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It’s a good problem to have. You want to buy a new sports car, but you want more poke than either a Mazda MX-5 or Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86 can offer. It can’t be front-wheel drive, and your budget rules out more expensive Euros from the likes of Audi, BMW, or Mercedes-Benz.

So, what are your options? Well, at a smidge under $60k, you could choose one of these two: the reimagined Pony car itself, the Ford Mustang, or the familiar Nissan 370Z. Here we go then… USA versus Japan.

 

The cars

We all know the Nissan 370Z is far from being the newest kid on the block – it was unveiled at the 2008 Los Angeles motor show. But it’s also the only sports car offered by the Japanese brand, outside of the circa-$200k GT-R.

Blending classic coupe styling with good proportions and lovingly pumped guards, the 370Z is muscular without being lairy or overly aggressive. Its tidy rear spoiler and aerial-free roof keep things clean, while its F1-style central rear fog light, dual exhausts, and red-painted front and rear brake calipers add touches of sportiness.

The new Ford Mustang first arrived locally in early 2016, building interest and hopes with its combination of a 5.0-litre V8, limited-slip rear differential, and long-awaited (read: needed) employment of independent rear suspension (IRS).

As eye-catching as it is, it’s often best not to look too closely at a Mustang.

Shonky panel gaps and inconsistent shut lines are easily noticeable upon closer inspection, and while the bonnet strakes, scalloped roof, and muscle-car guards look the part, the hard and scratchy black plastic front lip, side skirts, and rear garnish are a way off being high quality. The flagship Mustang’s rear ‘GT’ badge, dual exhausts, clear tail-lights, body-coloured rear diffuser, and Brembo front calipers, however, are arguably better highlights.

Importantly for this test though, both cars have two doors, a big, naturally-aspirated engine up front, and exclusively send drive to their rear wheels. So it’s game on.

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The plan

Hand-on-heart time. Rather than a long-planned headline act, this twin test came about after our brand-new 2017 Ford Mustang GT long-termer (stay tuned for more on this) rolled into the Melbourne garage at the same time as a ‘new’ 2017 Nissan 370Z. With two near-identically priced rear-drive sports cars sitting there waiting to be driven, the decision was made to put the pair to the test.

Helping to provide a wider spread of opinion and assessment, we called in CarAdvice’s resident Podcast queen and Porsche/Volkswagen fanatic, Mandy Turner.

A keen hillclimb fan and someone who missed out on driving the ‘Stang and the Z at our sub-$60k Fun Car Mega Test, Mandy was only too happy to be involved.

With the two cars fuelled up and all tyre pressures set to manufacturer recommendations – 32psi front and rear for both cars, for those playing at home – we headed off on our 150km-odd road loop, comprising two urban traffic legs, two highway blasts, and some super-challenging but super-entertaining curving, dipping, and diving Victorian blacktop. Fun.

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Price and features

Priced from $57,490 and $56,930 respectively (before on-road costs), the 2017 Ford Mustang GT Fastback and 2017 Nissan 370Z Coupe sit between the likes of the $43,890 Mazda MX-5 RF GT and $74,900 BMW M240i.

Teaming its 5.0-litre V8 powerplant with the standard six-speed manual transmission, our Triple Yellow Mustang is only $500 up on the above figure, while our seven-speed automatic Shiro White 370Z tips the scales at an as-tested $59,930 (before on-road costs).

Powered by a 3.7-litre VQ-series Nissan V6, the 370Z churns out 245kW of power at 7000rpm and 363Nm of torque at 5200rpm, and claims to drink 10.4 litres of 95-octane premium unleaded fuel every 100km.

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With its Coyote engine boasting double overhead camshafts and twin independent variable camshaft timing, the GT Mustang spits out 306kW of power at 6500rpm and 530Nm of torque at 4250rpm, and claims a 13.1L/100km-thirst for 98-octane premium unleaded.

