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370Z vs. Cayman - Top Gear US 370Z vs. Cayman By Matt Master|Photography by Justin Leighton May 18 `09|7 Comments Cocksure in the aftermath of its triumphant Porsche bashing with

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Old 05-19-2009, 12:38 PM   #1 (permalink)
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370Z vs. Cayman - Top Gear US



370Z vs. Cayman
By Matt Master|Photography by Justin Leighton
May 18 `09|7 Comments

Cocksure in the aftermath of its triumphant Porsche bashing with the GT-R, Nissan is squaring up to Stuttgart once again. Where first it was the 911 Turbo that was benchmarked and beaten on a budget, this time it's the Cayman...or so Nissan says.



The 370Z is the evolution of the 350Z, mock muscle car of the mid-noughties that earned Nissan a cachet that it hadn't experienced for a long time. But blunt styling, grunt and a bench press for a gear change weren't enough to get the 350Z taken seriously. Everybody loved it, but heart seldom rules head when you're shopping for a $30K sports car. Or at least it shouldn't.

So the 370Z delivers, according to the blurb, "more agility, more performance, more practicality and more fun." And all that for near enough $20K less than the entry-level Cayman it aims to trounce. Sounds like madness, but Nissan's serious here. When the car was launched in Japan, Nissan had a Cayman there and stated that that was the car it had set out to beat. That's some serious posturing.



The first thing you notice about the 370Z is that it borrows heavily from the GT-R in terms of styling. This is sensible of Nissan, and no bad thing for you and I. Faddish though these lines may prove, right now it looks fantastic. I thought the 350Z still looked great, until we chanced upon a slightly tired-looking blue one on this trip.

Side-by-side, the full extent of Nissan's efforts in the restyling of its new car quickly become apparent. Everything about it is bold, aggressive and utterly of the moment. Its flared wheel arches, GT-R-style angled roof line and high, LED-laden rear end exude both menace and modernity, hinting at that vital combination of power and technology that makes its brother so formidable. It all makes perfect sense, while the outgoing model suddenly seems an oddity, tragically dated. Alongside the Cayman, meanwhile, it appears huge, not just in terms of simple dimensions, but equally via a forbidding curbside presence that alludes to daunting power in that short, fat chassis. This is a hairy chest to the Cayman's boutique wax. And all before you've even turned it on.



Inside, that GT-R theme reappears. Where the 350 was an artless affair with masses of brittle black plastic and a functional air that belied its price and market position, the 370 is a fine mix of stitched leather and solid touch points. Alcantara door trim, high-tech instrumentation and everywhere an attention to detail that makes the whole cabin feel expensive. Vital for a Nissan with ambitions as lofty as this one.



We should reiterate here that the changes are not solely cosmetic, either. The new Z has a wider track both front and rear and is actually 100mm shorter than the last one. This promises to improve the handling, in conjunction with a stiffer body and a reduced overall curb weight made possible by more aluminum body panels. The 3.5-liter V6 engine has gone up to 3.7, hence the name change, taking the power output up with it. The 326 hp available is good for 62 mph in 5.4 seconds and the standard ceiling of 155 mph. It's quick by any standards, let alone a car weighing 1.5 tons.

The old car was set up to make the driver feel critically involved with the processes of this performance, through exhaust noise, meaty steering and pedal feel, and that famous solid gear change. Happily, Nissan's evolutioneers have seen fit to keep all this, albeit with a few high-tech additions. The steering is now speed sensitive and the gearbox gets what Nissan is calling Synchro Rev Control, effectively an automatic heel-and-toe system that blips the throttle on the downshift. The cost option of S-mode makes for smoother, more rapid changes and reduces the chances of unsettling the car at an inopportune moment, but it also kills off yet another dying art for the sports car driver.



Against the Cayman, things are stacking up well. It's an emotional choice, for sure, but not as yet a stupid one. The Z's quick, comfy, well built and exciting. And still, lest we forget, at a price of $30,000, nearly 20 grand cheaper.

On the move, however, the paths of these two cars begin to diverge rapidly, until they could hardly feel more different.



