During Monterey’s famous classic car week, it’s easy to become intimated by the amazing array of great vintage vehicles on the road. Exotic Europeans, classic Americans, muscle cars and Porsches, lots of Porsches. The rare and the wonderful are everywhere you look, including incredibly valuable collector cars that would cause a crowd to gather anywhere else. Here, it’s all part of the road-going show.
But I felt pretty content that week in August with my ride, the latest Nissan 370Z NISMO, a top-performance version of the Japanese automaker’s popular sports car. This aggressive little coupe kept up with the exclusive collector-car crowd without looking shabby, as well as providing some exciting driving fun on the winding, woodsy roads of Pebble Beach. It even turned a few heads among the younger set with its racy body embellishments.
Nissan 370Z NISMO
- Type: Two-door, two-passenger hatchback sports coupe.
- Engine: 3.7-liter V6, 350 horsepower at 7,400 rpm, 276 pound-feet of torque at 5,200 rpm.
- Transmission: Six-speed manual with SynchroRev Match.
- Wheelbase: 110.4 inches.
- Overall length: 173.4 inches.
- Curb weight: 3,346 pounds.
- EPA fuel mileage: 18 city, 26 highway
NISMO might sound like the name of a cartoon pup, but for Nissan enthusiasts, it signifies the automaker’s racing and performance arm, similar to Mercedes-Benz’s AMG, Chrysler’s SRT or Toyota’s TRD. NISMO, by the way, stands for NISsan MOtorsports.
The 370Z NISMO was updated for 2014 with new aerodynamic body features and sports interior styling. Nissan also admirably held the price tag to $43,000, plus options and shipping. For 2015, the price drops another $1,100 to $41,900, including the extras. Really, that’s some kind of a bargain for such an engaging sports car.
The 370Z NISMO is available only as a coupe, perhaps signifying its role as a performance weapon rather than for fun in the sun. There’s probably some technical reason having to do with body flex and such with the Z convertible, but I’d like to believe the former.
The NISMO effect on the 370Z boosts power, handling and styling, turning the basic coupe into a factory version of what a street tuner or weekend racer might create. Horsepower from the 3.7-liter V6 goes up to 350 from 332 for the standard Z, and suspension tuning includes stiffer springs and stabilizer bars, and special performance shock absorbers.
NISMO Sport Brakes provide the stopping power, with large-diameter vented rotors, four-piston front and two-piston rear calibers, variable-ratio pedal and R35 Special II brake fluid. The bright-red brake calibers peak out from behind five-spoke 19-inch RAYS forged alloys shod with Bridgestone Potenza S001 Y-rated high-performance tires, 245/40ZR19 in the front and 285/35ZR19 in the rear.
That’s a hot setup, and the NISMO tweaks turn the already enjoyable 370Z coupe into a sharper performer. The performance howl from the V6, the tight maneuverability of the suspension and those powerful brakes had me dreaming that the two-lane, tree-lined back roads were still part of a racing course, as it was in Pebble Beach back in the 1950s. I would have loved to take this little beast on the track at the nearby Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, where the vintage racers were spending the week.
Let’s pause here for a moment to praise Nissan’s SynchroRev Match, the world’s first manual-transmission system that rev-matches the engine automatically when you downshift.
When I describe it to people, they usually squint their eyes to see if I’m putting them on.
But it’s true, this transmission does all the heel-and-toe work for you, blipping the throttle all by itself as you shift to a lower gear. Such things are common with automatic transmissions with self-shift features, but it’s unique for a straight-up clutch-operated manual shifter.
(See Also: First 2015 Nissan GT-R NISMO Delivered in U.S.)
Activated only in the transmission’s Sport setting, it makes smooth downshifting a cinch. The only difficulty is reminding yourself not to nudge the gas pedal as you normally would when, say, shifting down to second gear to round a corner. Ghostlike, the car does it for you. All you have to do is push in the clutch and move the lever, then listen as the engine note rises to meet the lower ratio.
The system is not exclusive to the NISMO, and is available on the other 370Zs with manual shifting and the Sport package. I’ve sampled it before, but I’m still impressed.
On the down side, the Z’s clutch takeup is a bit hard to modulate for smooth upshifts, especially when going quickly between the lower gears. I’ve noticed this before in other 370Z test drives and with the mechanically similar Infiniti Q60.
But when you get on the throttle, the 350-horsepower V6 answers with a strong pull all the way through the gears, revving sky high and accompanied by that shredding exhaust note. Acceleration is not spectacular by today’s supercar standards, but it is plenty fast enough for quickly reaching high speeds under supervised conditions, or, in a more-perfect world, performing on the race track.
Stylistically, the NISMO Z grew more than six inches longer than the standard models due to its dramatically extended nose and chin spoiler, which Nissan says enhances airflow and downforce. In the real driving world, the aero extras are there mostly to make the NISMO look cooler and more exclusive. And faster.
Four special paint colors are offered: Pearl White, Magnetic Black, Gun Metallic and Solid Red.
The interior is businesslike and attractive, but it forgoes such extras as a video display and navigation since, after all, you should know your way around the track. As in the regular Z, the coupe feels roomier than the convertible model, but it is noisier. Road roar echoes from under the rear hatch, especially on the freeway.
The 370Z NISMO made a great driving companion during my week in Monterey, and I felt that I was having just as much fun behind the wheel as those in the high-end collector cars.
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