by Jared Rosenholtz
So, you want a sports coupe - but the newest offering from Nissan's famous rival, the Mustang GT, feels too compromised? Or does the Subaru WRX STI's all-wheel-drive not do it for you? You want a raw, mechanical, fast car that dances through corners and doesn't apologize for being loud while charging down straights. The NISMO 370Z may be one of the last analog performance models out there, but after ten years of production - and very few updates - one has to wonder whether it is still competitive in this segment. With a starting price of $45,790, even the cost remains unchanged from last year; so, at face value, it looks decently priced. The question, though, is this: is it still good enough to satisfy the boy-racer inside while staying relevant?
If you spend your time looking for the changes over the 2018 Nismo model, this 2019 update is going to flummox you - other than dropping the "Tech" nomenclature from the 2018 model year, there are no updates. Even the price has barely changed, with both variants costing only $100 dollars more. In a way, this is a good thing, as the 370Z is a properly engaging, visceral, driver's car. However, it has been around for a decade, and the Nismo model - the representation of the best that can be done with any Nissan - is nothing particularly mind-blowing anymore.
3.7-liter V6 Gas
Compared to the regular 370Z, the Nismo is not difficult to tell apart. Red lipstick accentuates the sculpted bumper up front, while the rear and side-skirts are also given a thin accent line. A unique, ducktail rear spoiler, which can be optioned out in lieu of an $850 shopping-cart spoiler, and LED daytime running lights molded into the front bumper's false air ducts, further define the special edition. Boasting an aluminum hood and striking, chrome-tipped exhausts, the Nismo rolls in on racy 19-inch RAYS forged wheels, which effectively round off the visual cues.
With a length of 170.5 inches and a height of just 51.8 inches, the 370Z Nismo is a staunch-looking vehicle. 73.6 inches of width also helps to disguise the slightly wider rear track, while a wheelbase of 100.4 inches points to a car that will rotate around corners nicely. Curb weight is 3,457 lbs, which is not excessive. That figure increases to 3,486 lbs if you spec the automatic gearbox, but we'd stay away from that option on this particular car. A convertible was conceptualized initially, but in a car that is marketed as the ultimate version of Nissan's sports coupe, this compromise seems to water down any significance the hardtop has.
You can have any color you want, as long as it's Magnetic Black Pearl, or Pearl White Tricoat if you don't mind the $395 premium. No other options are available whatsoever, which is a surprising decision from Nissan. This car is fast nearing the end of its life-cycle, and more colors may have helped refresh and update the aging design. The GT-R also has a couple more options in Nismo spec, so why not borrow them? Maybe that would have taken away some of their exclusivity; whatever the reason, if you don't like black or white on your coupe, you're plum out of luck.
Unchanged for some time now, the Nismo's 350 horsepower and 276 lb-ft propel the rear-wheel-drive, manual six-speed equipped model from 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds, while the automatic seven-speed variant manages the sprint in five seconds flat. Both are limited to a top speed of 155 mph from the 3.7-liter V6 engine. These figures put it on par with the Ford Mustang GT, but leave it trailing in the wake of the all-wheel-drive Subaru WRX STI's 4.4-second 0-60 dash and 160 mph top speed.
On the quarter-mile, the 370Z Nismo manages a respectable 14 seconds, but with numerous handling upgrades including chassis tweaks, this is a car intended to be scalpel-sharp in the corners rather than outright fast on the straights. This is particularly evident in the car's weight balance, which is 55/45, rather than the traditional 50/50. Nissan's engineers claim that this is because a car's weight shifts rearward as the driver plants the accelerator on the exit of an apex, and this front-biased weight distribution, therefore approximates perfect balance when grip is most required.
The 3.7-liter DOHC V6 engine in the 370Z Nismo has been tuned to deliver 350 hp and 276 lb-ft of torque, an increase of 18 hp and six lb-ft from 2018. This can be mated to an optional, freer-breathing $1,850 Nismo 2.4-inch cat-back exhaust system, which liberates a further 5.3 hp and 2.5 lb-ft from the motor.
