Bang for the Bucks

We can all test drive flash cars pretending to be 007, but what happens when you get in a motor that's not just luxury but affordable too?
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We can all test drive flash cars pretending to be 007, but what happens when you get in a motor that's not just luxury but affordable too?

It’s all well and good test-driving supercars. Nothing beats the feeling of seeing a massive Bentley Continental Supersports sat outside your very mediocre flat. Or the wave of satisfaction when you remotely access the low-slung doors of a bright red Audi R8 Spyder, that satisfying thunk as the doors automatically unlock and invite you to drive.

But every time you approach the car, a little thought burrows up from the recesses of your brain and reminds you that the gleaming hunk of exotic metal the rests before your eyes will never actually be yours… not in a million years. That’s because there are a select few individuals privileged enough to own such glorious machines and they’re called ‘the super rich’… or ‘footballers’… or ‘spoilt bastards’. Regular Joes like you (assuming you aren’t already driving a sexy little number) and me have to put up with gawping at these rare breeds and imagining what it would be like to wake up every morning, don a deep pile dressing gown and open the garage door to be greeted by a Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati or Aston Martin. We can but dream.

But something strange happened the other day and that something was being handed the keys to a brand new 2010 plate Nissan 370Z for the weekend. Now I’m already a fan of ‘the Z’, ever since a convertible 350 happily transported myself and co-pilot 2000 miles through some of France’s most glamorous roads and ever since I spanked fifteen fellow (old, wizened and arrogant) motoring journalists at the Castle Combe race circuit during a press event. One journalist actually used to test cars on that very circuit; you should have seen his wrinkly little face when my time came in… he nearly burst his hip in anger.

Back to the point, the 370Z isn’t just a adaptation of the former and utterly glorious car; it’s a complete reworking. The engine has an extra 0.2 of a litre that delivers an extra 30-odd horsepower than the previous model. The body is slightly shorter and wider than its predecessor and the designers at Nissan have given the 370 the old airbrush treatment- plenty of swooping lines, a more angular roof and a much meatier overall look. In short it’s fantastic to stare at.

"There are a select few individuals privileged enough to own such glorious machines and they’re called ‘the super rich’… or ‘footballers’… or ‘spoilt bastards’."

Approaching the car from a front-on three-quarter angle has to be the most satisfying way of absorbing the 370Z. The butch bonnet glides into the angled windscreen and then descends sharply into a beautifully taut rear. It’s like Angelina Jolie’s face has been welded to Jessica Alba’s bum-cheeks. A bit weird when you first think about it but you wouldn’t complain… would you?

It was while I was lost somewhere between Angelina’s face, Alba’s buttocks and the gorgeous anthracite hunk of machinery in front of me that something hit me. That something was a revelation, the realisation that the motor sat in my parking space wasn’t just a dream… I could own one if I really wanted… Christ! The £30,000 price tag (that’s with all the cool extras, sports pack etc) is actually achievable. Not achievable as in ‘I’ll just sell my collection of Beanos’ achievable but ‘a deposit and a few monthly instalments’ achievable. 332 break horsepower, 0-62 in 5.3 seconds and an electronically limited top speed of 155 MPH… oh yeah, and some excellent Rays forged alloys for £30,000? This is just too good to be true.

Maybe it was. This massive, head-spinning revelation was happening before I’d even opened the door. I brought myself down to earth with a massive thud by convincing myself the interior and drive would be awful. For God’s sake… it wasn’t.

Open the door and the cockpit is all leather and alcantara with plenty of brushed chrome finishing. The interior dial clusters are brilliantly Japanese, with the small set of three dials above the centre console harking back to the turbo clocks of the old Skyline. Turn on the lights and the dash glows an inviting blue while the mix of analogue and digital displays blink and flash with all the technical intricacy of a fruit machine. It’s a fun place to be, and that’s before I get on to how great the Sat-Nav is (full post code functionality, easy-to-use) and how impressive the sound system (auxiliary input for your iPod and a 6-disc CD changer).

I hadn’t even pulled away from the parking space and I was already dreaming up ways of scraping together a spare £30k. Sell a kidney? Nah. Pimp my girlfriend out? Definitely not. Offer up my testicles for scientific experiments? Possibly.

"It’s like Angelina Jolie’s face has been welded to Jessica Alba’s bum-cheeks. A bit weird when you first think about it but you wouldn’t complain… would you?"

Hitting the blacktop is the first real crease in the Z’s otherwise perfect trousers, the ride is harsh and the pure grunt being driven to the back wheels can make for a rather, ahem, slippery ride. When I say slippery I mean this has to be one of the most wheel-spinny cars I’ve ever driven. Gravel driveway? Forget it. Slightly wet T-Junction? Good luck. Long, sweeping bend? Drifty, drifty, spinny, spinny, crash time. The extra beef under the bonnet could do with being slightly more refined and the traction control is just plain mental. Booting the 370Z along a gigantic straight just outside of London resulted in the traction control system lighting up like a man possessed, buffering the brakes at random and generally being an utter nuisance. Turn the system off though and you better be ready to catch rear at the drop of a hat. The 370Z is wild, slightly unpredictable but bags of fun.

The twisting roads surrounding Chelmsford, where we photographed the car, acted as the perfect proving ground. Turn the traction control off, sharpen the senses and floor the coarse 3.7 litre engine. The back end will swing out, the rear tyres will light up but a grin will be plastered across your face. A stupid, idiotic grin that only comes from driving mad cars like the Z. The excellent Synchro Rev Match system on the ‘box also does all the hard work and heel-toeing for you, making downshifts seamless and massively satisfying. Meaning you can do your best Sebastian Loeb impression through the bends… drop it into second, sight the apex, bury the right foot, catch the tail and repeat until out of petrol or upside-down in a ditch.

I could have driven the car for days. The ride was comfortable at slow speeds and the manual gearbox smooth enough to shift with little thought or effort and the cabin surprisingly quiet at cruising pace. The journey home gave me time to come up with some negative points but I found it tricky. Perhaps the only bugbear I had was the engine note. It’s definitely not as raspy as the previous model and no way near as satisfying when bouncing off tunnel walls but maybe that would improve with time (or a new exhaust system).

So negative thoughts were done and I still had 40 miles before I was home. That gave me around an hour to come up with a scheme to raise £30,000… my testicles were getting very apprehensive.

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