Mazda MX-5 VS Nissan 370Z
- Fun factor
- Legendary status
- Tiny boot
- No CarPlay (it's coming)
- Slightly firm ride
- Dynamic balance
- Slick manual gearbox
- Classic exterior design
- Lacks latest safety tech
- No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto
- Fake engine noise
Buying a car for fun, rather than just transport, is an unimaginable luxury for most of us, because most vehicles that are genuinely joyous - the kind that make you smile like a four-year-old in a bath full of gelato - are almost unobtainably expensive.
And that's what makes Mazda's MX-5, a car quite accurately described by the company's spokes folk as the "icon" of the brand, so special. Because it is hugely fun, and it is far more of a toy than a tool, and yet, with a price starting at just $34,190, it's the kind of dream car that's actually within touching distance of reality.
Mazda has just unveiled yet another facelift for the venerable roadster (and retractable hardtop) as part of its goal of "continually seeking new ways to make it even more thrilling and satisfying to drive".
It has aimed to kick this goal by redesigning the cupholders, giving it black wheels instead of silver ones and, for the first time, offering a steering wheel with telescopic adjustment (people have only been wanting that since its first version, back in 1989). There's also a new reversing camera tucked into its taut behind.
Rather more importantly, the 2.0-litre engine has also been given a proper going over and now creates more power, more torque, and revs higher, for an even better aural experience. Which sounds pretty fabulous. Prices are up $750 across the range to pay for all that, which sounds like a reasonable deal. Let's find out.
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Road testing the Nissan 370Z in 2011, I noted it was getting on. Yes, the rear-wheel drive two-seater had been given a design freshen up and a bigger engine a couple of years prior, but the 350Z it was based on had hit the local market way back in 2003. And it wasn't unreasonable to expect replacement or retirement in the not-too-distant future.
Okay, so that was seven years ago, which means if you (like many) consider the 370Z to be an update of the 350Z (the transition happening in 2009), this car has been on sale for 15 years straight. Can you imagine Apple trying to sell any one product without entirely reinventing it for that long?
You might say that makes it a modern classic; so good it's only required an occasional touch up to keep it on the Sports Car Most Wanted list. And in recent years, a consistent average of 30 Aussies a month have slotted a shiny new 370Z in their driveway.
Is it enough to keep Nissan's eternal Z-car flame burning?
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This latest face lift for the fabulous Mazda MX-5 may not be revolutionary, and indeed some if it is just fiddling at the edges, but the improved safety, rear-view camera and nice black wheels may impress a few buyers, while the extra zest and reviness from the engine will most certainly attract fans of this car's core ingredient - fun motoring.
Do you dream of having an MX-5 in your garage, just for sunny days, tell us in the comments section below.
It's hard not to be ageist when it comes to the current Nissan Zed, because 15 years in market (nine if we're generous) is a lengthy stretch in anyone's book. But somehow the 370Z is more than the sum of its parts. It has fantastic front-engine/rear-drive balance, an increasingly rare atmo engine, and a beautiful manual 'box. The value equation is decent, and it's nicely put together. Just don't expect to be dazzled with the latest safety, driver-assist and multimedia technology.
Does the Nissan 370Z have what it takes to elevate your heart rate? Tell us in the comments below.
Changes to the look of the MX-5 would best be described as singular, because there is only one - a swap from silver wheels to metallic black ones, in a bid to "emphasise the car's visual impact".
Even the base model roadster gets the new black look, albeit 15-inch versions, while the RF gets 17-inch alloys. the range-topping GT, strangely, gets 17-inch silver wheels.
Other than that, the looks of the MX-5 remain the same, and that's a very good thing, because this is, far and away, the angriest and sexiest looking version of the classic two-seater ever to roll out of the Hiroshima factory.
Apparently there are people who find the latest look too sharp, too Japanese and too anime, and would prefer a look to the rounded, happy-puppy looks of old. But those people are simply wrong. This is a fantastic looking vehicle, no matter which colour wheels it has.