The dearer – and older – car of the two here, the 370Z Coupe comes standard with keyless entry and push-button start, automatic LED daytime running lights, Xenon headlights and LED tail-lights, cruise control, a rear-view camera, heated and electrically-folding power mirrors, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, and an eight-speaker Bose stereo with Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming and an accompanying 9.3GB ‘music box’ hard drive.

Heated four-way power-adjustable leather and cloth sports seats (with manual height and lumbar adjustment for drivers) are also standard, along with aluminium sports pedals, a viscous limited-slip rear differential, and 19-inch forged RAYS alloy wheels (measuring nine-inches wide up front and 10-inches out back).

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Seeming like somewhat of a relative bargain in this company, the far more modern Mustang GT Fastback is equipped as standard with keyless entry and a push-button start, automatic daytime running lights, HID headlights and LED tail-lights, front fog lights, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, a rear-view camera and rear parking sensors, heated power mirrors with Pony-logo puddle lights, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.

There’s also a recently updated 8.0-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, Sync 3, voice commands, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, as well as a nine-speaker stereo with Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming.

Heated and cooled six-way power-adjustable leather-accented seats with manual back rest adjustment (and electric lumbar adjustment for drivers) further boost the spec sheet, as do aluminium sports pedals, illuminated ‘Mustang’ scuff plates, tyre pressure monitoring, and 19-inch ‘Ebony Black’ alloy wheels (nine-inches wide up front, 9.5-inches wide out back).

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It’s not all roses with the ‘Stang though, as there were plenty of shocked and surprised faces when the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) announced a two-star safety rating for the 2017 Ford Mustang, based on tests conducted by Euro NCAP.

And, while issues with adult occupant, child occupant, and pedestrian protection were clearly of concern to the safety body, so too was the car’s lack of safety assist technologies, such as speed assistance and lane support systems, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), a forward collision warning, and rear seat belt reminders.

Additionally, ANCAP CEO James Goodwin said, during the frontal offset test, “… insufficient inflation of both the driver and front passenger airbags… allowed the driver’s head to contact the steering wheel and the passenger’s head to contact the dashboard.”

That said, despite being sold in Australia since May 2009, the 370Z has never been tested by ANCAP – or Euro NCAP for that matter – and has therefore never had, nor has now, an ANCAP safety rating.

Make of all that what you will; the Nissan still comes with dual front, side, and curtain airbags, the Ford the same, plus driver and front passenger knee airbags. Neither car offers any form of AEB technology. And, while the Mustang has two ISOFIX-compatible rear seats, the 370Z only offers a sole passenger-side boot floor-mounted child seat top-tether anchor point.

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Cabins and practicality

With seating for four instead of two, practicality is a clear win for the Mustang. As we discovered throughout this test though, there’s more to this comparison than you might first think.

Inside, the Ford’s somewhat cheap and chintzy exterior theme continues, with plenty of hard plastics joining aluminium-look plastics and chrome lashings.

The Mustang’s customisable ambient lighting, illuminated kick plates, and sports pedals are cool additions, however the 20 buttons on the multi-function leather steering wheel, clicky indicator and wiper stalks, and quartet of stiff toggle switches located beneath the climate controls are less so.

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By contrast, despite its age, the 370Z’s albeit dark and drab cabin feels more upmarket than its rival’s in a number of areas.

The Japanese car’s soft-touch dash, padded cloth door inserts and armrests, and leather-upholstered centre stack flanks are solid positives, although, the only things breaking up the sea of black are three dash-top-mounted gauges (comprising a digital clock, a voltmeter, and an oil temperature gauge), a metal-effect instrument surround, and a smattering of brushed aluminium-look plastics.

The Nissan’s hard plastic ‘Z’-stamped kick plates don’t hold a candle to the Ford’s flashy items, but the majority of switchgear in the Nissan feels of a higher standard, even if its multi-function leather steering wheel (home to 13 buttons) is limited to rake adjustment only, with no reach or telescopic adjustment – as is found in the Ford.

