2009 Nissan 370Z NISMO first drive

CNET Car Tech gets a preview drive of the 2009 Nissan 370Z NISMO.

Nissan 370Z NISMO
The 370Z NISMO gets some body upgrades to improve aerodynamics. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Every automaker needs letters denoting which models incorporate high performance tuning. BMW has its M, Mercedes-Benz has its AMG, Lexus has its F, and Nissan its NISMO. That last, which stands for Nissan Motorsports, has just been added to Nissan's new sports car, the 370Z. We reviewed the Nissan 370Z Coupe last year, but only recently got to drive the 2009 Nissan 370Z NISMO.

Nissan took the standard 370Z Coupe, a very impressive sports car in its own right, and bumped up the power, fitted it with custom wheels, and stiffened the suspension. Body mods include chin and rear spoilers, a rear bumper with wheel well vents, and even an extended nose for better aerodynamic performance. The NISMO letters find their way onto the sport seats, the tachometer, and the rear badging. The result is a car that will be fun at weekend track events, but terrible for the daily commute.

Road test

We spent a good afternoon throwing a 370Z NISMO around the bends of colorfully named mountain blacktops such as Ice Cream Grade and Pine Flat Road (the latter not being flat at all). Having just gotten out of a 2010 Nissan 370Z Roadster gave us an excellent opportunity to note the NISMO upgrades to the standard 370Z. The thing that stands out the most is the ride quality, very harsh in the 370Z NISMO compared to the 370Z Roadster. We could feel the road's various textures being communicated up through the tires to our spinal cords.

Nissan 370Z NISMO wheel
These 19 inch RAYS wheels are part of the NISMO upgrade. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

The payoff for suffering that harsh ride comes in the form of better handling. But it's not that much better, at least within the confines of a public road. The standard 370Z already exhibits fine sports car handling; throwing a number at it, the NISMO feels about five percent better, while the ride seems about 25 percent worse.

The 370Z NISMO's engine makes a satisfying growl, a more primal sound than that of the standard 370Z, like a lion with the bones from numerous former meals stuck in its throat. But in measurable terms, it's only bumped 18 horsepower, up to 350, over the standard 370Z. Torque gets an additional 6 pound-feet, pushing it up to 276. On the road, the throttle feels a little more responsive, but it's not as dramatic a jump as between the Mercedes-Benz C300 and C63 AMG, where the horsepower difference is 223.

The 370Z NISMO's transmission is the same as in the 370Z Roadster and Coupe, a six speed manual with the SynchroRev Match feature. Short of a dual clutch automated manual, the 370Z's is probably the most technically advanced manual transmission available. The SynchroRev Match feature blips the throttle during gear shifts so the engine speed will line up with the new gear ratio, making for very smooth changes.

Stripped cabin

Nissan 370Z NISMO interior
Cabin gadgets are eliminated as options in the NISMO. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Where the standard 370Z can be had with a really excellent suite of tech in the cabin, Nissan leaves the 370Z NISMO barebones. No navigation, and none available, no Bluetooth or iPod integration, and just four speakers for the audio system. Somebody who wants a track car might not want to be weighed down with cabin gadgets, but the stripped 370Z NISMO costs about two grand more than a fully loaded standard 370Z Coupe.

The Nissan 370Z works very well as a fun sports car, but the 370Z NISMO isn't that great of an improvement, and the lack of cabin tech takes it out of the running as a tech car. And with the Hyundai Genesis Coupe nipping at its heels for about $10,000 less, those NISMO letters look expensive indeed.

 

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