I almost groaned when I saw my name against the 2020 Nissan 370Z 50th Anniversary I was down to review. Some cars inspire, some are lustful, others have you leaping out of your chair eager to grab the keys and hit the road. On paper, this wasn’t one of them.
And yet, from the moment I collected the car from Nissan’s representatives here in Sydney, I was totally beguiled.
Let’s look at what the 50th is. It’s a $53,490 plus on-road costs celebration – a not-so-subtle nod to Nissan’s heritage as a manufacturer of sports cars. The ‘Z’ car dates back to 1969 when the original, the Datsun 240Z, first graced the world’s roads. That car, an instant classic, remains revered today, dare we suggest even enjoying iconic status in the pantheon of automotive history.
Fun fact: In its native Japan, the 370Z is called the Nissan Fairlady 370Z; a trend carried through every Z car from its roots as the 240Z, known as the Nissan Fairlady 240Z in its home country. Export models of the 240Z were rebranded as ‘Datsun’, while the ‘Fairlady’ name was dropped altogether for overseas markets.
It’s an ageing warrior, the 370Z, first making its presence felt on our roads in 2009. If that seems old in the automotive world, that’s because it is. Nissan, for its part, likes to milk every last drop from its stable (the R35 GT-R dates back to 2007!), so to have a design 10 years old still gracing the brand’s showrooms is not a stretch.
The 50th Anniversary certainly stands out in dealerships, with its garish paint and stickers a glaring beacon. There are just two colour options: a white body with red decals and roof line, or the car we have here, a silver-bodied 370Z with black stickers and roof line. It’s the less offensive of the two, in our opinion, just.
Inside, the 50th distinguishes itself from regular Zeds with unique detailing on the seats, lashes of red stitching throughout, a red gear lever, and a smattering of 50th Anniversary badges.
Outside, apart from the decals and two-tone paint, the 50th sits on some snazzy 19-inch alloys trimmed with a thin red line unique to the 50th, and they look pretty good.
Another fun fact: When Nissan first conceived of the idea of creating a sports car in the early 1960s, it tasked Yamaha with creating a prototype for the Z car. The resulting prototype, the Yamaha YX-30, was shown to Nissan execs in 1961. But, by 1964 Nissan decided the Yamaha prototype wasn't meeting its desired direction for the Z car and scrapped the project. Yamaha continued with the project in-house and the completed prototype was shown to Toyota. That concept became the Toyota 2000GT, one of the most revered Japanese sports cars of all time.
The celebrations are limited to aesthetics, with the 50th powered by the same naturally aspirated 3.7-litre V6, with 245kW of power and 363Nm of torque, found in the wider Zed range bar the Nismo-fettled version that has an extra 8kW/8Nm.
Those outputs are transmitted to the rear wheels via Nissan’s slick six-speed manual gearbox (there is an auto, adding $2500 to the bottom line) and straight off, it’s a charmer. The gear lever itself (trimmed in red leather) is short and stubby with a satisfyingly short throw and precise gate action.
Push the starter button and there’s an immediate and threatening growl from the V6. Even at idle, the baritone note of Nissan’s 3.7-litre NA donk harks back to another era of motoring, when displacement ruled and air wasn’t force-fed into cylinders. It’s automotive nostalgia, written in an ancient sonic language.
Even at low city speeds, the 370Z burbles along nicely, if gruffly. Let its pipes open, though, and the 50th becomes something else again. With peak power not on tap until 7000rpm and the needle needing to hit 5200rpm before maximum torque kicks in, the 370Z remains a sports car happiest having its little neck wrung. In a good way.
That’s not to say the 50th isn’t happy in the urban grind. The clutch is meaty enough, without being too heavy, to not make traffic a chore. The bite point is predictable, the action and throw of the gear lever suitably notchy and tactile, while the V6 burbles nicely at low revs.