It needs flagging up that the only entry-level 2.9-liter Cayman Porsche could get us for this test came with the PDK twin-clutch gearbox and those stupid buttons instead of proper paddles. Annoying though this system is, it does make it a remarkably smooth car to drive, and vastly smoother than the manual-shifting Nissan. But so, too, you can be fairly certain, would the six-speed manual we'd have preferred in the Cayman. Either way, when you start making the pair of them sing for their supper, it's painfully obvious where that extra $20K has gone.

Both cars are fast in a straight line. Equally so in real terms. But introduce a few corners and the Cayman quickly, and literally, leaves the Z behind. On fresh, baby's bum tarmac, the Nissan grips with total assurance, but it's readily unsettled by the same surface imperfections that the Cayman just ripples over. Factor in all that power at the rear wheels, stiffly sprung suspension and a short wheelbase, and you have the potential for trouble. The traction control was blinking away in a straight line all afternoon on our test, the driver of the 370Z always sweating to keep up with the serenely composed Cayman.

Turn the Z hard into a roundabout and it leans markedly where the Cayman stays comparatively flat. Body roll is an attribute that can be beneficial in telegraphing a car's proximity to its limit, something the Cayman reveals far more suddenly, but nine times out of 10 it's better just to be steady and upright. Again, though, this is the disparity between the hirsute and the waxed. Do you want an armful or just a handful? Pay your money, make your choice.



Nissan is set on this blue-collar notion of affordability and masculinity, and despite benchmarking itself against the pricey, more effeminate Cayman, would readily eschew the Porsche's vastly superior dynamic attributes in favor of the visceral, primitive front-engine, rear-drive setup and everything that entails. On a budget, with the intention of making money, this is probably very prudent. They don't want to make something so good it cuts into the GT-R market after all, and Nissan's unique selling proposition here can only ever be an evolution of the Y-chromosome-heavy 350Z. Even the last Cayman was leagues ahead of this in terms of engineering. So keep it simple, keep it a bit scary.

As is so often the case with road tests, and perhaps all the more so when dealing with cars as exceptional as these, the well-worn adage that there's no such thing as a bad car rears its head. If you'd been born astride a Cayman and knew nothing else, you'd be forgiven for thinking the 370Z was a bad car. But if the Porsche hadn't been there this time, the impression of the Nissan would certainly be more positive.

But every aspect of the Cayman justifies its price tag. Swap the comfort and improved quality of the Nissan's cockpit for the Porsche's and you can instantly see, feel, even smell the reason you'd be paying so much more. Take both cars through the same fast set of bends and most people would probably be prepared to dig even deeper.

If Nissan doesn't mention Porsche ever again, at least not in relation to the 370Z, it has a stunning car here. Affordable, exciting, practical, different. And if Nissan never had, it would seem unfair, even churlish, to bring the Cayman along to the new Z's European launch. Bringing a gun to a knife fight as it were. The biggest threat, we think, comes not from the pointedly pricey Porsche but the more comparably affordable 3.0-liter BMW Z4 Coupe. Here is another long-bonnet, front-engine, rear-wheel-drive two-seater, with much of the character and most of the chest hair of the Nissan. But it's also more svelte, clinical in execution and capable on the road, perhaps much like what the 370Z would have become if it had earnestly attempted to morph into the Cayman. The Nissan and the Porsche are chalk and cheese. Both real sports cars, both wonderful things to drive in different respects, but they barely share a single strand of design DNA. The Z4 Coupe falls neatly between the two, both in terms of price and ability. It's the thinking man's alternative here. Even though it's not here...
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Old 05-19-2009, 01:11 PM   #2 (permalink)
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This article seems a bit confused. Why would a car reviewer take Nissan's bluster about besting the Cayman with the 370z seriously? Obviously, Nissan *knows* that the 370z is no match for the Cayman. But is it a Cayman minus $20,000? I would think the answer there might be "yes".