When it comes to paint colours the same six remain on offer - 'Soul Red Crystal Metallic', 'Machine Grey Metallic', 'Snow' aka 'White Pearl Mica', 'Ceramic Mica', 'Eternal Blue Mica' and 'Jet Black Mica'. So no green, yellow, orange or gold. Soul Red is clearly the choice here.
There is a body kit available as part of the optional Kuroi sports pack ($4220), which also includes a rear diffuser. Roof racks are not an option. Floor mats will also cost you $166.23 extra. Ouch.
If you want to go all the way back, the 370Z clearly takes its design direction from Datsun's star of the '70s, the original 240Z.
Inspired by Ferrari, and (along with the Toyota 2000GT) a sports-car breakthrough for the Japanese industry, the first Zed's front-engine, long-nose proportions have remained largely intact in successive iterations over the decades.
With a broad, flat nose, distinctively jagged headlights, and steeply raked rear profile, there's no mistaking the 370's signature stance, with pumped-up guards sitting over fat, 19-inch alloy rims.
Sharp-eyed car-spotters will notice the update's new design RAYS forged wheels, smoked front and rear lights, and a similar smoked finish on the exterior door handles.
A new colour, 'Cherry Red' also replaces 'Bordeaux Black' in an eight-shade colour palette. Our test example was finished in 'Gun Metallic'.
Inside, echoes of Zeds past abound, with a trio of hooded gauges (clock, voltmeter, oil temp) sitting in the centre of the dash top, and the tachometer in the middle of a cowled, three-instrument main cluster shaded by an exaggerated tube.
And aside from consciously retro design touches, some elements have been present inside the car for so long they're just... ancient.
For example, old-school orange graphics for the odometer, gear position and trip computer are dated, and the small (7.0-inch touchscreen) multimedia display has the feel of an early noughties edition of Tekken 6.
Forget a digital speedo or head-up display. A CD slot still sits proudly in the centre stack, and matt silver highlights scattered around the cabin are as on-trend as double denim.
And the steering wheel (joined with the instrument binnacle) adjusts for height, but annoyingly, not reach.
That said, friends and family who rode in the car during the week I had the keys all commented on the swoopy exterior and cozy cockpit feel of the interior. So, what do I know?
Once again, the changes inside the MX-5 are not huge, but one of them - the addition of telescopic adjustment for the steering column - will be very welcome to fans who have long wondered why they couldn't be just that bit more comfortable at the wheel.
This Mazda already had a fantastic, low-slung driving position that made you feel like part of the car, but it's even better now that you can have the wheel exactly where you want it.
There's also been a slight tweak to the design of the sun visors, for better coverage, and the gaps between the detachable cupholders - of which there are two - have been optimised to allow easier attachment and removal. They've also been made more rigid, "to suppress wobble", because no one likes a wobbly drink, particularly around fast bends.
In yet another example of paying attention to every detail, the levers you use to adjust the seats have also been made slightly thicker and more rigid, just so they feel better.
In terms of practicality, of course, it's not really a key selling point of any MX-5, nor has it ever been. There's limited oddment storage behind the gear lever and a tiny kind of lunch box behind your left shoulder, and a very small glove box as well, with no room for bottles, or anything else, in the doors.
There's not a lot of room, generally, in the MX-5's tight and glove-like cabin, but that's just the way it's supposed to feel. Small and perfectly snug.
The boot is deep-ish, but narrow, and it's overnight bags only in its 130-litre space (boot capacity in the RF is an even smaller 127 litres).
While shoulder and elbow room are limited, headroom is quite good, even in the hard-topped RF version.
Two seats means practicality is a relative term when applied to the 370Z. For example, getting in and out is an athletic exercise requiring gymnastic levels of flexibility and poise. As with most low-lying coupes, I found the outer hand on the A-pillar technique helps with swinging down into the car, or lurching up out of it.
