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Nissan 350Z NISMO – 2007 Review: Life is all about marketing. From dowries to humanitarian causes, everything has its buyers and sellers, all of them brought together by a creative campaign. It’s a concept well understood by car companies such as Nissan, which uses high energy and engaging imagery to define its 350Z, or more appropriately, that car’s future owners. The showcase for the lineup is the new 2007 NISMO model, done up as a track-ready performer showcasing Nissan’s line of tuner parts. But does it live up to the marketing hype? Not when the outstanding 350Z Enthusiast can be had for $8,000 less.
By: Thom Blackett
Photo credit: Oliver Bentley
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What We Drove
Nissan sells the 350Z coupe in a variety of configurations including Base, Enthusiast, Touring, and Grand Touring; the last three are also offered in convertible form. Reserved for hard-core sports car fans is the NISMO coupe with a base price of $38,695 including a $625 destination charge. That was the price of our tester, provided by Nissan, which we put through 700 miles of paces in city traffic and along deserted mountain roads outside Los Angeles. Among the standard features we enjoyed were an aero kit, a tuned exhaust system, a reinforced body, upgraded suspension, lightweight wheels and extra-grippy rubber, Brembo brakes, and unique interior accents.
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Nissan’s NISMO treatment adds visual and handling tweaks to the 350Z, but under the hood remains a stock 306-horspower V-6. That’s not a bad thing, as we were reminded of the 3.5-liter engine’s ability to pull hard throughout the rev range. The short-throw shifter allowed us to ram through the gears on twisty roads, though the heavy clutch took some getting used to. After a week of play, we recorded 18.8 mpg and considered the 350’s powertrain to be right on target. And then we experienced the related 330-horse Infiniti G37 – those extra 24 ponies would be perfect in this sportiest of Zs.
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One look at the Nissan 350Z NISMO should clearly indicate what this rear-drive coupe is all about – performance, but not comfort. The NISMO-tuned suspension, including special dampers, works with NISMO wheels (18-inchers up front with 19s out back) and sticky Bridgestone Potenza tires to ensure tremendous grip. The result is a car that hugs tighter than your grandma on Christmas morning and attacks challenging curves with zeal. Body roll is essentially non-existent, steering offers a high degree of response and road feel, and the Brembo brakes proved infallible during our tests. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much how we feel about the less expensive non-NISMO Zs.
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With its conspicuous aero kit and low-profile tires, the 350Z NISMO is a vehicle to be seen in. Its sleek body wraps around a short greenhouse that’s a bit hard on visibility, so drivers will want to place a great deal of trust in the small side mirrors and do their best to see through the massive rear wing that occupies much of the interior rearview mirror. Merging is best done with plenty of signaled warning to fellow motorists, but thankfully all 306 horses are at the ready for filling tight spaces in traffic. Small rear quarter windows are obscured by head restraints.
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Fun to Drive
This little factory-tuned hot rod is so much fun to drive that even a manic depressive on a downswing would be forced to crack a discernable grin after a few miles behind the wheel. Sure, it could use a few extra horses and maybe a slightly trimmed curb weight, but neither of those points ultimately steals a smidge of the 350Z NISMO’s steam. If there’s anything to complain about it, it’s the constant worry about busting the ultra-low front splitter on every little bump.
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Comfort is one of those subjects that must be considered in context. In relation to other high-performance coupes, the 350Z NISMO is actually quite inviting. The arched roofline directly over the driver provides generous head room, with ample leg room to match. Door sills are too high to use for resting, but the center and door armrests are padded, as is the small tilting steering wheel. The deeply bucketed seats, firm but satisfactorily comfortable over a long haul, offer a wide range of manual adjustments along with firm and effective bolsters, while the center console is thoughtfully padded for bumping knees during aggressive cornering.
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There are no ifs, and, or buts here – the 350Z NISMO is a loud vehicle. At idle, there’s the rumble of the tuned exhaust, which sounds good until the revs get up over 5,000 rpm or so, at which point the V-6 engine gets a bit raucous and markedly less refined than others in this class. At speed on the highway, there’s a tremendous amount of road noise from the high-performance tires, a persistent hum from the drivetrain, and echoes from each pebble that bounces off the undercarriage.
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Inside the trunk lid is a diagram demonstrating how to load a bag of golf clubs. It can be done, but don’t expect to transport much else at the same time. Get past the high liftover and you’re dealing with a compromised cargo area, small to begin with but diminished even more by a plastic-covered suspension brace. Factor in the plastic housing behind the seats, and what’s left is hardly roomy enough for a couple of small duffle bags. To make matters worse, the trunk lid’s support struts refuse to go down without a fight.
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Overall, the 2007 Nissan 350Z NISMO is well constructed, with tight interior bits and an exterior characterized by consistent fits…for the most part. We noticed a handful of uneven panels inside, primarily on and around the dash and outlining the cargo area, while the outside played host to headlight housings that were slightly askew. The left side of the rear fascia was a hair out of alignment, and the panel gaps could’ve been a little less spacious, but those are minor points. More important to some may be the fact that the stiffly-sprung NISMO’s interior was rattle-free, despite miles and miles of hard abuse on some unforgiving pavement.
