The Z Nismo is the track-focused special enthusiasts wanted all along.
When the Nissan Z finally arrived on the market last year after much hype and anticipation, the end result was slightly disappointing for some enthusiasts. Even with 400 horsepower on tap, it felt like Nissan made the car too soft and too road-focused. The 2024 Nissan Z Nismo looks to rectify those criticisms with more power, stiffer suspension, and a more track-focused mission.
For the uninitiated, Nismo (derived from 'Nissan Motorsport') is Nissan's motorsport and customization division in charge of developing the company's most hardcore, performance-oriented products. Nissan was keen to show off the new Nismo upgrades, so CarBuzz was flown out to Sonoma Raceway in California to see how it stacks up against the base car and other sports cars in the mid-$60,000 price range.
With its retro styling that harks back to the 240Z and 300ZX, the latest generation Z is a head-turner out on the road. The sports car community seemed to have very few gripes about the design except for the very square grille opening. The Nismo silences this complaint with a unique front end that still recalls the 240Z's Grand Nose (or G-Nose). Through a combination of the black Nismo-badged upper portion and chiseled lower grille, the Nismo no longer looks like it has an exaggerated cartoon mouth.
Other styling changes include a red accent line on the front diffuser, side skirts, and rear diffuser, a more aggressive ducktail spoiler, and forged 19-inch RAYS wheels. In our opinion, the Nismo takes an already striking sports car and improves it.
Stepping into any 2024 Z, it becomes obvious that this is not an entirely new platform. Many of the hard points are carried over from the outgoing 370Z - even from the 350Z before it. That being said, Nissan has pulled out all the stops to make this cabin feel modern with a nine-inch touchscreen featuring wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There are plenty of physical buttons and knobs too.
Drivers look past the Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel toward a 12.3-inch customizable gauge cluster. Normal Mode shows a traditional speedometer and tachometer, while Sport Mode puts the tach front and center, making it more visible for track driving. As a small change for the Nismo variant, the tach is finished red to be more prominent.
The rest of the cabin is mostly the same as the standard Z, aside from a red start button and drive mode switch. The Nismo does get more aggressive Recaro seats than the regular Z, and these are softer than the ones from the 370Z Nismo. They are far from luxurious, but we could spend a few hours in them without being uncomfortable. It's worth noting that the Recaro seats lose power adjustment and heating functions found in the Z Performance trim.
Nismo has improved the performance from the standard 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, so it now delivers 420 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque (up by 20 hp and 34 lb-ft compared to the base Z). This output increase comes from a combination of cooling and electronic wastegate control to spin the turbos faster and deliver more boost pressure. Nissan hasn't directly quoted 0-60 times, but an independent test yielded a sub-four-second sprint.
To achieve maximum performance, the Z Nismo is only available with a nine-speed automatic transmission. Nissan says it would be open to adding a manual if there is demand, but it would likely be slower than the base car with an automatic in a straight line.
Manual lovers have probably clicked off at this point, but those who keep reading will learn that Nissan revised the automatic's clutch packs and retuned the engine management software. As a result, the nine-speed delivers 25% faster upshifts and 50% quicker downshifts, which are instantly noticeable. A Nismo-specific Sport+ Mode allows the transmission to hold gears longer and be more responsive to downshift. The exhaust is also louder than the base Z, with more cracks and pops on the overrun.
Where the standard Z aims to be a comfortable sports car that can be driven every day, the Nismo version takes a more focused approach in the pursuit of track performance, though this dedication to performance has hampered the ride a bit. The standard Z is plush, but the Nismo leans more toward the acceptable side of stiff. It's far from brutal on most roads, but choppy pavements reveal some jitters in the suspension.
Our street drive in the Z Nismo revealed how much sharper this car feels than the base car. That stiffer suspension may hurt ride quality, but it stops the car from leaning as much through bends. The steering is excellent, on-center, and neither too heavy nor too light - effort feels appropriate for what you need. Nissan's reprogrammed nine-speed automatic holds gears the way we'd want and provides downshifts quickly, especially in Sport+ Mode.
And then there's the engine; it sounds throaty with the loudened exhaust, and the pops on the overrun reward you for spirited driving. The Nismo feels like what the base Z should have been all along.
If the street drive planted the seeds in our mind of the Nismo's improvement, the track drive around Sonoma Raceway cemented it. Nissan gave us four laps in an automatic-equipped Nissan Z Performance for a back-to-back comparison with the Nismo. Sonoma is a tricky track with lots of elevation change and off-camber corners that easily upset the standard Z with its soft suspension. Four laps in the base car reminded us that the Z is best enjoyed as a casual street car, not a track weapon.
Hopping into the Nissan Z Nismo felt like a night and day difference from the standard car. The jump to Nismo is shocking, inspiring so much more confidence on the track. That stiffer suspension keeps the car planted as opposed to the regular version, which felt like it was flopping around in comparison. Stickier Dunlop SP SPORT MAXX GT600 tires provide more grip with wider rear tires on the Nismo, allowing you to carry more speed through corners and get on the power earlier. On the longest straightaway, we hit 111 mph in the Nismo, while we managed just 103 mph in the base Z. The changes to the Nismo are truly transformative, making it feel like an entirely different breed of sports car.
The leaked pricing information for the Nissan Z Nismo was accurate, and prices for the 2024 Z have gone up across the board. A base Z Sport now starts at $42,210 (not including $1,095 for destination and handling), while the Z Performance is $52,210. As for the Z Nismo, it costs $64,990, which puts it into stiff competition with the likes of the BMW M2, Ford Mustang Dark Horse, and Toyota Supra, all of which are cheaper and offer manual transmissions optionally.
Nissan knows the Z Nismo isn't going to be a volume seller. The car will be a "limited production," though Nissan won't reveal a specific build number. Sports car buyers in this price range have plenty of other options, so the final decision will ultimately come down to emotion. If you are a Z diehard who wants peak Nissan-style performance, the Nismo exceeds all expectations compared to the base car. Those who don't have such loyalty to the brand will likely shop elsewhere.