Lighter, Smaller, Stronger, Faster
The Nissan GT-R may have dominated the headlines in 2008, but the new 370Z has already staked its claim as one of the most significant sports cars of 2009. Unlike other automakers that cling to the age-old ideal of packing each successive generation with more power-while simultaneously increasing the footprint and curb weight-Nissan is taking a different tack with the '09 370Z by upping output and slashing the pounds in an attempt to bring the new Z back to its roots.
The front-midship platform underpins the outgoing Z-car soldiers underneath the 370Z, but the overall length has been shortened to 167.1 inches (losing 2.7 inches) and the wheelbase shrunk to 100.4 inches (down 3.9 inches). To combat the effects of the reduced wheelbase, Nissan has widened the Z to 72.6 inches, 1.3 inches over its predecessor, with the front track gaining half an inch and the rear stretching an additional 2.2 inches, and the overall height has been cut down by 0.3 inches. Combined with all-aluminum door panels, hood, and rear hatch, along with a laundry list of structural reinforcements that increase torsional rigidity by 30 percent, including an underbody V-bar and a carbon-fiber composite radiator housing, the 350Z's successor (with a manual gearbox) sheds 95 pounds of weight in body-in-white form. With a lightened fuel tank (reduced by 13.9 pounds), an exhaust that's 3.8 pounds lighter, 19-inch front wheels weighing 7 pounds less, and rear rollers shedding 6 pounds each, the new Z tips the scales at 3,232 pounds.
Of course, the 370Z's namesake and party piece is the VVEL-equipped 3.7L VQ37VHR V-6, putting out 332 bhp at 7,000 rpm and 270 lb-ft of torque at 5,200 rpm. Compared to the outgoing 3.5L V-6, the 370Z gains an additional 26 bhp and 2 lb-ft of torque, but the new mill requires drivers to run the tack up an additional 200 and 400 rpm, respectively, to reach peak outputs. The engine has also been lowered by 0.6 inches to reduce the center of gravity, while a shorter carbon-fiber driveshaft helps contribute to the Z's diet.
Transmission choices include a six-speed manual gearbox with the world's first synchronized downshift rev-matching system, dubbed SynchroRev Match, which blips the throttle when selecting lower gears (yes it can be disabled), or a new seven-speed auto 'box equipped with paddle shifters and some clever ECU tuning that closely mimics the feel of a traditional cog-swapper while delivering shifts in half a second. Nissan hasn't released 0-to-60 times yet, but expect the 370Z to hit the magic mark in around 4.6 seconds and return fuel economy ratings of 18 mpg in the city and 26 on the highway in either manual or automatic guise.
The 350Z's front multilink suspension has been replaced in favor of a new double-wishbone arrangement comprised of forged aluminum arms and an all-aluminum cradle. A new sway bar is fitted up front that sheds a few pounds off the outgoing model while increasing stiffness by 35 percent. Out back, the four-link rear suspension carries over but benefits from a significant rework with stiffer, lighter aluminum components and revised geometry. New "high response" shocks are fitted at all four corners, reducing friction while delivering a more compliant ride.
The standard 370Z rolls on 18x8 (front) and 19x9 (rear) five-spoke aluminum wheels wrapped in Yokohama Advan Sport summer rubber-sized 225/50 in front and 245/45 in the rear. The Sport package rolling stock is comprised of 19-inch forged aluminum Rays wheels coated in Bridgestone Potenza RE050As, coming in at 245/40 in front and 275/35 at the rear. Hiding behind the new front rollers on Sport package-equipped models are a set of 14-inch rotors clamped by four-piston calipers with 13.8-inch rear rotors squeezed by two-piston calipers. Standard models are fitted with 12.6-inch front rotors and 12.1-inch rear discs, and all models benefit from a new variable ratio brake pedal, ABS, vehicle dynamic control, electronic brake-force distribution, and brake assist.
Nissan decided to simplify the 370Z's lineup for 2009, offering two trim levels: base and touring. The standard model is equipped with an eight-way manually adjustable driver seat, automatic climate control, push-button ignition, and four-speaker stereo with redundant controls on the steering wheel, while the Touring model benefits from power-adjustable leather seats, a Bose audio system, and Bluetooth integration; iPod hookups, navigation, and the Sport package can be added onto each model.
The 370Z's styling, particularly the new L-shaped headlamps and taillights, have garnered their fair share of praise and criticism, but one thing that can't be denied is the interior. Nissan finally realized that buying a sports car doesn't mean the driver should be surrounded by Playschool-grade plastics. Soft-touch materials line the doors and dash, while the seats blend suppleness and support. The new gauges peering from behind the three-spoke steering wheel have grown by 15 percent and house a multifunction display to the left of the tachometer, along with LEDs that keep tabs on fuel levels and coolant temps. The dash-mounted oil temperature, voltmeter, and clock carry over to the '09 model, while the beefy rear strut brace has finally been removed and replaced with a new bar that ties into the B-pillars.
By the time you read this, the new Z should be hitting dealer lots, with prices starting under $30,000.
'09 Nissan Cube
Let the xB-beatings commence.
The fourth-generation Nissan Cube has finally arrived, and for the first time since its 1998 introduction in Japan the funky little runabout will be available in the States. The sultans of Scion should be afraid.
The '09 Cube picks up where the second-gen xB gave up the ghost, combining the same kind of polarizing styling and undeniable practicality with a lightweight package and miniscule footprint. From nose to tail, the Cube spans 156.7 inches (10 inches longer than the outgoing model), with a 4-inch-longer wheelbase. For comparison, the xB is 10 inches longer and significantly fatter.
The majority of the styling that made the Cube a cult favorite in Japan for both twentysomethings and working stiffs alike carries over for the USDM model, including the asymmetrical, wraparound rear window treatments, beveled edges, and a front end that Nissan wants you to associate with-God help us-a "bulldog in sunglasses."
