoing innovations and increases in renewable resources will surely help til the balance in nature’s favor but I believe “zero emissions” is a misnomer at best. At least for now.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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…?