Transmission-wise, a six-speed manual is the standard gearbox option and comes with SynchroRev Match, a feature that automatically blips the throttle for you on downshifts so as to maximize shift-change smoothness. Nissan was the first company in the world to feature this type of technology on a production car and has kept it on their manual Z models ever since. For those whose driving skills are elevated beyond that of a mere mortal, matching the revs perfectly is a skill that takes time to cultivate and purists generally hate that this feature even exists. Knowing this, Nissan included a button marked "S" which can be pressed to switch off the auto-blipping.
The slow and clunky seven-speed auto option features lightweight magnesium paddles for manual shifting, as well a similar feature to the heel-and-toe mimicking tech on the manual - but the manual is far better in every way.
With all the focus on chassis tuning and handling upgrades, it is expected that the corners are where this car really shines. However, Nissan canceled the inclusion of a proper limited-slip differential on the 370Z a while back, and this means that it's not as good as it could be. Meanwhile, every update of the car over the past decade has rarely been more than a minor facelift, and the competition now handles just as well around bends and leaves the plucky sports coupe in the dust on the straights. Those minor adjustments to the chassis do add up though, and although firm, the ride is compliant, soaking up imperfections - even potholes - while still remaining taut enough to push the limits of grip with confidence.
Braking performance is impressive at full-bore track attack and in town, thanks to Brembo four-pots grabbing onto 14-inch discs up front with two-piston calipers putting in the work on the rear. The steering is hydraulically-assisted (which usually lends itself to excellent feel), a trait becoming exceptionally rare on any car nowadays. However, it is speed-sensitive and can feel a little dead around the center on freeway cruises.
Interestingly, the driveshaft is made up of a carbon fiber composite, for lightness. This should mean that the rear wheels don't delay in putting the power down, yet we can't help but wish for a real LSD to pin down launches and slides properly.
As expected, when the automatic gearbox is attached to the motor, gas mileage is slightly better - Nissan even markets the slush-box in their press material as the one to choose if you want more efficient fuel economy figures. The manual manages 17/26/20 mpg on the city/highway/combined mixed cycles versus 19/26/22 mpg in the auto. These equate to an average 380 and 418 miles of range respectively off the 19-gallon tank. This is pretty much spot on with what Mustang GT's and WRX STI's will manage, so nothing to fault there.
In a car that has only had minor updates over the past ten years, the interior is pretty much what you'd expect of a car launched in 2009. Knobs and dials are used to control most of the systems, but the seven-inch nav-equipped infotainment is touch-activated. Although the dash is not offset towards the driver, the design keeps everything within reach. The driving position is low and imbues the occupants with a sense of sportiness before driving has even commenced. It might not be cramped, and it may be equipped with a few tiny storage bins, but the cabin is still snug and elbows in the center share only a small armrest.
Strictly a two-seater, there is no space in the back whatsoever for additional passengers. That space is instead taken up by small storage bins and the Bose subwoofers. Legroom and headroom are reasonably good, but getting in and out is a bit of a chore, particularly if you're looking to avoid scuffing the bolsters on your Alcantara-clad Recaro racing seats. The driving position really should be perfect in a car like this, but the adjustment of the steering wheel can only be made upwards and downwards, making it difficult to get comfortable. Combined with a high waistline and an aggressively-sloped rear window, seeing out the back and checking blind spots are not easy tasks.
As with the exterior, Nissan clearly has a color scheme that they want to see on their Nismo 370Z models. Thus, there is only one option for the interior, albeit a racy one: black leather-trimmed Recaro-embossed seats with red Alcantara inserts. The steering wheel continues the Alcantara theme (this time in black) and is matched with black leather, red stitching, and a red center-stripe. The rest of the interior is predominantly black plastic, but the door cards do feature more black Alcantara with red stitching. Although the limited interior styling is a bit of a downer, the look is well on par with what designers were going for.
