Chasing Rabbits And Ilanaaq In The Nissan 370Z

by Peter Dushenski @carenvy

August Long Weekend was coming up and I didn’t have plans. The firstest of first world problems, this was.

Spontaneous if nothing else, I booked flights to Vancouver, about 75 minutes west of my home base by air. Such impromptu weekend excursions benefit naturally from road trips, so I called the nice people at Nissan and they offered me a 2013 370Z with spangly LEDs. I took it.

From Vancouver’s English Bay, it would be about an hour of walking and Skytraining just to get to the car, waiting for me in a residential car port in the southeast corner of Greater Vancouver. I was up early that Sunday morning for no particular reason, other than perhaps the coily old hydabed on the 22nd floor of our hotel. Every hotel in the city was booked solid so I couldn’t really complain. It was Pride Week in Vancouver and today was the Parade.

As I walked through the still-tranquil streets towards the Skytrain, I smiled politely at the uniformed officers blocking off roads along the parade route. The big coastal sun shot rays of warmth between the forest of skyscrapers as I ducked into the Burrard Street Station. Leaving the West End, the train floated past glass-clad condos of decreasing size.

I’d been to Vancouver maybe a dozen times before, but I’d never explored it widely. When the most beautiful markets, restaurants, parks, and real estate are all centrally located and within walking distance, why bother? Because adventure! From three storeys up on the train, the badminton training centres, schools, and industrial-looking malls of Vancouver’s edges were like unplugged, uncut bonus tracks hidden 20 minutes past the end of your favourite high school CD. Kinda raw, but integral to the story.

Ten stops later, eyes wide with a new appreciation for the host city of the 2010 Olympic Games, I hopped off the train. Walking down to ground level, I listened to the quiet suburb as it woke up. Some people were gardening, others jogging in colourful groups, other yet standing on the curb waiting for a ride to what could have only been Church.

I followed my directions for about 800m and voila! There, under an open-air awning, was the mysteriously coloured Nissan that I’d reserved for the weekend. It wasn’t quite brown, but probably not purple either. All I could say for certain was that it was sparkly and all mine. I unlocked it, remarked at the plethora of interior upgrades since my 350Z, and set off towards I knew not what.

Mixing my way through the hilly Vancouver neighbourhoods on my way out of town, the springy clutch made for less than elegant low-speed progress. Like Tigger’s tail, the left pedal wanted to jump for the clouds. The bite point was quite high in the travel, close to the seat, where the driver has the least finesse and fine motor control. It wasn’t as heavy as the clutch in my 350Z, but no easier to use for the added lightness.

About 30km north of Vancouver on the Sea to Sky Highway (Route 99) towards Whistler, I heard a whopping bark over my right shoulder. This was my Wonderland Rabbit. A white first-gen Gallardo steamed by and I was in hot pursuit a moment later. It followed it off the main highway towards what I could only assume would be the kinds of driving roads that prairie boys dream of. Up Cypress Mountain we went, the only two cars on the road but hardly the only two people. Spandexed cyclists littered the right shoulder, panting and huffing their way up the sharply angled slope at an hour when most were still tossing about in bed, sleeping through the Sunday sermon.

The Gallardo knew the turns well. I flipped the satellite radio off and dropped the windows so I could hear his ten play ping-pong off the trees with my six. Both engines sounded thick and strong, his belting out more vibrato, but both giving the cyclists an unexpected reveille. The Z’s dense A-pillars and bulging hood cramped my visibility and didn’t lend themselves naturally to darting mountain roads, but I more than managed to stay on his tail. We traded blasts through more than 10km of hairpins and weaving straights before we came to a long flat section and I pulled over for a few pictures of the Z.

The Gallardo kept motoring until I could see it no more, but to my surprise, turned around and pulled right up next to me. A 40-something man, tanned and wearing Ducati driving shoes, hopped out and started chatting about our cars, the roads, and the cyclists we’d just annoyed. He’d just sold his 996 GT2 for the white Italian and had removed the front drivetrain, Balboni style, to “get some of the front end feel back”. He mentioned that he’d lusted after the 350Z Track Pack when it came out, which made me wonder if I was going to be trading in Porsches for Lambos in 15 years. I secretly hoped not.

After some further pleasantries, he hopped back in his car and sped off. I followed soon thereafter, back down the winding passes, blessedly free of police intervention. I continued on 99, keeping an eye out for interesting turn-offs. That’s when I saw a sign for the Whistler Olympic Park, where the ski jump and biathlon events were held in 2010. How could I pass this up? I flicked the left turn-signal and soon found myself alone on a desolate, sinuous, and faintly bumpy road – a perfect place to drive the wheels off someone else’s car.

With some room to explore, I put the Z on boil and searched for its soul. If one cannot find a divine connection with machine here, it can’t be done. But I couldn’t find the freaking thing! I swear I tried my damnedest. The 3.7L revs to 7,500 and makes the right noises in the process, but driving the shit out of it was neither rewarding nor motivating. The Z failed to plug into my cortex and encourage me to push harder, never planting firmly on its 245 front and 275 rear Bridgestone Potenzas. Where was the unadulterated fun I sought?

Later, back on Highway 99’s near-flawless tarmac, the Nissan flowed over the road like cherry coulis on cheesecake. Left in 5th gear, the breadth of the torque carried me on a calm cloud. It was here that the Z found its calling. It’s a massively capable machine, but any car that excels at being so casual will ultimately fail to make a connection with the driver, as was the case here.

Granted, the Z’s numbers are hard to ignore. With 332hp, the 370Z starts at C$$42,718 and the as-tested (Sport and Nav-equipped) price of C$49,787 are miles less than the inflation-adjusted C$70,000 of a loaded Nissan 350Z way back in 2003. For a staggering C$20k less, the price of a well-equipped Fiat 500, the 370 is more powerful, lighter, and better finished than its predecessor – a claim that is sure to please Z faithful, those looking for a Japanese take on an American muscle car. But for the cross-shopper looking for an instrument of driving pleasure, there’s a new kid in town named BRZ and he starts under C$30,000, not to mention that used competitors like Caymans and TTs are now nudging up against the price of a mid-range Altima.

The Z is talented, but this segment is ripe with the truly gifted.

Just ask Ilanaaq, the mascot of the 2010 Olympic Games, he’s seen it all.

[Photo credits: author]

This vehicle was generously provided by Nissan Canada for the purposes of this review.

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