This will be a little controversial, but I'm going to say it anyway: As far as driving goes, I prefer Nissan's old 350Z to its newer, faster and plusher 370Z.
Here's my thinking. Although the new car's cabin has taken a major step forward, overall refinement hasn't. Engine and road noise still seriously limit the 370Z's long-distance potential. Similarly, while it's great to have a bit more poke from the larger, 3.7-liter engine, I'm unconvinced by the subtle changes to the dynamic makeup (there's more overall grip but ultimately more understeer). In its efforts to make the Z more grown-up while still preserving the grass-roots appeal, Nissan has slightly missed the target, I feel, and lost more in driving enjoyment than it has gained in everyday usability.
Nissan may have the answer, though. While I was in California to drive the 370Z roadster, Nissan wheeled out a Nismo version of the 370Z coupe. Rather than simply being a collection of aftermarket parts, the Nismo Z is a complete factory-built car, available only as a coupe and with a manual gearbox. Its chief differences over the regular car are a touch more power (now 345hp) and torque (276 lb ft) from a new ECU and freer-flowing exhaust, plus substantially revised spring and damper settings.
It also looks quite different, with new bumpers, a bigger wing and broader tires. The appeal, or otherwise, of the more extrovert styling is subjective, but I reckon it suits the 370Z shape and gives it something of a junior GT-R look. Inside, there is a more thinly padded steering wheel, different pedals and manually adjusted sports seats.
What the Nismo modifications don't address is the Z's lack of refinement. The rear damping force is more than twice as strong, which makes the ride firm, if not to the point of being harsh.
The flipside of the significantly stiffer setup is a serious ramp-up in enjoyment. The Nismo turns more keenly and the front end bites more strongly, reducing the tendency for the front end to push wide through faster corners.
Whether it's because of the more tactile steering wheel, the grippier tires or the suspension tweaks, the Nismo steers more sweetly than the regular car, with more feel and less weight.
It doesn't feel massively faster, but it revs more eagerly and sounds a lot sweeter. The throttle response is sharper, too, which makes heel-and-toe downchanges easier – even without Nissan's clever SynchroRev Match system.
On the type of road that America isn't exactly famous for – well surfaced, with a mixture of corners from fourth-gear sweepers to 270-degree hairpins – the Nismo is hugely entertaining. So much so that you can forgive it the odd bit of tire noise or, occasionally, less than perfectly smooth engine.
As an overall package, the Nismo makes much more sense to me. It retains the upmarket interior and tauter dimensions of the new Z but takes the driving experience back towards that of the 350Z. Although its balance is now more neutral, as it was in the 350Z, the Nismo has more grip and a sharper feel. Which is exactly the progress I was expecting from the regular 370Z.
The Nismo costs $6,000 more than the regular car. To me, that seems a reasonable amount to pay for a substantially better Z.