The new Z-Car has been with us since 2002, and though it’s never made as much of a splash as its ancestor the 240Z, it’s sold quite well and outlasted Japanese peers like the Honda S2000 and the Mazda RX-8, all the while maintaining relevance in the performance car market. Part of the reason why Nissan is able to do this is with the various special and limited editions of the 350 and 370Z they’ve come out with over the years. We recently tested the hardcore 370Z NISMO (Nissan Motorsport International Limited) to see how it gets on in the real world. The good news was that we got extended seat time in a well-tuned 350 horsepower sports car. The bad news was that this time the “real world” meant the streets of Los Angeles.
The 370Z NISMO was developed by Nissan’s Specialty Vehicles Group with the help of Nissan’s tuning subsidiary Autech Japan, and even on first glance it’s clear that there’s something special going on with this car. It’s a little bit boy racer but it’s not excessive, so no comically large wings or three-foot long stickers here. Overall Nissan describes the car as “racing-inspired”, and in terms of bodywork that means an extended front nose and fully integrated chin spoiler that very much distinguishes it from the standard car, as well as a unique rear with side sills and a functional rear spoiler on top. All in all, it’s a little over six inches longer than the regular 370Z. Not so obvious are the aluminum hood, doors, and hatchback that lighten the car but still keep the curb weight at around the standard car’s 3,300 pounds. New touches for 2013 are red brake calipers, Gun Metallic wheel finish for the 5-spoke 19-inch forged alloys, and a new shade of red paint. The NISMO is only available in five colors.
Nissan also claims that the interior of the NISMO has been laid out with racing on the brain, but it’s not as spartan as one might think. It has power door locks, climate control, 12-volt power outlets, a four-speaker sound system (a Bose six-speaker system is optional), even cupholders. Sportier touches include the push button start and the instrument layout. There’s a cool cluster on top of the dash with oil temp, voltmeter and clock, while the other group in the middle includes the speedometer and tachometer. Once you settle into the special NISMO-branded seats, you certainly feel like you’re in a serious performance car, but it also feels like there are an awful lot of luxuries and conveniences for a car that otherwise feels very raw when you drive it.
Power is from the familiar 3.7 liter VQ-Series DOHC V-6, but in the NISMO it is topped by a red engine cover and, thanks to exhaust tweaking and some work on the chip, it now makes 350 horsepower and 276 lb/ft of torque. The motor makes a great noise and short stabs at the drive-by-wire throttle pedal are just too tempting. The engine pulls fairly strongly to its 7,500 redline, with sixty coming up quickly at 4.5 seconds and the quarter-mile in the low-to-mid 13-second range. The six-speed manual gearbox, meanwhile, might take a bit to get used to. Like the standard car, it’s only available with Nissan’s SynchroRev Match system, which basically automatically rev matches as you downshift. While a computer surely does it consistently better than you, it does take some of the art out of driving and we quickly deactivated SynchroRev via a button next to the shifter. The shifter itself has a really good feel to it, and it all drives through a standard limited-slip differential. So far, so good, the NISMO does everything we’d expect of it.
Possibly the most radical changes to this Z-Car are in the handling department. The double-wishbone front and four-link rear suspension have been tweaked and tweaked from the standard car, so front spring rates are up 15%, rear springs 10%, front stabilizer bar 15%, and rear stabilizer bar 50%. Roll stiffness, meanwhile, is up 15% and front and rear damping factors have been upped by 40% and 140%, respectively. The NISMO also rides on Yokohama ADVAN Sport high-performance tires, and steering is by a speed-sensitive rack and pinion system. It would have been great to toss this thing around the track, test its limits, and feel it in its element. Sadly, the lion’s share of time in the NISMO was spent in pretty much the opposite kind of place, the cracked and bumpy I-5 and surface roads around Los Angeles. As you might expect, this car was not made for that. In another world, this same suspension would keep you flat through a hard corner and let you track out gracefully, but here among real people and on urban roads it was just harsh. Any kind of bump makes an unpleasant noise that you get tired of really quickly. To put it simply, this is not something to commute in, especially on stop-and-go riddle that is LA.
The NISMO is a semi-hardcore car that is semi-usable in the real world. It’s a weekend machine. People who don’t take their driving too seriously might be better off with a regular 370Z. That car has plenty of power and good looks but you won’t need a chiropractor every time you drive it in the city. The NISMO, on the other hand, is for long blasts in the countryside and the occasional autocross or track day. While it’s not a pure track car and is something that you could technically use as your daily driver, that isn’t the highest and best use for this strong platform.