Drawing further on its supposed race-car heritage, the 370Z Nismo is well and truly as practical as an ashtray on a motorbike. A small bin atop the dash may fit one pair of shades, and the storage compartment might be big enough for your phone, but that's about it. The door pockets, although designed to hold bottles, are very shallow - a real pity when there is only one cupholder to share. The glovebox could conceivably swallow up a map and some other documents, but that's all. A pair of small bins behind the seats are also included, presumably for decoration, or as swear jars for every time you realize you will need a secondary vehicle to follow you to your office, carrying your laptop and lunch box.
Considering that this coupe has a hatch-style tailgate, you might imagine that the trunk is where you can put some overnight bags without issue, but the high waist and intrusion of the rear suspension mean that a small shopping bag or two are all you can realistically squeeze into the 6.9 cubic feet of available room.
There are many, many features that are simply expected when purchasing a new car in this day and age, particularly at this price point. However, this is still just a car released in 2009 that happens to have a had a few visual refreshes over its lifespan. Automatic climate control is standard here, and the leather seats are adjustable, if only via manually operated levers. There is a reverse camera available as standard, appearing on the infotainment screen, but no major safety features that are today's norm make it to this time-capsule. Keyless entry is included, at least. The Nissan Advanced Air Bag System equips the Nismo with a full house of airbags, although unlike its lower-end siblings, it doesn't include door-mounted curtain side-impact protection. It does feature vehicle dynamic control with traction control, a tire pressure monitoring system, and active noise cancellation (although the latter is, arguably, not particularly effective).
A relatively modern (for this car) feature that made it through the time-space continuum is the seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system paired to an eight-speaker Bose sound system. Unfortunately, only Sirius XM, satellite radio, and a truly woeful Bluetooth system tagged along. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay must have got lost, while the solitary USB port is probably too rattled from the trip to work with modern phones. Navigation does feature and is simple to use, but is still very basic (possibly because the roads have been redesigned and state lines have moved since this system was developed). A universal transceiver was also added in an attempt to masquerade as a modernized version of the almost decade-old vehicle. All of these features are options on lesser models not bearing the legendary Nismo badge, but perhaps they ought to have been scrapped entirely, and a new system retrofitted.
While early (2010) models were plagued with steering lock issues, there have been no significant complaints about the models released over the past two to three years. There was one recall for the 2018 model, which suffered from an incorrectly installed curtain airbag, but no official recalls exist for the 2019 model. The 2019 370Z Nismo is covered by a three-year/36,000 mile basic warranty and a five-year/60,000 mile drivetrain plan. Three years or 36,000 miles of roadside assistance are also offered.
Neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS has crash-tested the 370Z in any guise, let alone in Nismo configuration, and as such, no ratings currently exist for this model.
If you're looking for Volvo levels of safety, move on now. Yes, there are six airbags, cushioning front and side impacts as well as pair of curtain airbags. Yes, there is stability control and traction control, as well as anti-lock braking, but that's about it - none of the usual safety features that are now the norm in modern cars have been fitted to the Nismo. One that is particularly missed is blind-spot monitoring which is sorely needed with the shocking visibility the Nismo offers. However, backing up is made somewhat easier through the inclusion of a standard rearview camera and a secondary, optional ($1,232) camera, which displays its feed via a small screen hidden in your rearview mirror.
As a sports coupe, this 370Z Nismo really is amazing to drive. It's mechanical, simple, and engaging. It's a decent alternative to the brash V8 options out there, but make no mistake - this is still a loud, and aging, car. It's not going to win any family-car awards, and its styling is one of the most polarizing designs ever. If you love the way it looks and can live with its total impracticality and lack of modern tech, then it's a car you'll love jumping into and carving up canyon passes with. However, at over $45,000, it's a bucketload of cash for a car that isn't even slightly modern. With a price like that, it needs to be better in every way than it's rivals, but the Subaru WRX STI is faster and more practical, and the Mustang GT is so much easier to live with. For the same sort of money, you can even buy some badge-snobbery with a BMW M240i. Instead, get a used Nismo. After all, what would be the difference, really?.
