The unanswered knock at door of hot hatchback deserters.
Manufacturer chassis turnover is the boring, but busy conversation that takes up the majority of plans for the product. It’s a cold, stripped-down approach to vehicles from the companies that sell them. This usually results in lifespans being planned out long in advance and the eventual demise celebrated like the wake before the funeral of the soon to be discontinued. This planned life, facelift, and death can occasionally rob us of versions that could be have been the sweetest of cherries, and in stark contrast some models hang around in purgatory, waiting for the day they are finally retired and forgotten.
The E81 BMW 1 series and eventual 1M that spawned nine years later an example of the former and the Nissan 370Z the latter. To speak of the 370Z so poorly is unfair. It began life in 2009 as a replacement to the 350Z and delivered on the promise of more agility, power, and refinement. Tracing the bones of this chassis back takes us all the way to 2003. The competition came from Mazda that launched the quirky and unique RX-8, a car that was sadly discontinued. Having sold one of the last ones in R3 specification, it feels like a nice hat tip that the Recaro’s in the R3 appear to have found their way into the Nismo versions of the 370Z.
The updated 370Z was still shy of Porsche standards, but so was the price. Sadly, Nissan, with the R35 GTR making its appearance in the same year, was never really willing to give the 370Z the attention it needed. Early models were good, but when the Nismo spec models arrived in 2013, there was an opportunity to make an aggressive move for Cayman buyers by keeping the price in hot hatch territory and bumping up everything else. Moves were made but none convincing enough. This is the car for those that wanted a purer experience than a hatchback but didn’t have the cash for prestige badges. The sale numbers of the 370Z remained low, enthusiasts of the brand were the only buyers with the occasional sale from those wanting to be different.
there is the sweet sound of a V6, more industrial than something Alfa Romeo would make, but in an age of turbos and emission filters, it's welcome
GTR sales increased and so did the attention Nissan committed to it, a feeling of them never being quite done and each year wanting to fettle the GTR further left the 370Z feeling unloved, sat in the corner of showrooms waiting for a buyer with the same look of despair as the old shaggy dog with fleas in the corner of the rescue centre. One day you’ll find an owner, promise, salesmen, would tell it, only for it to spend another night under the bright sport lights in a glass showroom. It wasn’t just the lack of attention, but the lack of effort by Nissan to attract buyers. As an example, a Golf R was not only cheaper to run, with aggressive finance deals and lower insurance, but it was promoted better.
This may make it sound as though the 370 is no good and unworthy, and this couldn’t be further from the truth. Nissan did actually release a second Nismo version of the car a couple of years after the first one that built on the refinements and gives 20 horsepower over standard, but it still seemed to lack the zing needed to light the fire of potential buyers.
Those that tried it ended up buying, but few came through the door in the first place. Part of the reason is most likely because they simply forget it was still for sale.
Just as we are all talking about the next chapter in the automotive world and bemoaning the loss of the old way, you can still turn up and buy a manual, naturally aspirated sports car for less than £35k, with an old school hydraulic steering rack. This may be a final stand, and if you can live with the cheap plastic switchgear and supportive but slightly stiff Recaro seats, then dust off your debit card. This opportunity is unlikely to ever return. It is quite possibly the last chance you will get in a lifetime to roll a brand new car from a showroom with these three core features, and yet, still they sit, waiting for the end. Where is the enthusiast queue around the corner of every showroom, on their knees, begging to leave a deposit before Nissan finally blows the full-time whistle on production?
Anyone who has become used to easy power will quickly find fault with the 370Z, it makes you work for your reward. Something tragically missing from most cars that perform tricks like a lap dog desperate for a treat. Those willing to hang in and lean into the car will find the gem hidden behind the cloak.
First, there is the sweet sound of a V6, more industrial than something Alfa Romeo would make, but in an age of turbos and emission filters, it's welcome. The chassis balance isn’t nibble, instead, it's confident, you wouldn’t want to correct your line mid-corner in this car but pick a spot, aim and it will do it. An MX-5 will dance like a ballerina, the 370Z is more of a Sumo wrestler that has been taught to waltz. Interior quality isn’t keeping up and in 2020 it's certainly dated, but forgivable and there is still a Nav screen for when you need it. Nothing detracts from the purpose, this car is for the drivers. Nissan will soon it a final salute, but 11 years in and still available to order with a base price of thirty grand. Driving one of these is an acceptance that nothing will come across like it again. if I’m ever reacquainted with one, it will be used, old, and nowhere near the warm glowing class showroom of a dealership. We could lament on for such cars, but the market has spoken, and sports cars have fallen hard. SUV's and fast hatchbacks suck up today's market leaving only crumbs for rear-wheel drive, front-engined sports cars outside of the brands overly represented in racing series.
You may wonder if one of these could find a place in your garage, well, if you can find one, they are well worth a test drive. A Cayman, even with the price premium makes more sense, but there was something about having one of these on the road that isn’t easily repeatable. Not a muscle car, nor a cheap sports car, but in the middle, it has filled a space emptier than the Nevada desert. It shines on the tarmac in this market of similar powered and styled hatchbacks. It isn’t perfect, or the best car money can buy, but special in its own way, if only the Nissan marketing team had given it a bit more attention.