In an auto biography featuring any number of memorable drives (but not – regrettably – ownership experiences), one that stands out was roughly a decade ago, just north of San Francisco. Instructed to take the next hour navigating Marin County, I was given the keys to a new 350Z. With a handful of subtle NISMO (Nissan’s performance arm) mods, the ‘Z’ was everything you could hope for on a brilliant drive in Northern California. And despite that drive being almost a decade back it still resonates in my fading memory bank. Notably, Nissan now builds a 370Z replete with NISMO gear, dubbing it – as you might expect – the Nissan 370Z NISMO.
While not close to Marin County (this is written roughly ten minutes west of D/FW Airport), CarBuzzard’s South Central bureau was able to evaluate the ‘Z’ for most of a week. That week included a roundtrip from Dallas to San Antonio (roughly 500 miles), along with another 500 just ‘cuz I could. Although a blast south on I-35 is nothing like a run in Northern California (relative to Interstate 35, California’s I-5 feels like Willow Springs…), the Z’s long-legged demeanor works well over long distances. Despite a long-legged passenger suffering from relatively cramped quarters, I had no complaints. For me the only potential discomfort would come if I were to try and buy the Nissan’s NISMO Z; window stickers that approach (modest) annual incomes still have that effect…
In the forty-some years since Datsun’s introduction of the 240Z, the car has enjoyed its share of design hits and misses. The original Z, introduced to the U.S. market in 1970, is generally regarded as a homerun. While a handful of stylistic influences were evident, Datsun’s first effort was an original interpretation of a high-performance GT, and credibly reflected a corporate lineage seen in the earlier Datsun 1600 and 2000. And despite the addition of bumpers to meet new U.S. regs in the middle of that decade, you could always take the bumpers off – and many did.
Things weren’t so happy when the ‘Z’ morphed into the ‘ZX’. In point of fact, with the launch of the 280ZX came the very first in-print usage of the now oft-used phrase: What were they thinking? Looking as if the original 240Z had spent its product cycle binging at McDonald’s, the ZX was as close to its forebear as ‘Young Winston’ was to the Iron Curtain. The badge, thankfully, remained the same (Datsun was not yet Nissan in the States), but little else did.
Nissan’s next iteration, the 300ZX, might have succeeded in reclaiming the stylistic high ground, but it had also moved upmarket – effectively abandoning the young (and young-at-heart) buyers that had populated the customer base of the earlier 240s, 260s and 280Zs. Like GIs posted in Europe during and after World War II, the 300ZX was perceived to be ‘overfed, oversexed and over here’. And its move upmarket meant that it ultimately moved out of market, with few friends (or Z loyalists) caring.
That the introduction – for the 2003 model year – of the 350Z served to revive both the Z and its fan base has been well documented. Admittedly, the formula and footprint remained substantial, but its launch (shepherded by Nissan’s then-new president, Carlos Ghosn) was, if not an absolute grand slam, at least a stand-up triple. The Z’s athleticism had returned, and the stylistic overreach was gone. And the Nissan’s base price, while still hovering near $30K, had grown more slowly – when adjusted for inflation – than the competitive entries from BMW, Chevrolet or Porsche.
The 350Z ran thru model year 2008. In 2009 enthusiasts received the 370Z to guarded enthusiasm. Performance geeks enjoyed more performance, while those of us enjoying the stylistic subtlety of the 350Z were given pause by a headlight treatment presumably executed by George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic. On top of that was a greenhouse – or lack thereof – requiring use of Braille for parallel parking. Happily, increased displacement equated to a horsepower bump, and the platform was better.
In the context of five model years our impression of the 370’s architecture may not have changed, but a week behind the wheel can certainly mold a perspective. Despite an almost vintage long hood/short deck proportion, the ‘Z’ certainly doesn’t feel vintage. The 3.7 liter V6, now producing 350 NISMO-infused horsepower (a bump of eighteen horses over the standard mill), generates appropriate thrust whenever you call on it. And while more than a few reviewers have described the Nissan V6 as coarse or thrashy, our less-enlightened sensibilities simply see it as character.
The Nissan mill – along with its Variable Valve Event and Lift (VVEL) Control – is hooked-up to a standard 6-speed manual, whose actuation should serve as a graduate course in designing a manual transmission. Linkage is oh-so-precise, and in combination with a progressive clutch feels just right, either from launch or LAUNCH! To the engineering team’s ever-lasting credit, 5th gear is a straight 1:1, leaving only 6th as a modest overdrive. And we won’t forget a shout-out to Nissan’s SynchroRev Match function, which automatically controls engine speed when shifting; it essentially supplies the ‘heel-and-toe’, even for those with heels and toes. You’ll love it, while your significant other will – based on our own experience – probably hate it…
Inside, the Z’s buckets supply a just-right balance between easy ingress and adequate support. As noted by Nissan, the upper seatback has cutaway areas, allowing your arms freedom of movement while steering or shifting. We’re more than a little turned off by the available Recaros on certain street cars, when the only rational explanation for those Recaros is a narrowly-focused track day. The standard buckets are augmented in the NISMO by little more than a NISMO logo…and that’s about perfect.
The exterior of the NISMO takes the standard Z’s already exaggerated proportions and adds another six inches of overall length, most ahead of the headlights. Although not as radical as a back-in-the-day Plymouth SuperBird, neither is this extension exactly subtle.
At the end of the day we were delighted by the NISMO’s heightened entertainment factor, while slightly dismayed by its heightened window sticker. An MSRP of $43,000 is roughly $10K over the cost of a standard Coupe with available Sport Package, a $3,000 option. Checking that Sport Package box gives you enhanced handling, upgraded brakes, the aforementioned SynchroRev Match, a viscous limited-slip diff and 19-inch forged alloys surrounded by Bridgestone Potenzas. You’d be in for $33K, and have $10K to blow on track day registrations, tires and – just maybe – a paralegal. Sounds like fun, and something that should be on my short list.
Specifications on next page…