You know what struck me first about the Nissan 370Z we had on test recently? The price. I know that sounds excruciatingly boring, but there’s an important point to make. The base price of £29,185 is under £500 more than the Hyundai i30 N we have on long-term loan, and the optioned-up price of this fancier GT model of £34,860 is near enough the same as the specced figure of the Renault Megane RS we reviewed a few weeks ago.
Only, the Nissan 370Z is not some jumped-up, front-wheel drive hatchback with a turbocharged inline-four. It’s a rear-wheel drive coupe with a big N/A V6 hooked up to a six-speed manual. It’s a coupe which - nearly 10 years after its debut - still looks great.
If a news story came out today suggesting that a manufacturer was about to bring out a rear-wheel drive, N/A six-pot-powered sports car for the price of a hot hatch, we’d all lose our minds. But the fact is something that meets this description is sitting right under our noses right now.
A car made from these ingredients is unlikely to happen again, and with the car given some minor updates for the 2018 model year, it seems like a good time to give the Z a second look.
It looks better than ever thanks to the addition of new 19-inch wheels, some black bumper trim and 370Z Nismo-sourced smoked front and rear light clusters, but when you step inside, you get a bit of a shock. Damn, is it dated in there, with an ancient sat nav system, chunky plastics and a little LCD trip computer display that reminds me of the one on my 12-year-old VW Golf.
There’s no DAB radio, and the Bluetooth connection works only for phone calls. If you want to listen to some music from your iPhone, you’ll have to use an aux cable. Remember those?
None of this matters if the 370Z can deliver a thrilling driving experience, but unfortunately, it’s far from perfect in that area either. And a large part of that is down to what should be the Z’s greatest strength: the engine.
Yes, throttle response is great, and it’s nice to have a lovely linear power delivery for a change, but it’s one of the least tuneful V6s I’ve ever experienced. It doesn’t sing, it drones. To make matters worse, Nissan has decided to pipe in fake noise through the speakers, and combined with the harsh real sound, the results are just nasty. The engine tends to ‘hang’ a bit at higher revs, too.
With the rise of turbochargers, it’s all too easy to get excited at the mere mention of a big-ish unit that does without forced induction. It’s important we remember natural-aspiration doesn’t automatically make for a good engine.
It’s not all bad news, though, as the steering - an old-school hydraulic power setup - is thoroughly lovely. It’s not as pointy off-centre as some modern electrically-assisted racks, but it feels wonderfully natural and actually gives feedback from the road surface, something that’s becoming as forgotten as those aux inputs. There’s a pleasure to be had in chopping through the gears of the unapologetically butch manual ‘box, too.
Despite the big engine, the 370’s front end is very compliant, while at the rear there’s generally plenty of traction, but not so much that it’s impossible to feel the rear occasionally shift around on the road.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is the ride - this Z is much softer than you might expect. Initially, this seemed like a refreshing change to a lot of the super-hard, uncompromising performance cars we see now, particularly given how comfortable it is on a gentle cruise, but this softness comes back to haunt you during less gentle driving.
It’s hard to make the most of that great steering and the responsive V6 because if you start to go quickly on even a mildly bumpy back road, body control immediately becomes an issue. It just will not settle down, which means you’re constantly backing off. Considering the constant fidgeting, it’s best thought of a 328bhp toddler.
The problem is the sports car world has moved on from this. Yes, performance car anachronisms just can work - just look at the Subaru WRX STI. The difference is the Subaru does a much better job of highlighting what’s missing in a lot of modern fast cars.
The 370Z’s problem is it’s just stuck around too long, and for all its affordability and old-world charm, its appeal is limited. Small wonder then, that Nissan has only managed to sell just over 100 of these in the UK so far this year.
It’s time the 370Z was given the quiet retirement it deserves, even if that means a bit of a gap before the supposed ‘400Z’ replacement arrives. The only question is, will the successor look anything like this good, and will it still be affordable?