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Quick, responsive, and easy to learn and use, infotainment in the Mustang is lightyears ahead of the clunky and dated package in the 370Z – a system so archaic it includes an RCA A/V jack and required a song-and-a-half to pair a phone as a Bluetooth audio device.

It’s the same story when it comes to outward visibility and storage too, with the Mustang providing better all-around vision than the 370Z and more useable spaces to put things. We did find the Ford’s wing mirrors to be significantly less helpful than the Nissan’s, however.

Neither car really nails an ideal driving position – the seat in the Ford won’t go low enough and the steering wheel in the Nissan can’t be pulled towards the driver – and although the Z’s front seats are easier to feel comfortable in than the ‘Stang’s, pressure applied to the headrests oddly results in pressure being applied to between the shoulder blades. Not great.

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With no backseats to speak of, the 370Z simply offers two fabric-lined ‘tubs’ and a small fold-out ‘storage pocket’ behind driver’s seat, all of which are about as easy to access as the Mustang’s two heavily-scalloped 50:50 split-fold rear seats.

This might sound relatively straightforward, however, neither car provides owners with an intelligent quick-release mechanism to slide the front seats forward – a naff omission in just about any two-door car in my opinion.

Ironically, while headroom, legroom, and toe-room are all practically non-existent in the back of the Mustang, the backseats themselves are actually quite comfortable, and at least provide additional space for bags or shopping.

Speaking of which, with a 383-litre capacity and two handy luggage hooks, the Ford Mustang’s boot wins the battle of the bums, though, the Nissan 370Z’s smaller rear end still features four tie-down points, a retractable cargo blind, and an aluminium “luggage partition beam”. Not the car for trips to IKEA, the Z does have a space-saver spare under its boot floor, whereas the ‘Stang makes do with a puncture repair kit.

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On the road

With time in each car split evenly between Mandy and I throughout the day, our first mixed urban and highway run proves that, although the 370Z is louder inside at freeway speeds than the Mustang, cruising at 100km/h is a slightly more efficient task in the V6 Nissan than in the V8 Ford – the cars returning 10.7L/100km and 11.0L/100km, respectively.

With this box ticked, we point the cars towards some corners and get into the fun stuff.

Perhaps more of a test between a modern muscle car and a traditional sports car, in the wild, the two cars’ equally ‘old-school’ traits are instantly evident, even if they manifest themselves in different ways.

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Let’s start with the Nissan.

Powered by a naturally-aspirated six-cylinder engine that sounds almost as gruff yet smooth as the Nissan GT-R’s twin-turbocharged 3.8-litre VR38DETT V6, the 370Z has good mid-range poke, and is particularly eager between 4000-6000rpm. It does take an eternity to wind out to its 7500rpm rev limit though.


Audio

Listen to the exhaust of the 2017 Nissan 370Z.


Never intimidating or super-quick – either off the line or off a corner – the Z still offers reasonable torque from around 3000rpm, and can build speed faster than you might first think.

If it was our call, we’d opt for the standard six-speed manual, however, the seven-speed automatic isn’t bad, teaming good around-town manners with adequate sports-focussed engagement via its ‘manual’ mode and steering column-mounted paddle shifters.

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The throttle is sharp and responsive, and the progressive brake pedal works well with the Nissan’s brakes (comprising four-piston calipers and 355mm discs up front and two-piston calipers and 350mm discs out back) to provide linear modulation and solid retardation. The speed-sensitive hydraulic power steering is on the meatier side, but not too heavy, and it still delivers decent feedback.

At a little over 1500kg, the 370Z isn’t the lightest thing going around. That said, even on bumpy, semi-damp roads, the 4265mm-long two-seater manages to feel agile and playful, yet planted and secure in its road-holding ability – thanks in part to its 245/40 front, 275/35 rear Bridgestone Potenza RE050A tyres.