Once ensconced behind the wheel, you're confronted with a relatively modest amount of storage space, running to a medium-size glove box, a lidded bin at the rear of the dividing console, a single cupholder, and door pockets incorporating recesses for small bottles only.
There are two lined recesses for soft bags or coats behind each seat, including a fold-out map pocket, but they're not exactly convenient for retrieving things when you're on the move. What's missing is a tray where you can easily stow things likes keys, coins or a phone.
There are also two 12-volt power outlets, a USB port and an aux-in audio connection.
Rear load space is limited to 195 litres, mainly due to the boot's shallow floor (an alloy space-saver spare sits underneath). It does incorporate a cargo blind and four tie-down hooks, but we only managed to squeeze in the largest (105-litre) suitcase from our three-piece hard set, or a combination of the two smaller ones (35 and 68 litres).
We also had a crack at stuffing in the CarsGuide pram (there is a top-tether hook provided for child seat fitment) and managed it with only a couple of beads of perspiration expended.
Forget the nappy-bag paraphernalia, though. The soft bags with all the baby stuff would have to go in the storage bays in the cabin behind the seats.
Price and features
Prices have risen $750 across the entire range for this new update to the MX-5, but Mazda Australia claims that's more than made up for by the extra new safety kit, plus the reversing camera, the new wheels and, in the case of the 2.0-litre models that 95 per cent of people will buy, more power, torque and revs on offer.
The base model Roadster, at a very temping $34,190, will still appeal to some purists who hate the idea of big, heavy roofs (70 per cent of buyers will go for the RF) and big, powerful engines.
Standard kit at that level includes that new reversing camera, 16-inch alloy wheels (now black metallic for extra visual menace), a cloth soft top, LED headlamps, power mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, climate-control air (but who needs that, with a convertible!), black cloth seats, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with 'MZD Connect', an audio system with six speakers and DAB+ (but no CD player), Bluetooth streaming, internet radio integration, satellite navigation, 'Smart City Brake Support', or AEB, in both forward and reverse, 'Traffic Sign Recognition', 'Driver Attention Alert' and reverse parking sensors and blind-spot monitoring.
Step up through the trim levels to the GT Roadster with the 2.0L and you're quickly over $40K at $41,960 (add another $2000 for the auto, if you must), and you'll score 17-inch alloys, adaptive LEDs headlights and DRLs, black or tan leather on your seats, which are now heated, a 'Premium' Bose stereo with nine speakers, 'Advanced keyless entry' and lane-departure warning.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto gadgets are not available yet, but a dealer-fit fix is expected very soon, at some extra cost.
If you want the folding hard-top RF version, and most people do, then the basic spec will set you back $39,400, the GT $45,960 or the RF GT with the optional black roof $46,960.
It's still a lot of car, or at least a lot of fun in a little car for the money, but you'd have to consider whether you'd could be just as happy in a car that's almost as more fun but has five doors and a decent boot, like VW's Golf GTI.
What price, though, a roof-down drive on a summer evening? On its day, the Mazda makes a compelling argument against buying a Porsche Boxster. Which is high praise indeed.
The arrival of the tricked-up 370Z NISMO in August last year, offered Nissan Australia an opportunity to reposition the regular model, dropping the MSRP for the manual version from $56,930 to $49,990.
Aside from adjusting the car's value-for-money proposition (and pissing off those who'd bought one in July), that close to seven grand haircut delivered more pricing headroom up to the Roadster (starting at $60,990), and NISMO (from $61,490) versions.
For that money the standard equipment list includes, keyless entry and start, cruise control, climate control air, go-fast alloy finish pedals, 'HDD' (Hard Disc Drive) sat nav with 3D mapping, a 7.0-inch colour multimedia touchscreen, and Bose eight-speaker audio with 9.3GB 'Music Box' hard drive.
