2014 Nissan 370Z Driving Impressions

We've gotten a lot of seat time in the 370Z, including twice on the track in the Nismo version. Also a 500-mile drive, with 370 of those miles on central California back roads in one joyous day, in a glittering metallic blue 6-speed Coupe (370 miles was a coincidence, but appropriate). Plus, we've driven several models around town, including a week in the 2014 Nismo. After all that driving, we can't say a single bad thing about the 370Z's performance. And that's saying something.

The engine and exhaust produce a unique deep pitch. Imagine a screaming straight-6 BMW merging voices with a throaty V8 Audi, and you have the song of the V6 Nissan 370Z. Or you might say the 370Z sounds like a junkyard dog howling into a concrete culvert, especially if you're driving through canyons like we were. Without turning to look, we can often identify a Z accelerating by purely by the sound.

The 3.7-liter engine loves to linger at 6000 rpm, where it feels like it can run all day, although you almost have to run it up there to hear it, because the cabin is so well insulated. Nissan's V6 features VVEL (Variable Valve Event and Lift Control) technology, like having four camshafts, two for torque and two for top end. Redline 7500 rpm is reached with little effort, and the rev limiter strikes softly, after a convenient red light in the tachometer starts blinking at 7000 rpm, where horsepower peaks at 332. There are greedy few who will pine for more, because 332 feels just right, given the car's size.

The Nismo brings 350 horsepower, and 6 more foot-pounds of torque at 5200 rpm. We're not sure you can tell the difference, off the track, except on maybe the fastest of winding roads.

The Z accelerates from 0 to 60 in 5.2 seconds. Its 270 pound-feet of torque peaks at 5200 rpm, quite high, but there's still plenty of torque down low, enough torque to easily spin the rear wheels coming off a second-gear corner with the stability control turned off. The VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control) is fairly sensitive in a straight line, and will barely let the wheels bounce under acceleration if the road is bumpy, but it leaves sideways room to kick out the tail without interfering.

With that torque, third gear has a broad range, to take the work out of cruising. Sixth gear is a super overdrive to achieve 26 highway miles per gallon, while making 75-mph cruising understated.

The rigid chassis uses ultra high-tensile steel, a triangular brace over the engine and aluminum cradle under it, a carbon-fiber box around the radiator, and inverted struts and a crossbrace in the cargo area. It's still 88 pounds lighter than the 350Z, thanks to the double-wishbone suspension and aluminum hood, doors, and hatch.

The Roadster is inherently less rigid than the Coupe, but it's exceptionally solid. It's beefed up at the A pillars, side sills and behind the seats, and adds a brace under the body. Drivers who don't regularly push the car near its limits won't notice any difference in the handling between the Roadster and Coupe, but if ultimate performance is the goal, the Coupe is the choice.

The cornering is supremely tight, on a short 100-inch wheelbase, with the rotational pivot point in the chassis in its ideal position of balance, right under the driver's seat. It's called the moment of inertia or, in layman's words, the spot where the spinout starts.

In those places and situations where you might expect a car to dance around, the 370Z turns. For example during hard cornering on uneven pavement, it grips like a cat. It might twitch once, and then take a set. If it responds this way to big challenges, it can breeze through others.

The Z steers with precision and turns in decisively. It changes directions dynamically. It encourages smooth driving. The threshold of grip is impressive. With a 13.5:1 steering ratio, it feels like a big go-cart. Doesn't need much road.

The long high-speed straight ends with a sudden S curve behind a 35-mph sign. No worries about the brakes not bringing you down. Especially the big brakes on the Sport package, 4-inch rotors in front, 13.8 inches in rear (12.6-inch rotors are standard). But, like a racecar, you have to release the brakes smoothly, especially at turn-in, because the car responds so quickly.

In manual mode, the 7-speed automatic shifts quickly, 0.5 seconds, as fast as some sports cars costing two and three times as much. Drivers can use the paddles or lever. The shifts feel direct, like a manual transmission, thanks to what Nissan calls torque converter lock-up logic. The stability control is right; it will protect you without intruding when you don't need it. esc is about right, will protect without invade, doesn't abruptly kill throttle.

With the 6-speed manual transmission, heel-and-toe downshifting easy. The clutch, gearbox and pedals work well together. So it's ironic that the Z is the first car equipped with a computer-controlled throttle blip during the downshift, called SynchroRev Match; it comes with the Sport package, and is standard on the 2014 Nismo we drove most recently. It works best when you're driving and downshifting hard, because it never flubs when a human might; but it gets confused when you're just cruising.

Once, it stopped working altogether for three downshifts into third, and the gearbox even crunched a bit. Then it started working again. The moral to the story is: if you want a computer to control your downshift throttle blips for you, be prepared for it to fail. The good news is you can turn it off.

In its defense, it makes mechanical sense, because during aggressive downshifting, four limbs have to do five things. Left hand steers, right hand shifts, left foot clutches, right foot brakes and blips the throttle. SynchroRev relieves your right foot of multi-tasking. We tested SynchroRev on the track and its timing was perfect.

The bottom line is that if you're already comfortable with heel-and-toe downshifting, this option has nothing for you. But if you struggle with the maneuver, you'll like it.

We tested the Nismo 370Z both on the track and road. The suspension is aggressive, making cornering amazing, and it's not too stiff for a reasonably smooth road. It hugs the road to an extreme, and makes small forward lurches when you're hard on the gas over humps and ripples. This is good, better than lurching sideways as cars with lesser suspensions might do. There's no sports car than handles like this for the price. The Mazda MX-5 is good but it doesn't have the Z car's power or quickness with the Nismo package. To get cornering like the base $30k 370Z you could pay another $20,000, for the BMW Z4. Only the Mitsubishi Evo comes to mind, when thinking of cars this track-ready.

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