Windy, cold and damp weather typified my week in the Z, with temps hovering around 55 degrees and several days of showers. Yes, I got the first week of the bad part of fall. The Z was hardly happy during its time with me, but we both persevered, and I made a point of sprinting out to the garage anytime the ground seemed remotely dry enough to test this striking two-seater. That enthusiasm waned quickly, though, as the week wore on.
By all accounts, the Z is a car that I should like. It's an uncompromising sports car, but as I discovered during my travels, sometimes a little compromise is welcome, and living with a car like the Z – particularly the angrier, Nismo-tuned model – quickly becomes a case of too much of a good thing.
- The 370Z Nismo gets an uprated version of Nissan's 3.7-liter V6 engine, complete with 350 horsepower at 7,400 rpm and 276 pound-feet of torque at 5,200 rpm. The engine pulled well, provided I carefully managed the revs. Even with the retuned exhaust and ECU producing the Nismo's extra grunt (the standard engine produces 18 hp and 6 lb-ft less), the Z is prone to being caught flat-footed, but can be dynamite at the right engine speed and in the right gear. I don't consider these criticisms, by the way - having to manage the engine speed makes for a more involving drive.
- The engine's sound, though, remains as raspy and unpleasant as ever, even with the new exhaust. This is one of those engines that's begging for the aftermarket to save its owners' ears, as it sounds grating under most circumstances. I'll make an exception at wide-open throttle between 3,500 and 4,500 rpm, when a proper singing voice sneaks out.
- The sole gearbox choice for the 370Z Nismo is a six-speed manual. It requires a bit of strong-arming, as it has just a hint of notchiness at each gate, although again, I consider the extra effort an asset in a proper sports car. The clutch is fairly linear with a nice weight to the pedal and a broad and predictable catchpoint. It's let down, though, by a numb throttle response, which makes working the clutch more of a chore than it should be.
- Nissan gave the 370Z Nismo an aesthetic overhaul for 2014, swapping out the uniform body color of previous models for a contrasting scheme that works well with our tester's Pearl White paint. The grey aero kit, mirrors, spoiler and wheels add some extra visual pop, while subtle red accents are noticeable on closer inspection.
- It's a shame Nissan couldn't give the cabin a similar freshening. The Nismo variant sports an Alcantara-and-leather steering wheel, which adds a hint of specialness but isn't enough to hide the Z's age. Antiquated radio, climate and instrument cluster controls feel more suited to a Versa than Nissan's mighty Fairlady. And the fact this Nismo variant, which sits atop the 370Z hierarchy, can't be had with a navigation system is inexcusable.
- For being a driver's car, I did not find the Z's cabin very accommodating. The Nismo-branded seats lack a suitable range of adjustment and the fixed lumbar does the driver no favors. I was shifting and squirming after about 45 minutes behind the wheel, just trying to find a better seating position. The steering and instrument cluster move as one, and offer no telescoping option - at just over six feet tall, I was forced to choose between bumping knees on the steering wheel or fully extending my arms to reach it, with neither being a desirable option.
- The combination of Nismo-tuned shocks and springs and forged, 19-inch wheels from RAYS makes for a ride that is too firm for the street. On Michigan's sub-par roads, the Nismo Z heaves and hops about with excessive amounts of vertical motion, plenty of impact noises and generally poor manners on all but the smoothest of roads. Unless you have a racetrack in your back yard or live in a land where the roads are made of silk, the Nismo Z is simply too stiff to use as a daily driver.
- The Bridgestone Potenza S001 tires are offset at P245/40R19 in front and P285/35R19 in the back. They offer up plenty of grip in cornering, but produce too much road noise in regular cruising. Like the suspension, their heroics are far outweighed by their annoyances in everyday use.
- With a starting price for the Nismo trim at $43,020, not including a $790 destination charge, the flagship 370Z is already pricey. Replace the anemic, four-speaker stereo with the $1,350 Bose Package like in our tester, and the price climbs further. With the Z sitting in the $44,000 range, it's playing in the wheelhouse of some serious contenders. It's undercut by the more powerful Ford Mustang GT ($39,885 with the Track Package and Recaro Seats), Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE ($40,535 for a 2013 model), and the Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 Track ($33,895). It also faces potential cross-shop pressure on the higher end from the Audi TTS ($48,700) and even the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray ($51,000).
- The biggest challenger to the 370Z Nismo, though, is the regular 370Z Sport. At $33,830, I estimate that it will do 85 percent of what the 370Z Nismo will, but for $10,000 less, and will also be a far more tolerable car to live with on a daily basis. If you find yourself at the Nissan dealer with your eyes on the striking, two-seat Z, just go for the Sport.