Possibly the best bang for your buck in the sports car world.
The Nissan 350Z was a massively popular rear-wheel drive, front-engined sports car in a world that had largely forgotten about this vehicle architecture at all but the highest, most luxurious levels. But the 350Z came from a long, proud line of sports cars dating all the way back to the time when Nissans were still called Datsuns, and they weren’t about to let such a popular model fall by the wayside.
So when the 350Z had its swansong after the 2009 model year, it was time for the 370Z to bow—it had a bigger aluminum-alloy engine, a wider stance but was shorter overall, removing any question as to whether it was a grand-tourer the likes of which populated the stables of luxury manufacturers like Jaguar or Maserati or a sports car to compete with Ford Mustangs and Mitsubishi EVOs. Make no mistake about it; this was a sports car, through-and-through.
The new car, however, did not have the luxury of being the top-seed when it came to Nissan’s Canadian performance car lineup as its predecessors always had and thus had some fairly big in-house shoes to fill.
The Nissan GT-R has a cult status in the automotive world rivalling that of the Star Wars franchise in the movie world. Up until 2009, however, it had been merely a myth in Canada, available only as a grey-market import and only in right-hand drive. Then came July 2009—three months before the 370Z started hitting showroom floors—and the GT-R was unleashed, for the first time in Canada as a left-hand driver available in Nissan dealerships.
So the 370Z flew under the radar a little, but as time wore on (and supply of GT-Rs wore out), it began showing that it was a model not to be forgotten. For one, unlike the all-wheel drive GT-R, it was rear-wheel drive. Also unlike the GT-R was the availability of a six-speed manual transmission, and with it a sense of purity to the Zed that the GT-R, with all its high-techery, could not match.
Perhaps the most enticing aspect of the 370Z, however, was its knack of providing an excellent value for your money, a fact made even more evident when you consider that the GT-R starts at more than double the price of the car seen here. In fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that the 370Z is one of the best bargains in the performance car world in Canada next to perhaps the aforementioned Mustang or Chevrolet Corvette.
Our test car is the NISMO Coupe; there was a 350Z NISMO as well but we never saw it here. Which is a shame, because it was a star performer where available and a comprehensive upgrade over the standard car.
It starts at $46,898 which really is a steal when you consider the competition, which along with the Mustang, EVO and Corvette, includes all-star performance models like the Porsche Cayman S. For your 47-or-so-grand, you get 350 horsepower and 276 pound-feet of torque (up 18 and 6, respectively, on the NISMO-less 370Z and 30 and 4 on the Cayman S), a slick six-speed transmission with a nifty rev-matching feature (more on this in a minute) high-performance Yokohama ADVAN Sport tires wrapped around 19-inch wheels and NISMO-tuned suspension and H-pattern exhaust that looks to have replaced the exhaust tips with small cannons. But oh, the sound that emanates from them…
Not to mention aerodynamic addenda like an enormous rear-wing (optional on regular Zeds) and unique side sills and front/rear fascias. Even when standing still, does it ever look squat and purposeful. Even with all those wings and things, it doesn’t seem over-styled; a little boy racer-ish, maybe, but all the additions are blended smoothly into the styling of the base 370Z, which is already a strong styling package itself, what with its proud hood, sharp headlight lenses and wide rump. It will turn heads, this race-car for the road, you can be sure of that.
Inside, meanwhile, you get cloth sports seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and leather-wrapped shift knob. What you don’t get, however, is any kind of Bluetooth integration, high-grade sound or navigation system of any choice. In fact, those aren’t even available as options on your 370Z if you spec the NISMO package. The wheel doesn’t even telescope, but it does tilt and the whole instrument cluster moves with it, ensuring that your view of the gauges is always the same, no matter the angle of the wheel.
Which gives us an opportunity to remind our readers of an important notation: NISMO-specced 370Zs are performance autos, first and foremost. They are tuned to be at their best on the track, because to even take them to six tenths is borderline for everyday city driving. Don’t get me wrong; it’s fun to disengage traction control with a simple dab of the button just left of the steering wheel, allowing for plenty of shimmying of the NISMO’s generous hips and some tail-out shenanigans (especially in the wet)—but only in small doses–on the road. It’s got big, fat (285 millimeter) tires at the back, an engine bay packed to the brim with the block and strut tower brace, and a host of other touches that speak to its credentials as a race-car for the road that pretty much demands to be driven as such.
