The styling of the 370Z might be considered enigmatic. In its third year, it remains original, but not wow-inspiring. There's nothing to dislike, but it doesn't hold the eye. With slab-like sides and a profile set back on its haunches, it's shorter, wider, and less nubile than the 350Z (last seen in 2008). But the shape is driven by aerodynamics, delivering a low 0.30 coefficient of drag.
There's a skillful retro touch in the sweep of the coupe's rear quarter window, suggesting the original 1970 Datsun 240Z.
With big fender flares, the Z has a wide and slippery stance; panel clearances are tight. The standard 18-inch wheels aren't eye-catching, but there are exciting 19-inch wheels available with the Sport package, housing the bigger brakes and looking cool with the aero trim.
The front end has a definite aftermarket look, like it could be your racecar in a video game. Vertical bars in the front grille opening make the car look like a feeding manta ray. The headlights and taillights are shaped like vertical boomerangs, with matching hooks at the bottom just for effect.
The hood, doors and hatch are aluminum, lowering weight. The vertical bright silver door handles are difficult to grasp, literally and metaphorically. They look big and cheap, and we would say they're out of character, except they were on the 350Z too, so maybe that is the car's character, but we hope not. The door handles look like they belong on a quirky SUV.
The roadster with its cloth top has a natural shape, at least in its standard black. There is an optional Bordeaux color and we say gag me with a spoon, nothing personal. The top is well-insulated with good headliner, and raises and lowers without a manual latch.
The bi-xenon headlights pierce the night with safe powerful beams shooting from lenses no bigger than a fat flashlight. At the rear, taillights combine with more-rounded contours to produce an almost elegant effect not unlike that of a Porsche. The dual exhaust outlets are tidily integrated with the rear fascia, and so is the rear spoiler with the aero package.
The Nismo is only offered as a coupe, and it has several exterior modifications to give it higher-speed aerodynamics and more performance. The nose is cleaner and nearly 7 inches longer, with a prominent chin spoiler. The Nismo has wider sills, a rear bumper with a substantial diffuser, and taller spoiler. Its coefficient of drag drops to 0.29. The spoilers provide zero front lift and zero rear lift, working with the front bumper that smoothes the flow of air to the sides of the car while the rear spoiler rules the air from the roof to the rear hatch.
The driving compartment is tidy, with a short shift lever with a good leather-wrapped knob at your grasp with the 6-speed manual; or alloy paddles sprouting from the steering column, with the 7-speed automatic. The long humped aluminum hood looks cool out the windshield. The row of three gauges perched on the center of the dashboard is a Z tradition, but they're oil temp, voltmeter and clock, and in a real driver's world they would be oil temp, water temp and oil pressure. Although, come to think of it, which do you look at more often: clock or oil pressure? Guess we're still purists.
The instrument panel moves with the adjustable steering column, with the steering wheel spokes designed to provide a clear view. The gauges are big and clear, white on black with orange needles that look cool especially at night. A 9000-rpm tachometer sits dead center, 180-mph speedometer to the right, and an unusual aluminum-look circle at the left contains two rows of LEDs for water temp and fuel level: gimmicky but we've seen worse. However, it lights up orange at night, and reflects in the windshield; we just wanted it to go away so we could be alone with the car. There's a small digital display with the usual info, including fuel range.
As with many sports cars, climbing in can be difficult, requiring a step down with the Z. However, the doors open fully and the sills aren't too wide.
There's lots of good work in the bucket seats, especially the driver's seat, whose frame, not just the bolstering, is designed to keep the driver in place, with help from small kneepads designed for support during hard cornering. The driver's cushion is cut out to support the thighs while the feet are dancing on the aluminum pedals. We also like the aluminum pedals, including the tight little dead pedal. Both bucket seats use anti-slip material.
We like the standard black fabric, so rugged and sporty that the optional perforated leather isn't needed, beautiful as it is. There's also a synthetic suede.
The grippy perforated leather steering wheel has small outside humps to keep your hands at 3 and 9 o'clock, as well as inside humps for your thumbs, to keep them at 2 and 10; Nissan solves the debate by providing for both positions! Just three buttons on the beefy spokes, for stereo and cruise control.
There's decent storage space, with a glovebox, a storage box in the dash if there's no navigation system, and small shelves for briefcases behind the bucket seats. There's an aluminum crossbar directly behind the seats, necessary for chassis stiffness, but it only gets a little bit in the way of reaching back into the cargo area for stuff, that can be covered under the tonneau.
The optional navigation has a big clear screen, tidily integrated into the center console. Its function is mostly controlled by a clicking knob with scroll arrows underneath, as well as a Nissan ATM-like keyboard with 12 buttons: efficient, not confusing.
Nice center stack with vents, plus climate and audio controls, all good. The setup for two cupholders and one cubby between the seats is good, plus cupholders in the door pockets. The interior lights are simple to turn on and off. Easy rings for door handles.
Luggage space is modest. The rear hatch provides easy access to 6.9 cubic feet of cargo space, far less than the 22 cubic feet in the Chevrolet Corvette. The roadster's trunk has only 4.2 cubic feet of space, about enough for a couple of duffle bags. The convertible top doesn't impede on the trunk space, and Nissan provides a parcel shelf big enough for a laptop bag behind each seat.
Visibility is often poor in sports cars and that's certainly true here. The coupe's big rear B-pillars create a distinct blind spots, most inconveniently over your right shoulder. The roadster has poor rear visibility with the top up.
The standard four-speaker stereo produces good sound, while the 240-watt Bose in our Touring model blew our socks off, with its six speakers and dual subwoofers. The coupe transmits road and engine noise, and the roadster wind noise with the top down.