You'll also pick up sports seats with lots of features. First, they're 'leather accented', which is code for genuine hide in all the places you regularly contact, and a faux equivalent everywhere else. Not uncommon, and not necessarily unpleasant. Then they're heated and four-way power-adjustable, (with manual lumbar and height adjustment for the driver).
The steering wheel and gear knob also cop the 'leather accented' treatment, plus you can expect LED DRLs and tail-lights as well as auto headlights. It's worth noting that the headlights are garden-variety xenons, and things you might expect in a $50k coupe, like, rain-sensing wipers, dual zone climate, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity or tyre-pressure monitoring are 100 per cent absent.
Lining up direct competitors for the 370Z isn't easy, because there aren't any. But the closest is arguably a 2.3-litre EcoBoost version of Ford's Mustang at $45,990 for the manual. A further stretch of the imagination could haul in the Mazda MX-5 RF ($43,890) or the 86 GTS+ ($39,440) and Subaru BRZ tS ($39,894).
Engine & trans
So, let's start with the engine that almost no one - other than rusted-on purists apparently - will opt for; the 1.5-litre engine lurking in the base-model roadster, which is still seen as "the ultimate expression of the MX-5", by the marque's hardcore, old-school fans.
Small tweaks to this engine - which will make up just 5 per cent of total sales - have seen power rise by a single kilowatt to 97kW, and torque bumped from 150Nm to 152Nm.
The bigger and more exciting changes have been made to the 2.0-litre engine, which is the only choice you have anyway if you're opting for the RF - which 70 per cent of buyers will - but in the case of both engines the control units have been revised to give a feeling of more direct acceleration, a sensation further exacerbated by tweaks to both the automatic and manual transmissions to offer quicker response times, and less "jerk" during acceleration.
Yes, you can have your MX-5 with a six-speed automatic transmission, and a shocking 43 per cent of buyers are tipped to make that choice, even though it is the wrong one. The six-speed manual goes with this car the way tomato sauce goes with a pie, or soy sauce with sushi.
Revisions to the 2.0-litre power plant, including the use of a new, dual-mass flywheel, have increased power significantly from 118kW to 135kW, while the redline has also soared to 7500rpm from 6800rpm. Overall torque is up from 200Nm to 205Nm.
The engineers claim to have a delivered a sensation of "urgent, limitless acceleration", with linear responses all the way up to that new rev ceiling. Against the stop watch, that means a 0-100km/h time for the 2.0 of 6.5 seconds in the Roadster or 6.8 in the RF, against 8.3 seconds for the 1.5-litre Roadster.
Mazda says there's also more torque available across the whole rev range, while tweaks to the exhaust system, including a new inner silencer structure, also provide a more resonant, exciting sound to go with the extra power and revs.
The engine uses a timing chain rather than a timing belt. Oil capacity is 4.1 litres.
The 370Z is powered by an all-alloy, 3.7-litre (VQ37VHR), naturally aspirated, quad-cam V6, producing 245kW at 7000rpm and 363Nm at 5200rpm.
It features the 'Continuously Variable Valve Timing Control System' (CVTCS) with 'Variable Valve Event and Lift' (VVEL) on the intake side. And while all that may sound new and ultra-high tech, it was actually introduced in 2007.
Transmission choice is between a seven-speed auto (with manual mode and paddles) or six-speed manual gearbox, as tested here. And this 2018 upgrade brings a high-performance clutch from Japanese specialist Exedy.
Drive goes to the rear wheels via a carbon-fibre composite drive shaft, connecting with a viscous limited slip differential (LSD).
Additional features that won't necessarily be music to purists' ears include 'Active Noise Cancellation', and 'Active Sound Enhancement'.
The former monitors and measures engine sounds, using the audio speakers to produce "acoustically opposing signals to cancel undesirable sounds". So, okay, maybe filtering out the messy noise is a good thing.
