Nissan's well-known "Z'' rear-drive sports car that started in the 1970s still pulls at the heart strings of driving enthusiasts with its sporty, two-seat cabin, low-to-the-pavement stance, racetrack-ready stiff ride and strong V-6 power.
Race day sensations are even greater in the top-of-the-line 2014 370Z NISMO model, where power is tuned up to 350 horses, suspension is so taut the car corners like it's on rails, and brakes are the largest in Z car history.
Best of all, Nissan held the line or reduced pricing on its Zs for 2014.
The starting retail price for the 2014 370Z Coupe dropped some $3,000 from its predecessor, and the price for the top-of-the-line, 2014 370Z NISMO was unchanged.
Specifically, starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $30,800 for a base, 2014 370Z Coupe with 332-horsepower V-6, six-speed manual transmission and 18-inch, high-performance tires. The 2014 370Z Coupe with same engine and a six-speed manual with SynchroRev Match — a feature that has won raves because it makes downshifts quicker and smoother — starts at $33,830. The more powerful 2014 370Z NISMO starts at $43,830.
Among the exclusive standard features on the NISMO are an Alcantara-finished steering wheel, 19-inch, forged alloy wheels by Rays Engineering and a plaque on the center console noting the vehicle's model year and serial number.
Rear-wheel drive, sports car competitors include the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Coupe, which has a 323-horsepower V-6 and a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $24,550 with six-speed manual and 18-inch, all-season tires. The Camaro also is offered as an SS model with a 426-horsepower V-8. Starting retail price for the Camaro SS is $34,350 with six-speed manual and 20-inch, summer performance tires.
Another rear-wheel drive, V-6-powered competitor, the 2014 Ford Mustang Coupe, has a starting retail price, including destination charge of $23,335 with 305-horsepower V-6, six-speed manual and 17-inch tires. Ford also offers the Mustang with V-8, starting at 32,035, and supercharged V-8, the top of the line Mustang Shelby GT500, starting at $55,935.
Note that unlike the two-seat 370Z, the Camaro and Mustang have smallish back seats for two and are larger, overall, than Nissan's Z.
As expected, the Z car, where premium gasoline is recommended, and its V-6 competitors Camaro and Mustang are not fuel sippers.
They all carry federal government fuel economy ratings of 18 or 19 miles per gallon in city driving, which is akin to the rating for a 2014 Toyota Highlander sport utility vehicle with V-6. Highway ratings for the sports cars with V-6s range from 26 or 27 mpg for the Z and Camaro to 31 mpg for the base Mustang. These numbers are higher than the highway mileage estimate for the Highlander.
Still, U.S. sales of mainstream sports cars declined last calendar year, and sales of the Z cars fell 10.6 percent to 6,561.
The Z cars didn't change much for 2014.
Nissan further bolstered the NISMO Z for speedy travel by adding a longer front nose for more downforce and special side sills and new rear bumper for smoother airflow around the car.
Styling-wise, dark gray paint with red pinstripe is added at the lower front and rear fascias to differentiate the NISMO models from lesser Z cars.
All 2014 models of 370Z continue with Nissan's squat, strong, exterior appearance that's unlike that on any other car. It reminds some observers of a car body composed of flaps rather than graceful curves.
Inside, the two seats provide good support, and Nissan uses hold-fast fabric seat inserts to ensure people stay put during the ride. The three round gauges directly in front of the driver and three other round gauges atop the center of the dashboard are reminiscent of earlier Zs and are easy-to-read references on the car's operation.
But larger-sized adults may feel confined in the compact, low-to-the-ground interior, particularly since side windows are short, height-wise, and views out the back and rear sides are restricted. Indeed, the driver of the test 370Z NISMO tired of looking directly at the tailpipes of pickup trucks and SUVs in front.
The test model, with a price of more than $46,000, had a $790 optional rearview camera. But the image was displayed in a small square in the left corner of the inside rearview mirror and was tiny compared with other cars'.
To be sure, the 370Z NISMO was a blast to drive, with a "point and go" personality. Steering response was quick; power from the 3.7-liter, double overhead cam V-6 came on quickly, peaking at 276 foot-pounds at 5,200 rpm. The high-performance tires had lots of grip to propel the car swiftly. The low center of gravity and the suspension that held the car body down firmly gave the speedy Z an agile feel. A driver can push the car hard in curves and marvel at its composure.
But the ride was busy and noisy all the time. Highway bridge expansion cracks sent major vibrations to passengers. City road bumps and even some sunken manhole covers could create a choppy and jarring ride.
Wind noise wasn't noticed in the test car, but it may have been drowned out by the loud road noise from the tires and engine sounds.
The 6.9 cubic feet of trunk space is shallow and seems like a large shelf. A hot pizza placed under the long rear liftgate quickly steamed up the Z car's rear window.
The Z has six air bags, traction control, antilock brakes and electronic dynamic control. But some safety items, such as blind spot monitoring and lane departure warning, are not offered. Options in general are minimal.
The 370Z also is offered as a roadster with a starting retail price of $42,280.