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2011 Nissan 370Z NISMO Review [Video]
Inspired by motorsports, the NISMO Z is missing one very important track tool
By Colum Wood, Photography by Dave Pratte and Nissan, Video by Chris Blanchette, Jun. 29, 2011

If there’s a big engine oil temperature gauge on the dash, you know it’s a serious sports car. If that gauge threatens to explode in just three laps, either the engineers didn’t do their job, or the accountants, lawyers and product planners perhaps did theirs a little too well. Both are true of the Nissan 370Z NISMO.

FAST FACTS

1. The NISMO 370Z gets a massaged 3.7L V6 engine to create an extra 18-hp for a total of 350-hp.

2. Other upgrades include a fully re-worked suspension, 19-inch Rays forged alloy wheels with significantly wider tires and a sport brake upgrade.

3. The NISMO Z’s aggressive bodykit is actually functional, delivering 150 lbs of downforce at 75 mph.

4. Special edition NISMO Z models start at $40,830.

Built with input from Nissan’s NISMO motorsports division you’d expect the NISMO Z to be the most capable Z car yet. And it is… but only for a limited time. This hard-core tuner-meets-track version suffers from the same problem as the rest of the 370Z line, namely, it overheats, causing the engine to go into a “limp mode” reducing maximum rpm levels from the lofty 7400 level to a somewhat less-fun amount that differs depending on exactly how hot the car is. The idea here is to protect the engine from further damage, which is smart, but this just raises the issue of why Nissan wouldn’t just use an oil cooler, helping to keep engine temps down and lap times up. We have a theory… and the blame lies not with the nerds in accounting or the legal department but from those guys you’d like to think are your friends: the product planners.

You see, the Z might be an impressive track machine, but it also looks just like a hard-parking tuner car. And it would seem Nissan thinks the vast majority of buyers fall into the latter category, more interested in polishing the stunning 19-inch Rays wheels or talking about the big 4-piston front brakes, then actually using them. And so while an oil cooler could be standard equipment, or offered as an option, the take-rate is likely too low for them to even bother with the R&D.

Do we blame the product planners? Perhaps not. Heck, we can’t even blame those owners. Who wouldn’t want to park such a fine looking machine in their driveway. It generated more feedback on the street (particularly from the 18-30 male demographic) than anything we’ve driven in a long, long time.

WILD NEW LOOK THAT’S FUNCTIONAL TOO

Better yet, the Z’s aggressive stance and yes, even the wild aerodynamics, are all a part of what make it such an impressive performer. The custom NISMO bodykit, complete with its massive rear spoiler, actually generates as much as 150 lbs of downforce at speeds of 75 mph. On track at Toronto Motorsports Park we’re not hitting 75 mph anywhere but on the straights, so while we might not be taking full advantage, we’ll take whatever we can get through the fast turn 1 and 2 sections.

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Particularly enjoyable is Nissan’s SynchroRev Match 6-speed manual transmission. Purists may protest against the computer-controlled rev-match on the downshift, but if they insist, it can be turned off. Besides, we’ve already established that most Z buyers, even the NISMO ones, aren’t weekend track warriors. For those who might make the weekend journey to their local lapping day once, it means never having to worry about heel-toeing, letting you give more attention to driving the right line.

The shifter itself is excellent, operating smoothly with short gear changes. The clutch feels a bit heavy on the street with an engagement point that’s hard to miss, none of which matters on the track.

LONG LIST OF UPGRADES IMPROVES PERFORMANCE IN ALL AREAS

Back on public roads the wide wheel and tire package does get pulled around on the ruts quite a bit and the stiffer suspension setup might be a bit much for many shoppers, even conventional sports car buyers. The tuner crowd isn’t likely to mind, however, and anyone who’s ever driven a car with an aftermarket suspension will probably find the NISMO to be downright comfortable.

Spring rates get a modest boost by 15% front and 10% rear, with 40% stiffer shocks, while the sway bars go up in stiffness 15% front and 50% rear.

There’s no need to fret the braking zones thanks to 4-piston front calipers and 14-inch rotors up front with 2-piston rears with 13.8-inch calipers. Part of the optional Sport package on all Z models, they’re standard on the NISMO and not once did we detect any fade.

Corner entry and exit come with a lot more speed than the standard 370Z, and not just because of the tweaked 3.7-liter engine that delivers 18-hp more for a total of 350-hp. No, perhaps the most significant factor is the added grip provided by noticeably wider wheels and tires. The light weight 19-inch Rays wheels allow for 245 wide front tires and 285 wide rear tires, compared to a 225/245 combo on the standard car. Combined with some sticker rubber it’s got more grip on turn in and more power can be applied sooner at corner exit.

The NISMO Z is excellently well-balanced, transitions easily with very little body lean and delivers plenty of confidence, allowing you to push it harder and harder.

About the only complaint we do have, apart from the overheating issue, is that hitting the traction control button doesn’t necessarily mean all systems are off. We actually never had any issues with it cutting power while applying throttle, allowing for all the oversteer we could ask for. But in a higher-speed understeer situation the built-in Active Brake Limited Slip, sensing a high speed loss of control, unmistakably activated, straightening out the car’s trajectory, but also shedding some speed – neither of which were necessary, nor wanted.

BACK-TO-BASICS INTERIOR

The car responds quickly to inputs from the thick-rimmed steering wheel, with its NISMO-specific red stitching. That same stitching pattern runs throughout the cabin, across the dash, on the shift knob boot and even on the seats. Don’t look for leather here, however, as the NISMO Z comes exclusively in a black and red fabric coating, designed more for grip and aesthetics. And that’s not entirely a bad thing. The standard Z, even with the high-end Touring package, is a disappointment when it comes to interior luxury. The NISMO car’s cockpit is redeemed by forgetting pretensions and instead going the Spartan route, evidenced by the numerous blank place-holder buttons decorating the decontented cabin. Even the seats are manually adjustable, although the car does get power windows and Nissan’s Intelligent Key access with a push-button start.

Along with those seats, model-specific trim updates do include a NISMO branded tachometer, aluminum pedals and a numbered plaque behind the shift knob.

THE VERDICT

As disappointed as we are with the overheating issue, the NISMO Z should not be written off. Either you won’t take it to the track, and so it doesn’t matter, or you will and should invest in a quality oil cooler, which you can buy and have installed for around $1,000.

Even if you add that price in, the NISMO 370Z is an incredible bargain retailing for just $40,830 ($46,898 CDN). That’s just a little more than you’d pay for a top-level Touring model with the Sport Package added on. And to give you an idea of how great that price is, it’s a solid $20,000 less than the BMW Z4 sDrive35is.

By including all the performance options, adding on plenty of NISMO extras and then deleting the frivolities, Nissan has created an incredible performance machine that doesn’t cost a fortune.

LOVE IT
  • Well-rounded performance machine
  • Stand-out looks
  • Excellent price
  • SynchroRev Match transmission
LEAVE IT
  • Engine overheating issues
  • VDC never fully off

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