Special Coverage

Greater L.A. Auto Show

Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.’s next-generation Z sports car unveiled here today at the 2008 Los Angeles auto show will hit the U.S. market in January with a new badge and bulked-up version of the VQ engine, a perennial Ward’s 10 Best Engines winner.

Now called the 370Z due to its larger 3.7L V-6, the new model represents the first redesign of the current Z since its 2003 reintroduction in the U.S.

The bored-out engine makes 332 hp, 26 hp more than the outgoing model’s 3.5L. Torque is rated at 270 lb.-ft. (366 Nm), up from 268 lb.-ft. (363 Nm) in the ’08 350Z.

“Nearly every piece and component of the 370Z has been rethought or redesigned,” Nissan says.

For ’09, only a coupe body style will be offered, with the Z roadster making its return for the ’10 model year.

Two transmissions are available, a 7-speed automatic with paddle shifters and what Nissan says is the world’s first synchronized, downshift-rev-matching 6-speed manual.

The “SynchroRevMatch” function, offered as part of a sport package, smoothes out gear changes, reducing the shock associated with engaging the clutch, Nissan says. The feature can be deactivated via a button near the shifter.

Dimensionally, the Z’s wheelbase now is 4 ins. (10 cm) shorter than that of the outgoing model, achieved by pushing forward the rear wheels in Nissan’s second-generation FM platform. Length and height have been reduced, while the Z’s overall width and the rear track have grown in size, which Nissan says provides for “a much more aggressive stance.”

The auto maker reduced the heft of the Z by using lighter-weight materials, including a first-ever all-aluminum hood, plus aluminum hatch and door panels.

Carbon-fiber composite also was used, to create the radiator housing and to strengthen the rear fender and hatch areas.

Nissan says it “extensively revised” the Z’s body structure, improving front and rear body-torsion rigidity to increase performance and reduce noise, vibration and harshness.

“As every racecar driver knows, weight is the enemy of performance and rigidity is the foundation for handling – but they usually work at cross purposes from each other,” Al Castignetti, vice president-sales for Nissan North America Inc.’s Nissan Div. says in a statement. “With the new 370Z, the engineers were able to build a body that is both stronger and lighter, enhancing the Z’s athletic performance capabilities.”

Also aimed at improving performance, Nissan took weight out of the Z’s fuel tank, exhaust system, audio systems and 19-in. wheels, and lowered the engine to lower the vehicle’s center of gravity and driver hip point.

The suspension didn’t escape a diet regimen, either, with the new front double wishbones comprised of lighter forged-aluminum arms, replacing the current 350Z’s multilink setup.

The weight savings helped increase city and highway fuel economy vs. the 350Z, Nissan says.

The auto maker estimates a gain of 2 mpg (0.8 km/L) highway for the automatic-equipped cars.

Styling cues include a new rear quarter window Nissan says is reminiscent of that in the original ‘70 240Z.

However, Nissan also built on the design language of the outgoing 350Z.

“One usually thinks of evolution as being linear, (but) the new 370Z’s ‘super evolution’ builds on the best features of both the first- and last-generation Z-cars,” Castignetti says, adding the 370Z’s styling is “respectful but not retro.”

Punctuating the new exterior are boomerang-shaped headlights and taillights and a cantilevered roof design, similar to that of Nissan’s larger GT-R sports car.

Inside, the Z again accommodates two, with the driver’s seat specially formed to hold the pilot “firmly in place without interfering with shifting.”

Standard features include cloth-upholstered buckets, with 8-way manual adjustment for the driver and 4-way manual positioning for the passenger. The latter also folds down to accommodate cargo. The 370Z Touring grade boasts standard leather, 4-way power-adjustable seating.

Nissan describes the interior as “driver-centric,” with a full length center console separating driver from passenger.

Three layers, dubbed information, operation and holding, have been incorporated in the 370Z’s interior design. The information layer consists of steering-wheel-mounted gauges, with gauge angle adjusted and size increased. The operation layer includes the steering wheel (now an oval 3-spoke design), redesigned shifter and switchgear. Seats, knee pads and door-trim support make up the holding layer.

There are just two grades available for ’09: the base 370Z and 370Z Touring.

Standard features for the 370Z include bi-function xenon high-intensity discharge headlights; light-emitting diode taillights; steering-wheel audio controls with illumination; auxiliary jack; power windows and door locks; four cupholders; two 12V outlets; storage box and a raft of safety features, including curtain airbags and electronic stability control.

The Touring trim boasts a 240-watt, 6-speaker Bose audio system with XM Satellite Radio and MP3 capability; Bluetooth hands-free phone system; auto-dimming rearview mirror; HomeLink Universal Transceiver; aluminum-trimmed pedals and a rear cargo cover.

Options include a viscous limited-slip differential, 14-in. (36-cm) front and 13.8-in. (35-cm) rear vented disc brakes; 19-in. forged alloy wheels; DVD navigation system with XM NavTraffic and 9.3GB Music Box Hard Drive; voice recognition; and full-color liquid crystal display 7-in. (18-cm) monitor (last three available only on Touring trim).

Ward’s data show 2003 was the best year for the 350Z, with sales of 36,728 units in the U.S. Deliveries in 2007 fell 23.0% to 18,957 units from 24,635 in 2006.

Through October, 350Z deliveries are off 43.1%, outpacing the 26.1% industry-wide decline in the Ward’s Middle Specialty segment.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com