So yes, the Z will not match or exceed the Cayman in much of anything. But not all of us can afford 50K sports cars. Better to compare the Z to its "real" competition: that of sports cars in its price range (and that does NOT include the Z4, which is yet another ridiculous comparison).
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Old 05-19-2009, 01:32 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Isn't the price difference closer to $30k in the states? No doubt the Cayman is a fantastic car, but not worth the extra cash imo.
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Old 05-19-2009, 01:43 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Isn't the price difference closer to $30k in the states? No doubt the Cayman is a fantastic car, but not worth the extra cash imo.
The base Cayman is $50K, the S is $60K. They were comparing only the the base model Cayman here.
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Old 05-19-2009, 03:28 PM   #5 (permalink)
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The base Cayman is $50K, the S is $60K. They were comparing only the the base model Cayman here.
But if you add all the options that the Z comes standard with I'll bet it's still closer to $25 to $30k. Again it's a great car, but for the extra money I just don't think it's worth it.
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Old 05-19-2009, 03:32 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Old 05-19-2009, 03:32 PM   #7 (permalink)
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I never driven a rear engine car but isnt it kind of not worth it?
I have only heard and seen "horror" storys of the car spinning out due to rear engine.

Im thinking the only thing you get when buying that porsche is less weight, But then again less weight is really hard to "buy". Any thing else for the 20k you didnt spend probably could be added and still not breach the cost of it.
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Old 05-19-2009, 03:34 PM   #8 (permalink)
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They seem to keep testing on bumpy roads which the Z does not like because of its relatively high spring rate. On bumpy roads I think the Z would do much better with a progressive spring rate such as offered by Eibach. On a nice smooth track it would be a lot closer.

There is a new Cayman S that goes to some of my auto-cross events, he hasn't beat me yet. But we're both in new cars so we both have a learning curve to deal with.
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Old 05-19-2009, 03:35 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Any thing else for the 20k you didnt spend probably could be added and still not breach the cost of it.
Relentless refinement is what you are purchasing with a Porsche; brainpower comes at a cost.
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Old 05-19-2009, 03:59 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Hey, at least they didn't call the Z "effeminate," as they did the Cayman. If refinement comes at the cost of driving something "effeminate," I'll pass. Quoting them again, the 370Z "is a hairy chest to the Cayman's boutique wax." They make the Cayman sound gay, or metrosexual at the very least.

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Old 05-19-2009, 04:01 PM   #11 (permalink)
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I am sure you will have a much nicer drive if you dropped 20k on top of a Z... relentless refinement can be done by the consumer w/ enough $$ in it...
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Old 05-19-2009, 04:36 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Forrest, personally I like mid/rear-engine designs (mid moreso than rear). When properly built, they tend to have a real handling advantage because it's easier to get a neutral weight balance, and you've got the heaviest part of the car (the engine) sitting much closer to the driving wheels, which lends them more grip.

The Cayman is a great car. If I could afford to buy (and insure, and trick out, etc...) a Cayman I probably would have taken it. The base sticker difference alone doesn't really tell the whole story though, and I'm not the kind of guy that can quite afford to be a Cayman enthusiast without making me financially uncomfortable over it. I think the magazine article was reasonably fair really. Where I differ with them is in the final analysis of the ratio of dollars to performance/fun. I think the Z really wins there, there's no way the Cayman really makes up for the extra total costs to anyone for whom that kind of money means anything.
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Old 05-19-2009, 05:10 PM   #13 (permalink)
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"Both cars are fast in a straight line. Equally so in real terms. But introduce a few corners and the Cayman quickly, and literally, leaves the Z behind."

Granted the Cayman had a PDK, I still find this hard to believe. The Z even beats a Cayman S around a track in early testing. Are we to believe a base Cayman with PDK is quicker than a stick Cayman S? Skeptical.
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Old 05-19-2009, 05:32 PM   #14 (permalink)
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I just traded my 370Z sports/touring/MT last week for an '08' Cayman S. I got a great deal on the S and a good price for my Z.

I haven't had the opportunity to take out the S yet for a good run but it is a nice car. The sound of the engine behind your head negates the desire to turn on the radio. The engine is extremely smooth all the way to the red line. True it's a little smoother over the bumps but mine is on 18" rubber, for now.

If you shop around there are leftover new '08' S models for $47000 with little to no options. So, it might only be a $10k stretch from a loaded MT 370Z to the '08' Cayman S. Of course you'd need to add an additional $1500 for a limited slip in the Cayman S. Three years post purchase you might get half of that delta back in resale value.

On the other hand there's a lot to be said for taking a 370Z with the extra $10k and seeing what pops out the other side.
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Old 05-19-2009, 05:34 PM   #15 (permalink)
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Cool review.
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