This might be tough to believe, but Nissan has an entry-level sports car, and it's called the 370Z. I'm just making sure you were aware because, despite being an excellent way to get your rear-wheel drive kicks, Nissan sold just 3,265 of the two-seat sports cars in 2017. Sure, it pretty much looks exactly the same as it did when it debuted in 2009, but that doesn't mean it's bad. In fact, it's one of the last tech-free sports cars on the market today.
I spent a few hours in the 2018 Nissan 370Z Heritage Edition, which celebrates the Z's 50 years as a sports car icon. Available in either black or yellow and slotting in above the base trim, the Heritage Edition is basically an appearance package with yellow interior trim and gloss black outside mirrors. Still, it's a nice nod to the 1967 240Z model, known then as a Datsun, the brand Nissan originally marketed in the US.
As I slid behind the wheel of the 370Z Heritage Edition, the first thing I noticed was the lack of a touchscreen, or of any screen, really. The only standard tech is cruise control, Bluetooth, a USB port and two 12V power outlets. If you want any kind of modern conveniences you'll have to move up to the Sport Tech or Touring models, and even then, pickings are slim. Those two trims feature a seven-inch touchscreen with built-in navigation, satellite radio and a back up camera. That's it. No lane departure warning, no blind-spot monitoring, no adaptive cruise control. Hell, there's only one cup holder in the center console.
Still, this is a sports car pumping out 332 horsepower from a 3.7-liter V6 engine. Torque comes in at 270 pound-feet of the twist, everything going to the rear wheels for burn-out fun. That is, as long as you have the limited-slip differential, sadly only available on the Sport and Sport Tech trim 370Zs. The base and Heritage Edition that I drove has an open-differential which puts the power to the wheel with the least amount of resistance. Try as I might I was only able to leave one tire fire, not two like is possible in the Ford Mustang with its standard limited-slip.
That's not to say the 370Z isn't any fun in the lower Heritage trim, because trust me, it's a blast. You can turn traction control off with a touch of a button, and the steering is crazy responsive. It has all the weight and feedback that I look for in a car made for twisties. Full torque comes in at a pretty high 5,200 rpm, so expect to be downshifting the standard six-speed manual transmission quite a bit when the turns get tight.
Fortunately, the good folks at Nissan added an Exedy high-performance clutch on all 2018 370Z trims. The former Z's clutch was like using a thigh-press machine at the gym, making the car difficult to drive in traffic and tough to modulate off the line. The lighter Exedy clutch for 2018 is easier to control, and while driving a stick shift in traffic is never fun, at least now you won't be left with a beefy left thigh at the end of the day.
My driving roads outside of Nashville, Tennessee were more high-speed sweepers than serpentine corners, so I didn't get to really put the open differential to the test. In theory, an open differential can easily lead to a loss of control if traction is lost at one wheel, while a limited-slip keeps power distributed more evenly for a tidier turn. For all but the most aggressive drivers, it's not really an issue, but if you plan on any Sunday hooning, be it at the track or on country roads, I recommend you pony up for the higher trim lines.
The Heritage Edition is also available with a seven-speed automatic transmission, but without paddle shifters; you'll have to jump up to higher trims for that. Also noteworthy is that the six-speed manual available in the Sport and Sport Tech trims has a rev-matching feature for perfectly timed shifts. If you're down to heel-toe shift on your own you can turn it off.
Overall the ride is a bit stiff, thanks to the sporty suspension that keeps the 370Z flat in the turns. It's fine for some folks but if this is your first foray into sports car territory, you might find it a little jarring.
Inside, you'll find a tiny cabin with a mere 6.9 cubic feet of cargo space. It was enough for my small overnight bag with enough room left over for a medium-sized backpack, but you'll have to be judicious in what you pack on road trips. The low roofline, side mirrors and thick A-pillar compromise visibility. Your first left turn onto a busy street might be a butt-pucker moment, as it's tough to see cars coming from the right. The lack of a back-up camera in the Heritage Edition is not really a problem for me, as the car is so small, but the technology will become federally mandated in all cars built from May 1, 2018.
The 2018 Nissan 370Z starts at $29,990. The Heritage Edition package adds on a few hundred bucks, making the final price $31,665. Other trims bring that starting price close to $40,000. Unconfirmed gossip points to a concept 390Z debuting at the Tokyo Motor Show this year. Nissan wouldn't comment when I asked about the rumors, but didn't flat out deny them, either.
Rumors or no, the current 370Z certainly is due for a redesign, which presumably would include modern updates to the technology as well. If you're not interested in the latest driver's aids, snag a 2018 Nissan 370Z now, before it gets too modern.