Nissan has, for a long time, charted a different path with its lineup. As the CUV (Crossover Utility Vehicle) onslaught continues, Nissan has positioned itself to be a strong player in the family-friendly market. There’s the new Kicks, the slightly bigger Qashqai, the popular Rogue, and the three-row Pathfinder if you need space for more than five. They’ve certainly been busy, but enthusiasts can’t help but feel let down by the brand, with cars like the 370Z and GT-R languishing on the back burner, seemingly ignored.
The 370Z, in particular, has been around, mostly unchanged, since the 2009 model year. Trim levels have been juggled around, with the base 370Z serving as a strong value at just under $30,000. On the other end of the scale, the $48,498 370Z NISMO (short for Nissan Motorsports) represents the best and most capable version of the mature platform. We were sent a “Solid Red” 370Z NISMO for a week-long, enthusiast-oriented evaluation.
The changes for the 2018 model year are very minor. The tires on the 370Z NISMO are changed from the Bridgestone Potenza S001, to the Dunlop SP Sport MAXX GT600 summer-only tire, which is the same model used on the GT-R. The aggressive staggered fitment remains: 245-section tires up front, and 285-section tires in the rear, wrapped around lightweight forged RAYS 19-inch wheels. Simply put, it’s a lot of tire, and with every car, fitting an improved tire is often the best upgrade for the money. The other mechanical change is a new clutch, provided by EXEDY. The claim is that clutch pedal effort is reduced, but in practice, the 370Z retains a somewhat heavy, but communicative clutch interface.
The Nissan 370Z NISMO retains its unique look over the standard 370Z, with a unique front and rear bumper, designed for more downforce at speed. This particular tester was registered in Quebec, which means the usual front plate could be omitted, which always improves aesthetics. The two-toned NISMO badges tell you this car means business, and it looks it, too. It’s a classically attractive, low-slung coupe, with a tight greenhouse, trim overhangs, low-offset wheels pushed to the corners, and big brakes peeking through those narrow spokes.
Inside, the most dominating feature of the 370Z NISMO are the aggressive Recaro seats. Trimmed in Alcantara accents, the bolstering is aggressive enough that those of a wider stature may find it difficult to get comfortable. The seats are manually adjusted, and do not feature heating elements, so they do manage to save some weight, at the expense of convenience. The adjustment knobs are buried tight between the door card and the seat bottom – you may find it easier to open the driver’s side door to make adjustments, or take off your watch to give yourself some more clearance. Once you find your ideal seating position, those seats will hold you in like few others will. The tight greenhouse also means outward visibility can be an issue at times, especially when looking over your shoulders.
The 370Z NISMO also features an Alcantara-trimmed steering wheel, complete with a red leather element that indicates “straight-ahead”, and like the standard 370Z, the instrument cluster binnacles move with the tilt-motion of the steering wheel, so the gauges in front of you are always visible. It’s important to remember that the 370Z is strictly a two-passenger vehicle, which leaves the space behind the occupants open for storage. Unfortunately, the sharp angle of the rear hatch means you don’t get a ton of vertical height for items.
The 370Z NISMO gets satellite navigation, which is functional, but becomes the one item that quickly dates the car, with low resolution graphics and slow response. For some inexplicable reason, the navigation system insists on labeling short streets, which looks quite humorous with text all over the screen for a cul-de-sac. Another quirk: the reverse camera video feed appears in both the rear-view mirror, and the main seven-inch infotainment screen.
Under the hood, Nissan’s venerable 3.7L naturally-aspirated gasoline V6 (codenamed VQ37VHR) fits snugly between the two shock towers. It’s a big and “traditional” feeling motor: there’s no direct gasoline injection, no electric power steering, and no forced induction. Fans of instantaneous throttle response will be at home here, that’s for sure. A NISMO tune for the engine computer, combined with an H-pipe exhaust system allows for an uprated 350 horsepower at 7,400RPM (18 more than the standard 370Z), and 276lb-ft of torque at 5,200RPM.