Inside, Nissan is doing its best to court the hip, urban wannabe in each of us, with a curvaceous dash, circular controls, blue and white gauges, and odd-yet-intriguing concentric ripples that surround the dome light on the headliner. The front bench of the JDM model has been eschewed for a set of buckets, while a range of customizable options, including "Magic Rubber Bands" (think multicolored straps), hold maps, photos, and all the other assorted detritus that college co-eds amass between trips to class and an evening of beer bongs.
The Cube will share the same powertrain as its platform sibling the Nissan Versa, with the MR18DE 1.8L DOHC four-cylinder churning out 122 bhp and 127 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels. Buyers can opt for either a six-speed manual or Nissan's Xtronic CVT on both the Cube 1.8 or Cube 1.8S models. The suspension is comprised of MacPherson struts up front with a torsion beam in the rear. Fifteen-inch wheels are fitted all around, while front discs and rear drum brakes are the only option.
Three models will be available in 20 different colors when sales begin this summer, including the Cube 1.8, Cube 1.8S, and Cube 1.8SL. Options range from illuminated kick plates, aero packages, wheels, a Rockford Fosgate stereo, iPod integration, Bluetooth connectivity, and backup sensors. Pricing hasn't been announced, but expect the '09 Cube to start well below $20,000.
* The '09 model Nissan GT-R is on its way and with it comes good news, bad news ... and worse news. First the good stuff. Godzilla gets even scarier with a bump in output from 480-485 bhp. The fuel tank gains a few liters, "Nissan" lettering replaces "Brembo" on the brake calipers, the front license plate mounting moves down, and the paint code for Storm White changes from QX1 to QAB.
* Now the bad news. The price in Japan will swell by 5 percent so expect another increase over the original 5 percent bump to work its way across the Pacific. Next up, launch control. After several warranty claims from the GT-R's $20,000 dual-clutch transmission unceremoniously grenading itself after the repeated use (abuse?) of launch control, Nissan is considering dropping the system altogether. Nissan hasn't made an official announcement yet, but expect word to come soon.
* Finally, rumors swirling around the Japanese press say that Nissan has stopped production of the GT-R at the Tochigi factory for unknown reasons. It could be a glitch in the system, a quality control issue, or just the recent price hike in aluminum and other materials, but expect the shutdown to effect availability and the launch of the Spec-V model.
* Toyota's iQ city car could come to the United States wearing a Scion badge as early as 2010. Aimed at competing with the Smart Fortwo, the iQ could be packing the Yaris' 1.5L, four-cylinder mated to a manual or CVT gearbox and priced under $15,000.
* Volkswagen's Euro-only Scirocco had us contemplating a move abroad until word came that VW was seriously considering bringing the sporty hatch to the States. While the standard model packs the same 2.0L turbo as the GTI, a new, range-topping model is under development that will utilize the same TFSI 2.0 liter as the new Audi TT-S. The Scirocco R20T would put out 265 bhp and 258 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels, delivering a 0-to-60 time of less than 6 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph.
* An R32 variant is officially off the table due to the VR6's lackluster fuel economy and emissions, and if VW execs decide to bring the R20T to the United States, it would be perfectly placed in the V-Dub line up above the GTI, while commanding a price tag north of $30,000.
* Toyota and Subaru's collaborative efforts on a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive coupe continues, and after reports surfaced that Toyota wouldn't offer the sports car in the States, rumors began to circulate that Scion would be the beneficiary of the new model. If and when that happens, expect the tC to shuffle off this mortal coil in late 2010 or early 2011.
Viva la Evolution!
Don't let the '10 Mazda3's new fascia and redesigned rump fool you. Mazda knows better than to mess with a good thing, so the second-generation 3 is simply an evolution of its predecessor that irons out the kinks and continues to deliver the budget buzz we've come to know and love.
Obviously, the biggest change is the exterior, which takes a few cues from the Mazda6 and RX-8, including a pair of stretched headlamps that join a massive central air dam flanked by comically large-side vents and sculpted fender flares. Even in person, the new 3's nose job looks like a Photoshopped Cheshire Cat rendered in sheet metal and plastic. Out back, Mazda's designers decided to err on the side of subtly, with a duo of deeply drawn taillights joining a subtle trunk-mounted spoiler (sedan) and a pair of chrome exhaust tips. The overall effect contributes to a dynamic shape that finally brings the Mazda's Nagare ("flow") theme to production. Naturally, the '10 model grows a bit, measuring in 3-inches longer than its predecessor, with a wheelbase (103.9 inches) that remains the same.
The minor tweaks continue inside, with a new set of thrones that boast taller seatbacks and improved thigh support, a redesigned instrument panel, and a stereo/multifunction display mounted toward the center of the dash near the windshield. Dual-zone climate control, a 10-speaker Bose stereo, Bluetooth, iPod dock, keyless ignition, rain-sensing wipers, and heated leather seats are all on the options list.
Motivation on the standard Mazda3 is provided by the same 2.0L four putting out 148 bhp and 135 lb-ft of torque. The S model drops the 2.3L four-pot in favor of a 2.5L mill that motivates the front wheels to the tune of 167 bhp and 168 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual comes standard and a five-speed automatic is available for those willing to let their left leg succumb to atrophy.
While the suspension setup carries over, the front lower control arms, bushings, and subframe have all been stiffened to provide better steering feel and cornering grip, while the back benefits from retuned shocks, a stiffer rear suspension cross member, and wider antiroll bar mounts.
Both the sedan and hatchback will go on sale this spring and expect the Mazdaspeed3 to hit retailers in early 2010, possibly packing the Ford Focus RS' 300hp, turbocharged, 2.5L five-cylinder.