Inching through rush-hour traffic in the 2014 Nissan 370Z Nismo is a bit like buttering your bread with a broadsword; sure, you'd look way awesome doing it, but there are probably better uses for the blade.
A more hard-core version of the Nissan 370Z, the Nismo Z throws away all pretense of being versatile, subtle, or comfortable in an effort to make the Z34 chassis as quick as possible. It wants to be street-legal race car.
Like a broadsword, the Z is simple. You'll find none of the Nissan GT-R's technological gadgetry here. It is also brutal, lacking the Subaru BRZ's lightweight ultraprecision. With its powerful V-6, rear-drive architecture, and big, meaty tires, the Nismo Z is Japanese muscle.
Nismo performance upgrades
When you choose the $43,020, performance-oriented 2014 370Z Nismo over the standard Z, which is $13,030 less expensive, it should go without saying that you're getting a lot of go-faster gubbins marked with Nismo logos for your money.
Upgrades start in the engine bay, with the Nismo-tuned engine, which lives under a Nismo signature red engine cover and exhales through a Nismo-tuned exhaust with polished Nismo dual-exhaust tips. This retuned version of the Z's 3.7-liter V-6 now outputs 350 horsepower, 276 pound-feet of torque. Compared with the non-Nismo Z, that's 18 more ponies and 6 more pound-feet of twist. Interestingly, the fuel economy estimates are the same: 21 combined, 18 city, and 26 highway mpg.
Peek beneath the Zed's bulging front fenders and rear haunches, and you'll spot the Nismo-tuned sport suspension. The chassis is firmed up with a three-point Nismo strut tower brace in the engine bay and the whole ride sits atop a set of 19-inch Rays forged aluminum-alloy wheels with a Nismo design. The wheels' sizes are staggered -- 9.5 inches wide up front and 10.5 inches wide in the rear -- and are shod with 245/40YR19 and 285/35YR19 Bridgestone Potenza S001 high-performance tires at the front and rear, respectively. That's a lot of sticky rubber. If I'm not mistaken, that's the widest OEM wheel-and-tire combo available on the Z.
This model also features unique Nismo aerodynamic upgrades, including a front fascia with an integrated chin spoiler, a rear fascia with an integrated underbody diffuser, side skirts, and a rear double-wing spoiler; all of which were finished in a contrasting Gun Metallic gray paint on our example, rather than being color-matched to the rest of the body's Pearl White paint.
Inside the cabin, there's red and black fabric trim on the Z's eight-way (for the driver) and four-way (passenger) manually adjustable sport seats with deep leg and torso bolsters. You also get an Alcantara leather steering wheel with a red stripe marking top center, red contrast stitching scattered about the interior, and leather trim on the e-brake handle and the six-speed transmission's shift knob.
That six-speed manual gearbox is the only option available for the Nismo Z -- as it should be -- which features the Z's SynchroRev Match blip and hold on downshifts and upshifts. Don't worry, we'll speak more on that in a bit.
The rear-wheel drivetrain is also augmented with the rear-axle viscous limited-slip differential from the standard 370Z's Sport package, as well as that package's upgraded sport brakes, high-rigidity brake hoses, and R35 Special II brake fluid.
Sparse cabin tech
The Nismo Z shares a number of the standard Z's cabin tech pros, cons, and options. For example, even after eight model years and a midcycle refresh, the Z's floating instrument cluster still uses that stupid fuel level and temperature combo gauge with the amber LED segments that can be impossible to read at a glance in direct sunlight.
That gauge has been a sore spot for me since the Z's debut in 2008, but the standard cabin tech isn't all bad. For example, Nissan's Intelligent Key keyless entry and push-button start are standard on this trim level, as are auto on/off Bi-Xenon headlamps.
A Bose audio package is available, and was equipped on our example (a $1,350 option), upgrading and replacing a standard four-speaker system with an eight-speaker rig that features dual subwoofers. I'm sure that I wouldn't even want to sample the four-speaker system after spending a week in the Z's noisy cabin. Either pony up for the Bose system or learn to enjoy the sound of the engine, the wind, and, loudest of all, road noise.
