by Jared Rosenholtz
The Nissan 370Z is one of the last of a dying breed of naturally-aspirated sports cars, a certainty attributed to the 370Z's firmly kept ethos of remaining traditional - or as some might say, crude. As such, the 370Z has seen little change over the years, and even now, in the year of the Z-car's 50th anniversary, the small two-door coupe sees minimal alterations, despite more than a decade on the market. Although it's this purist ethos that has made the 370Z so appealing, it has dragged on long past its due date, and its age is impossible to overlook. Especially when compared to more modern class rivals such as the Toyota GR Supra. Nevertheless, the Nismo is equipped with a dialed-up version of the 3.7-liter V6 engine found in the standard 370Z, offering traditionalists thumping outputs of 350 horsepower and 276 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels via an engaging six-speed manual gearbox or optional seven-speed automatic. The Nissan 370Z Nismo may be outdated, but it possesses a unique charm that eludes many of today's more contemporary sports cars; but will that be enough to keep it relevant in such a competitive segment?
Though a 50th Anniversary Edition trim has been added to the standard 370Z coupe lineup, based on the 370Z Sport trim, the 370Z Nismo continues steadfastly into the new year having received no noteworthy enhancements. Having been around for more than a decade now, it's either time to send the 370Z Nismo Coupe to its grave alongside its standard 370Z Roadster cousin or give it the major redesign that it sorely needs. As rivals benefit from the state-of-the-art equipment, refined construction methods, and contemporary features, the 370Z Nismo simply does the Nismo marque a disservice.
The 2020 370Z Nismo is outfitted with functional and fully integrated Nissan GT-R-inspired aerodynamic body pieces, offering an aggressive aesthetic and a more aerodynamic design. HID bi-functional xenon headlights and LED DRLs skirted in black arrowhead headlight bezels adorn the deep sculpted aluminum front fascia, underscored by a fully integrated chin spoiler with signature Nismo red stripe accents stretching out to the unique side sill protectors. LED illuminated Z side marker emblems guild the side fenders with 19-inch Nismo forged aluminum RAYS wheels filling the wheel arches, while arrowhead-shaped LED taillights and an integrated rear ducktail spoiler set off the parting view.
At 170.5 inches in length and 73.6 inches wide, the Nismo, with its unique body skirtings, is three inches longer than the standard 370Z coupe, and one inch wider. With a height of 51.8 inches, and a wheelbase measuring 100.4 inches, the car is low and relatively short. Though the manual-equipped Nismo's curb weight of 3,457 lbs isn't much, rivals weigh in functionally lighter, the automatic transmission throws on 31 lbs for a curb weight of 3,486 lbs. The Toyota GR Supra, with its stock automatic transmission and a curb weight of 3,397 lbs, comes in at 111 lbs lighter than the auto-guise Nismo.
There are only two exterior color options available for the 2020 370Z Nismo, Magnetic Black Pearl comes standard, while for $395, Pearl White Tricoat can be optioned. Both color options are supplemented by the Nismo's bespoke red-accented skirtings and exterior mirrors, chrome door handles and illuminated side sill Z emblems.
The Nismo sends its 350 hp and 276 lb-ft to the rear wheels which, when guided via the six-speed manual transmission, drives the Nismo from 0-60 mph in around five seconds for both the manual and automatic derivatives. The 3.7-liter V6 in both variants is electronically limited to a top speed of 155 mph. While those acceleration times are on par with most rivals in the segment, the featherlight 2020 Toyota GR Supra shoots to the mark in a mere 4.1 seconds, almost a full second faster than the Nismo, but is also limited to a top speed of 155 mph.
The Nismo is equipped with a specially designed front double-wishbone suspension and rear four-link suspension calibrated with higher spring and stabilizer bar rates, increased roll stiffness, and damping factors, availing the Nismo with a track width 0.6 inches wider than that of non-Nismo variants. While it's no class leader on the straight and narrow, it's these factors that accord the Nismo with its adept handling capability.
The Nismo utilizes the same naturally aspirated 3.7-liter V6 engine found in the standard 370Z Nissan, but tuned to produce a further 18 ponies and six lb-ft over the standard model, for total outputs of 350 hp and 276 lb-ft. An optional $1,850 Nismo 2.4-inch cat-back exhaust system can be mated to the powertrain, unfettering a further 5.3 hp and 2.5 lb-ft, while also delivering a more aggressive exhaust note. As unrefined as the 370Z's V6 motor is, it's a timeless piece of mechanical craftsmanship and a key element to the 370Z's engaging and raw feel.
