What’s Hot: Aggressive looks, Recaro seats, finely-honed performance.
What’s Not: Noisy cabin, not on sale yet.
X-FACTOR: The Nismo 370Z is the best Z-car yet, we can't wait for its Australian debut.
Vehicle Style: Sports coupe
Price: $TBA (not yet confirmed for an Australian debut)
Engine/trans: 261kW/373Nm 3.8 petrol 6cyl | 6sp manual
Our thanks to Richard Hinze for supporting photography.
The local debut of Nissan’s performance sub-brand Nismo is more a case of when rather than if, but precisely 'when' is a question that has yet to receive an answer from the Japanese automaker’s Australian arm.
What, then, when it arrives, can we expect from the Nismo brand?
Odds are we won’t get all of the above, but certain models - like the Nismo 370Z and Nismo GT-R - are known to be high on Nissan Australia’s wishlist.
To see what makes a Nismo model distinct from its garden-variety relatives, we travelled to Japan to drive the Nismo Fairlady Z - AKA, the 370Z.
What we discovered was a car that doesn’t just look the part, but also has the performance chops to do justice to the Nismo brand.
Inside and out, Nismo has made its mark on the 370Z.
Externally, the differences are immediately obvious. Front and rear bumpers are aggressively vented, the side skirts are deeper, a red accent stripe runs along the car’s lower extremities, the headlamp housings are blacked out and the ducktail spoiler is more prominent.
Subtle wheelarch extensions also give the 370Z a greater impression of width, without looking too lairy.
The gunmetal 19-inch alloy wheels are forged lightweight items made by Japanese wheel specialists Rays Engineering, and measure 9.5 inches wide at the front and a huge 10.5 inches at the rear.
Wrapped in Bridgestone RE11s measuring 245/40R19 at the front and 285/35R19 at the rear, the Nismo 370Z’s wheel and tyre package puts more rubber on the ground at the rear wheels compared to a standard 370Z.
Inside the cabin you’ll find a pair of heavily bolstered Recaro seats, which offer a great deal more under-thigh and lateral support than standard 370Z pews.
Made by Recaro, manually adjustable and trimmed in black leather and red microfibre with the Nismo logo stitched into the headrest, they’re the seats the 370Z should have always had.
Other interior tweaks are limited to Nismo floormats, a Nismo-branded tachometer ringed in red and a steering wheel trimmed in grippy microfibre material.
Then there are the changes you can’t see.
Like the extra under-body chassis bracing that increases torsional rigidity, the Yamaha-designed dampers that tune out undesirable chassis harmonics, the Nismo-tuned dampers, springs and swaybars, reinforced brake lines, revised steering and beefed up front strut tower bar.
Oh, and there’s also the freer-flowing Nismo exhaust and tweaked ECU settings, which take power from the standard 370Z’s 245kW/363Nm output to a more red-blooded 261kW and 373Nm
Clearly, this is more than just a fancy bodykit and some Nismo badges. On the road, the difference is clear.
ON THE ROAD
- 261kW/373Nm 3.7 litre naturally-aspirated petrol V6
- Six-speed manual transmission, rear-wheel drive
- Double-wishbone front, multi-link rear suspension
- 19-inch alloy wheels
- Disc brakes with four-piston calipers at front, two-piston calipers at rear
Japanese roads are markedly different from roads in Australia. In most urban areas, they’re glass-smooth, uncambered and very well-maintained.
And for much of the drive from Nissan’s headquarters in Yokohama to Hadano along the congested Tomei Expressway, there was little to report.
The Nismo’s suspension, though firm over expansion gaps and other sharp bumps, was not uncomfortable and the Recaro seats gave excellent support.
In straight line acceleration, the 261kW V6 feels a little lazy compared to some turbocharged rivals, but power builds linearly the further up the rev range you go.
Keep revs high, and the Nismo 370Z responds keenly.
It’s noisy though, just like the regular 370Z. There’s no shortage of engine, transmission and road noise, and it can get tiresome of long journeys.
The gearshift for the six-speed manual (the 370Z’s seven-speed auto is not available in the Nismo) is also a bit stiff at times.
Arriving in Hadano, we turned inland and headed for the hills.
After a brief transit through the sleepy township the road almost immediately shrank to a width roughly 1.5 times that of the Nismo 370Z, rapidly steepened and got markedly bumpier.
Dense forest suddenly envelops the road, and the environment is worlds apart from the grey concrete drabness of the Tomei Expressway.
And it's here that Nismo’s handiwork paid off.
The steering feels tighter and more alert, while still rich in feel and feedback. There’s scarcely any body roll too, though the wet weather did keep cornering speeds lower than desired.
The suspension tune is perfectly suited to roads like this.
There’s just enough spring and swaybar stiffness to give excellent cornering performance, and it’s matched by well-tuned dampers that keep unwanted body movement to a minimum.
It felt easier to control too. Big credit must be given to the Bridgestone RE11s for coping with the ceaseless rain and occasional big puddle without ever aquaplaning, and giving admirable resistance to understeer.
Oversteer was also harder to instigate. Occasions where the rear felt like it wanted to break away were few, despite the dampness.
The engine also feels happier in this kind of environment.
Keeping revs above 3500rpm, there's plenty of thrust to launch the 370Z from corner to corner, and the crisp throttle response of the naturally-aspirated engine is far better than slightly laggier turbocharged competitors.
What else can we report? Well, the Nismo 370Z certainly feels like a more savage beast than the regular 370Z.
The sound from its stainless steel exhaust is more raucous, the steering wheel fizzes with feedback and the ride, though harsher, feels purposeful enough for a sports car without being completely unyielding.
Familiar 370Z gripes like poor outward vision are still there, but the level of tuning and modification done by Nismo has undoubtedly resulted in a machine that's a far more accomplished and well-honed performance car.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
It's hard to list rivals without knowing precisely how much the Nismo 370Z will cost when it eventually finds its way to Australia.
But, given the regular 370Z retails at $56,930, it wouldn't be unreasonable to assume the Nismo would exist somewhere in the $60-70k bracket.
In terms of performance and door count, the very appealing BMW M235i is the closest competitor to the Nismo 370Z, but costs just a shade under $80k.
What's so surprising about the Nismo 370Z is just how different it feels compared to the car it's based upon.
This is far from a sticker-tuned special, and, considering the relatively minimal nature of modifications, the net effect on the 370Z is profound.
It lacks the sheer brutality of its bigger bro the GT-R Nismo, but the Nismo 370Z is tremendously appealing in its own way.
For the sake of Nissan fans and the brand's image locally, we can't wait until Nismo's latest production cars touch Australian soil.
We'll let you know when that will be.
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