By Grant Davis

The latest Z continues the Z-line’s heritage of building superb-handling sports cars that won’t break the bank. As tested at $41,895, the Nissan 370 Z Sport Touring model with a slick six-speed manual transmission, Sport Package and Navigation System Package is a true sports driver’s dream.

The 332-hp, 3.7-liter V6 moves the two-seater at a brisk pace — not fast enough to beat a Vette — but that’s OK. Where this Z shines is in the canyons — the tighter the turns, the better. The speed-sensitive steering produces one of the most perfect connections to the road I’ve ever felt. Unlike your current relationship, one quick turn of the wheel and the car goes exactly where you want it, helped by the 270 lb-ft of torque that catapults the svelte roadster out of corners.

To ensure that most of its power goes into the catapult, Nissan uses a double wishbone front- and multi-link rear suspension held taut by front and rear stabilizer bars and a 3-point front strut tower brace. Relatively massive 19-inch Rays aluminum wheels (the same supplier to Formula 1 teams) outfitted with low-profile Bridgestone street tires provide the glue. NISMO performance brake pads mated to 14-inch brakes in front and 13.8 brakes in the rear reign in the car from 60 mph to a stop in a reported 102 feet.

In car terms, that’s like landing an F-18 fighter jet on an aircraft carrier; expect bruising from your seatbelt, passengers! In practice, here’s what that translates into: On the 110 kidney-pounding curves and blind corners packed into 10 miles of Latigo Canyon in the mountains above Malibu, not once did the car’s traction control system or vehicle dynamic control system activate, despite almost losing my breakfast from the G-forces.

Downshifting’s Little Helper

To add to the sports car mystique, Nissan programmed the transmission to sense a downshift and, in a split second, rev the engine ahead of engaging the gear to provide a seamless transfer of power that allows you to corner faster and smack the doors off anyone you need to pass on a two-lane road.

Nissan calls the system Synchro-Rev matching. Prior to this, revving the engine like this was a skill manually employed by race car drivers or serious sports car owners with access to regular track time, or wannabes commuting to work. They had learned how to brake and blip the gas to rev the engine ahead of each downshift. The first time I saw a transmission that did this automatically was on a 2007 Lamborghini with paddle-shifting.

The fact that Nissan brought that technology from super car to the manual transmission on a sub-$40k sports car is astonishing. And the fact that the car made me feel like I knew what I was doing with a manual transmission was a better ego boost than a “Call me!” from Brooklyn Decker. But that’s just me.

Wait, There’s More Sports Car Cred Here

The first indication that the Z is a no-nonsense sport car is the noise. At freeway speeds, the inside is LOUD, which is usually an indication that Nissan nixed the weight penalty of adding sound-proofing to the body panels. Not that I was about to check by peeling off the door panel. Because while this car may be loud, the tactile surfaces are smart and the touch points – the synthetic suede steering wheel and the elbow pads in the doors along with the orange eight-way adjustable leather seats – are heavenly.

Nissan even padded the outside of the center console to save your right leg from bruising during aggressive driving.

Cargo space? Forget it. There’s enough for an overnight bag for two people or a multi-day trip for one, but your golf clubs or hockey gear? Nope. And that gets to the heart of the Z; it’s a car to be driven and driven hard, and it won’t apologize for not being able to haul groceries or your luggage.

Gas mileage? Why do you care, it’s a sports car right? If you must know, I averaged just over 20 mpg in city/highway driving and the above canyon thrill ride.


Oh, Z Irony

All gushing aside, there were a few items that left me scratching my head. The biggest: a “Sport” button next to the gear shifter that makes the Z’s shifting more responsive. I’m not sure why Nissan thinks a buyer of this Z is interested in anything other than driving in “Sport” mode. It sets up the car to shine and carry on the legend of the Z. But I suppose it makes the hell of stop-n-go traffic a little easier to manage.

The other oddities: An in-cabin micro filter (perhaps to remove the smoke of burning rubber from the tires?), a booming stereo with eight Bose speakers and not one, but two subwoofers and a pricey $2,150 Navigation/9.3 GB hard drive and DVD video playback through the Navigation screen. OK, the two subwoofers were welcome as it’s always fun to add the trembling of a bass line to the rumble of the engine under your ass. And I’ll take the micro filter – it’s not an option, anyway – but I’d pocket the $2K from the nav hard drive and enjoy the smart satisfaction of rolling off the lot in a pure sports car for under 40 grand.

(Grant Davis travels the world to review the world’s fastest and most expensive cars and motorcycles.)