2011 Nissan 370Z NISMO Road Test and Review: Introduction
As much history that Nissan has with both the Z nameplate and its NISMO performance division, it is surprising that the iconic sports coupe has only offered a factory-tuned model twice. Nissan’s first NISMO Z arrived in 2007 on the 350Z, but Nissan’s in-house tuning division went to work on the 370Z to build off the car’s smaller size, lighter weight and quicker performance. Little has changed since the NISMO 370Z debuted in 2009, and for those interested in upping the performance ante of a Z without affecting the warranty, the NISMO model continues to be a great option. While we know how good the current 370Z is on the track, Nissan recently let us spend a week in the 2011 Nissan 370Z NISMO to see how it performs on the street in everyday driving. While there are definitely sacrifices in driving a track-bred car on the street, the new NISMO Z is still fun to drive and gets plenty of looks while doing so.
Positioned at the top of the 2011 Nissan 370Z line-up, the NISMO has a starting price of $39,990 compared to the MSRP of a base 2011 370Z Coupe which starts at $31,450. That $9,380 difference may seem like a lot, but looking at the big picture, the NISMO model essentially replaces all of the technology and luxury from the Touring with Sport Package trim level with factory tuning to improve the car’s performance and handling. After a few of the limited options and the destination charge, the 2011 Nissan 370Z NISMO used for this review had as-tested price of $41,435. In the performance world, it seems that this price point is about the going rate for a car that can be taken straight to the track from the showroom floor.2011 Nissan 370Z NISMO Review: Competition
The 2011 Nissan 370Z NISMO ideally goes up against factory-tuned vehicles such as the Subaru Impreza WRX STI and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution while also looking to take on some of the sportier Ford Mustang GT, Chevrolet Camaro SS and Dodge Challenger R/T models. Although its $40,000 price tag is no drop in the bucket, it definitely provides some of the best bang for the bucket when it comes to track-ready sports cars. The exhilarating performance is a result of the fact that the NISMO weigh far less than the Big Three muscle cars and that all Z cars are pure sports cars while the STI and Evo are both based off entry-level family sedans. Now in its sixth generation, few cars on the road have the same loyal following as the Nissan Z, and the return of the NISMO for 2011 gives enthusiasts yet another model to lust after.2011 Nissan 370Z NISMO Review: Exterior
Available only in the Z’s coupe body configuration, the 2011 Nissan 370Z NISMO starts off with an attention-grabbing exterior styling. Compared to the “regular” Z cars, the 2011 NISMO Z gets more aggressive front and rear fascias with a lower chin spoiler in the front and functional air vents in the rear; a double-tiered rear spoiler and large polished dual exhaust outlets finish off the rear styling of the NISMO. Staggered-width, lightweight 19-inch forged wheels help finish off the car’s stance while the NISMO lettering adds a little more exclusivity to the styling. While the “Fast and Furious” inspired appearance of the 2011 NISMO Z may not be for everyone, the changes made to the styling actually serve a purpose rather than just being aesthetic.
Besides the wheels, the only other NISMO branding on the outside of the car is a small chrome badge on the right side of the hatchback opposite the 370Z lettering, and even the engine compartment is dressed up for the NISMO package with a red engine cover to match the interior trim and a NISMO logo on the strut tower brace. Exterior options are limited to just color choices including the new-for-2011 Gun Metallic color that this test vehicle came in.
Matching the unique exterior, all 2011 Nissan 370Z NISMO are fitted with the same interiors which include black cloth seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and plenty of contrasting red accents throughout the cabin. Where there isn’t black or red inside the NISMO, the cabin also gets bright metallic accents on the instrument gauges, the foot pedals, inside door handles and on the center console. The end result is a stripped down, racecar-like cabin that doesn’t feel stripped down. Unique NISMO touches also include embroidered bucket seats and a tachometer with a silver background and NISMO logo, while a plaque of authenticity (mounted to the divider wall between the seats) finishes off the NISMO Z’s cabin by displaying the serial number and model year of the particular car.