What does speak to the (admittedly few) intentions that the NISMO has as a daily driver, however, is that rev-matching system mentioned earlier, called “SynchroRev Match (SRM)” in Nissan-speak. The “S-Mode” button mounted just to the right of the shift lever does more here than simply add weight to the steering or increase throttle response, as “sport” buttons tend to do in most cars. Press it, and an “S” appears just to the right of the gear indicator on the centrally-mounted tach. Once done, when you downshift, you’ll notice a spike in revs was you dip the clutch and begin to move the lever. There are sensors built around the shifter and clutch pedal that can sense which gear you’re planning on selecting, and that throttle you hear is the car finding the best revs needed to match the gear it senses the driver beginning to select. That special skill of heel-and-toeing is, for all intents and purposes, not needed in this application. It takes some getting used to at first, but once you do, we’re confident that you’ll be happy to have the option.
It’s a tool that helps with not just with performance (having proper revs on a downshift is the best way to keep the car in the meat of the powerband,) but with every-day use as well. By giving the car a bit of gas as you downshift while slowing for a red light, for example, the transition from gear-to-gear is smoother, making the proceedings more comfortable for both the driver and passenger.
The system helps when accelerating as well—which is a good thing, because this is a car that likes to get going quickly as it shoots the needle towards the 7,500 r.p.m. redline. Throttle response is instantaneous, acceleration so brisk that you’ll want SRM engaged, because as it does on downshifts, it keeps the revs at the right level on upshifts as well, so you don’t lose forward momentum when you lift during a shift.
Of course, if you have perfected your clutch and throttle work, you can disengage the system but I left it on throughout the week I had the car. SRM, meanwhile, is a standard feature on the NISMO package and part of a $4,000 Sport Package on other models, which also gets you upgraded brakes and bigger wheels.
What the S-Mode doesn’t affect is the car’s steering and indeed, there’s would be no reason to do so; the steering on the NISMO is of the communicative variety, that’s for sure, and for performance applications, it’s almost perfectly weighted. Be forewarned—it’s direct to the point that you need to make sure that you keep both hands firmly on the wheel, even when on the highway; it takes little more than a flick of the wrists—if that—to change lanes so you had better make sure things are clear when you’re preparing to do so. The trade-off for accurate and sensitive steering in the twisties is somewhat nervous proceedings at highway speeds.
Then there’s the stiffer suspension and sway bars, which help keep the Zed confidently planted in even the most outrageous of high-speed sweepers, but do little for the ride around town. Especially startling is the manner in which, thanks to the stiff setup, the NISMO has the tendency to get caught “tram-lining”; I recall more than one occasion where I was cruising merrily along, only to all of a sudden have the wheel jump in my hands as the wide tires got stuck in ruts on the highway created by the hundreds of trucks that pass through every day.
The steering dynamics, meanwhile, are a bit of a contrast to the clutch and brakes—“delicacy” is not the word of the day when it comes to operating these, the heavy clutch especially. You may want to give your leg a rest after a drive in stop-and-go traffic.
Of course, stop-and-go is not where this car is supposed to excel, and as an everyday driver, the NISMO Edition is hard to recommend. For that, go for a 370Z, and add the sport pack if you want to find a good blend of the everyday and sporty performance. Yes, the price of the base car with the Sport Package is roughly the same as that of the NISMO, but with the non-NISMO’ed 370Z, you get creature comforts like premium Bose sound and XM radio.
But if you are looking for one of the purest, most dedicated slices of sporty motoring this side of a Porsche from your second or third car at a bargain price, the NISMO will deliver.
Just keep both hands on the wheel.
2011 Nissan 370Z NISMO Coupe — Specifications
Price as tested: $47,032
Body Type: 2-door Coupe
Powertrain Layout: Front engine/rear-wheel drive
Engine: 3.7-litreV6, DOHC, 24 valves w/Continuously Variable Valve Timing and Variable Valve Event and Lift
Horsepower: 350 @ 7,400 rpm
Torque (lb-ft): 276 @ 5,200 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual w/SynchroRev Match
Curb weight: 1,498 kg (3,300 lbs.)
Observed fuel economy:
City: 15L/100 km (15.7 MPG)
Highway: 11L/100 km (21.4MPG)