Power is routed to the rear wheels through a six-speed manual transmission (the seven-speed automatic seen on the standard 370Z is not offered here), and a viscous-type limited-slip differential. Straight out of the factory, the Nissan 370Z checks off a lot of boxes for what a sports car should have: a willing engine (that revs to 7,500RPM), good suspension geometry (double-wishbones up front and a multilink setup in the rear), a manual transmission, good weight distribution, and rear wheel drive.
We typically test our review vehicles in a street setting, living the typical life of a typical owner. There are times where we are expressly cleared for permission to bring these review vehicles to a motorsport setting – this is one of those times. I brought Nissan’s 370Z NISMO to a local autoslalom event: a sectioned-off parking lot is fitted with bright orange cones, in order to create a dynamic and challenging course where you race against the clock.
This event was held at the end of my week with the 370Z NISMO, so I will say that a few day’s worth of driving isn’t quite enough to really “learn” a car’s behaviour, especially under dynamic situations. With that said, the 370Z NISMO held up remarkably well; I was able to feel confident, go fast, and set a decent time amongst my competitive peers.
The Dunlop SP Sport MAXX GT600 tires held up remarkably well, exhibiting minimal shoulder wear, even after a full day of strenuous handling manoeuvers. The wide 285-section tires gave me the grip to get on the accelerator early at corner exit, and the large fixed-caliper brakes (sourced from Akebono) did a great job scrubbing off speed confidently. The hydraulically-assisted power steering communicated the road surface in a way that many current electric systems simply cannot, which allowed me to make the most of the increased spring rates and firmer (fixed) dampers. There are a lot of journalist-friendly adjectives one can use to describe the 370Z, but I feel “confidence inspiring” is fitting, here.
Nissan’s SynchroRev Match function has been around in the 370Z for quite some time, and it is a technology that has its fair share of critics. In short, the brains of the 370Z will assist you with rev-matching, whether you are upshifting or downshifting gears. I will say that Nissan’s implementation genuinely works, and can help you whether you’re just commuting on the street, attacking cones, or at the race track. Smooth inputs and transitions between gear changes is the objective, here. Thankfully, for those of you who would prefer to do the rev-matching yourself, you can quickly disable “S-Mode” by pressing and holding the button just beside the gear shift lever.
Nissan rates the 370Z NISMO at 13.3L/100km in the city, 9.3L/100km on the highway, and 11.5L/100km in a combined cycle. Even with a full day of autoslalom, as well as a good amount of low-speed city commuting, I managed to squeeze out an indicated average of 10.7L/100km, which is better than what I was expecting. The big fuel tank will hold up to 72L of the required premium 91-octane fuel.
As mentioned earlier, the Nissan 370Z NISMO is priced at $48,298. Considering the 370Z hasn’t seen much of a real update since its inception, even its competitors from America have transformed themselves into serious sports cars. You can now get a Ford Mustang GT with the Performance Package for about the same money as the 370Z NISMO, or a Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE for a few thousand dollars more. The common denominator with these two: you get two responsive V8 engines and legitimate performance credentials – these aren’t the old American muscle cars of the past.
It is a large gulf between the base 370Z and the NISMO, but whether the cost premium is worth the money depends on what you’re looking for, out of your sports car. The 370Z NISMO does deliver on its performance credentials, but this also happens to be the kind of car that looks good, in a vacuum, on its own. One of the interesting things about the 370Z in general is the strong aftermarket support, thanks to the maturity of the platform. You could price out a lengthy wish-list of aftermarket components for the almost $18,000 difference between the two, but you won’t get the valid warranty, dealer support and overall polish afforded by the NISMO.
If you’re a big of the uniquely Japanese heritage behind the “Z” car, the 370Z NISMO is the culmination of all those years of sports car development. The mature (read: dated) platform that the 370Z rides on also happens to be a good time capsule, taking the good parts of what sports cars used to be like, ten years ago. To some, this “old-school” feel is the feel worth chasing.