Thankfully, iconic elements of the 370Z are still used in the NISMO Z such as the pair of three-gauge pods mounted above the center stack and used for the instrument cluster. Not just a stripped track car either, the NISMO Z still offers luxuries such as tilt steering column, cruise control, redundant steering wheel audio controls and a basic AM/FM/CD head unit with standard auxiliary jack.
The 2011 Nissan 370Z NISMO is Nissan’s attempt at a stripped-down, track-ready sports car, so the options are very limited. Features such as navigation or leather-trimmed seats are not even available on the new NISMO Z, but there are a few option boxes prospective buyers can check off. This test vehicle was equipped with the only factory performance option available on the NISMO Z which is a set of $580 NISMO semi-metallic performance brake pads. The only interior options available on the NISMO 370Z include a carpeted trunk mat, illuminated “Z” kick plates and Nismo-embroidered floor mats – the latter of which was installed on this test car.2011 Nissan 370Z NISMO Review: Powertrain and Fuel Economy
At the heart of the new NISMO Z is Nissan’s VQ37VHR 3.7-liter V-6 which has been tuned to produce 350 horsepower and 276 lb-ft of torque making it the most powerful Z car ever produced thanks to modifications to the exhaust system and engine controller. With this peak horsepower now coming in just under the engine’s redline (7,500 rpm) the improvement of 18 hp and 6 lb-ft of torque over a standard Z Coupe is somehow without a negative consequence to fuel economy with EPA estimates of 18 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway matching the 370Z. The only transmission available is the six-speed manual used in the 370Z with Sport Package which includes a short-throw shifter, close-ratio gearing and SynchroRev Match, and helping feed the added power to the rear axle, this car uses a NISMO-exclusive lightweight carbon fiber composite driveshaft.2011 Nissan 370Z NISMO Review: Driving Impressions
Weighing in at 3,300 pounds, the 2011 Nissan 370Z NISMO actually weighs more than a base 370Z which is likely a result of the upgraded brake system, body dampers and the entire multi-link suspension setup including the stabilizer bars, shocks and springs. While this will help improve the handling of the NISMO Z and make it an excellent track car, most drivers will probably just notice the harsher ride in everyday driving. Fortunately, the seats are comfortable and forgiving so long highway drives are not too abusive, but this car really excels when the roads get twisty as it hunkers down and sticks to the curves. The true joy comes at full throttle when the free-flowing exhaust belts out an inspiring note that is thankfully much more reserved than the large dual outlets would suggest. One of the hardest parts about the driving the 2011 NISMO Z is that the tall rear spoiler makes the Z car’s limited visibility even worse.2011 Nissan 370Z NISMO Review: Safety
The 2011 Nissan 370Z has yet to be tested by in any configuration by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but it does come with a long list of safety features. This test car came standard with a total of six airbags (surprising for such a small cabin), active head restraints, electronic brake-force distribution with brake assist, four-wheel anti-lock brake system, tire pressure monitoring system, traction control and Vehicle Dynamic Control.2011 Nissan 370Z NISMO Review: Final Thoughts
Those wishing for the performance of a Porsche Boxster without the premium price should check out the 2011 Nissan 370Z NISMO. Unlike the first-generation NISMO Z that debuted in 2007, this new car produces a little more power while offering the same aero and suspension upgrades. The 2011 Nissan NISMO Z ditches the balanced driving dynamic of the stock 370Z in favor of improved acceleration and handling that is better suited for a track car, and despite a starting price that is in the same range as cars like the Mustang GT and Camaro SS, the Z makes up for its power disadvantage by offering some of the most agile handling of a car under $50,000. The NISMO Z is probably the best all-around, factory-tuned sports car on the market in terms of handling, performance and pricing, and the unique styling gets plenty of looks while driving around town, too.2011 Nissan 370Z NISMO: Pros and Cons
- track-ready Z car straight from the dealership
- exclusive styling elements
- added engine power for NISMO package
- boy racer styling not for everyone
- short option list
- large rear spoiler limits visibility
Nissan provided the vehicle for this review
Photos by Jeffrey N. Ross