Along with the louder output, the Bose system's six-disc in-dash changer replaces the single-disc unit, while a SiriusXM satellite radio tuner and rudimentary Bluetooth hands-free calling join the standard AM/FM radio and 3.5mm analog auxiliary input. There is no USB input, iPod connectivity, or Bluetooth audio streaming to be found at this trim level, in any of the Nismo Z's available option packages, or listed on Nissan's Web site, so if you want to listen to music on your smartphone, you'll have to do without the ability to control your device using the receiver or steering wheel.
Illuminated doorsill kick plates are a nice, if superfluous, touch on our test car at $200. Carpeted trunk and floor mats add $95 and $125, respectively, to the bottom line, the latter bearing embroidered Nismo logos.
Finally, for $790, the Nismo Z gains a much-needed rearview monitor, which displays via a tiny LCD integrated into the rearview mirror, along with a HomeLink Universal Transceiver and a digital compass. A rear camera is an indispensable addition to a vehicle like the Z, where rear visibility is close to nil and the Nismo spoiler fills most of the gun-slit rear glass.
Aside from that camera, there is no available safety tech -- no blind-spot monitoring, no cross-traffic alerts, no collision warning. The Nismo also lacks the standard Z's 7-inch, hard-drive navigation system option, which is where you'd usually get the USB and Bluetooth audio connectivity that was so sorely missed during our testing.
SynchroRev Match revisited
I'm a remarkably smooth shifter without it, but the rev-matching gearbox helped me to make perfectly blended and quick shifts at speed.
For those unfamiliar, the SynchroRev Match system works by electronically controlling the throttle between shifts, while leaving the clutch and shifter work to you, the driver. Let's say you're braking for a turn and need to drop from third to second gear. When you depress the Z's clutch and move the shift lever to the second gear, the engine's rev-matching software will automatically blip the throttle and hold the engine speed, momentarily, at the appropriate revolutions per minute while you release the clutch pedal. The result is an effortlessly smooth shift that doesn't upset the vehicle and jerk passengers around.
It took some getting used to, as I'm used to heel-toeing my own throttle, but once I let the Z help out, I was pleased to be able to focus more acutely on the business of accelerating, braking, and turning. A nice side effect was that I was able to drop the clutch between shifts more quickly and confidently, with less slipping, which leads me to believe that the service life of the clutch may be extended as well.
SynchroRev Match doesn't do much to help the 3.7-liter V-6's tendency to float its revs, so waiting for the tachometer's needle to drop for a perfectly timed upshift will still take a beat or two longer than a downshift. Also, you'll still need to know how to slide into first gear from a stop; this isn't exactly an "Easy Mode" for drivers unfamiliar with manual gearboxes.
And if you dislike the Z's rev-matching (or just want to practice your heel-toe footwork), the system can be disabled with the touch of a button near the shifter.
A less-than-ideal daily driver
Let's start with the sour before getting to the sweet: the 2014 Nissan 370Z Nismo is probably the most uncomfortable ride I've reviewed all year. That said, I expected it to be so and I think it is totally worth the literal pain in my rear.
Cruise along at 60 mph and you'll hear loads of road noise coming from the giant wheel-and-tire combo and firm suspension. The white noise is so loud that you sometimes can't even hear the Z's exhaust note over it, which is a shame. And I may be wrong, but I doubt the standard four-speaker stereo could compete either -- hence, my recommendation of the Bose audio.
The firm ride has plenty of road feel, revealing bumps and imperfections in highways that I previously thought were butter-smooth, and then jarring and jostling my body over the rougher surface streets and back roads around my San Francisco/Oakland stomping grounds. After one admittedly long and particularly rough testing day spent sussing out new driving roads, I was surprised to find my legs sore, battered, and beat up by the Z's stiff seat bolsters.
SynchroRev Match made the Z a bit easier to live with when grinding through rush-hour traffic, but the limited cargo space of the rear hatch, the super-stiff ride, and the limited rear visibility conspire to make this coupe a less-than-ideal daily driver and possibly the worst road trip car you could choose. There, I said it -- but to be honest, I couldn't care less.
Going very fast
The Z is only good at one thing: going fast. Push your foot into the "go-faster" pedal, and all of the Z's other compromises melt away as the scenery around you blurs.
