Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2016 Nissan 370Z

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

On the mountaintop, the warriors meet. “Oh ancient grandfather,” cries the samurai with the red banner, “How may I regain my vital spirit? My followers desert me. My star fades in the heavens.”

“Well, first off you can cool it with all that 'ancient grandfather' business,” snaps the samurai in blue, “Why, I'm in fine fettle these days. Check it out, no rust under my side sills.”

“So be it! Death to my former MSRP!”

Red Samurai, averting his headlights, “Ack! Nobody wants to see that, ancient grandfather! I mean, friend.”

“Nothing wrong with that,” says the blue samurai with satisfaction, “Pure steel. Still got it. Anyway, you're over-thinking the problem. There's nothing wrong with your spirit at all.”


“No. You just need to lop ten grand off your starting price.”

Red Samurai, eyes flashing, draws his katana. “So be it! Death to my former MSRP!”

Blue Samurai, in an undertone: “Tsk. Kids. Always with a flair for melodrama to go with their LED running lights.”

And scene. I ran Nissan's 370Z up to the top of this mountain in the company of its ancestor to see if I could figure out the essence of this car, and just as Red Samurai discovered, the answer was right in front of my nose.

Ever since the GT-R arrived to solidly steal its thunder, the Z hasn't really entered into people's minds – what with the Mustang brawling with the Camaro and the roughhousing between the swelling ranks of sport compacts, few had time to consider where the Z slotted in. Alphabetically speaking, it came low on the list, and with a price tag in the mid-40s with an option or two, it barely even registered. Granted, sports cars are never strong sellers, but the 370Z was outsold in Canada last year by stuff like the VW Eos and the Dodge Avenger.

In the US, however, sales were close to those of the Subaru BRZ. Interesting – why d'ye suppose that was? My guess is price. At $40K-plus for a base Canadian model, the Z makes a nice retirement toy for a few, but isn't really on the radar for a large portion of the youth market. But here's the new 2016 version, and the price is down significantly. Now the Z starts at under $30K, within a stone's throw of the base MX-5 price, and not far off that of the aforementioned BRZ. Suddenly the fat's gone, and the Z begins to look less like an expensive toy and maybe kind of a bargain.

Look at the gap between this car and the BRZ: for $1,700 more than the Subie, you get an extra 132 hp. You get 18-inch alloys instead of 17s, bigger tires, bigger brakes, a suspension setup that's a bit more advanced (dual wishbones up front for the Z vs. the BRZ's MacPherson struts), and then a host of other handy stuff like bi-xenon headlights. 

The entry level Z certainly doesn't look like a base model. In fact, this car garnered more compliments than anything I've driven since the F-Type coupe – and not just from dudes (as was the case with the F-Type) but from the ladies. I don't ordinarily get attention from the ladies, what with looking like Tintin's fat, sleep-deprived cousin Tinton, but in the Z I practically had to shoo the hordes away in the parking lot.

You can see why. Park the new Z next to the old one, and every auto writer on my twitter feed will opine, “I'll take the blue one!” Out by itself though, the Z has aged well. It's a little bit catfishy, but given that everything else on the road now resembles Bane reincarnated as a basking shark, it's actually sort of pretty. There's an element of bulky muscularity about it, but this is a shape that continues to look good years after its launch.

On the inside, oh. Oh I see. Well that's where the money's been saved. If you haven't seen cloth seats in a Z for a while, American imports notwithstanding, then the reasonably barebones interior of the entry-level coupe can be a bit jarring.

But bear in mind again that this is suddenly a price-point rival for some cheapish four-cylinder coupes, and the Z again looks pretty good. The gauges are a bit of a mess, from the comically bad digital fuel and range display to the left of the tachometer, to the Fast and Spurious pods sprouting from the dash. Battery voltage? Oh yes, always gotta’ keep an eye on that bit of vital information.

But other than a sense that maybe not everything in here need be quite so orange, this is a perfectly acceptable environment for an elemental sports car. The seats are good and grippy (the FR-S and the BRZ have better chairs though), the way the gauge cluster moves with the steering wheel is nice, and if it's a bit tight in here, I'm not too cramped at 5'11”. The rear-quarter visibility is pillbox-grade, but it's easy to acclimatize to the Z, and the trunk/hatch provides some useful utility. I also really quite like the fact that you get both a glovebox and an extra little cubby behind the passenger's seat.

Under the Z's long hood is a 3.7L V6 that makes 332 hp at 7,000 rpm and 270 lb-ft of torque at 5,200 rpm.

Healthy numbers, but even more interesting to me is that the badge on the back of the car matches the displacement in the engine bay. Remember when that used to be a thing? Pepperidge Farm remembers – and so apparently does the Z.

Also great: one touch traction control off. No submenus to hunt through, no holding the button down for three seconds while chanting the Konami code under your breath. Hit the starter button and the VQ-series V6 rumbles to life; hit the button to the left of the steering wheel and so does the driver.

Everything that's old about the 370Z is great. The steering is light, but has more feel than the electric power assist units plaguing every other sports car line these days. There's a focus on mechanical grip rather than clever electronics.

Not everything is perfect, of course. The gear shifter is a bit notchy and could engage more smoothly. The long travel of the accelerator pedal makes heel-toe shifting and rev-matched downshifts a pain – you really have to stomp on it.

Other than that though, the Z is surprisingly good, better than I remember, and certainly a more polished product than the 350Z was. For a car that's surely in the last few years of its product cycle, the new price point makes it a sudden consideration. It's like the Micra of V6 sports cars – yes, there are issues here and there, but suddenly there's value to balance out the flaws.

The issue here though is that this new basic enthusiast-spec machine still anchors a lineup that shoots up rapidly in price. Want a Z where the roof folds down? $49,498 plus freight, thank you very much. That's a lot.

So, as we return from the mountaintop, a few lessons learned. One: where price is concerned, less is definitely more. Two: you can strip the extras off the Z and not only is the car undiminished by the cost-cutting, but enhanced by it. Three: not all the advances in the modern world were actually advances.

Most importantly of all, this new cheaper Z feels relevant again. With the GT-R holding down halo car functions, I'd like to see something even lighter, perhaps with 1.6T power and a body filled with carbon-composites. It needn't be complicated though: the essence of a Z isn't in the extras, it's in the simple stuff.

3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 3 years/60,000 km 24-hour roadside assistance

Chevrolet Camaro
Ford Mustang
Hyundai Genesis
Scion FR-S
Subaru BRZ

Model Tested 2016 Nissan 370Z
Base Price $29,998
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,740
Price as Tested $31,838
Optional Equipment