2011 Nissan 370Z Nismo Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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Three years after it was introduced to the world, the Nissan 370Z remains a stunning looking car. Short, low and wide, it swoops and bulges in all the right places and has a muscular, ready-to-pounce stance. You'd almost believe that it was perfect ... until you saw the Nissan Motorsport "Nismo" edition 370Z. With a pronounced chin spoiler, a cleaned-up front end, unique side skirts and a big rear wing, the Nismo edition is at once more aggressive-looking and more beautiful than the everyday Z-car. Add on an eye-catching set of 19-inch RAYS forged aluminum wheels and the 370Z Nismo blows the gawk-o-meter clear off the scales. "Mercy me," I thought when I first laid eyes on it, "that's one sweet looking ride."

The second thought that popped into my head, about three blocks into the ride home, was that I might need a kidney transplant by the end of the week - with its specially-tuned suspension featuring revised shocks, springs and sway bars, the Nismo edition 370Z has an uncompromisingly firm ride that lets you know in no uncertain terms this is a sports car. If you want a comfortable boulevard cruiser you should look elsewhere.

The third thought that popped into my head, as I hurled the 370Z Nismo edition into a corner, lined up the following straightway and stamped on the accelerator, was that the kidney transplant would be worth it. As a driving machine, this car simply rocks.

Mechanically, the 370Z Nismo differs only slightly from the standard 370Z: It uses the same 3.7L 24-valve V6 with Nissan's variable valve event and lift (VVEL), but has a less restrictive exhaust (what Nissan calls an H-pipe system instead of the standard X-pipe setup) and a reprogrammed electronic control module. These tweaks are good for an extra 18 horsepower and 6 lb-ft of torque, giving the Nismo 350 horsepower and 276 lb-ft of torque versus the everyday Z-car's 332 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque.

In true motorsports fashion, the only transmission available for the Nismo edition is the 6-speed manual, although in a nod to those who didn't grow up learning how to accomplish perfect toe-and-heel downshifts, Nissan's "SynchroRev Match" system is included as standard equipment. A standard limited slip differential helps get all the power to the road, and upgraded Nissan sport brakes, with vented discs at all four corners, bring everything to a rapid, confidence-inspiring halt.

Inside, it's what you don't get that makes the Nismo edition special. There's no power-adjustable heated leather seating - that would be far too heavy. Instead you get body-hugging, manually adjustable cloth sports seats with the Nismo logo embroidered on the back. There's no Bluetooth, no satellite radio, no six-CD Bose sound system, and certainly not eight heavy speakers. Instead, a basic four-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system provides reasonably good sound for those occasions when you don't want to listen to the snarling of the engine and the whirring of the tires.

The 370Z Nismo isn't all stark simplicity however - you do get power locks, mirrors and windows, keyless entry with pushbutton start, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift, and a Nismo-branded tachometer which, for some reason, Nissan chose to execute in a kind of silvery grey colour that in daylight looks like it was perhaps borrowed from a late-'80s arcade game. That's alright though, because when you punch the accelerator everything moves by so quickly you won't be looking at the tach, but just watching out for the bright red shift light.

And punch the accelerator you most certainly will, because the 370Z Nismo fairly begs to be flogged, and after all, what else are you going to do behind the wheel of this car? Relax and enjoy the smooth ride? Listen to the awesome stereo system? Riiight.

Driving the 370Z Nismo is an immersive, visceral experience. It doesn't putter happily around town at low revs - it snarls and growls and pulls on its leash, trying to get away and run. Let it off the leash and it has explosive acceleration, launching from 0-100 km/h in just under five seconds, and cutting around corners with surgical precision and gum-on-your-sneaker grip. Indeed, I could find no public roads on which I could safely (let alone legally) get anywhere near the car's handling limits - the 370Z Nismo requires restraint even on deserted mountain roads, and really deserves to be taken out for track days at the nearest local road course.

All this awesomeness isn't without its imperfections: I found the vehicle stability control very heavy-handed, shutting things down hard and fast at the slightest hint of rear-end drift under acceleration, and there's no way to modulate it. You can turn it off entirely, but on public roads without safety runoffs I'd hardly recommend that - with its short wheelbase the 370Z can snap round remarkably quickly. I'd like a second, sport setting on the stability control that allows skilled drivers a little wheelspin and drift while still providing a margin of safety.

I'd also like to see a little more technology built into the audio system - a USB input would allow better iPod integration than the provided auxiliary jack (no more heavy CDs to lug around!), and Bluetooth connectivity isn't something you'd necessarily want to use on track days, but in everyday driving it's pretty much a safety feature given that cell phones are now a fact of life. Another feature worth adding would be a simple backup camera built into the rearview mirror, because the rearward visibility in this car is severely limited. And if these additional features sound too heavy or expensive, perhaps Nissan could do away with the SynchroRev Match feature, which is technically brilliant but basically deadweight for those who've learned to drive a manual-transmission car properly - which I'd guess would include 99 percent of the people who might be interested in a raw, pure sports coupe like the Nismo edition (I experimented with the feature for about 20 minutes, and then shut it off for the rest of the time I had the car).

The 370Z Nismo is available as a limited-edition model only, with a mere 50 examples being offered for sale in Canada. The suggested retail price is $46,898 plus $1,580 destination charges, and as tested with the $300 Hakone White Pearl paint my test car came to $48,778. This is about $6,000 more than the base car and $2,000 more than a 370Z with the Sport Package - what it gets you is a raw, unpasteurized sports car with a good deal less luxury than the standard 370Z, but a healthy dollop more performance and head-turning looks. For the right driver, that's a bargain worth striking.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sports Coupe, Nissan, 2011, 370Z Nismo, $40,000 - $49,999,

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