The standard six-speed manual gearbox suits the 370Z Nismo for its appealing driver engagement and features a SynchroRev Match function which automatically blips the throttle to optimize smooth downshifts. The optional seven-speed automatic transmission, other than being a total buzz-kill, is sluggish and clunky. It removes the driver from the pure involvement that the 370Z Nismo inherently offers. The manual is just a better fit, as any traditionalist would agree.
With Nissan holding back on revisions, other than for a few minor facelifts, the 370Z has, almost by default, become one of the purest old school sports cars out there. It would make sense then to say that Nissan has purposefully neglected the 370Z in an attempt to keep its main appeal, which lies in its driver-focused design and old-school, mechanical, sports car feel.
Unfortunately, that has also disadvantaged its potential in terms of overall performance, as core class rivals that have been progressing with the times not only waste the 370Z on a straight but also around the corners. That's not to say that the Nismo isn't capable, its V6 delivers ample power reliably through the low to mid-range, and its chassis and underpinnings still imbue it with real prowess around turns. The V6 does, however, take severe strain at the higher end of the rev range, and doesn't make pushing the car to its limits very pleasurable. At least the Nismo features a limited-slip differential, which goes some way towards sharpening its handling.
Contrary to the 370Z Nismo's hefty mechanical controls, its steering is pleasantly light, thanks to some hydraulic assistance, but it tightens up at higher speeds. With Brembo four-pots up front and two-piston calipers in the rear, braking performance is decent too. The firmly sprung suspension tuning-which gives the 370Z Nismo its handling prowess-still manages to retain a fairly compliant ride, effectively absorbing road imperfections and most undulations.
For a car of its type, the 370Z Nismo is rather uneconomical, with rivals that share similar performance figures returning far better estimates by virtue of their modern powertrains. Equipped with the more economical automatic gearbox, the 370Z Nismo returns city/highway/combined EPA estimates of 19/26/22 mpg, while the manual achieves 17/26/20 mpg. The Toyota GR Supra, with its stock eight-speed automatic, is significantly more economical, returning 24/31/26 mpg. The Nismo does, however, boast a 19-gallon gas tank, which gives the automatic variant a maximum range of around 418 miles.
The 370Z Nismo's age is obvious at the first glance of its interior, as a car that has received little attention since its inception in 2009, the cockpit resembles something like that of a commercial plane, with an array of gauges, dials, and buttons splayed across the drivers side dash and down the front center console. Functions are, nevertheless, easy to figure out and the general control layout is favorably driver-focused, placing everything in easy reach. The Nismo's build-quality is good too despite its age, and Nissan has blessed its cabin with some fine-quality materials including leather-appointed seats with Alcantara inserts, with only a few hard-touch plastics. As for the seats themselves, comfort levels are good, but they're on the firmer side with supportive bolstering focused towards performance. There's plenty of all-round in-cabin room too, however, occupants are likely to nudge elbows every now and then with only a small center armrest separating the seats.
The 370Z Nismo Coupe is equipped to seat two occupants, with a narrow slither of room behind the seats reserved for storage space and the Bose sound system's subwoofers. Overall in-cabin room is ample in the Nismo, even for adults on the tall side, however, with limited seating and steering adjustability, finding an optimal driving position can be difficult. The Alcantara-clad Recaro racing seats are a fine addition to the Nismo, but with how low-slung they are, they're a precarious affair getting into and out of without scuffing the bolsters. They are comfortably contoured and highly supportive but are not suited for extended drives. The aggressively-sloped tiny rear windows are impossible to see out of, the large seat backs completely block off sightlines; with no blind-spot assist offered, switching lanes can turn into a hit-and-miss maneuver.
There is only one interior color and material scheme available on the 370Z Nismo, while the general cabin space is predominantly furnished with black plastics, the Recaro sports seats are upholstered in black leather trim with red Alcantara inserts. The steering wheel sports a black leather wrap supplemented with red stitching and matched with black Alcantara and a single red center stripe. More red-stitched black Alcantara adorns the door cards on either side of the cabin, and aluminum-coated pedals are standard as part of the Nismo's sporty aesthetic. The limited in-cabin customization is a pity, but the stock theme is at least cohesive with the design ethos of the 370Z Nismo.