There's a simple brutality to the 370Z Nismo's formula for building its speed: take a great V-6 rear-drive power train and mate it with loads of grippy rubber with a well-sorted suspension between them. There's no sport or comfort mode, no adaptive suspension, complex forced induction, or other gadgetry (discounting the rev-matching). This is modern Japanese muscle.
The increased power of the Nismo's tune is certainly welcome, but the standard Z is already plenty fast, and this Nismo Zed doesn't feel noticeably faster in a straight line than a non-Nismo or a Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 R-Spec. This is probably because the Nismo model is also a few pounds heavier (68 of 'em, to be exact) than the standard model thanks to the bulkier aerodynamics, the additional chassis bracing, and that ridiculous spoiler on the rear deck.
However, the Nismo Z really shines in the corners, where there's so much gosh-darn grip. Go ahead and push it a bit harder in the corner; this car just sticks to the tarmac, tackling corners at a much higher speed than I'd have thought possible with next to no drama. That said, larger bumps and midturn potholes (the kind that you find on poorly maintained, twisty mountain roads) can be a bit of an issue for the Nismo Z's super-stiff suspension, so take care when you're really pushing it lest you find the rear end hopping a few inches laterally midcorner.
You'd think that a 350-horsepower, rear-drive coupe like the Z would be a great car for goofy burnouts and powerslides, but those wide 285s out back just don't want to let go of the road without good reason. This is a good thing; burnouts are for overcompensating high schoolers. Give me gobs of grip and faster cornering speed any day.
The same grip that's good for going faster works to stop the Nismo Z quickly as well, working in tandem with the Z's massive four-piston front brake calipers (and two pistons out back). The real benefit of the upgraded stoppers, brake lines, and using the same brake fluid as the mighty Nissan GT-R will probably be felt at the track, where the Z should be more resistant to brake fade, but I was unable to test this claim.
Fingertip steering feedback has never been the strong suit of this generation of the Nissan Z, and while the Nismo isn't bad in this respect, it is no exception. On the other hand, the steering rack, which hasn't made the jump to electric assist, is nicely weighted, giving the Z a confidence-inspiring point-and-shoot feeling. You can be sure that the front end will go exactly where you point that little red stripe at the top of the steering wheel.
The 2014 Nissan 370Z Nismo earns low marks for its almost complete lack of cabin tech, which is highlighted by an aux-input and a nearly $800 rear-camera option. Tech is the most heavily weighted of our three scoring categories, so even with high marks for performance and moderate marks for design, the Nismo ends up with a middling score. The standard 2014 370Z with available navigation, Bluetooth audio, and USB/iPod connectivity would have earned at least a whole extra star. That doesn't mean that I didn't love this brute, it's just the way the numbers lined up.
I've complained a bit about the Z's comfort, but no one buys a 370Z Nismo with its big spoiler and stiff ride because it's the best car to run errands in, and commute in traffic. You buy it to go fast and it does that one thing very well.
I may be letting my inner car snob show, but if you don't budget regular track meets, or at least autocross events, into your life with the Nismo, you're probably better off with the standard Z's Sport package or, better yet, a Hyundai Genesis 3.8 R-Spec. Both coupes are a bit easier to live with, a lot less expensive, and probably just as quick on your favorite back roads.
If you're ready to throw comfort to the wind for the most hard-core of the Zs, you're looking at a sticker price of $43,020. Add in our equipped options -- the Bose audio, the floormats, the illuminated kick plates, and the rear camera -- and a $790 destination charge to reach our as-tested price of $46,370.
|Model||2014 Nissan 370Z Nismo|
|Power train||3.7-liter V-6, 6-speed manual transmission with SynchroRev Match, viscous limited-slip differential, rear-wheel drive|
|EPA fuel economy||18 city, 26 highway, 21 combined mpg|
|Observed fuel economy||N/A|
|Bluetooth phone support||Optional|
|Disc player||Single-slot CD standard, optional 6-disc in-dash changer|
|MP3 player support||Standard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input|
|Other digital audio||Optional SiriusXM satellite radio|
|Audio system||Optional 8-speaker Bose audio system with 2 subwoofers|
|Driver aids||Optional rear camera|
|Price as tested||$46,370|