Nissan’s sixth-generation Zed sports car, the 370Z, has been largely painted with the same descriptive brush since it arrived globally at the 2008 LA motor show and, locally, in April the following year. But what was once “raw and noisy” and “a retro throwback” with generally kind sentiment 10 long years ago has remained in times since, if increasingly tinged with critical negativity.
The new 2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary Edition is still as raw and noisy as ever, yet it’s clearly and conspicuously more of a retro throwback, thanks to its ’70s-kitsch visual theme, than any other Zed of the past decade. Further, in today’s climate where model updates are expected to include some level of facelifting, tech modernisation and added-value equipment upgrading, what really amounts to a commemorative ‘sticker pack’ in this fancier-looking Zed does smack as a really old-school pitch.
As the 370Z gets older and older, I do find myself expecting to like it less and less, if only in measure again as a barometer of motoring progress. So I was as surprised as anyone to come away from the local launch of the ‘50th’ – for brevity of referencing – feeling more fond of the breed than ever before.
I spent a good while in the 50th, mostly in the twisty hills west of Brisbane in Queensland, searching some deeper rationale as to why I found myself enjoying an ageing breed of sports car, which I’ve driven umpteen times over years, more than the sensible side of my brain suggested I’d ought to. Something beyond sheer rawness, the unapologetic noise and increasingly dated – though not necessarily outdated – vibe.
The penny eventually dropped, thanks to a throwaway comment by one of the Nissan Australia crew: the 370Z is “analogue”. Bingo. Nail on head.
No, today’s Zed isn’t purely analogue in a technical sense – it has electronically controlled downshift rev-matching, for instance – it’s just that it’s become clear to me that the whole package was originally concocted and subsequently maintained to provide one of the most ‘analogue’ driving experiences any money now buys. No less anything for the 50th manual’s $53,490 list price (or $55,990 for the auto).
It’s ever so easy to tar the 370Z as being too raw, too noisy and increasingly outdated compared with most contemporary machinery. However, you can begin to believe that machinery with genuinely old-school (enough) vibe available brand-spanking off the showroom floor is actually a bloody appealing proposition, at least for particular buyer whims.
And the latter notion becomes much more convincing when you drive the 370Z not in the context of 2019 contemporaries, but in direct hands-on comparison with every generation of Zed car back to the original 1969 240Z.
And that’s exactly what Nissan Australia had on hand to drive at the launch of the 50th.
Personally, the 240Z was the largest bucket-list tick: rawer, simpler, and more agricultural than I’d imagine it would be, and in a spirit that makes it so legendary and iconic. But back to back, through 260Z, 280Z, 300ZX and on to something of a sea-change in the 350Z and the subject of our review, it becomes painfully clear that the Zed’s half-century evolution is a bell curve.
Datsun/Nissan spent the evolution through to the 300ZX making the Zed breed nicer, friendlier and more elaborate, but by the time the 370Z arrived a decade ago, it was purposefully made bolder, friskier and more ‘analogue’ than its 350Z predecessor. So many of the key facets the 370Z gets habitually and critically panned for were specifically engineered and tuned into the package for effect, if not intended for broadly palatable buyer tastes. Or to be ‘nice’.
The 370Z attempts to tap the romance of 240Z simplicity, not the excess of Zed's middle-era 300ZX. And all for the better, despite the criticism it habitually cops.
I’m as guilty as the next scribe for ruing the 3.7-litre VQ37VHR V6 for what it isn’t in the past: as an ageing engine with increasingly defunct natural aspiration, admirable that it can muster 245kW wrung out to seven grand, if only plying a workmanlike 363Nm way up there at 5200rpm, with an unremarkable 10.6L average fuel consumption. And given our brisk back-country Queensland jaunts were shared swapping into and out of the mighty 419kW/632Nm 2020 GT-R 50th Anniversary Edition, the Zed wasn’t in complimentary company.
But the Zed engine, and its nicely notchy six-speed manual, still fits the bill. It’s tractable enough down low, and swells its energies as revs and sonics rise as true sports cars should. A powertrain that rewards driving effort in interaction, be it digging deep with the right foot or rowing away at the cog-swapper to keep the six on boil.
It’s geared well in that you need to match ratios to corners ahead of time, yet you rarely catch the V6 off boil. And unlike the GT-R, which has so much on-tap squirt you spend most of the time getting out of the throttle, the pace you dial up in the Zed is in direct proportion to how much the driver digs in.
As much as I wish Nissan pursued a straight rather than vee-type NA six from the outset, I’m glad Nissan has bucked prevailing convention and resisted the urge to fit a force-induced four. Despite how leaner and greener a downsized turbo engine might be fitted to a modern Zed, it’d carve out a good chunk of its soul in the process.
The 50th brings nothing new to the regular Zed’s dynamic package, and isn’t as focused as the nigh-on-brittle Nismo version, but there’s a sweetness to the keen chassis tune that offers impressive accuracy to allow the driver to tame its frisky nature. Its rump will move about, particularly on uneven surfaces and crook cambers, but to a mild and predictable degree that brings more grins than grimaces.
Yes, the damping is taut, the ride fidgety at times, and the din from the engine note and tyres together might fatigue on a really long haul. But, the Zed doesn’t anesthetise the on-road experience like, say, its 350Z predecessor, and I’m unconvinced a nicer, quieter and more serene treatment would improve on the 370Z’s aims. Again, it’s this loud and raw very much on purpose.
That said, this sixth-gen remains a thoroughly modern machine with some inherent compliance and decent comfort should you wish to cruise. It does strike some balance in liveability, and really returns a properly raucous experience once the driver goes digging for it.
There are concessions to comfort inside the relatively surprise-free cabin, notably the part-leather/part-suede heated four-way powered seating with the neat Z crest motif resplendent in the seat back. Nice 50th touches also include Alcantara for the wheel, touchpoints and door inserts, monikered instrumentation and kick plates, as well as lashings of red stitching and highlights. In fact, in overall effect it is almost too fancy and busy – I’d love to see simpler, more stripped back cabin design in line with retro race car exterior livery.
The interior is emphatically Noughties: the infotainment system is conspicuously old hat, and the switchgear and buttons hark back to yesteryear, as if to doggedly buck almost any modern concession. And while the countersunk analogue instrument dials do seem at home in one of the few 2019 new releases that can confidently ‘own’ them, the cabin does sit in a slightly uncomfortable middle zone between modern and classic that’s not as congruent as it should be.
The exterior is a more convincing result. Of the two colour schemes, the more ostentatious red-on-white combination just flaunts its homage to early ’70s American SCCA racing more confidently than the subtler black-on-silver alternative. In doing so, it ties itself to the original 240Z with more gusto.
It’s a good thing Nissan still offers a regular Coupe and Roadster primarily for regular Joes and Janes, and also pitches a more petrol-hedonistic Nismo variant to the go-faster petrolheads. This golden jubilee version, though, is really a niche prospect for the die-hard enthusiast. Something a little extra special – for not much extra outlay – for those well across the subject matter and don’t need to be sold on the core vehicle’s merits.
Surely, target buyers of the 370Z 50th are the very same Datsun and Nissan car club owners who showed up with their machines to the newcomer’s local launch, and graciously allowed a bunch of journos to drive their pride and joy. And I can assure you that the new, almost painfully retro collector's variant fits right in amongst the older gems that many of these brand-loyalist fans already own and love.