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Seeing yellow

By Bruce Newton, 21 May 2009 Features

Seeing yellow

UPDATED: Less is definitely more in the new 370Z, but an acceleration, braking and slalom exercise at the Zed launch revealed an unexpected problem ...

Here is some encouraging news that may surprise you. The second generation of Nissan's reborn Z, the 370Z, is all about delivering less. Less weight, less wheelbase, less fuel consumption.

For those familiar with the history of the original Datsun Z-cars which starts with the Fairlady Z (240Z to you and me) debuting 40 years ago at the Tokyo motor show, this is reassuring.

Because from that captivating original concept, Datsun simply bloated successive Zeds until they had lost their original meaning and appeal. Your honour, we tender the 1984 300ZX as irrefutable evidence.

So when the time came to replace the 350Z, the car that gave new life to the Z legend in 2002, it was interesting to see what path would be followed. And with the 370Z, Nissan is demonstrating an important lesson has been learned.

The new car is 15kg lighter than its predecessor, shortens up 100mm between the driver's seat and the rear wheels and cuts fuel economy by over 1L/100km for either the revised six-speed manual or new seven-speed auto compared to the previous transmission offerings.

Less is more doesn't apply everywhere of course. Capacity of the award winning VQ series V6 climbs, there is more power (15kW) and torque (5Nm) and the delivery is spread more evenly at least in part thanks to the addition of variable intake valve lift (VVEL), which joins continuously variable valve timing (CVTCS).

That means more performance, the 0-100km/h claim dropping officially to 5.4 secs. Incidentally, the best time Wheels has seen out of a 350Z is 5.7 seconds.

While the engine continues to sit as far back as possible in the engine bay and drive 18x8 -inch rear wheels via a carbon-fibre prop shaft, much else surrounding those fundamentals has changed.

The latest version of the FM platform switches the front suspension to a double wishbone arrangement, the multi-link rear-end is revised to be lighter and stronger. The new body is also 30 per cent more torsionally rigid. Brakes are bigger too, although the Brembos standard on the old Track model have been traded in for Nissan-branded Akebonos.

Indeed, the entire Touring and Track concept has been discarded, Nissan now offering just one specification level for the 370Z in Australia. The pricing starts at $67,990 for the manual, climbs to $70,990 for the auto and stacks just about everything you can think of onto the standard equipment list.

So six airbags, stability control, DVD sat-nav, intelligent keyless entry, heated and powered sports seats, leather trim and an obvious improvement in interior quality are all part of the deal.

Outside, every panel is new yet the presentation is familiar. It's bulldog tough, the shortened wheelbase giving it a more rearward, angular look. The details are important too; arrowhead headlights, boomerang taillights, a sharper maw, huge rear wheel arches and a side window profile that sweeps upward like a WWII fighter plane. Looks good, but if anything, the 370Z is even harder to see out of than the 350Z.

And what about the drive experience? This car loves hunkering down on its haunches, tapping into its plentiful torque and firing out of corners. It's almost as good turning into them as well; adjustable, playful but with an attention-getting edge that demands respect.

There's no doubt it is improved from the 350Z, offering a deep certainty to the steering, obvious chassis strength and a brawny engine. There is no pretension here.

Nor enough noise insulation unfortunately. Nissan could have come up with a better engine soundtrack and dulled the tyre roar on coarser surfaces.

The brakes are powerful but a tad grabby and the clutch pedal sharp and narrow in its engagement. Then there's SynchroRev Match, which in a manual world-first blips the throttle on downchanges, removing the need for the driver to heel 'n' toe. It works perfectly well, but it's also switchable for those amongst us who prefer the old fashioned way.

The Zed's overall ride quality is now more amenable and the new seven-speed auto is a beauty. Those two factors combined make the 370Z a more liveable day-to-day proposition.

We could go on... But we won't. Just like the 370Z we're giving you less, but only for now. For the in-depth analysis of the 370Z and how it stacks up against some very interesting rivals look out for the June issue of Wheels, on-sale May 27.

During the 370Z launch an acceleration, braking and slalom exercise was conducted at Goolwah airport.

After the clutches of two manuals played up, the decision was made to swap to autos. Nissan Australia, after consultation with HQ in Japan, provided the following explanation for the problem: "Under extreme clutch slippage (max torque) the clutch assembly temperature was greatly increased. The heat reduced clamping pressure in the clutch assembly which, in turn, reduced the load on the pressure plate spring. This inhibited the spring's ability to return the clutch pedal to the fully engaged position. Even a minor engine rev decrease at that point immediately restored normal engine/clutch performance."

No word as yet whether a modification to the clutch is required.

Separately, another car went into limp-home mode after the driver's foot (belonging to yours truly) slipped off the brake pedal and dislodged a sensor mounted on the pedal. The sensor remained engaged, fooling the ECU into thinking the car was still under braking and overriding any throttle input - activating "fail safe".

That problem was rectified by technicians within a few minutes. - BN