Nismo takes the 370Z to the gym, transforming it from swift coupe to track star.
WHAT IS IT?
A late-life testosterone injection for Nissan’s eight year-old sports car, with plenty of input from Nissan’s motorsport arm, Nismo.
WHY ARE WE TESTING IT?
The 370Z is an old nameplate by now, having arrived locally in 2009 and undergoing only minor updates since. The arrival of the 370Z Nismo flagship is the biggest change to Nissan’s classic sports car yet, but does it go far enough to boost the Zed’s appeal?
The 370Z Nismo retails at $61,490, which places it $4000 above a V8-engined Ford Mustang GT Coupe, but well below a $74,900 BMW M240i – a car which is closer to the Nismo in terms of power and size than the Mustang, but comes at a significant premium.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Nismo’s power increases may be modest, but the real story is in how Nissan’s in-house high-performance division has managed to tighten the screws on the 370Z’s already sharp-handling platform.
It’s a bit of a handful on patchy backroads, but when the windscreen is filled with smooth and tight bends the 370Z Nismo comes into its own. Too focused for some, probably, but the upshot is that there’s still the standard 370Z for the less hardcore drivers out there while real Nissan performance zealots can finally park a bona-fide Nismo sports car in their garage without having to spring for the $299k GT-R Nismo.
PLUS: Visual aggression; grippy handling; tactile steering; superb Recaro seats
MINUS: Deafening road noise; synthetic exhaust note; brittle ride; no reach adjustment to steering
THE WHEELS REVIEW
THE 370Z notched up eight years in the Australian market in April, a birthday which, in car terms, truly qualifies the Zed for a seniors card - if not a letter from the Queen.
It’s old, we know that, but in its eighth year two major developments have occurred – the standard 370Z received a price adjustment in August that saw the manual-equipped coupe dip below the $50k mark for the first time, while the sharper 370Z Nismo that’s been on sale overseas for two years has finally arrived on Australian soil.
And the Nismo Zed isn’t just a pensioner sports car in an Adidas tracksuit – it sports real-deal mods that hone the standard car into a fitter, meaner vehicle.
Not that the basic package was especially lacking, mind you. There’s been little in the way of mechanical updates for the 370Z over the past eight years, but the 3.7-litre naturally-aspirated VQ37VHR V6 has always been a linear and torque-rich motor, with a fat mid-range courtesy of trick variable valve timing and variable valve lift hardware.
In the Nismo, a large-diameter exhaust and recalibrated ECU shift the engine’s power curve closer toward its 7500rpm redline, with peak power – all 253kW of it – occurring at a heady 7400rpm. Peak torque comes at 5200rpm, the same as the standard 370Z, but the total amount of twist rises by 8Nm to 371Nm.
Yet, with only 8kW more peak power and 13kg more weight to lug, the 370Z Nismo doesn’t feel that much swifter than the boggo Zed in a drag race. Instead it is corners that the Nismo is designed to assault, not the quarter mile.
Firmer springs and dampers are exclusive to the Nismo, but the ultra-stiff suspension overstays its welcome on choppy backroads. The front tyres skip over nastier pockmarks and there isn’t the compliance necessary to keep traction over rough surfaces.
Once the road smooths out the Nismo feels far more settled, with its fatter wheel and tyre package delivering superb grip at both front and rear axles.
Meanwhile, the Zed’s old-school hydraulic steering is a tactile, fast-ratio delight, and meshes well with its responsive double-wishbone front suspension. Driven hard, there’s the sense that the taut Nismo-tuned undercarriage would work wonders on a racetrack.
So too would its aero-optimised bodykit, which improves airflow to heat exchangers and reduces lift at high speed, while Nismo-specific bolt-on chassis braces and vibration dampeners also stiffen the 370Z’s structure to improve handling. The Nismo-branded Recaro seats are another useful feature for track junkies, offering vastly better lateral and under-thigh support than the standard 370Z seats and featuring pass-throughs for a racing harness too.
A free-breathing Nismo exhaust endows the V6 with a guttural howl at high rpm, however it’s an electronically-enhanced note with a synthetic edge that’s at odds with the 370Z Nismo’s otherwise analogue driving experience. It sounds pretty good from outside the cabin and is preferable to the breathless raspiness of the standard 370Z’s pipes, but we’re curious to know how it sounds au natural.
Gearbox whine is also prominent, but is at least in keeping with the Nismo’s posture as a motorsports-inspired road car. Mechanical noises like that are just cool sometimes, and refinement is overrated in sports cars anyway. That said, road noise on coarse-chip is properly deafening – pack earplugs if you’re planning a road trip.
The only major additions to the 370Z’s cosy cabin are the aforementioned Recaro seats, an Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel, and a sprinkling of Nismo badges and crimson highlights. The interior fit-out is where the 370Z shows its age the most though, and while the GT-R recently scored a comprehensive interior update, its baby brother soldiers on with dated interior décor. Build quality, at least, is hard to fault.
The technology list is also looking a bit old. The basics are all there – single-zone climate control, keyless entry and ignition, cruise control, sat-nav, and Bluetooth – but advanced features like autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise, smartphone mirroring have yet to find their way into the 370Z. A more egregious omission is the absence of reach adjustment for the steering column, whose tilt-only mechanism may not be enough for drivers of all body types to get comfortable behind the Alcantara-clad wheel.
And you’ll want to feel comfortable in the pilot’s seat, because the 370Z Nismo expresses a lot of old-school sports car values in the way it drives, and many of them are traits that are fast becoming extinct. Things like feelsome hydraulically assisted steering, a balanced front-engine, rear-drive chassis, and a zingy naturally aspirated engine – turbocharged hot hatches are thick on the ground these days, while sports cars like the 370Z are not.
And thankfully Nismo’s take on the Zed is more than just a badge job. The 370Z Nismo’s feistier character gives an aging platform a newfound lease on life. It’s angrier and harder to live with, yes, but its singular focus on handling elevates the oft-forgotten Zed from a bigger-engined (and more expensive) alternative to the Toyota 86 to a car that encourages owners to hunt down the curviest (and preferably smoothest) section of blacktop they can find and just drive.
Model: Nissan 370Z Nismo manual
Engine: 3696cc 6cyl, dohc, 24v
Max power: 253kW @ 7400rpm
Max torque: 371Nm @ 5200rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Kerb weight: 1480kg
Fuel economy: 10.6 L/100km
Price: $61,490 (estimated)
On sale: Now