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Redesigned Z packs punch

Proof of a sports car’s validity is sometimes seen when its successor is highly refined as opposed to heavily made over.

For 2009, new the 370Z shows that the outgoing 350Z was on the mark right from the beginning as the updates push what was a very fulfilling package to the next level … and by shedding fat in the process.

Yes, Nissan’s latest Z-car has become a less-is-more proposition, a trend that’s most welcome at a time when new-and-improved models generally tend to pack on the pounds.

In fact, the 370Z’s early ancestor, the 1970 Datsun 240Z, sadly morphed into an overwrought boulevard cruiser, completely losing sight of its original mission of providing exceptional sports car looks along with taut reflexes and lively performance. It’s good to know history won’t repeat itself in 2009.

Sleek in design, stylish inside and more muscular under the hood sums up the 370Z.

Although the look is similar to that of the outgoing 350Z, the new car is actually 2.7 inches shorter and the wheelbase has been reduced by a significant 4 inches by moving the rear wheels closer to the doors. Elsewhere there’s slightly more width and a touch less height.

According to Nissan, the net result of this slim-down program is a reduction of 95 pounds, which is pretty significant when you consider the potential for increased weight in the stiffer platform, beefed-up engine, front suspension and added standard safety equipment. This was offset through the greater use of lightweight aluminum body panels and lighter wheels, exhaust system and fuel tank. Even the standard audio system managed to shed 3.5 pounds.

The new dimensions certainly make the 370Z coupe (a convertible will follow later in the year) appear more purposeful, but it’s the boomerang-shaped headlights and taillamps that provide a stunning final touch and help keep the car’s familiar silhouette looking fresh. The Z’s bigger and much more expensive GT-R relation should look this good.

Nissan didn’t neglect the interior, either, which is now much classier and really does the car proud. The speed- ometer and rev counter are more legible, the seats are more supportive and formfitting and the trio of gauge pods mounted above the center control stack is a neat retro touch.

There’s no looking back when it comes to the 370Z’s V-6 powerplant, however. Displacement has been increased to 3.7 liters from 3.5 with a corresponding 26-horsepower increase to 332 along with a slight bump in torque.

But it’s the transmission choices that really separate the new Z machine from the old. A six-speed manual transmission is the base offering, but it can be ordered with an optional (and world’s first) electronic rev-matching downshift program. When the revs aren’t matched during a downshift, the speed differential between the engine and the wheels can cause a manual-transmission car to pitch itself out of control. Aside from making the car easier to handle, rev matching also theoretically extends clutch life. A button mounted beside the shift lever switches the system off for drivers who would prefer to control the revs.

Optional is a seven-speed automatic that comes standard with downshift rev matching and also features paddle shifters for gear selection by the driver.

370Z buyers are going to have an easy time of it, thanks to a much simplified model/option lineup. The base car features all the expected climate control/cruise/tilt gear along with push-button start and a four-speaker audio system.

Pony up the extra dollars for the Touring edition and you’ll receive power heated suede and leather seats, premium eight-speaker Bose audio package and hands-free cell-phone connectivity.

Along with the rev-matching system, the optional Sport Package adds larger wheels and tires, front and rear spoilers, larger brakes and a limited-slip differential, while the Navigation Package includes a hard-drive system plus 9.3 gigabytes of space for holding music.

Nissan’s evolving Z-car will turn heads and flutter hearts at close to the same $30,000 starting price as the previous model. It was a relative bargain before, but with its significant mechanical and content upgrades the new car is not just more appealing, it’s simply Z-licious.

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