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Nissan Z Proto: Quick Drive Review

Nissan’s latest and last petrol-engined Z car is simply called the Z, and it’s essentially a development of the 370Z – a two-door coupe powered by a V6 engine in the front driving the rear wheels.  I had a quick drive of one on a cold, wet night, not long enough for a full review but sufficient time for some initial impressions.

Looks are subjective so you can make up your own mind on those, and I’ll start with getting in. Some sports cars are difficult to enter, but the Z is not one of them, albeit naturally it rides a little lower being a sports car. Once inside I was struck by the largish, plasticky steering wheel which was an immediate turnoff as the wheel is the most important control on a vehicle and also one you’ll spend a lot of time looking at.  On the positive side the dash is digital, well laid out and the switchgear is Japanese standard.  I’m pleased to see the car has a handbrake for a parkbrake, but disappointed that it’s over on the left side of the car not the right, signalling that this vehicle is really focused on left-hand-drive markets.  The seat is also a disappointment – it’s nowhere near bolstered enough for a sports car, but has a decent range of adjustment both manually and electrically. It’s also heated which is welcome on this sharply cool evening.  The steering wheel is reach and tilt adjustable, but not a lot of range in either dimension. Nevertheless, I would expect most drivers to find a comfortable enough driving position.

I tap the push button start and the V6 growls into life, nothing dramatic but you immediately know it’s no average engine. Pulling out into a suburban street, I’m not overly impressed with the shifter which is maybe a fraction far away and a little notchy, but perhaps it’s cold. I’ll fix that.

The streets are a little rough and are dotted with speedbumps so I test, but not too much, the ride and initial impressions are the suspension is more tourer than sports car, which is certainly no criticism.  We turn onto an 80km/h road and I feed the power on in third – 298kW and 475Nm of it, or whatever the ECU is letting me have at that time. Initially, there’s not too much of a surge but then the engine gets to work – or more specifically I’m guessing one or both of the turbos – and a landslide of torque arrives which overwhelms the traction of the rear tyres. Interestingly the car requires absolutely no correction to keep straight but I ease off instantly, you don’t snap off on that situation.

We spend half an hour on a variety of roads and my impressions start to firm up. At 1560kg this car doesn’t offer the sort of connected, direct thrills which you’d get from an MX-5 or GR86.  But it’s still agile and fun, and has an almighty engine which takes a moment to deliver its full thrust – I’m going with that trait as a negative.  On the other hand, the pedals are pleasingly close together so if you want to switch off the automatic revmatch heel’n’toe shifts can be enjoyed. I forget about the steering wheel and just start enjoying the car’s power, especially as the tyres warm up and deliver a bit more grip but even so, there’s enough twist from the engine to exceed adhesion limits in these dampish conditions even in a straight line.

I think this car would be immense fun on the track with all that power sent to the rear wheels via a mechanical LSD. Interestingly the owner told me there is no track mode, just ESC on and off.  Given the fact the torque delivery is both slow and immense there’s a temptation to keep pressing the throttle which of course only makes the eventual response even more dramatic, so I can see a few Zs ending up sideways if owners aren’t prepared to deal with the thunderous arrival of many eager horsepowers.  I’ve tracked a 370z and loved it, so I’d expect to love the Z even more but I’d definitely want a harness as that seat is never going keep things in place.

I didn’t really explore practicality in terms of storage space as a tourer, but certainly the Z seemed the sort of car you could very comfortably cruise interstate then cut some laps when you arrive at your destination.  The tyres are staggered, 275/35/19 on the rear and 255/40/19 on the front according to the spec sheet on Nissan.com.au which is odd at it’d make the rear tyres smaller diameter than the front.  I looked elsewhere on nissan.com.au and found the rears to be 285/35/19 which makes more sense. I didn’t check the sizes on the car itself.  The fuel tank is 62L and combined consumption 10.8L/100km so I wouldn’t be expecting long-legged range.

So let’s do a quick comparison to some of the few remaining rear-drive competitors. Compared to the GR86 the Z is bigger, heavier, and whilst the GR isn’t underpowered these days, the Nissan is simply mighty in a straight line. I bet it’d still be pulling at 200km/h.  It’s more of a refined cruise than the 86, but on a windy road or on a parent errand I’d definitely reach for the Toyota keys as it’s just a sharper handler, has a delightfully instant throttle response the bigger car doesn’t match and is more practical despite being smaller, and a lot cheaper.  Much the same applies for when considering the MX-5 which is even more fun at suburban speeds than the 86, but doesn’t match its practicality.  Should also mention the Z is manual-only whereas both 86 and MX-5 have automatic options.

Now if I have a choice between a Mustang and the Z, then I’m going Nissan every day of the week and twice on trackday Sundays. Who needs a V8 when you’ve got that turbo V6 which sounds as good and delivers as much urge as the Ford’s larger engine, and if the last Z isn’t the last word in precision handling, it’s still a light year ahead of the Mustang.  In fact, the Z has a slightly better power-to-weight ratio than the V8 Mustang and is 300kg+ lighter.  The Mustang is more practical though, so I’ll give it that.

Then we come to the A90 Supra, and if we go back to my hypothetical garage with an array of keys ready for my questioning hand…I think I’d take the Toyota over the Nissan on the basis of handling, immediate power, looks and interior style.  But I’m not absolutely sure, I’d need a back-to-back test.

I also need to say that it’s now or never for such cars. There won’t be another crop of petrol-powered, rear-drive manuals with LSDs. This, people, is it – from now on it’s electric only and automatic.  Buy one of them now and enjoy it!

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