The pricing kicks off from $45,790 for the manual and $47,190 for the auto. Both prices exclude taxes and the destination charge of $895. There are no specific packages that can be added to the 370Z Nismo, but you can option some additional performance upgrades along with a couple of aesthetic add-ons. Fully loaded, you'll be paying $53,595 before tax and destination fees. However, due to its waning popularity, 50/50 looks, and general body-style age, it's entirely possible that your local dealer will generously incentivize offers on a new model.
Well, there isn't much to differentiate between here. The only choice you have to make here is on your preferred transmission. Manual six-speed, or auto seven-speed. Both come with the same interior, and wheels only come in one flavor. The better-selling option is apparently the auto, but for a less-than-compromising sports car like this, a manual makes more sense.
This is a car that you either want or not - there is zero room for dialing it up or down in terms of price or trim, besides the more expensive auto.
With the Nismo being fitted as standard with the upgraded sound system and the nicest available seats, plus their best possible infotainment, Nissan doesn't offer any additional packages. All amenities from lesser models are automatically included, and there is, therefore, zero chance of a regular 370Z owner upstaging a Nismo owner in some way.
We do like the idea of the freer breathing $1,850 cat-back exhaust system option for its ability to liberate a few extra ponies from the V6, and to go full hardcore, a stiffer Nismo lowering kit can be had for $840 as well. A suspension stabilizer kit with thicker bars and stiffer bushings is also available at $575.
If you're going to potter around exclusively in traffic, the automatic may be for you; but when shunting the car on track or a back lane somewhere, the auto is going to frustrate keen drivers immensely.
We'd stick with the stock manual and its rev-matching function. Options-wise, the Nismo is plenty stiff and loud enough, and the performance gain from adding the exhaust is too minimal to endure your neighbors complaining even more than they already will. The cost of the base 370Z Nismo is also quite a bitter pill to swallow, so if you have your heart set on one, leave it as is.
Looking for the right sports car for you can be a fun exercise, as you're spoilt for choice. If you'd like to avoid crowd-crunching stereotypes and stand out from said crowd, the Mustang GT is not for you. However, as a car to live with and integrate your phone's abilities with, it's far better. The GT is more spacious in a way you can actually use, is better equipped, and costs a lot less. If you like autos, the ten-speed in the Blue Oval is also far better. Although not as sharp, handling of domestic sports cars has been vastly improved over the past ten years, and the 370Z may be within reach on twisty tarmac, provided you drive with commitment. As a daily compromise, we'd take the 'Stang, but if you want a no-nonsense analog canyon carver, the Nismo is the far more obsessive corner killer.
Another option is the Subaru WRX STI, although if you don't vape and are not the most boring person at the party waxing lyrical about the benefits of all-wheel-drive while making blow-off-valve noises, you may not fit in on the owner's forums. The boxer's low center of gravity coupled with proper differential wizardry makes the STI a formidable opponent in every scenario, and that unmistakable exhaust note burble is addictive. It also has four doors and a big trunk, meaning that while you lose the mid-life crisis sticker of a coupe, you gain a car that can - and will - do everything you ask of it, and well. The Nismo seems to take itself too seriously, and although the STI name sounds like the byproduct of reckless coital engagement, it's safe and encourages spirited driving just as much as the Nissan. Pricing also starts below $40k, saving you cash for vape juice.
Altogether, the 370Z Nismo is less comfortable than the GT, slower than the Scooby, and more expensive than either. It's also less iconic anywhere around the world than either the champion of affordable performance or the hero of the rally circuit. Sadly, the Nismo would be a fantastic car, if only we were stuck in the mid-2000s. These days, almost everything provides better performance, comfort, tech, and value for money. It's past time for a new model, Nissan.