While the coupe's 6.9 cubic feet of trunk room is decent for the class, the 370Z is plagued by a high load floor and protruding rear suspension, rendering that room only enough for nothing more than a laptop bag and gym duffel. Many rivals offer more than ten cubic feet in the trunk, a benefit of not having a ridiculously big fuel tank in a small sports car.
Every 370Z should come with a complimentary pair of cargo pants, as the more pockets on your person the better. With only a small dash storage bin that may fit some house keys, a center console compartment big enough for a phone, shallow door side pockets with bottle holders, a small passenger-side glove box, and two tiny back seat bins are all that's available in the way of storage, there's little space to store personal effects inside the Nismo. There's also a single cup holder in the center console, but we'll give Nissan the benefit of the doubt and call it a change tray as loose coins are all it's really good for.
With the 370Z Nismo's price premium, one would expect a comprehensive selection of standard-fit features, but it seems as though the leather-appointed Recaro sports seats with Alcantara inserts alone make up the majority of the 370Z Nismo's jump in price, as features are relatively scarce. Standard with the Nismo is Nissan's Intelligent Key with push-button ignition, automatic temperature control is also there, the steering column is tilt-only and the steering wheel and shift knob are leather-wrapped, there's an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a HomeLink Universal Transceiver, and a bespoke Nismo tachometer. The driver's seat features eight-way manual-adjustability, the passenger's seat is only four-way, atop the center dash is a three-bay gauge cluster. Standard driver assistance technologies are limited to a rearview monitor, cruise control, and a traction control system with vehicle dynamic control.
Fortunately, Nissan at least decided to upgrade the infotainment of the Nismo which includes a seven-inch touchscreen display and premium eight-speaker Bose sound system. However, neither Android Auto or Apple CarPlay functionality has been installed, leaving connectivity down to the Bluetooth system, although SiriusXM radio and HD satellite radio are standard. There is also voice control and navigation, but both are dismally outdated. The media hub comprises a lone auxiliary audio input jack, RCA audio/video input jack, and a single USB port for smartphone charging. As standard, the Nismo features active sound enhancement and cancellation, as well as speed-sensitive volume control. The Nismo's infotainment setup isn't the greatest and class rivals certainly offer better.
Even though the Nismo is a relatively new model within the 370Z line-up, the 370 itself has been around for 11 years now, suffering a fair few recalls along the way. Fortunately, for 2020 there are no recalls for the Nismo. The last model subject to a major recall was the 2018 year model, which had an incorrectly installed curtain airbag that would potentially fail to deploy in the event of an accident. Nissan covers the 2020 370Z Nismo with a three-year/36,000-mile basic warranty and a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty. That's about on par with what rival manufacturers are offering with their new vehicles.
High-end, low-volume sports cars are generally not evaluated by the NHTSA or the IIHS for their crashworthiness, and the Nissan 370Z Nismo Coupe is no exception. No iteration or recent model year of any 370Z Coupe has been evaluated by either authority, let alone the Nismo.
The Nismo lacks even a single advanced driver assist, which is disappointing considering its performance-based nature. A consignment of six standard airbags is stock, including seat-mounted side-impact supplementals and a pair of roof-mounted side-curtain airbags. A traction control system with vehicle dynamic control, cruise control, and tire pressure monitoring system come equipped as standard. If it wasn't made federally required, the Nismo would likely have skipped out on even a basic rearview camera, but fortunately, this time, the law is on our side.
The 370Z Nismo made a strong case for itself when it came out, it was a fun-to-drive and highly engaging coupe, and a favorably capable one too. But it has been a very long time since then and though it may still be a great traditionalist's sports car even now, not much at all has been done to keep it relevant or competitive. Today's more modern rivals now outperform the Nismo in every regard, from straight-line performance to handling dynamics and in terms of value for money. It still offers a unique mechanical feel that should appeal to a sports car traditionalist, but it's expensive and there are rivals that offer even more of a raw sports-car experience at better prices. Its lack of active safety features and advanced driver assists, especially any form of blind-spot assist is also a significant drawback considering the Nismo's prominent blind spots and the standard safety elements found in most modern vehicles, along with other general features and tech functionalities. Simply put, there are just far better packages out there today at far more appealing pricing points, the 370Z Nismo is an aging veteran.
