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Nissan’s been making waves within the automotive press lately with two announcements – first, that it’s developing a sports car to go head-to-head with the likes of the Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S, and second, that it’s slashing the sticker prices of 2014 370Z Coupes by up to $3 grand versus last year. The two statements seem to go hand in hand, considering the current 370Z’s been around since 2008 more or less unchanged. Dropping the price on the hardtop, which has seen some key new competitors come into the marketplace since then, will incentivize those buyers on the fence to make the move now. What remains to be seen is what, if any, effect that new sports car will have on the next Z car, or if perhaps a change in mission in fact means the next Z is that new BRZ/FR-S competitor.

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I find that last possibility less likely, as the Z has always been based around a six cylinder engine and it’s unlikely a newer Z-car would be able to be sold cheaply enough to trouble the Toyobaru twins on price. With what could be a new sports car moving in to fill the gap at the lower end of the market that gives the next 370Z room to expand upwards in price and content – a prospect that could allow Nissan’s engineers to finally make good on the promise of a truly world-class entry level sports car.

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Much ado was made about the 370Z when it debuted five-plus years ago. A lot of comparisons were made in the press between it and the Cayman/Cayman S, proposing that the Z had all of the performance at half the price. In reality, the Z was never meant to be a Cayman competitor, and a quick drive revealed that fact plainly – while it might match the Cayman in outright numbers, it couldn’t match the pricey German in ergonomics, feel or performance delivery. Measuring the Z against closer competitors, like the Camaro SS and Mustang GT, puts it on better standing. An honest sports car instead of a breathed-on pony car/sedan chassis, the Z offered better turn-in and more adjustable handling than either of the Detroit-bred steeds. The now-defunct BMW 135i also aligned closely with upmarket trim levels of the 370, and here again, the Z acquitted itself well.

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In the past four months, I’ve driven convertible variants of all three of these vehicles – the 2013 BMW 135is, and the 2014 Camaro SS and Mustang GT – and thus was eager to get behind the wheel of the latest 370Z Roadster to see how it measured up. With the other cars being four-seaters and the Z a proper two-seat roadster, the hole in the roof letting in the daylight naturally ends up being a good bit smaller. By having less steel overhead to cut away in the first place, you’d expect the Z to therefore retain a good bit more chassis rigidity versus the other cars – and you’d be right. Driven top down or up, the 370Z feels all-of-a-piece, where the other cars (especially the 1-series) feel jittery in comparison. Over bumps and around bends, the Z Roadster feels nearly as honed-in as the coupe – no mean feat, especially considering the Z was designed as a coupe and made into a roadster, not the other way round as in the Cayman/Boxster twins.

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It feels as strong as the coupe in the engine department, as well. Despite being almost 100 horsepower softer by comparison, it feels nearly as brutish as the 420-horsepower Mustang GT convertible I sampled a month or two ago. Credit the Z’s nearly 400-pound lighter curb weight and extra gear in the automatic transmission – it gets up and goes with little provocation. That seven-speed transmission is still a traditional torque-converter automatic, but in character it’s right there with the best of them – while shift speeds still skew toward the “automatic” rather than “dual clutch” end of the spectrum, the rev-matched downshifts in manual mode and responsive paddle shifters seemingly pulled straight from the GTR parts bin at least make the transmission feel more eager and alive – think BMW SMG-II or Ferrari F1 shift from a few years back, and you won’t be far off. Of course, full-throttle shift quality is far less brutal than in either of those examples, too.

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The Z’s exterior and interior styling have aged well considering the car’s life on the market, with a minor freshening in 2013 bringing new fascias and wheel designs. Our $51k-sticker “Touring” roadster was pretty well-loaded, as you would expect, featuring navigation, heated and cooled seats and the Sport package, bringing forged 19” Rays wheels, bigger brakes with four-piston calipers, “Euro-tuned Sport Shocks”, and a viscous LSD. You want that Sport package, whether you go for the high-zoot Touring trim level or not – the gunmetal-finish Rays alloys looked lovely against the pearl white paint finish and Bourdeaux roof color of our tester, as well as just about every other color Z I’ve seen them on.

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For those that desire wind-in-the-hair motoring, few other sports cars at the $50k price level will match the 370Z’s combo of performance and handling – unless you manage to find a stripped-to-the-bones Boxster, that is, and one at this price level will surely be poverty spec. For hardtop aficionados like myself, there’s never been a better time to get into a 370Z Coupe, especially now that you can snap one up for original 2008 prices – a 2014 Coupe with the sports package and nothing else will run you just $33,830 – a bargain, all things considered. It might not offer a BRZ/FR-S’s delicate handling balance, but you’ll not likely tire of having 132 extra horsepower underfoot for a few grand more. As for the next Z and sub-Z models that Nissan has been teasing, we’ll just have to wait and see what the future holds – but the current Z-car’s inherent goodness makes me optimistic, to say the least.

2014 Nissan 370Z Touring Roadster

Base price: $46,260

Price as tested: $51,365

Options on test car: Sport package ($2,830), Navigation ($2,150), Floor mats ($125)

Powertrain: 3.7-liter DOHC V6, 7-speed automatic transmission – 332 hp / 270 lb-ft torque

S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 21.1 mpg

Nissan provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.

 

                     

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John Kucek

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