Not only does the Z not mind being punted about, but, despite its age, it’s still got enough ability to surprise and impress and, even with the auto on board, put a smile on your face.

When it comes to the Ford, it’s a remarkably different story.

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With its big old naturally-aspirated 5.0-litre V8 endowing the Mustang with easily more grunt than the 370Z’s V6 can muster, the attention-grabbing American is able to deliver pulling power at about 2500rpm that our Japanese contender seems only able to generate from about 3500rpm.

And, while both engines are quite gutsy from down low in the rev range, you can happily cruise along in the Ford at between 1500-2000rpm. The Pony car is also definitely the louder of the two, be it idling, at low revs, or chasing down the rev limiter – which is at 7000rpm in the ‘Stang.


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Listen to the exhaust of the 2017 Ford Mustang.


Paired with a springy clutch, the Mustang’s notchier-than-it-needs-to-be six-speed manual gearbox requires considerable effort to swap cogs, mandating shifts be more ‘deliberate’. It does, however, feel oh-so-right to have a ‘proper’ manual ‘box under your left hand and foot when you’re behind the wheel of an American muscle car – even if that wheel is on the ‘wrong’ side.

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Far more touchy and over-sensitive than the Z’s, the Mustang’s brake pedal makes smooth adjustments and finer modulation that much more difficult, though, the flagship GT’s setup (comprising six-piston Brembo calipers and 380mm discs up front and single-piston calipers and 330mm discs out back) still inspires plenty of confidence.

Employing an electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion system, the Ford’s steering isn’t bad at all, but it is more detached and remote than the Nissan’s, providing less feedback and engagement.

For those keen on ‘tweakability’, though, the Mustang offers drivers a choice of ‘Normal’, ‘Sport+’, ‘Race Track’, or ‘Snow/Wet’ driving modes, as well as ‘Comfort’, ‘Normal’, or ‘Sport’ steering calibrations. After much fiddling and testing, our pick ended up being Sport+ for the former and Normal for the latter.

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Out of interest, when we last had a Mustang and 370Z on hand, the two cars lapped Sydney Motorsport Park’s 1.8-kilometre Amaroo South Circuit, and the Ford pipped the Nissan – 1:08.10 versus 1:08.62.

Three months later, on our tight, twisty, and undulating Targa-style test road, it’s a whole different ball game, and the tables have turned. Where the Nissan is competent, happy, and composed, the Ford feels big, floaty, and out of its comfort zone.

Not helped by its long bonnet and speed boat-style driving position, it’s hard to know exactly where the front of the Mustang is – particularly when negotiating crests.

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Drive the thing with enthusiasm on smooth, dry roads and the ‘Stang’s somewhat loose nature is almost unavoidably entertaining. When roads are choppy, damp, or wet, however, things can quickly switch to being downright sketchy – and there’s little the Mustang’s quality 255/40 front, 275/40 rear Pirelli P Zero Rosso tyres can do about it.

To be really frank, the new Ford Mustang, in GT-guise anyway, simply feels like a genuinely updated old Mustang: a bit of fun in a straight line, but not the most dynamic vehicle on four wheels.

Apart from being significantly harder work to drive fast than the Nissan, the Ford’s floaty front end, busier, fidgety ride, and snappy rear end, make it feel less controlled and balanced than the 370Z, but also less fun when pushing on.

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Think of it this way: the Nissan 370Z is a great example of an old car that was once quite good, and the Ford Mustang GT is a great example of a new car that isn’t quite as good dynamically as it perhaps should be. And that’s an even bigger shame given Ford took this long to put IRS into one of its most iconic-ever models.

In terms of sheer straight-line performance, the Mustang unequivocally has the edge over the 370Z – think just under five seconds to 100km/h for the ‘Stang, and just over five seconds for the Z. But, as we saw on test, throw some challenging corners into the mix, and the Nissan has it all over the longer (519mm) and heavier (circa-200kg) Ford.

