Legend, Icon, familiar friend. All of these can be said about the Nissan Z. First offered as a 1970 model, the 240Z blew away the affordable sports car marketplace, making the MG’s and Triumphs of the day seem absolutely ancient, which they kind of were.
Over the years, the Z has veered on and off the path of true sports car-ism, the 280ZX and early 300ZX were posh cruisers, but offered little thrills. The 1990 Z was a return to form – an excellent sports car. And the 350Z and the current 370Z continued the trend.
So, we are happy to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Z. Let’s get the party started!
All Dressed Up
Outside it’s clearly a 370Z – the model has barely changed since its introduction in 2009. It has aged well, though. The long hood, short deck and rakish fastback still looks aggressive and purposeful. One note – if you want a Z Roadster, that was discontinued for 2020, so hurry to your dealer.
There’s no mistaking the 50th package – and it’s probably not for everybody. Taking inspiration from the BRE Datsun racers of the late 60’s and 70’s, the Anniversary is offered in a choice of two exterior two-tone colors. White and Red like our tester, or Silver and Black. The two-tone is interesting – the hood is red, the upper a pillar is red as is the hatchback. So, you find yourself driving, looking across a red hood, and check the side mirror and see a white door…hmmm
But there’s more! You also have Anniversary Badging, two BRE-style slash stripes, red accents on the wheels and red mirrors. Built on the Sport model, the 50th AE deletes the standard front chin and rear spoilers.
If you’re a fan of the racing motif, you’ll probably be delighted. We’re more traditional and would be happy without all the multi-color stuff…the 370Z is gorgeous as is.
While the exterior borders on the bold, the interior refinements are much more to our liking.
All the 370Z goodness is here. The 3-pod instrument cluster with a massive 9,000 rpm tach dead center, a 180-mile speedo on the right, temp/fuel and digital info on the left. Always a favorite party trick, the entire gauge pod moves up and down when you adjust the steering column – making sure you always have a clear view of the gauges.
Another Z tradition are the 3 auxiliary gauges mounted on the top of the center dash – a cool display that dates back to the original 240Z. We were pretty pleased with the storage situation – you have a nice glove box, small center console, a large center dash cubby where the navigation/upper end audio goes on other models, and extra cubbies behind the seats.
The audio system is a let-down. Oh, it doesn’t sound bad, and it features Bluetooth, but with a single red line of readout, and minimum advanced functionality, it looks low rent.
The Anniversary makes up for that with some tasteful goodies, including leather/synthetic sport seats with very cool and subtle embossing in the seatbacks, a leather/Alcantara steering wheel with red strip at top dead center (like real race cars!), special kick plates, 50th Anniversary badges on the tach and center console and contrasting red stitching throughout the cabin. It feels special, but not over the top – beautifully done!
Performance Worth Celebrating
Driving a 370Z is always fun – it’s a true sports car. Under the hood is Nissan’s familiar 3.5-liter VQ V6, which calls a variety of vehicles home from the Maxima to the Pathfinder. But you should not doubt this engine’s sporting credentials – with 332 horsepower and 270 lb.-ft of torque it’s got plenty of muscle. It starts with a nice growl, and really sings once it gets above 4,000 rpm.
Our tester was equipped with the 7-speed automatic, and while our preference is usually a stick – especially the 370’s SynchroRev Match that matches rpm’s for perfect downshifts every time – the automatic is not a bad choice. Left to its own, it’s laid back, and maybe a little lazy in response. But nudge it over to manual mode and it comes alive.
Manual shifting onto a freeway on-ramp and the Z-punches you into the seat back and takes off, the traction control will even activate, there’s so much power. And while the engine gets a little gruff after 6,000 rpm, it’s hustling towards redline so fast, you hardly notice. Get to redline, shift and “whump” it kicks you in the back again as it takes off. 0-60 mph or beyond, the Z is fast, powerful and awe-inspiring.
The automatic will rev-match downshifts as well, and in manual mode, it feels much more responsive. Giant steering column-mounted paddle shifters give you excellent control, even when winding the steering wheel through your favorite turns.
The steering is light on center, and a quick turn of the alcantara wheel has you darting into the turns instantly, and those big 19-inch rims have loads of traction. The steering weight builds up nicely in the turns, making it easy to control, and you find loads of precision at your fingertips.
There is a price for this handling, and the ride is firm, bordering on very firm. But this is a sports car folks, if you want creamy, maybe a Maxima would be more to your liking. Braking is strong and linear, and you feel an exceptional balance in the way it goes around, once you really start pushing it. The 370Z is an uncompromised sports car – and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
You Throw a Party, You Got To Pay the Band
So how much for true sports car goodness? Well the base 370Z coupe starts at $30,090, and with that powerful V6, sweet chassis, and basic all-around balance is really a performance bargain. We would probably opt for the 370Z Sport model at $33,820 – it adds an enthusiast’s wish list of goodies, including Viscous Limited-slip Differential, Nissan Sport Brakes and 19-inch alloy wheels.
Our 50th Anniversary with 7-speed automatic started at $37,670. Some nice 50th AE floor mats and Delivery, and we rang the bell at $38,990. We liked the unique exterior bits, loved the unique interior bits, and we wouldn’t make you wrong for choosing one. Our money, we go for the Sport, though.
Competitors are difficult. Yes, the Mazda Miata is a great two seater – but it is all sweetness and light, and finesse, a much different beast than the Z. Load one up and you’re at $36,290 – but you do have the ability to drop the top.
The Toyota GT 86 comes in at $30,095 but also falls into sports car territory, and with a hatchback it’s closer to the Z. But personality-wise it is closer to the Miata – light, delicate and precise. If power is your itch, it won’t scratch it either. Lovely car, though. We loved the new Toyota Supra, but in this price range, you’ll have to settle for the 2.0-liter, turbo 4-cylinder engine, and that model starts at $42,990.
You may have noticed that Nissan has recently announced the Z Proto – a big clue about the next-generation Z that will be coming in a year or two. It sounds promising, with a twin-turbo V6 engine and 6-speed manual transmission. And it looks to carry much of the traditional Z goodness throughout. Can’t wait!
We loved our time with the Nissan 370Z – It’s a bit old school, but that was one hell of a school! Powerful, stylish, with an ethos that tells you there are still folks at Nissan who love to drive. Happy Birthday to a modern legend!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.