Starting with the Nissan Fairlady Z in 1969, aka Datsun 240Z for those of us stateside, this marquee has been a member of the sports car lexicon for decades. With six generations under its belt, Nissan has been able to hone the Z into a battle-tested stalwart that has risen above the ranks in a sea of stiff competition. The archetypal sports car formula is in full effect – wedge shape, two-seats, rear wheel drive, 300+ horsepower, lightweight chassis – and the Nissan 370Z NISMO arrives in a package that is fitting of its performance aspirations.
The 370 Coupe was introduced in 2009 and quickly became a star, dropping the kind of stats and figures on both the street and the track that put much pricier vehicles to shame. And the 370Z finally silenced all of the critics of the 350Z, which looked like an awkward teenager going through a growth spurt but never reaching maturation. In any case, the revised 370Z is a stellar overhaul of the 350Z. And the NISMO edition wratches everything up a notch.
The wedge-like 2014 Nissan 370Z NISMO is 2.5 inches shorter than the old 350Z and loses 4 inches from its wheelbase, making it appear much more like a true sports coupe. It shares the same slung-back L shaped lights as the Maxima and takes similar styling cues from the GTR’s roofline and windshield. The Nissan 370Z is also much more sculpted and aggressive than the 350Z. The NISMO edition adds a special front fascia with integrated chin spoiler, body side sills, rear fascia with underbody air diffuser and a hardcore rear double wing spoiler.
The cabin of the 370Z is a warm and inviting space. The cloth seats are heavily bolstered with multiple padded comfort zones and a two-tone flavor of stretched black material on the outside and, on the inside, a webbed red and black variation on all seating surfaces which appears impervious to wear and tear. Oversized manual knobs take care of lumbar adjustments and thigh and posterior lift. The driver has 8-way seats while the passenger gets 4-way.
NISMO Signature Red stitching is used throughout the interior for a touch of flair. The steering wheel is wrapped in Alcantara leather and feels particularly sturdy and capable.
The cabin is completely driver-centric and, peering through the upper portion of the wheel, you see the classic Z-style instrument cluster with the 9,000 RPM tachometer right smack in the middle and the speed gauge off to the right. On the left is a small readout screen capable of displaying various alerts and trip information buffered by the fuel and temperature gauges which appear by way of horizontal rows of orange dots above and below.
Whereas the Camaro SS places additional instrumentation tucked away below the dash, Nissan takes the opposite approach and posts the engine coolant temp, voltage and a digital clock in separately housed pods in the upper molding of the dash. A nice start/stop button sits at the left of the dash and initiation blips the gauges whose needles fully sweep clockwise and then back to idle.
The main dash houses the audio and temperature controls which are super easy to use if nothing else. In fact the set-up is so basic that it could very well have been pulled from a Z several generations back. The only hints of technological progression are the cool metallic accent rings around the climate controls. Just above the swath of plastic that houses the am/fm/satellite radio with CD player is a nice leather cover hiding a gaping hole behind it.
In Nissan’s defense, the Touring model rights all wrongs by providing an optional, fully immersive navigation and audio setup (akin to the Infiniti G37) that’s quite outstanding. One nice touch is the optional illuminated kick-plates which have the iconic Z symbol glowing orange.
The attractive styling of the Nissan 370Z NISMO has necessitated some less than ideal spatial and visibility compromises. Some neck acrobatics are necessary when backing out of parking spots or even changing lanes in heavy traffic. We were yearning for a blind spot warning system but were placated by the integrated backup camera found in the rear-view mirror.
The hatchback configuration offers minimal luggage space so, while this is a fantastic car for a weekend getaway cruising down the coast, don’t expect to pack more than a couple of overnight bags.
Given that this model is tweaked by Nissan’s performance tuning division, NISMO (which stands for Nissan Motorsport International Limited) it is only fitting that it gets a bump in horsepower. NISMO isn’t nearly as aggressive as AMG is with the Mercedes-Benz stable or the M division of BMW is with their lineup, but the changes are noticeable and a welcome addition.
A NISMO Signature Red Engine Cover definitely makes a great impression when you pop the hood. The Nissan 370Z NISMO is outfitted with a 3.7-liter DOHC 24-valve naturally-aspirated V6 aluminum-alloy engine good for 350 hp and 276 lb-ft of torque at 5200RPM. Nissan’s latest VQ engine has a compression ratio of 11:1 and sports VVEL (Various Valve Event & Lift) throttle-less valve timing and lift control and loses the annoyingly sensitive throttle tip-in of previous generations. Despite the 18hp increase over the standard 370Z, fuel economy is still rated at 18 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.