The 2020 370Z Nismo in its base form carries a base MSRP of $45,790, unchanged from 2019, opting in the automatic transmission will cost an extra $1,400. That's excluding tax, registration, and licensing fees, as well as Nissan's $895 destination and handling charge. No specific packages have been created for the 370Z Nismo, however, an array of performance upgrades and aesthetic add-ons are available. A fully-loaded model will see the Nismo's base price scale to a little over the $50,000 mark.
The Nismo is a standalone performance-based model and only offers the choice between a six-speed manual transmission or seven-speed automatic, in which case we suggest the manual as it augments the Nismo's engaging character. Customization is very limited too, with only two exterior color options and a single set interior theme, no specific packages are offered, and standalone options are minimal. And though the Nismo is well-equipped as opposed to the standard lower-end 370Z trims, features are still menial. Leather-appointed Recaro sports seats with Alcantara inserts come standard, along with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, there's a Nismo tachometer and auxiliary three gauge cluster, automatic temperature control, cruise control, and a rearview camera. A seven-inch infotainment touchscreen display and eight-speaker Bose sound system also come standard.
3.7-liter V6 Gas
The 370Z Nismo, as the top-tier performance-based trim, slots into the trim hierarchy above all the standard 370Z models, and as such comes well-equipped; thus no specific packages are made available. There are a few appealing standalone options, including a freer-breathing cat-back exhaust system, which for $1,850 unleashes a further 5.3 hp and 2.5 lb-ft of torque from the V6 and gives the Nismo with a beastly exhaust note. The Suspension Struts and Springs Kit is another noteworthy addition, it improves steering responses and improves handling dynamics overall, all for $840. There's also a $575 Suspension Stabilizer Kit which increases roll stiffness for quicker turn-in responses and reduced body lean.
The 370Z Nismo equipped with the standard manual transmission is the ideal setup, but an automatic will be the better choice for those who spend most of their driving time in traffic. The manual transmission is more engaging, which is what the Nismo is all about, and it also avoids the sluggish nature of the automatic, which would just be a frustration to anyone wanting to push the Nismo to its full potential. The available standalone mechanical upgrades are appealing, but the cat-back exhaust system is going to make the already loud V6 even louder and with the Nismo's already pricey MSRP, the additional costs are just going to hurt its already tenuous value proposition.
The Toyota GR Supra comes up close on the $50,000 mark at around $4,000 more than the 370Z Nismo. It is, however, a far more contemporary package, equipped with a turbocharged straight-six engine with a 3.0-liter displacement producing 335 hp and 365 lb-ft, marginally less hp than the Nismo, but a whole lot more torque. Giving the GR Supra not only a faster acceleration time but also greater fuel economy figures, with estimates of 24/31/26 mpg with the stock eight-speed automatic transmission. Unfortunately, there's no manual gearbox option for the GR Supra, but the refined eight-speed automatic dominates the Nismo's auto option in performance. It also comes stock with some favorable performance-based underpinnings that aren't available for the Nismo, ones that imbue the GR Supra with far superior capabilities overall. The GR Supra is all-new for 2020, meaning it holds a more contemporary design, more features and greater capability in both form and functionality over the 370Z Nismo. The GR Supra is just a clear representation of what a road-legal performance-based vehicle can be in the modern world, and it hands the latest Supra vs. Z-car battle the way of Toyota.
Unlike the 370Z Nismo, the Mustang GT Fastback made its way to the present having undergone numerous alterations and enhancements, yet, is priced around $10,000 cheaper than the 370Z Nismo. It's heavier than the Nismo but comes stock with a 5.0-liter V8 engine with outputs of 460 hp and 420 lb-ft which effectively compensate for the weight. The Mustang also offers both manual and automatic gearboxes, both of which are better refined than the Nismo's, though both are significantly less economical, returning 15/24/18 mpg and 16/25/19 mpg respectively. The Mustang is slightly faster off-the-line and handles similarly, but Ford offers a nice selection of performance-based upgrades for the Mustang which may give it the edge. Impressively, the Mustang is more comfortable on the road and provides about double the trunk capacity with 13.5 cubic feet on offer. Along with those advantages, the Mustang also receives a far superior feature and tech consignment including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality. Overall, the Mustang is just a better car and is also much better value for money.