We were appalled when the 2010 Nissan 370Z review car showed up in our garage equipped with an automatic transmission. This generation 370Z is one of the best dedicated sports cars available, with the capability to pivot in a corner like a ballerina en pointe, and having a six-speed-manual transmission makes the driving experience visceral.
If Nissan had included its navigation option on in the 370Z instead of leaving the yawning empty storage compartment at the top of the dash, we would have understood. If you're going to tone down the car's sporting character, Nissan might as well give it its latest cabin tech. However, instead of having the $1,800 optional navigation system, this car had the $3,000 Sport package, which consists of a limited slip differential and 19-inch Rays wheels, among other performance pieces.
It was then that we realized Nissan may be trying to make a point about its automatic transmission. Nissan gives 370Z buyers the automatic transmission for no extra cost, but that is not a compelling reason to get it. When looking at the cars specs, two things caught our eye: the automatic is a seven speed and it has a rev-matching downshift feature.
After looking at the column-mounted paddles, the same parts you find in the Nissan GT-R, we decided to give it a chance.
The 2010 Nissan 370Z is a short, wide car with a wheel base at a little larger than 8 feet and width of 6 feet, giving it excellent cornering characteristics. Although weighing only 3,314 pounds, Nissan powers it with a 3.7-liter V-6 engine that makes 332 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque.
The 370Z has a unique style, too, and looks like nothing else on the road. The Nissan is a coupe with two doors and a hatchback, but no rear seat. It is also low to the ground, which requires a little leg bending to get behind the wheel, but we didn't find it tortuous. From the driver's seat, the hatchback's deeply slanted glass and the wide B-pillars compromise your rear visibility. But with this car's speed, you should only worry about what's ahead.
Driving the 370Z with the automatic transmission initially felt numbing to us. In urban areas, we hoisted the car around corners and performed the usual stop and go at every block, as dictated by traffic lights, all while the transmission continually short-shifted, keeping the engine speed low.
When we put the hammer down on a freeway onramp, the car didn't feel as if it was giving us everything it had. The V-6 engine has power to spare, but the transmission leaned toward fuel economy instead of our desire for exhilarating speed.
Part of the numb driving feel came from the car's well-damped suspension. Instead of a typical sports car rough ride over city asphalt, the 370Z delivers a very civilized experience, in keeping with its almost luxury cabin appointments. It felt more composed and calm than it did fast and furious.
The automatic transmission's short shifting and seven gears lead to an expected bonus in fuel economy. According to its EPA estimates, it should get 26 mpg on the highway. We got 21.6 mpg in mixed freeway, city, and mountain driving, which is not a bad number considering the Nissan's big V-6 engine.
With the 370Z's stock cabin tech--Nissan didn't include navigation or iPod support in our test car, just a basic Bluetooth phone system and an MP3 compatible six-disc CD changer--we didn't want to spend much time getting between points A and B. For one of our drives, we loaded three CDs into the Nissan's changer, and realized how much we've grown to hate dealing with CDs in a car. Taking CDs out of and putting them into their respective cases and the changer is a tedious task.
Nissan makes a very good navigation and entertainment system that is available for the 370Z. The optional system stores maps on a hard drive, reacts quickly, and shows traffic information, with the option to dynamically route around problems.
You can also store music on the hard drive, and it includes full iPod integration. As Nissan includes an eight-speaker Bose audio system standard with the 370Z, it doesn't have an option to upgrade those. This system produces robust sound, which is typical for Bose. Its bass is rich and satisfying; however, its clarity suffers a little.
Driving the car on into the winding roads of the Santa Cruz Mountains, we got our first taste of the sporting nature of the automatic transmission. This transmission has two modes, automatic and manual, with no sport automatic. We popped it into manual mode and started banging the car into turns.
Coming up on a right-hand turn, with a mountain on the passenger side and cliff across the lane to our left, we slapped the column-mounted paddle, triggered the transmission to downshift to second gear, and enjoyed auditory delight of hearing the engine revs getting poked up while the transmission sloshes its way through the gear change.
That behavior, that throttle blip, is similar to what happens with the manual transmission's rev match feature, and it works the same. The transmission's smooth gear changes kept the wheel speed even, ruling out any upsetting behavior and let us push the car through the turn. With power spilling through the rear wheels, keeping the torque locked with the limited slip, the car executes an excellent rotation, which is the 370Z's reason for being.
Along with the enhanced brake calipers that come as part of the Sport package, Nissan equipped our car with optional NISMO brake pads. The pads provide easy solid stopping power and the capability to apply modulation depending on the turn entry. However, the NISMO pads main benefit comes in track driving, where they will stand up to frequent and heavy brake work--public roads don't give you the opportunity to exploit them fully.
Tapping the paddle shifters through second, third, and fourth gears let us control the engine speed; however, the experience is nothing like what you get with a manual or a dual-clutch manual transmission. Each gearshift felt soft, keeping us insulated from car and road and didn't give us the full-blown sports car experience we prefer. We're not sure who would opt for the automatic transmission in the 370Z, but make ours a manual.
Although Nissan didn't equip our review car with its available cabin tech, we have tested the company's navigation and entertainment systems in other 370Zs and can attest to their usefulness. Based on our experiences, we give the 370Z an above average score for its cabin electronics.
Similarly, we have tested a 370Z with a manual transmission and like that car's shift feel, along with the rev matching technology. The automatic transmission wins a few tech points, too, but it isn't the best choice for sport driving. Transmissions aside, the cars excellent handling and usable power from the engine earns the 370Z an excellent score for performance tech.
We also give the 370Z an excellent design rating, as we particularly like the interface for the available cabin tech. It also gets points for the car's unique styling that sets it apart from all other cars.
|EPA fuel economy|
|Observed fuel economy|
|Bluetooth phone support|
|MP3 player support|
|Other digital audio|
|Price as tested|