Nissan's 370Z sports car delivers a lot of excitement for the money, and it's not a bad daily-driver, either. If you're looking for even greater sportiness, there's the Nismo 370Z, a factory-tuned edition of the regular 370Z. While the Nismo version increases the performance potential, it comes at the price of everyday comfort; the ride is jarring and the cabin loud.
I could see choosing the Nismo model if you have access to a racetrack, but for those who need their sports car to multitask, a regular 370Z works quite well — and costs less.
Too Fast, Too Furious?
With the Z's 2009 redesign, Nissan shortened the wheelbase by about 4 inches and the sports car's overall length by a little more than 2.5 inches. The new dimensions give the car a noticeably more compact look, and I like it a lot. The Nismo 370Z shares its wheelbase and general shape with the regular 370Z, but there are some significant styling changes — only some of which I like.
The most immediately apparent Nismo-specific styling cue is its large rear wing, which looks like something out of an aftermarket-parts catalog. It makes the Nismo 370Z look like it's auditioning for the next installment of "The Fast and the Furious." I wouldn't have minded as much if it hadn't reduced the coupe's already limited rear visibility. At least the wing is functional, providing more downforce, according to Nissan.
The Nismo's front-end styling is more aggressive thanks to a longer bumper design and a chin spoiler. The coupe's five-spoke, 19-inch forged-alloy wheels are beautiful and complete the car's look-at-me design.
You Can Call Me The Punisher
No, the Nismo 370Z won't talk to you like KITT from '80s TV show "Knight Rider" did (though that's a feature we'd like to test out), but "The Punisher" is the nickname I gave the Nismo 370Z during its stay in the Cars.com garage. Stiffer springs, dampers and stabilizer bars yield an extremely firm ride that's less forgiving than the regular 370Z's. The driver pays for this, as the car has an uncanny ability to make even relatively smooth roads feel like they're in need of some federal stimulus funds. By comparison, the regular 370Z's softer suspension does a better job soaking up bumps without sacrificing the handling performance you expect from this type of car.
The payoff for the Nismo's jarring ride comes in corners, and what a payday it is. The coupe stays flat and planted when you throw it into a turn, urging you to go faster. It's in this moment that you get a glimpse of the car's performance potential — and realize you need a racetrack to fully exploit it.
The Nismo 370Z has the same great steering response as the regular 370Z. There's a moderate amount of power assist; the steering wheel doesn't feel as weighty as you might expect from a performance car. I wouldn't have minded a little more road feel from the steering wheel, but the responsiveness is right on the money.
Going & Stopping
The Nismo 370Z gets a slight bump in power compared with other Z cars. Its 3.7-liter V-6 engine makes 350 horsepower and 276 pounds-feet of torque, as opposed to 332 hp and 270 pounds-feet of torque. Premium gas is recommended for both cars.
For a big V-6, the Nismo 370Z's engine doesn't have a lot of low-end power; you really have to rev it to tap into its performance capabilities. When you do, a cacophony of mechanical noise assaults your ears and reverberates around the small cabin. The exhaust note seems louder than the regular 370Z's, but it's not particularly distinctive. The sound may be music to some buyers' ears, but it wasn't to mine.
The V-6 teams with a six-speed manual transmission (an automatic isn't offered in the Nismo), and it reinforces the overall sense of great connectedness to the car itself, as well as to the road — for better or worse. The stick shift has short throws and slams home into gears with mechanical precision. The clutch pedal is heavier than you'll find in an economy car, but it's not so laborious that your left leg will cramp up in stop-and-go traffic.
A very cool performance aid that's standard in the Nismo 370Z and optional with the regular 370Z is SynchroRev Match, which you activate by pressing a button near the shifter. When it's on and you go to make a downshift, the system automatically blips the throttle to match engine rpm to the new gear for a smooth shift when you let off the clutch. It's quite effective.
The car also gets special Nismo Sport Brakes that use larger rotors and fixed calipers, which are optional for the regular 370Z. They can be a bit grabby when they're cold, but that sensation disappears soon enough, letting you appreciate the firm brake pedal and good control the system offers.
Though the emphasis is clearly on performance, Nissan didn't skimp on the Nismo 370Z's interior, which features a premium suedelike surface around the controls in the center of the dash.
I was, however, expecting a little more from the Nismo's seats. While they're comfortable and offer numerous manual adjustments, the bolsters — though they look substantial — are quickly overcome by the car's cornering capability.
Opening the large hatch reveals the Nismo 370Z's cargo area, which is fairly big in terms of width and length, but not all that deep. Total cargo capacity is just 6.9 cubic feet.
Nismo 370Z in the Market
I often like performance-oriented editions of existing cars, whether it's something expensive, like a BMW M3 or Jaguar XFR, or relatively affordable, like the Mazdaspeed3.
My main requirement is that a special version deliver impressive performance without sacrificing everyday-driving comfort. Those three cars I just mentioned do that, and while there's no question the Nismo 370Z provides racetrack-worthy handling, the transformation has mostly wiped away the regular 370Z's decent everyday drivability. When you consider that a regular 370Z can hold its own in the performance department, the Nismo's unforgiving ride is hard to accept.
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Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Mike Hanley||Cars.com National||November 9, 2009|
|Kelsey Mays||Cars.com National||February 24, 2009|
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|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||October 4, 2009|
|Sherrice Gilsbach||Mother Proof||July 7, 2009|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||May 22, 2009|
|Scott Burgess||The Detroit Newspapers||March 1, 2009|
|Steven Cole Smith||Orlando Sentinel||February 7, 2009|
|Dan Neil||Los Angeles Times||December 5, 2008|
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