But at the same time Active Sound Enhancement employs "digital signal processing to enhance the engine note, using the vehicle's sound system to augment or modify the spectrum of select powertrain sounds in the cabin". Yuck.
I can cop a tube that channels a bit of genuine engine noise into the interior, but in this context, the phrase 'digital signal processing' is a turn-off.
Fuel economy for the little 1.5-litre engine is 6.2 litres per 100km for the manual or 6.4L/100km for the auto, while the 2.0-litre version - which is naturally aspirated rather than turbocharged or supercharged and thus wonderfully old-school, returns 6.8 and 7.0L/100km respectively in the roadster, rising to 6.9 and 7.2 in the RF.
All of these figures reflect an ideal world, rather than the real one, where you will regularly push it all the way through the rev range in several gears and get nowhere near those numbers.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 10.6L/100km, the 370Z emitting 249g/km of CO2 in the process.
Over roughly 250km of city, suburban and freeway running, we averaged 15.6L/100km, at the bowser. Far from miserly.
Minimum fuel requirement is 95 RON premium unleaded, although Nissan says "for optimum performance" you should stump up for 98 RON. And just to rub it in, you'll need 72 litres of it to fill the tank.
Almost every time you drive an MX-5, of any generation, you find yourself doing a little glee face. There's something innocent, old-school and almost childish about how much fun they are.
The magic is in the simplest of set-ups - light weight, rear-wheel drive, short wheelbase, sharp steering, slick gearbox - and it's one that has only gotten better over the years with the addition of better technology. And, vitally, more power.
Every time you drive one, however, it's hard not to wonder how much more enjoyable it could be with just a few more herbs under the bonnet. The current iteration of the car, with its sharp, sleek lines and mean, take-me-seriously face, has been offered with a 2.0-litre engine for a while now, and it did make the MX-5 feel more potent than ever before… and yet you had to wonder if there was still a bit more lurking under the bonnet, waiting to be unleashed.
And now, finally and wonderfully, it has been. The upgraded version of the power plant produces more of its 205Nm of torque (up 5Nm) throughout the rev range, which now stretches all the way to 7500pm (up from 6800rpm), and power has taken a serious step up from 118kW to 135kW.
It's still not a huge number, but in a car that weighs just 1035kg (1087kg for the RF), it's enough to produce more than just the sprightly performance we've come to expect from this zippy Mazda.
The power now on tap means you can really up your pace if you want to, and go-to-jail speeds are now most assuredly an option for the keen/crazy driver.
What has always made the MX-5 one of the great sports cars, however, is that it's so much fun to drive even at lower, legal speeds, and that remains the case here. The way the car corners, the connection it seems to have to your core, through your hips and via your finger tips, remains as visceral and vital as ever.
It is telling that the engineers made no changes at all to the chassis or handling of this version, because they realised it was damn close to perfect already.
This MX-5, then, is just as much of a huge hoot as the one it replaces, it's just that it's now faster, and perhaps even a tiny bit louder, than before, and that is a very good thing.
The Nissan 370Z is actually the car many want the Toyobaru 86/BRZ to be. I can sense some of you spluttering out a sweary response to that notion. But hear me out.
If you, like many others, think the 86/BRZ would be perfect with an extra 50kW/80Nm, just bolt on a turbo or supercharger, and voila. You'll get that extra grunt, but remember, the 86/BRZ was conceived to be light, tactile, and, not least of all, affordable.
Up the outputs and you light the wick on an engineering arms race that should also lead to bigger brakes, an engine with more exotic pistons and a tougher bottom end, a stronger gearbox and clutch, a beefier diff, sturdier chassis, fatter rims and rubber... the list goes on, and on. Until you end up with something very much like the spec, weight, and price of the 370Z.
That's not to say this car isn't a fun drive. It is. Just don't expect the quick reflexes of an MX-5 or 86/BRZ.
