Nissan's latest Nismo version of the 370Z aims to remind us that the GT-R isn't the only sports coupe it builds. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Nissan 370Z is pretty familiar fare and around 50 per cent of all 370Zs sold in this country are the top-line Nismo model. This time round, the Nismo has come in for a makeover. The body kit is more subtle yet more aerodynamically functional, you get some lovely Rays alloys and Recaro seats and power is rated at a healthy 344PS. It's still a bruiser, but now it's a better-looking one.
The Nissan 370Z is a car that has, thus far, failed to live up to the standards of its predecessor, the 350Z. In 2003, in the US alone, the 350Z shifted over 36,000 units. The 370Z's best year, 2009, saw it register about a third of that. Now it sells under 7,000 cars per year there. Compare that to 26,000 Subaru BRZ and Scion FRS models - the car we know more commonly as the Toyota GT86 - in the US and you can see that the 370Z was being undercut and overlooked. It's not just in the US either. Despite some price cutting, when was the last time you saw a brand-new 370Z on the road?
In order to regenerate some interest, Nissan has regrouped and considered its options. Cutting the price of the Zed at one end might tempt people from the GT86. At the other end of the range why not improve its abilities? That's the logic with the 370Z Nismo, a car that starts to show what the 370Z was always capable of.
The Nismo model benefits from 16PS more under the bonnet, its peak power of 344PS now reached at 7,000rpm. After driving so many turbocharged cars, it's great to pedal something that requires a bit of work to extract the best from. It'll get to 62mph in just 5.2 seconds and run onto an electronically limited 155mph. Like all Zeds, it feels hefty and rather than dancing on its tiptoes at speed, it feels as if it's trying to punch the road surface into submission. Nissan has worked to cut road noise and the rear suspension has been softened quite markedly, so it no longer bucks about on poor road surfaces.
The seats are excellent, offering plenty of lateral support and the manual gearbox is one you'll have great joy in slamming home. It also does a throttle blip on the downshift to rev match the engine speed to the lower ratio. At higher revs there's still a lot of vibration coming through wheel and gear lever, but that's almost a Zed trademark and makes the car feel vivid and alive. There's a real excitement to driving this car fast and that's no bad thing. Sports cars should get you a bit juiced when you put them through their paces.
Design and Build
You're probably quite familiar with the 370Z shape by now, as it's been on sale here in the UK since 2009. The Nismo model amps up the attitude a bit, but not as much as some prior Nismo-badged cars. Only available with the coupe body, the 370Z Nismo can be identified by a redesigned front bumper which gets a larger air intake, additional air inlets ahead of the wheel arch and LED daytime running lights. Other updates include the introduction of black headlamp bezels, red Nismo trim at the base of the bumper, a redesigned side sill and door mirror and some Nismo badging. The 19-inch Rays alloy wheels are finished in black and silver.
Move round to the rear end and you'll spot a revised bumper and spoiler. As part of a complete rework of the 370Z Nismo's aero package, this version features a smaller rear spoiler that works in tandem with the front bumper to create significantly more downforce. What's more, the force is now more evenly distributed over the front and rear axles, giving a more balanced feeling on the road. The interior gets a sportier makeover and feels a generally pleasant place, although the steering column still doesn't telescope. It's still a two-seater-only cabin but there is a reasonable 235-litres of luggage space behind the seats.
Market and Model
Here's the kicker though. You can buy a standard 370Z for £27,435 and you'll probably be able to carve some off that with a bit of negotiation, making it cheaper than most typical Toyota GT86s. The Nismo model, on the other hand, costs a good deal more, retailing at £37,575. Is it ten grand better than the standard car? That's a question you'll need to answer, but Nissan has really thrown the options book at this one.
As well as the additional power, bigger alloy wheels and the body styling, the Nismo also gets some fantastic Recaro Sportster seats that offer significant improvements in support and comfort. By adopting a shell-based construction in preference over a traditional tubular frame seat, Nissan has also been able to improve rigidity and reduce weight at the same time. To complete the interior makeover, the seats are trimmed in red and black leather and Alcantara to match the steering wheel.
Cost of Ownership
The 370Z is a car that lives to be driven hard and to do so will inevitably rack up some fairly sizeable bills. Take fuel consumption as an example. Your Nissan dealer may well quote a combined figure in the region of 27mpg but you'll need to be some kind of feather-footed freak to match those figures. On one 'enthusiastically driven' test route, we saw an average of 13.2mpg come up on the calculator. Ouch. Likewise the 370Z, while mechanically rugged, has an appetite for rear tyres if you're the sort who likes to occasionally disable the electronic control systems.
You'd expect insurance to be commensurate with a car that can reach 155mph and which will jet to 60mph in just over 5 seconds: expect a Group 46 rating. Residual values for this range-topping car might be a bit of a worry but if you're thinking that sinking money into an entry-level Porsche Cayman might be a better idea, you'll need to find another £2,500 and by the time you've specified it to the level of the 370Z Nismo, your typical three-year residuals will probably be about the same.
The Nissan 370Z Nismo is a car that's tempting to dismiss out of hand; the 370Z feels like not even a has-been, more a never-was. Spend a little more time with one and it begins to worm its way into your affections. It's a big-hearted thing that's always an event to drive. You never feel like taking this car for granted, nor does it ever feel like a 'coupefied' version of a saloon car, which is exactly what many of its German rivals are.
Although the Nismo version adds a few extra horsepower and some nice touches such as the Recaro seats and the Rays alloy wheels, I think its biggest benefit is throwing into relief quite what an amazing bargain the standard car is. You don't get a lot of sports car for £27,000 these days. This one will school a £40,000 Porsche Cayman on track and really punches above its weight. So are we saying not to choose the Nismo? Not at all. It certainly has its charms, but let's just say we know a bargain when we see one.