Special Coverage

Auto Interiors Conference

From behind the wheel of the all-new ’09 Nissan 370Z, the world looks like a cold, dark place.

That might sound like a criticism, but it’s not. Motoring enthusiasts like their sports cars sparse, mechanical and purpose-built not to dazzle members of the opposite sex but to facilitate conveyance of power from rubber to road.

The new 370Z coupe – the second generation of the modern Z car – does it better than any of the fresh entries on the market this year, including the Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger.

For that, it snags the 2009 Interior of the Year award in the Sports Car category.

Black is the dominant color inside the new 370Z, and only customers spending more for up-level trim get splashes of light, such as the gray leather seats and matching synthetic suede door panels.

The roadster version of the new Z car, designated as a ’10 model, arrives later this summer and will offer deep burgundy wine-shaded leather appointed seats.

But don’t let those selective offerings fool you. There is nothing frilly about the 370Z interior.

The metallic accents framing the instrument cluster convey the mechanical tension of an engine block being machined. The dominant, central placement of the tachometer, with a smaller speedometer offset to the right, leaves no question about the coupe’s intent.

“This is the most inspired interior feature ever,” raves Senior Editor Eric Mayne about the pod’s adjustment mechanism, which allows the gauges to be raised, without compromising sight lines.

The orange lighting of the instrument panel, particularly at night, lend to the incendiary nature of the driver interface.

In a tribute to the original Datsun 240Z from the 1960s, the new Z car features the distinctive “3-bay” gauge pod positioned above the center stack, canted toward the driver for better visibility.

Each circular gauge in this old-school setup gets a brow to reduce glare. One governs oil pressure, the second regulates voltage and the third is a clock, visible also to the passenger.

Reinforcing the no-nonsense theme are the perforated leather seats, which are not designed for visual impact. Instead, the seats are supremely comfortable, punctuated with ample hip and shoulder bolsters to keep the driver in position during aggressive maneuvers.

Fit-and-finish is excellent and clever storage bins maximize available space behind the seats and on the instrument panel for models not equipped with navigation.

There are minor quibbles. The manual rotary knobs positioned on the side of the driver’s seat for raising and lowering it are difficult to reach with the door closed, and some Ward’s judges would prefer a rotary dial for the radio.

But at $36,865, the 332-hp 370Z Touring coupe is a great value, and the brushed aluminum pedals and purposeful interior urge the driver to turn off the traction control and hit the track.

“This is a really serious sports car for the money, and the cockpit design underscores that mission,” Ward’s AutoWorld Editor Drew Winter writes on his 370Z score sheet.

Illuminated brushed aluminum kickplates, emblazoned with an italic “Z,” cost an extra $200 and are worth every penny. Frilly? No. Cool? Absolutely.