Pros: Powerful engine; responsive handling; strong brakes; well-crafted interior; excellent performance.

Cons: Poor rear visibility; excessive tire and road noise; buzzy engine when approaching redline; very limited cargo space

The iconic Z car has been around since the 1970s, when it was still called a Datsun. More than 35 years later, the sleek, sexy sports-car essence of the Z remains intact, and it continues to live up to its performance billing.

Enthusiasts will consider the rear-wheel-drive 370Z a pure sports car, defined by a robust engine, laser-precise steering, track-caliber agility and a race-inspired two-passenger cockpit. It's the same formula as that of many world-class high-performance coupes, but the Z is available at a fraction of the price. For that reason, some call it a poor man's track toy. Another way to look at it is as the ultimate joy ride that doesn't require you to go broke.

For those who prefer their high-speed escapades with a dose of vitamin D, the open-top 370Z Roadster brings virtually the same level of athleticism as its coupe counterpart, with the benefit of a retractable fabric roof that can be dropped in a mere 20 seconds.

If the standard 370Z isn't powerful or sticky enough, buyers have the choice of the even edgier 370Z Nismo. It offers greater firepower from under the hood, a much firmer suspension, upgraded brakes, aero body enhancements and larger wheels. A racetrack membership is highly recommended.

For 2012, the 370Z arrives with no significant changes over the prior year. In any of its forms, it is one of the best performance bargains ever.

Comfort & Utility

The 370Z's twin-seat cockpit is an excellent match for the car's performance credentials. From its racing-style gauge cluster to its bright metallic trim, the interior makes you feel you're moving fast even when the car is parked. And there's heritage here, too, with dash-top instruments for oil, temperature and volts that pay homage to the look of the Z car of yesteryear.

Aside from its superb sporting character, the 370Z cabin is decidedly upscale, with a design and quality level more on par with Infiniti than the standard Nissan lineup.

The Z's seats are supportive and well bolstered. Driver's-seat height positioning is nearly perfect for command of the wheel. Legroom is surprisingly generous considering the car's smallish cabin space. The front seats can easily accommodate a pair of six-footers.

If there's one real shortfall to this car, it's cargo room. But shoppers aren't buying the Z for its luggage-carrying capabilities. The coupe gets a tiny 6.9 cubic feet of storage, and the roadster offers a minuscule 4.2 cubes. But that's still enough for a couple of small overnight bags.

The 370Z coupe is available in base, Touring and Nismo models, while the Roadster arrives in base and Touring only. Standard convenience features on base models include push-button start, heated power mirrors, cruise control and a four-speaker stereo. The Touring has power-adjustable heated seats and a premium eight-speaker audio system. The Nismo only adds performance upgrades and doesn't include any additional interior equipment.

Technology

The Nissan 370Z is not loaded with a lot of techno content like some of the higher-end sport coupes from Audi, BMW and Porsche. You won't find advanced driver assistance technologies like adaptive cruise control or blind spot warning. But there is a roster of useful electronic features including Bluetooth, USB connectivity, voice-command touchscreen navigation and a backup camera.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The 2012 Nissan 370Z is motivated by a 3.7-liter V6 producing 332 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque. This engine is managed by either a six-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed automatic transmission with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

Performance is optimized on the manual-transmission Z with an optional SynchroRev Match feature, which automatically blips the throttle to provide seamless clutch engagement during downshifts, similar to heel-and-toe driving.

The 370 Nismo makes use of a revised version of the same V6 engine. Output is an uprated 350 hp and 276 lb-ft of torque. The Nismo comes only with the manual transmission and SynchroRev Match.

Fuel economy for the 370Z is 18 mpg city/26 mpg highway with the manual and 19/26 mpg with the automatic. The Roadster yields 18/25 mpg with either transmission.

Safety

Safety features for the 370Z, Roadster and Nismo include ABS, stability control, active head restraints and six airbags - front, side and head curtain. Since the Roadster has no roof, its curtain airbags are deployed from the top of the door frame.

Driving Impressions

Thanks to its strong engine and smooth, quick-shifting transmissions, the Nissan 370Z provides an abundance of power and acceleration. There is no shortage of straight-line performance here. The Z will impress you both off the line and on the open road. And with the SynchroRev Match feature, the performance experience is deftly elevated.

But the real magic happens when the Z's sport-tuned suspension is put to the paces at high speeds through tight corners. Whether on sharp canyon switchbacks or a super-curvy racetrack, this car exhibits gobs of grip and virtually no body lean. Its blend of agility and balance inspires tremendous confidence. Push the Z extra hard, and the stability control will likely step in to spoil the fun, but this system can be shut off if the driver really wants to test the limits. What he or she will learn is that those limits are not easily reached. The 370Z Roadster's driving experience is about the same as the coupe, but with a lot more wind in the hair.

Take all this speed and handling, increase it by a noticeable amount, and you have the Nismo. This model is actually more appropriate for a raceway than normal roads, as it is too rigid for everyday driving. There's not much sense in buying one unless you have the time and inclination for weekend trips to the track.

As for the regular Z, in spite of its high-performance character, it is still a fine car for the daily commute. Its ride is compliant enough to get you where you're going comfortably.

Other Cars to Consider

Chevrolet Camaro - The Camaro is not as nimble or as track-capable as the 370Z, but it's the more muscular straight-line performer.

Audi TT - The TT has a better balance of ride and handling and a more sophisticated overall package, but the 370Z has more cornering prowess and grip. Both offer extremely precise steering.

Hyundai Genesis Coupe - The Genesis and the Z are both very competent sports cars. However, the Genesis has more refinement for everyday driving. The 370Z is a sharper handler, better equipped for twisty roads and track-style motoring.

AutoTrader Recommends

Both the coupe and the convertible deliver amazing performance at an extremely reasonable price. We suggest you go with the seven-speed automatic, which still allows you to go manual when the mood strikes, and the Touring trim for its more upscale presentation and wider array of amenities. The base models are just a little too bare-bones for a car this nice - especially the puny four-speaker stereo. And the Nismo is just too hard core for everyday use. Instead, we recommend adding the optional Sport Package to bring the Z closer to Nismo caliber, and we also suggest the Navigation Package option. The 370Z Touring outfitted in such a way is an affordable world-class sport coupe that's equipped like a premium car.

author photo

Shamit Choksey has a love for automobiles that worked into an early career writing and developing cop shows for network television. Later, diving even further into the world of wheels, he became a writer/producer for the Emmy-nominated PBS/Discovery Channel series "MotorWeek." These days, Shamit lives in Southern California, serving as a media consultant and journalist within the automotive industry. Incidentally, his wife and two sons are not impressed by any of this.

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