Despite light-weighting tricks like an aluminium bonnet and all-alloy suspension, the 370Z weighs in at a not inconsiderable 1467kg. And although its 3.7-litre V6 develops a solid 245kW/363Nm, first impressions are dominated by its hollow mid-range.
Much as I love the free-revving nature of a naturally aspirated engine, there's no denying a modern turbo typically delivers lots of torque low down, with peak power also available within a useful rev range.
All the action here is at the top end, with maximum torque arriving way up at 5200rpm, and peak power taking over at a nose-bleed 7000rpm (the rev ceiling is 7500rpm). Not exactly an easily accessible sweet spot.
But there's still so much to like about this evergreen Zed. Its classic front engine/rear-drive layout results in a 53/47 front to rear weight distribution and the car feels balanced and beautifully predictable.
Suspension is double wishbone front, multi-link rear, and ride comfort, even over choppy bitumen surfaces is surprisingly good. On the flip-side, rumble coming up from the Bridgestone Potenza RE050A rubber (245/40 f / 275/35 r) is always noticeable, and often intrusive.
The steering is supported by old-school hydraulic power assist and while connection with the front wheels is impressive, overall feel is light. Hello 'Merica.
The gearbox is a sweet reminder of what a pleasure it is swap ratios in a top-notch close-ratio manual, and hats off to Exedy for producing a wonderfully progressive clutch. Personal preference was to turn off the standard 'SynchroRev Match' function, because I like having a go at the ol' heel 'n' toe tap dance myself.
Brakes are ventilated front and rear with almost equal size rotors (355mm f / 350mm r) clamped by four-piston calipers up front and two piston units at the rear. They are reassuringly powerful and consistent.
Age has not wearied the 370Z's ergonomics. Although the lack of a digital speedo and no reach adjustment for the steering column is annoying, the sports seats are snug and comfortable, the moderately chunky wheel feels great, and all the major controls are simple to use. Who needs slick screens and 'piano black' finishes?
The standard safety offering is another area that's had the facelifting magic applied to it for this upgrade, with more 'i-ACTIVSENSE' technologies now coming as standard across the range, and, finally, a 'Rear Monitor', or reversing camera, now standard, tucked away in the centre of the rear bumper.
New safety features include 'Smart City Brake Support', or AEB, forward only on the base but also in reverse on GT and above, 'Traffic Sign Recognition', 'Driver Attention Alert' (GT spec only) and reverse parking sensors. Blind-spot monitoring was already included.
If all that fails you'll be protected by four airbags, two each for driver and passenger. The MX-5 received a five-star ANCAP rating when it was most recently tested, back in 2016.
The 370Z must feel like a wall flower at the crash-test disco because it currently isn't rated for safety performance by ANCAP, its Euro NCAP affiliate, JNCAP in Japan, or the USA's NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) or IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety).
That said, in terms of active safety features you'll find ABS, BA, EBD, traction control, 'Vehicle Dynamic Control' (stability control), and a rear-view camera with 'Predictive Path' guidance lines.
But if you're looking for more current active tech, look elsewhere, because things like AEB, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, active cruise, lane-keep assist, auto high beam or any kind of pedestrian detection are missing-in-action. They're not even available on the options list.
If all else fails and a crash is unavoidable, primary passive safety runs to active head restraints and eight airbags (driver and passenger front and side airbags, plus roof- and door-mounted curtain airbags).
As well as being good value you can bet this car will have good resale value. Check out our problems pages to see if there any automatic transmission, clutch or engine problems, faults or issues.
The warranty is now five years/unlimited km, which is pretty good for a sports car, but you will have to service it every year/10,000km. The first service is $304, the second $347, then back to $304 for the third and fifth. You get the picture.
But it does include 24-hour roadside assistance for three years, and Nissan's 'myNissan Service Certainty' capped-price servicing program applies for up to six years/120,000km.
The scheduled maintenance interval is six months/10,000km, with charges ranging from a low of $283, to a high of $831 (100,000km), averaging out to roughly $428 per service.