One of the things you can expect when automakers offer up their products for automotive journalists to test is that they almost invariably bring top-of-the line models. That makes sense. They want to create a good impression and, of course, they’d rather sell more heavily optioned models than those in base trim.
As I said, almost invariably. Bucking the trend, Nissan brought a base-trim 370Z to the Motor Press Guild’s Track Days event. The Nissan representative on hand said he wanted to show off the car in its most basic form. He also wanted to demonstrate that you can get a brand-new Z car for less than $30 grand. Not much less, mind you. Sticker price for the test car was $29,990, but still, $30,000 usually doesn’t buy much in the way of sports cars, so his point was well made.
I didn’t discover what he was up to till after my test drive, so my notebook has comments like, “interior is a little ‘plasticky’” and “feels a bit unrefined compared with Infiniti Q60” with which it shares a platform.
The car came with cloth seats, no navigation system and its six-speed transmission was not fitted with Nissan’s oh-so-slick SynchroRev Match system. It was as sparsely equipped Nissan could get away with. It did have power windows and locks and mirrors and steering and brakes — those are expected — but that was about it.
You know what? It didn’t really need anything more. If you’re going to buy a Z car as a commuter or a third car you can take to the track, this is the model you want. Rev-match downshifts on your own. If you’re going to buy a new car or find a barely used model to turn into a racecar, this is the Z you want. There are fewer items to remove and discard, and the car starts out about 60 pounds lighter than higher-trim models.
At this price, the car doesn’t come with a limited slip differential, nor the nifty Brembo brakes that come with the Sport and Sport Tech models, but one phone call to Nissan Motorsports fixes that.
In base trim, the engine is the same as the Sport and Sport Tech models. The venerable VQ37VHR produces 332 horsepower at 7,000 rpm on its way to a 7,500-rpm redline. Torque output is decent at 270 pound-feet at 5,200 rpm. The engine makes its power using continuously variable valve timing and multiport fuel injection, so there’s no direct injection nonsense to deal with like carbon-fouled intake valves.
On track, the car is plenty capable. It’s manners confirmed what the specification sheet shows. Fitted with double wishbones up front and a multilink setup out back, the car feels planted in the corners and well suited to the task of track driving. The steering rack on the base model has a little quicker ratio, too.
The instrument cluster rises and falls with the tilt steering column, so you can see all the gauges no matter what the wheel position. The gauges themselves seemed odd to me. The trio atop the dash included, from left, an oil temperature gauge, a volt meter and a clock. The cluster housed the coolant temperature gauge, which was a line of red LEDs with a C on one end and an H on the other. Huh? How that setup was approved for production is a mystery.
It should have had the clock set somewhere — anywhere — in the cluster, with the three gauges atop the dash measuring oil pressure, voltage and coolant temperature measured in actual numbers.
For a base trim model, the seats were surprisingly good, with ample lateral support and lots of adjustability to accommodate virtually any size driver.
In stock form, the car is pretty good, but we know from NASA’s Spec Z class that the Brembo brakes are a necessity for frequent track use. What’s more, there is a ton of aftermarket support to make these cars even more vicious on track. Nissan itself “crowd-sourced” a performance project from its Facebook fans to build the ultimate track car. You can see how that project went in the YouTube video highlighted on this page.
In the end, it probably was a smart move bringing a base model to the Track Days event. Rather than complaining about all the equipment you don’t need for track duty or that it just serves to make the car heavier, the base model had me thinking how much car this was for the money — and that’s a point well made.
|Engine:||3.7-liter DOHC V6, VQ37VHR|
|Horsepower:||332 @ 7,000 rpm|
|Torque:||270 @ 5,200 rpm|
|Front suspension:||Double-wishbone, aluminum|
|Rear suspension:||Independent multilink, aluminum|
|Rear axle ratio:||3.69:1|
|Curb Weight:||3,292 lbs.|