Lipstick on a pig.
That’s the first thought popping into my head when I catch my first glimpse of the new Nissan 370Z Nismo.
Dressed in all-white, the Nismo fettled version of Nissan’s popular coupe sports some pretty neat red highlights – on the front splitter, side skirts, mirror caps, and around the rear diffuser. It’s a nice little contrast that hints at its sporting prowess.
But, this is a car nearly a decade old, and I can’t help but wonder if all that glitzy window dressing is exactly that, a late-night spruce up to give the ageing coupe one last hurrah, one more night out on the town.
Lipstick… on a pig.
The red lipstick theme continues inside, with red Alcantara leather inserts and contrasting red stitching throughout. There’s a cosmetic theme emerging here, and – despite my initial reservations – aesthetically, it works.
Truth be told, the lipstick on a pig analogy is doing this car a great disservice. For all its window dressing, five minutes behind the wheel changes my opinion. For the better.
I drove Nissan’s standard 370Z late last year, on-track at Sydney Motorsport Park. This came seven years after I first drove the 370Z, soon after its local launch in 2009. The Nissan didn’t impress me back then, nor did it impress being punted around SMP in December, 2016. It was simply too agricultural, too ungainly, and not sporty enough to warrant the title of sports car.
But this, this Nismo iteration of the ageing 370Z goes a long way to dispelling those earlier misgivings.
The Nissan 370Z Nismo drops into the range, unsurprisingly, at the top of the 370Z food chain, with a sticker price of $61,490 (plus on-road costs) for the six-speed manual. An auto is available for $63,990 (plus on-roads).
Cleverly though, and what will be good news for fans of Nissan’s coupe, is non-Nismo variants in the range have received a significant price drop with the 370Z coupe now priced at $49,990 (down from $56,390) and the convertible now $60,990 (down from $65,930). That price adjustment bestows the title of ‘range topper’ on the new 370Z Nismo, as it should be.
Sliding inside the cabin of the Nismo is an exercise in mixed emotions. It looks a little dated, especially the switchgear, not to mention the CD player in the centre stack. A CD player! In this day and age.
However, the red Alcantara inserts on the Recaro sports seats look and feel lovely and are accented nicely by the contrast stitching, also in red. Although it's a two-seater, it doesn't feel cramped inside – there's plenty of legroom and headroom, despite the low-slung roofline of the coupe.
The steering wheel feels nice in hand, with black Alcantara inserts and a red leather stripe at centre. The wheel is height adjustable (but not reach) and has a neat little trick up its sleeve. Adjusting the height of the wheel to your desired position also adjusts the instrument binnacle so your view of the gauges is never blocked. It’s clever.
Storage isn’t the Nismo’s strong point. There’s a tiny centre console bin that can hold your wallet and smartphone, but that’s about it. There’s just a single cupholder in the centre console, so owners of this car had better not go on a coffee date. There are bottle holders in the doors, but they are only fit for smaller bottles. There’s plenty of space behind the seats for soft bags and a couple of neat fold-out storage bins for maps, magazines, newspapers and the like. The glovebox is tiny, literally good for a pair of gloves, or maybe two.
Infotainment comes courtesy of a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen integrated into the centre stack, featuring satellite navigation, and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming. A BOSE eight-speaker sound system takes care of the acoustics while a single USB port allows for direct connectivity. There’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone mirroring, though.
If you’re looking for a sports car with the latest active safety trickery such as autonomous emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, you’ll be disappointed. The 370Z Nismo has none of those. It does have a rear-view camera and six airbags, though, plus the obligatory ABS and traction control.
Press the start button (trimmed in lipstick red, of course!) and this car’s reason for being becomes immediately apparent. The 3.7-litre V6 thrums into life. It’s a lovely sound, at once refined and deep, a baritone at the height of his powers.
And herein lies the Nismo’s selling point, its reason for being. The engine is identical to the 3.7-litre unit found in the standard 370Z but, thanks to some clever Nismo fettling and fine-tuning, it now produces 253kW of power (at 7400rpm) and 371Nm of torque (at 5200rpm). That’s a modest gain of just 8kW and 8Nm over the standard 370Z and it comes courtesy of a new H-configured exhaust system and muffler tuning along with what Nissan calls Engine Control Modulation calibration. The result is a reduction in back pressure of up to 30 per cent. Those eight extra kilowatts and Newton meters might not sound like much, but they make a world of difference.
Our test loop wound its way from Brisbane Airport up to and over Mounts Nebo and Glorious. Around town, the Nismo coped adequately with the rigours of city traffic. Sure, the ride was a little firm, but the 370Z never felt out of its element. It can be driven sedately, placidly, without ever losing its composure.
It feels every lump and bump though, those 19-inch alloys shod with Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT600s (245/40 R19 at front; and 285/35 R19 rear) not helping to iron out imperfections. It’s noticeable, but not that uncomfortable. You could live with it.
The clutch is nicely-weighted, too – not so stiff that you need to run off to the gym for leg day, everyday. It’s firm, without being exhausting. The throw on the gear lever is a little long, but it’s precise and satisfying, finding each gate with a nice ‘snick’. What’s not so great, is the automatic throttle blip on downshift. Everyone loves a nice rev-matching downshift, but the Nismo’s is calibrated a touch on the ‘hoon’ side, each downshift met with a spike in revs that’s simply annoying.
These are minor grievances, though, and once out on the open road in the mountains, the rear-wheel drive Nismo comes into its own. The surge of power is excellent, from just about anywhere in the rev range. It’s fast, but not stupidly so, the power delivery linear and predictable. Even in sixth gear, at just over 2000rpm, press the throttle and the 370Z surges forward with intent. It is, in short, addictive.
Carving through a section of bends and tight hairpins, the Nismo behaves predictably, thanks to the nicely-weighted steering which is responsive and sends instant feedback. You know what the front wheels are doing at all times, giving you the confidence to push push push just that little bit harder.
The Nismo-tuned suspension (double wishbone multi-link at front and independent multi-link at rear) helps keep the car planted. There is no body roll, thanks to the Nismo-specific increased spring rate, dampening and stabiliser rates. The 370Z simply sticks to the road and goes exactly where you want it to. There is no unpredictability about its intent, no understeer, no oversteer and the rear never steps out of line.
The ride is bone-rattling good. Every bump, every imperfection, every adjustment of the steering wheel, dab on the brake pedal, is felt through your spine, and in a good way. This is seat-of-the-pants feedback, giving you the feeling that you are part of the car, and not merely along for the ride. It’s addictive.
The brakes provide the just the right amount of retardation. With 355mm discs, four-piston calipers at front and 350mm, two-piston calipers at rear, they are neither spongy or grippy. Instead, they provide the perfect amount of feedback to inspire confidence, allowing you to push just that little bit harder, brake that little bit later. And brake fade, despite traversing some steep and twisting mountain roads, was non-existent.
Nissan claims a combined cycle fuel figure of 10.6L/100km. Around town, we saw a commendable 10.8L/100km but that blew out to 14.2L after some spirited mountain twisties, before dropping to 12.0L after a highway run back into town. All in all, that's not a bad return against Nissan's claim.
After a couple of hundred kays, most of it spent on back roads, you step out of the car and you feel properly like you’ve just driven a sports car. One that demands your attention, sure, but one that rewards you with the feedback and yes, the exhilaration it gives. Yes, your bones are a little rattled, but not in a bad way. It’s like that rush you get when you’ve just spent 20 minutes in a go-kart, with every twitch, every nuance, sent directly to your spine.
Nissan, with the Nismo iteration of the 370Z, has finally built the car it should have been all along.
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