If you commanded the Nissan genie to pimp your Z-car, the result would be the second-generation NISMO model now available at dealerships. (The NISMO name stands for Nissan Motorsports International, the prime source of extreme performance parts and special-edition models created by Nissan factory experts for hard core street and track use.) Updates beyond the standard 370Z are 18 extra horsepower, 6 lb-ft more torque, various interior and exterior design touches, a retuned suspension, wider 19-inch forged-aluminum wheels, and Yokohama instead of Bridgestone tires. Even after you add a $780 dealer-installed engine oil cooler, the NISMO package runs only $6980 more than the regular 350Z equipped with a Sport Package.
NECK TORQUING EXTERIOR
The NISMO Z is not for those who prefer slipping through traffic unnoticed. The new nosepiece, which adds about six inches to overall length, includes a prominent chin spoiler and corner canards aimed at improved aerodynamic downforce. Add-on side sill extensions help manage under-car air flow. The new rear appendage is a biplane affair combining a spoiler with a wing. That device in combination with a diffuser panel between the exhaust pipes helps stick the rear tires to the pavement at high speed. Rear-fender slots are purely cosmetic.
The factory claims that there is genuine aero downforce at the felonious velocities this car is capable of achieving. Five color choices are offered-white, silver, black, red, and graphite. After exposure to one red and one silver NISMO Z, we highly recommend the red choice unless your driving record is already under assault.
Interior distinctions are mainly cosmetic. The bucket seats are upholstered with grippy woven cloth to hold two thrill seekers securely in the likely event hard cornering and braking ensue. The driver benefits with 8-way adjustability while the passenger must scrape by with 4-way motion. Power adjusters are not part of the deal.
The color theme is red, white, and black with red accent stitching and NISMO logos sewn into both backrests. To aid the memory challenged, this identification is sprinkled throughout the car in no less than 16 locations. The leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob also receive attractive red stitching. All three pedals are trimmed with aluminum plates and there’s a distinctive identification plate containing a serial number and the model year. Less than 1000 2009 NISMO Zs are planned for sale in the US.
The list of equipment shared with lesser Z-cars includes a highly legible three-pod instrument cluster, active head restraints, push button starting, power windows and door locks, automatic climate control, and no less than four cupholders (one to the left and right of each occupant).
The NISMO’s four-speaker entertainment system plays AM/FM/CD and plug-in portable material through an Auxiliary jack. The illuminated steering wheel controls allow you to adjust the background music during the heat of racetrack battle, if you so desire. A Navigation Package consisting of an Ipod interface, 9.3GB Music Box hard drive, and highly legible color mapping adds $1850 to the price. Bluetooth hands free cell phone connectivity is also offered.
THE V-6 WITH V-8 ASPIRATIONS
Nissan‘s VQ engine has proven to be a highly versatile and spirited power producer. In 3.7-liter form for the NISMO it is equipped with variable intake valve lift and timing, a reflashed engine control computer, and exhaust pipes joined together with a flow-improving H-shaped connector. (The standard Z exhaust consists of two Y-sections joined by a single pipe.) The 350 hp peak output lies at 7400 rpm, only one hundred revs before the redline. The 276 lb-ft torque peak also lives high on spin mountain at 5200 rpm. The lofty 11.0:1 compression ratio works without benefit of direct fuel injection. Backing up this V-6 is a close-ratio six-speed transmission with SyncrhoRev Match, a means of automatically blipping the throttle for smooth down shifts. That’s an especially handy feature for drivers too lazy to learn the fine art of heel-and-toe pedal operation.
TRACK TUNED BODY AND SOUL
While the basic body structure and suspension systems are shared with the standard Z coupe, NISMO has fiddled with several calibrations. The underhood brace has a couple of additional gussets. Front spring rates have been upped 15-percent, rears are jacked 10-percent. Total roll stiffness is greater by 15-percent thanks to a front bar with a 15-percent higher twist rate and a rear bar that is 50-percent stiffer. The front dampers provide 40-percent more control while the rear shocks have been fortified by 140-percent.
One out-of-the ordinary tuning touch is a pair of dampers added to the NISMO Z’s unibody. One is mounted horizontally between the front longitudinal rails, the other is positioned just behind the differential in back. These laterally oriented dampers quell high-frequency body vibrations driven by the stiffer suspension calibrations. They not only reduce the buzz you would feel through the seat of your pants on rough roads, they also provide a calmer and more stable base of operations for the track-tuned suspension systems.
The brake system is unmodified from 350Z specifications. The vented rotors are 14.0-inches in diameter in front and 13.8-inches in back. They’re clamped by fixed aluminum calipers with four pistons in front and two pistons per rear wheel. ABS and VDC (stability control) are standard.
The power rack-and-pinion steering assist is speed dependent. More robust mount bushings augment feel and precision. The 19-inch Yokohama Advan Sport radials are the same size as standard Z rubber in front but 10mm wider in back. Also, the tire speed rating rises from W(168 mph) to Y (more than 186 mph). The RAYS forged-aluminum rims are 9.5 inches wide in front, 10.5-inches wide in back, a half-inch increase at both ends of the car. To accommodate the rolling stock, the front track is 0.2-inches wider while the rear track is 0.6-inches narrower. A viscous-type limited-slip differential (part of the standard Z’s Sport Package) helps maintain momentum in tight turns and during aggressive launches from rest.
RISING TO THE SPORTS CAR CAUSE
The NISMO Z definitely feels like it just graduated from Nissan‘s advanced driving dynamics academy. The steering is firm, direct, and heavily weighted. Cornering response borders on anticipatory. The front-rear balance is as close as you’ll get to drift-ready in any production vehicle we’ve experienced. The ride is taut but not so rigid that daily driving becomes a pain in the sacroiliac. Body roll during an aggressive turn-in is negligible.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the engine and transmission emit crude noises when pressed to their rev limits and the sound of the new dual exhaust system is too subdued for this hairy-chested edition of the Z. The new wing provides an excellent hiding place for law enforcement agents. But the most frustrating discovery we brought home from the test track is absolutely no hint of performance improvement. The acceleration, braking, cornering, and top speed are no better than the 370 Z Sport we tested last fall.
So the NISMO Z definitely looks and feels the part but don’t even think of challenging a 370 Z Sport model on the street. Save your attacks for static gatherings, where the NISMO’s hot looks will prevail, and for the race track where its better balance and superior aerodynamics may give you the edge.
2009 Nissan Nismo 370Z
Base Price: $39,850
Powertrain: 3.7-liter DOHC 24-valve V-6
Horsepower: 350 hp @ 7400 rpm
Torque 276 lb-ft @ 5200 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
L x W x H: 174.3 x 72.6 x 51.8 in
Legroom: 42.9 in
Headroom: 38.2 in
Cargo capacity: 6.9 cu ft
Curb Weight: 3365 lb
EPA Rating (city/highway): 18/26 mpg
0-60 mph: 5.5 sec
0-120 mph: 19.6 sec
1/4-mile: 14.1 sec @ 103 mph
Top speed: 156 mph
70-0 braking: 177 ft
Cornering, L/R: 0.97/0.91 g