As you may recall, I took a look at Nissan’s latest two-seater back in December of 2009. My snowbound adventures in the 370Z made for great pictures, but not the best driving impressions. Fortunately, Nissan has seen fit to refresh the press fleet this year with a spanking-new collection of 370Zs, and I was able to talk my way into this Solid Red Coupe Sport for a fresh look.

First things first: Nothing has changed. For 2011, the European lineup now boasts a new trim level geared toward driver comfort, but we Americans are not invited to the party. Nissan has fiddled a bit with the option packages and made some small electronic updates, both resulting in some minor price adjustments, but on the whole, this is the same basic car I drove nearly two years ago.

“Basic” is the right word for it, too. While our 2009 loaner was an almost fully loaded Touring model, our 2011 tester is a mere base Coupe equipped with the Sport package–a combination I like to refer to as the “Internet car forum package.” It’s the cheapest way to get the go-fast bits, so it’s seen as the natural price point upon which to base your average enthusiast’s magazine race.

So how much is it and what will that get you? $30,610 will get you into a barebones Z these days (up from $29,930 previously). For that, you get the basics: A 3.7L, 332 horsepower V6; a 6-Speed manual transmission; cloth, contrast-stitched interior surfaces with pleather accents; and all the other bits and pieces you’ve come to expect as standard equipment in a modern two-seater. Another $3,020 gets you the Sport package, which is pretty much a mandatory expenditure if you’re reading this review. The extra three grand gets you a viscous limited-slip differential, forged 19″ RAYS wheels, front and rear spoilers for some added eye candy, SyncroRev Match and a set of larger brake calipers. For another $580, they’ll throw in a set of upgraded, NISMO-branded brake pads that bite like an abused Rottweiler (and probably chew through rotors with equal vigor). All told, you’re looking at roughly $35k. With all of this power, and high-quality parts it would be ashamed if you had a car crash in it. My friend told me that he recently had a car crash in a similarly powered car. He decided to get some legal perspective from an injury attorney to see if he had a case. He learned a lot from their consultation. If you’ve found yourself in a similar situation consider a consultation.

When you consider that it would take a copy of the press release just to identify any differences between the ’09 and ’11 cars, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the car feels exactly the same. The VQ still moans down low and screams up high, vibrations from the drive train reverberating through the gear selector. Forget for a moment that this car shares basic chassis elements with the G37. The Z is not a luxury car. It’s a mutt–mean and streetwise. It makes you wonder how the “Fairlady” nameplate ever took. Sure, it’s not as burly as a 5-liter Mustang or as lithe and nimble as an RX-8 or a Miata, but it’s squarely and legitimately in the middle of sports car territory.

That’s not to say it’s perfect though. As I observed with the 2009, the steering leaves a little to be desired. It’s not bad by any means, but it’s not as communicative as a lot of its rivals’. Even the Genesis Coupe edges out the Nissan in this regard, though not by much. Driving them back to back, the average shopper probably couldn’t tell the difference between the helms of an R-Spec and sport-equipped Z. Both are good; neither is ideal. Where the Z sets itself apart in character is in its driveline. No other Japanese sports car on sale today is anywhere near as masculine as the Z. It’s the muscle car of the group–heavy and brutish. The shifter takes a solid throw and the clutch is like a leg press. Oh, and it grabs in an instant, too. It takes a good deal of finesse to drive a Z smoothly. You’ll never hear of a Mazda or a Honda described that way; though I suppose you’d need a new Honda sports car to describe in the first place.

Since the Japanese competitors are few and far between, let’s rewind a bit and talk about the Genesis Coupe for a second. Hyundai’s first effort was a solid one, if more flawed in certain critical areas than the Z: it’s down on power, boasts a horrid gear selector and a slightly vague clutch, and lacks in the tangible sports car qualities that you get with the Z. The Hyundai is refined, feeling more like a mini GT car than a true sports coupe (the extra seats don’t help in this regard). By contrast, the Z transmits the entire world into the cabin, mostly through the rear wheels. The tires roar; rocks ping off the wheel well liners; the exhaust booms. The Nissan is a car you hear and feel, while the Hyundai pulls the wool a little more tightly over its wolfish underpinnings. And on the street, the Z would devour the Genesis. If you live your life a quarter mile (and an arrest warrant) at a time, the Z is the no-brainer choice. But when you factor in the cost and what you get in performance features, the Genesis Coupe, especially the 3.8 R-Spec, really makes a better case for itself.

Consider this: The Genesis Coupe 3.8 R-Spec comes with Brembo brakes, 19″ forged wheels and a TORSEN limited-slip differential. There are no fancy interior tech options or comfort features. You get four seats, a radio and a more robust set of trackday goodies than even a NISMO Z, all for under $27k–an almost $8k advantage over the Z. If you want leather and other amenities, the price gap narrows, but the Z’s nameplate carries a healthy premium all the way up through its aforementioned ~$41k range-topper, though the NISMO does at least push the underhood advantage northward by another 18 horsepower even if it does maintain the lowly Sport package’s viscous LSD.

In a vacuum, the Z is a wonderful car. It’s muscular and elegant, both inside and out, and the formula has aged rather well. Forget what you’ve heard elsewhere about the 3.7L VQ. All the qualities that make it a questionable powerplant for the G and M make it perfectly suited to the Z. It’s often said that character lies in the flaws after all, and here it’s absolutely worth the trade off.

Vehicle: 2011 Nissan 370Z Coupe w/ Sport Package
Base price: $30,610
Major options: Sport Package ($3,020) | NISMO Performance Brake Pads ($580) | Carpeted floor mats ($115)
As-tested price: $35,075 (incl. $750 destination charge)
Time in fleet: 4/29/2011-5/6/2011
Miles driven (approx): 350

Nissan provided the Z for the purpose of this road test.

            

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Byron Hurd

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