Total road loop done, and it’s again the 370Z and its V6 powerplant that proves more efficient than the Mustang and its V8 – the cars returning 15.3L/100km and 15.9L/100km, respectively.

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Warranty and servicing

As with much of this comparison, a win here equals a loss there, and vice versa. And it’s the same when considering ownership.

The 370Z is covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty and comes with three years road-side assist. With service intervals recommended every six months or 10,000km, and scheduled services for the first three years priced between $283 and $586, total service costs for the first three years of ownership equal $2143 (not including additional service items).

Also covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty, the Mustang GT comes with 12 months road-side assist. With its service intervals recommended every 12 months or 15,000km, and scheduled services for the first three years priced between $425 and $485, total service costs for the first three years of ownership equal $1335 (not including additional service items).

What this battle really comes down to then is value. Which car do we think is the best spend for just under $60k? Before we declare our winner though, let’s first hear from Mandy.

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Mandy’s pick

I love a car that offers a great view of itself through the windscreen, and seeing the Mustang’s long bonnet rise up every time the throttle is planted, really is an amazing sight.

Its big 5.0-litre V8 is powerful, with loads of torque, but it doesn’t produce enough sound for a V8. And while it loves a straight and smooth stretch of road, driving it on twisty roads becomes hard work, and it doesn’t ever seem to settle over constant small bumps.

Even though the 370Z has an ancient cabin with orange lighting everywhere, the attention to detail and fit and finish is far better than in the Mustang. Simple things like how solid the indicator and wiper stalks feel, to the durable ‘thunk’ of the doors, it all makes a difference.

It loves corners almost as much as I do, and the steering is much more predictable. Yes, its ride is still firm, but it’s the smoother of the two here.

Lastly, the Mustang makes you smile when you first get in it and start it up, the 370Z makes you smile when you’re pushing the limits. And because of that – and because I love a good winding road – the 370Z takes the cake for me.

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Verdict

Crack a Coke and grab yourself a celebratory cheeseburger and fries, because our winner here is the 2017 Ford Mustang GT Fastback. However, those of you who favour green tea and a bento box, be comforted in the knowledge that, despite its increasingly more obvious age, the 2017 Nissan 370Z Coupe only narrowly missed taking this one out.

Some cars are at their best when not driven at 10/10ths, and the Nissan 370Z sort of fits into this category. At 9/10ths it feels pretty good, but push beyond this and it then becomes a touch disappointing. A little too heavy, not quite enough power or torque, etc, etc.

As for the Ford Mustang… Well, after our time with both cars, it’s really a 7/10ths sort of a car. Drive it at 7/10ths, make some noise, give it the occasional squirt in a straight line, and you’ll largely have a ball. Ask and expect more of it though, and it too tips over into being somewhat disappointing.

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To be clear, the Mustang ain’t a bad car, it’s just an accurate modern representation of a classic muscle car. And let’s be honest, muscle cars don’t have strong reputations for being light, agile, dynamic cars with loads of grip and outright ability.

But with more features and space, more power and torque, better tech, a newer look, and far more flair (inside and out), the 2017 Ford Mustang GT Fastback far better justifies its near-on $60,000 price tag.

The 370Z is arguably the better choice in a range of areas, but value is far from being one of them. It’s simply too old, too under-equipped, and too antiquated to even remotely begin to justify its sticker price. That said, if you can score a bargain on the new-car or second-hand market, it remains a solid product.

In the end, the question for Mustang buyers will be how the new Pony car retains its value over the longer term, and how well you’ll sleep at night knowing your brand-new almost-$60,000 car is only attached to a lowly two-star ANCAP safety rating.

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Click on the Photos tab for more 2017 Ford Mustang GT Fastback and 2017 Nissan 370Z Coupe images by Tom Fraser.


Podcast

Listen to the CarAdvice team discuss the 2017 Ford Mustang and Nissan 370Z comparison below, and catch more like this at caradvice.com/podcast.

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