Instead of starting with a blank sheet of paper, the redesign of the 2009 Nissan 370Z began with a few thin paper boxes. One sealed box was placed into another with its top removed. Those two boxes were placed in a third box with a hole cut in the top large enough to fit a hand to manipulate the form inside.
The purpose of the semi-origami exercise was simple: come up with a shape first and then figure out how to structurally re-enforce it. "Once we said, 'OK, this is how it's going to look,' then we said 'How are we going to re-engineer it?'" explains Peter Bedrosian, regional product manager, Product Planning Nissan Sports Cars, Nissan North America.
A slimmer design
Paper doesn't bend as easily as it creases, which may explain the more angular sixth-generation Z that emerged. The short-deck and long-hood Z essence of old is enact, but a cantilevered roof, borrowed from the Nissan GT-R, brings the 370Z intentionally closer to its roots, i.e. the 1970 Datsun 240Z. The "boomerang"-or arrow-shaped head and taillights, flared fenders, frowning (some may say snarling) grille, insert more sharp angles than soothing curves of the predecessor, the 2003 350Z. But engineers weren't happy with the ride and handling, especially a lack of rigidity, found in the early prototypes. The 370Z would have to downsize.
The 370Z's second-generation rear-wheel-drive front-midship (FM) platform-also shared with the Infiniti G37 and the GT-R-proved flexible enough to accommodate a smaller package. The final body design shaves nearly four in. off its wheelbase, 2.7 in. off the length and 0.3 in. off the height of the 350Z. Although it's added another half an inch to the front track, 2.2 in. to the rear track and another 1.3 in. in width, the 370Z still dropped a net 88lbs. Some credit goes to all-aluminum door panels, hood and rear hatch, and more advanced high-strength steel in the sills.
The heel-toe practitioners will bristle, but the key innovation in the 370Z feature is the new transmission. Though only available in a $3,500 Sport Package (along with a limited slip differential) the manual six-speed gearbox comes with "SynchroRev Match" downshifting. The system, which can be turned off, automatically adjusts the throttle during downshifts and does its job exceedingly well, even if despised by purists, and is the first application of its kind in a manual, Nissan says. The seven-speed automatic, also found in the G37, will match revs on downshifts too. Likewise, the 370Z shares 3.7-liter VQ37 engine with the G37. The 370Z version produces 332hp (or 2hp more than G37, but 26hp more than the 350Z) and virtually no torque gain. With either transmission, fuel economy is rated at 18 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway, a 1mpg and 2mpg respective progression from the 350Z.
Improvements aside, this is not the 2003 Z market and Bedrosian doesn't attempt to hide the obvious. "The sports car segment's been dropping like a rock," he says. By his estimate, the last six months have pulled the segment down about 30% from a year ago, and that's a charitable estimate. The entry level base starts at $29,930, plus a $675 transportation fee, and fully loaded Touring won't exceed $40,000-cold comfort for a crowded sports car field that begs for cross-shopping. Nissan isn't venturing a guess on 370Z sales volumes. "We're not as concerned with the sales numbers as we are in retaining the share," he says.
That share, like the 370Z, will be smaller.