The well-regarded 7 speed automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters is not an option for the NISMO, which comes with a 6 speed manual gearbox with NISMO Shift Knob. SynchroRev Match comes standard and is nice touch. By activating with the “Sport” button just above and to the right of the stick shift, the throttle is blipped during both up or downshift to match engine and transmission speed. No more heel-toe shifts are required. That said, if you want to do things yourself it can be disengaged.
Performance stats are solid with 0-60mph reached in just 4.9 seconds. Top speed is electronically limited to 160 mph but looking at the gear ratios there’s obviously much more fight left in this dog. In fact, at high speeds the 370Z is about as stable as any car we’ve tested.
The NISMO 19″ Rayz Forged Wheels are shod in fat Bridgestone Potenza tires measuring 245/40R19 in front and 285/35R19 in rear. This setup makes you feel firmly planted at all times. To accommodate the increased mass, Nissan went with higher spring and damping rates. Despite only 4.8″ of clearance the car rides quite well even on less than optimal pavement, though it does have a nasty habit of getting caught in pavement grooves on occasion.
The double-wishbone front suspension system provides laser-like precision through the rack and pinion speed-sensitive power steering. The car is perfectly balanced with neither oversteer or understeer particularly evident. In fact, getting the car to lose traction, even with VDC turned off, is quite difficult. NISMO provide further tuning to the suspension to stiffen things up even more and the limited-slip differential keeps both wheels operating with powered rotation.
The brake kit comes by way of the fine folks at Akebono who made sure the NISMO has all the stopping power it needs with four-piston calipers grabbing 14″ rotors up front and twin-piston calipers clamping 13.8″ rotors in back. There is no discernible fade after continuous heavy braking and the pedal feel is completely linear and controlled. The NISMO performance brake pads surely take some of the credit.
The NISMO tuned exhaust adds a more throaty exhaust note to the Z which could definitely benefit from some more growl. The NISMO polished exhaust tips are a nice touch.
The 2014 Nissan 370Z NISMO has all of the safety equipment one would expect from a car that tempts you to do things you normally wouldn’t and makes you feel like a better driver than you actually are. The Z’s body structure is so stiff that it’s easy to feel indestructible thanks to the front and rear stabilizer bars, a 3-point front strut tower brace and a rear underbody v-brace.
Additionally, 4-wheel antilock brakes with brake assist (ABS), traction (TCS) and stability control (VDC), dual-stage front air bags, seat-mounted side impact airbags, roof-mounted side curtain air-bags and active head restraints come standard, as do a tire pressure monitoring system, energy absorbing steering column, and multiple crumple zones.
The MSRP of our 2014 Nissan 370Z NISMO is $43,020. Our model also came equipped with the BOSE package ($1,350), NISMO floor mats ($125), carpeted trunk mats ($95), Illuminated kick plates ($200) and In-Mirror rearview monitor ($790).
Competitors include the Ford Mustang GT Convertible, Chevy Camaro SS Convertible as well as the BMW 1 Series Convertible. In this realm, the choice really comes down to personal taste– American muscle, European polish or Japanese reliability and finesse.
The Nissan 370Z NISMO isn’t perfect. The larger wheel package looks super cool and provides a solid set of shoes but the amount of rear tire noise inside the cabin is sometimes overwhelming at high speeds. The drivetrain also adds its share of auditory discomfort which is odd since Nissan claims to have increased sound insulation. Though the stereo system is powerful enough to drown out any ambient sounds, hearing a cell phone ring is not easy. It’s possible that Bluetooth may solve this minor issue but one must step up to the Touring package to get this welcome option. And finally, there is about as much storage space as would accommodate a Dora the Explorer daypack. And then there’s the issue of the large rear blind spots.
Besides these few minor quibbles, the 2014 Nissan 370Z NISMO is a true rock star with class leading performance and looks to kill. And in this journalist’s eyes, it’s also the perfect platform for mind-blowing modifications. If you’ve got a little more cash in the hopper, we’d recommend getting the NISMO edition which definitely looks the parts, ups the horsepower ante and is a great daily driver with enough tuning chops to feel at home on the track.