But, as for any sports car, the open road is its happy place. Here, the V6 starts to growl, as the revs build in the hunt for maximum power and torque. There’s a predictable linearity to the way the Nissan builds speed. It’s not maniacally fast, but there’s a nice surge of motivation as the revs build and you hold on to that gear just a little longer. It’s all very mechanical, more so for rowing through the gears yourself.
The steering offers some lovely heft, and decent feedback, too, from the wheels and the road. And there’s enough friskiness calibrated into the 370Z’s traction control to highlight its playfulness.
Downshifts, depending on your viewpoint, can be delightful thanks to the rev-matching function built into the Zed. It can be switched off, if you prefer to heel-and-toe the analogue way. Either way, the Zed, a car I once thought outdated and swimming against the tide of modernity, has become completely charming and engaging with the passage of time.
That translates nicely to its on-road manners, where the Zed’s chassis remains tight and nicely balanced. Yes, the damping errs on the firm side of sport, exactly as a car of this nature should. It’s not bone-jarring by any stretch, and if anything it merely enhances the raw nature of the 370Z.
And it is raw. Take the Zed to some deserted twisties and let her run off the chain just a bit, and you’ll be grateful for its brash behaviour. The noise, the accuracy of the slightly heavy-ish steering, the unquestionably mechanical rawness, all serve to highlight its sports car underpinnings. It’s beguiling.
That feeling doesn’t quite translate to the interior, which just feels like it's swimming against the tide of modernity. Sure, the 370Z has tried to stem the tide of ageing with modern inclusions like a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen integrated into the dash. It’s serviceable enough, but lacks some of the intuitive user experience we’ve become accustomed to in these modern automotive times. There’s in-built satellite navigation, which is good because the Zed lacks smartphone mirroring. Also missing is digital radio, while a single USB point provides some voltage for recharging devices.
The driver display is a mix of old and, well, old. There’s a centrally mounted analogue tachometer, and to the right an analogue speedo. To the left, a digital dial displaying various bits of information in a font that wouldn’t look out of place in a 1970s sci-fi movie. A glaring omission? A digital speed display. Three pod dials sit atop the dashboard – showing time, engine temperature and battery charge – and add to the nostalgic vibe.
The seats are supportive and comfortable, hugging you like a soft cardigan, although a little bit more under-thigh support wouldn’t go astray. That said, they’re covered in a nice combination of leather and suede replete with embossed ‘Z’ logos.
The steering wheel is wrapped in leather with Alcantara at the main touchpoints. Red contrast stitching continues the racy vibe inside, as does the red insert at ’centre’. Alcantara trims the centre console, too, right at the point where your knee touches – a thoughtful inclusion.
In terms of creature comforts, there’s a smattering of singles: a single cupholder, one USB point, a lone 12V outlet, a CD player. A manual handbrake is très 2009.
Storage? There’s some space behind the seats but a strut brace impacts available space. There’s a shallow boot, too, and unsurprisingly Nissan doesn’t offer figures for available space. A cargo blind covers whatever contents you can manage to cram in there. There’s a space-saver spare under the floor.
Safety? Six airbags, standard cruise control, LED daytime running lights, ABS, ESC, brake force distribution that sends extra force to the rears should there be the extra weight of a passenger on board, and brake assist that applies maximum force should the car detect the brake pedal is being leaned on in an emergency situation. By today’s standards, that’s pretty slim pickings. ANCAP? Untested.
Nissan claims 10.6L/100km of 95RON fuel use on the combined cycle. We saw an indicated 13.8L after our, admittedly a little bit raucous, time with the 50th. Servicing intervals are a meagre six months/10,000km, and the first six scheduled services covered under Nissan’s capped-price plan: $285, $368, $297, $633, $309, and $398, a total of $2290. The Zed is covered by Nissan’s five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, including five years of roadside assistance.
If Nissan’s aim with hanging on to the ageing 370Z for a decade was to reinvigorate a certain love of driving in an era where automotive homogenisation makes finding those delightful moments a little harder, then mission accomplished. The Zed, once just an old car in a sea of modernity, has instead become a nostalgic reminder of a more mechanical era of motoring. It’s raw, unbridled, and utterly charming.