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This is not Nissan’s most impressive interior. There’s an inordinate number of surface textures, from the slightly-rubberized material on the upper door panels that looks the same but loses its soft-touch treatment on the center stack, to supple leatherette on the door armrests and large-grained hard plastic on parts of the dash cap. Wholly different finishes are given to the vents, radio, and overhead console. A mesh headliner appears to be a nice touch, but feels like cardboard to the touch. Fewer variations in materials with the addition of another soft surface or two would go a long way in improving the sense of quality.
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The NISMO variant takes unmistakable Z styling up a notch – not only will passers-by know they’re looking at a Z, they’ll realize that it’s a NISMO-fied Z. Devoid of any shred of inconspicuousness, this version of a drifter’s dream features a massive rear wing that Nissan claims helps to add downforce when coupled with a monstrous lower diffuser. A big-mouth-bass front air intake and NASCAR-sourced splitter aid in the effort as well. Rounding out the package are lightweight alloy wheels, a NISMO tach, red stitching, and a serialized center plaque. NOTE: Ours was #162, so dicker hard if you find this one on a used car lot.
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For buyers who rank storage as a primary concern, Nissan salespeople would be happy to demonstrate the capabilities of a Pathdinder, Xterra, Frontier, Titan, Versa, or most of the brand’s other offerings. The 350Z, NISMO-tized or not, is more accommodating than many sports coupes, but you’ll still need to be judicious when packing. Provisions include a deep cubby on the dash, a large glovebox behind the passenger seat, two additional yet smaller rear cubbies, center armrest storage with a removable tray, and four cupholders, two of which are in the doors. There’s also a map pocket on the rear side of the passenger seat.
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There are no real mysteries related to the use of this audio system. A knob is, logically enough, charged with power and volume duties, with clearly-marked secondary buttons assigned the tasks of tuning, scanning, switching between radio and CD functions, and manipulating audio levels. Substantial buttons on the steering wheel allow the driver to quickly change stations and adjust the volume. Our one gripe relates to the sensitivity of the buttons – while traveling down a bumpy highway, the stiffly-sprung 350Z NISMO caused our fingers to bounce against the controls and stopped the scanning process before it had even begun.
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Good ol’ Southern California – you can always count on her when you want to check out the efficacy of an air conditioning system. Our week-long test proved the 350Z NISMO was capable of cooling off quickly and easily, thanks to three simple knobs dedicated to mode, temperature settings, and fan speed. Each sports an alloy finish and offers a quality feel, accented by small rubber grips.
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Nissan designers have outlawed hunting in the 350Z NISMO cabin, and as a result all controls are right where you’d expect. That equates to buttons for the power door locks, power windows, and power mirrors placed on the door panels, an illuminated traction control switch on the left dash with a fuel door release just below, and trip computer buttons next to the speedometer. Three driver-oriented gauges sit atop the dash, including one that displays the trip computer information. The tachometer takes center stage behind the steering wheel, but we found the silver-faced gauge with yellow markings hard to read in daylight.
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In terms of direct competition, including two-passenger rear-drive coupes of mainstream lineage and priced below $40,000 when well-equipped, the 2007 Nissan 350Z NISMO has little to worry about. There are plenty of two-passenger coupes, such as the Audi TT and Chevrolet Corvette, but because of a varying amounts of power, a luxury badge and/or premium price, they don’t go toe-to-toe with the Z. Expand the criteria to four-passenger rear-drive coupes and we bring in the Ford Mustang GT coupe, which climbs into the $30,000s when a multitude of options are selected; the Shelby version starts in the low $40,000s, but it boasts 500 horses.
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2nd Opinion – Beamesderfer
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the 350Z NISMO is just how little is changed from the other trim levels. The 19-inch wheels are different from those on the Grand Touring, but are shod with the same big meat performance Bridgestone Potenza tires. So the real differences come down to a performance exhaust, up-rated suspension, big Brembo brakes and serious aerodynamic changes, including a rear diffuser. The result is more downforce, which increases stability. And there’s enough front splitter and rear wing area to make a significant difference at speeds that won’t attract attention from the authorities.
What will attract…
MyRide.com Road Test Editor
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2nd Opinion – Buglewicz
Slipping back behind the wheel of a Z for me is like putting on a rediscovered old jacket, one thought lost in a move years ago, or loaned to an old girlfriend in a fit of chivalry and never returned.
It’s comfortable – for a two-seater – but more than that it’s familiar. I’ve driven many flavors of Z in the past, and several different generations. But they all give me the same warm feeling inside of a car that was built for fun.
(Well, maybe not the 300ZXs of the 80s, but that’s another story for another time.)
This newest Z…
MyRide.com Road Test Editor
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