First Drive: 2010 Nissan 370Z Nismo simply rocks

2010 Nissan 370Z Nismo – Click above for high-res image gallery

There's no safe way to say it: this blogger just doesn't like the 2010 Nissan 370Z very much. Sure, it's a fine sporty car that goes about its business quickly and competently, but it just leaves me cold. Yes, it can hit 60 mph in 5 seconds, hold 0.99 g on a skid pad and get around a track faster than a Porsche Cayman, but it doesn't rocket to 60 mph in 5 seconds like Wile E. Coyote shot from a greased Acme canon . Nor does it tenaciously hold 0.99 g like a baby possum gripping onto mama during a lightning storm. And yeah, you guessed it, I'd much rather get there a second or two late in the mid-engined Porsche. Or, more appropriately, a 2010 Mustang GT. Long story short, the 370Z is a little dull.

I'm not just saying all this to be contrary or cute. I've personally logged over 1,500 miles in a couple different 370Zs and, to be honest, the experience wasn't much different than the more than 1,500 miles I've traveled in various Infiniti G37s. Not that there's anything wrong with the Infiniti, but the Z should be a sports car, not a luxury tourer. That's why it was such a breath of fresh air – both literal and otherwise – when we got our hands on the 370Z Roadster. It was like going from black and white to color. Finally, the new Z was fun, engaging – thrilling even. Trouble was, we knew the Nismo was coming and had that stuffy roof. Yeah, we'd go fast for a week, but I feared being ultimately underwhelmed. Well guess what? Not so with Nismo.

Photos copyright ©2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

Meet the 2010 Nissan 370Z Nismo, far and away the best Z ever . This is the car enthusiasts have been hoping for ever since we learned that Nissan would be chopping four inches out of the Z's wheelbase and bumping the displacement by 0.2-liters over the outgoing 350Z. But the Nismo's even more than that. Really, the Nismo is the sports car the 370Z should have been right out of the box, but for various reasons isn't. One of those being that marketers have to hit their price points. Meaning that if the Z's competition (i.e. Mustang GT) sells for less than $30,000, Nissan has to sell something just as cheaply. This leads to all sorts of ironies, like oil coolers, big brakes and LSDs being options on supposed "sports cars." But the other reason is that the Nismo isn't for everyone. In fact, you probably wouldn't like it. Us? We love it.

Before we get to why we're so smitten, let's talk about what $40,000 gets you. On the outside you get a new, low-riding front clip that's missing the fish-fangs, a Porsche GT3-look spoiler, rear brake vents and 19-inch forged Nismo wheels. Inside, you get aggressive-look red stitching and cloth (hurray!) Nismo seats that are devoid of power adjustments. Trust us, you'll live. There's also a Nismo plaque on the door sill. So far, no big deal, but underneath is where the real magic happens. Thanks to an ECU re-flash and thicker-diameter H-pipe exhausts (as opposed to the X-pipe in the standard), the Nismo makes 18 more horsepower (for a total of 350 hp) and 4 extra torques (276 lb-ft). The Nismo also gets all new shocks, springs and sway bars, plus an LSD, lots of coolers and upgraded brakes. Add it all up and the sum is flippin' spectacular.

First of all, just puttering around the block you notice that the Nismo
feels like a sports car. You have to shove the stick into gear. The linkage is finicky – maybe even a touch temperamental. It creaks, too. In fact, the whole car is constantly groaning, clanking and straining – exactly the way big brother GT-R does when driven slow. In the age we find ourselves in – where engineers are nose-led by marketers to please focus groups and remove all NVH – it's refreshing to get vehicles with an "imperfection" or two. The Nismo hasn't been sterilized, homogenized or pasteurized – i.e. it's raw, and most definitely bad for you. Well, your driver's license at any rate.

Then there's the ride. If Nissan would have named it the "370Z Kidney Smasha" they wouldn't have been far off. Brutal, punishing, like roller blading over a diamond patch – you get the idea. And the road noise is immense. On top of that, you're seated just inches above an exhaust pipe, so besides the mechanical roar and buzzing of the 3.7-liter VQ, you can actually hear the spent gases coming out the back. Maybe the best part is that after the brakes, clutch and fluids have all been stressed and superheated by a lively romp across your favorite road, the Nismo
smells like a sports car. To imitate our New York friends: there's no Infiniti to be found here, son.

We're sure because of its extra grunt that the Nismo's a tick or two faster than the plain old 370Z in all the relevant performance metrics. Long story short: on paper there's not much difference. But the two feel worlds apart. Aside from straight line speed, the new spine-snapping suspension setup trumps the regular car in terms of capability. With the regular coupe, you just sort of absently go about your business until you reach the car's limit and put a few wheels in the dirt. But the Nismo gives you options. Should you be on your best SCCA/NASA behavior, you can accomplish all your braking in a straight line, rheostat the wheel to the desired angle and sit in amazement at how such a heavy car (relatively speaking) carries so much speed so smoothly around a corner.

But maybe you've been watching too much
Top Gear and what you really want is to toss the car hard into a corner, hoping to induce some smoky oversteer and let the rear wheels power you on out. Not a problem, as somehow the limited slip differential is able to overcome the gross amount of inherent stickum and dorifto dawg the rear end around a bend. Just a little, but it's enough. Let's say you want a third path – some unique combination of techniques (in my case, trail braking and incompetence) – the Nismo's good with that, too. Very few cars exhibit a better combination of manners and capabilities on tortured and twisted roads, and if they do they either cost a whole lot more or have names like Miata or RX-8 R3. But even still, handling prowess isn't what makes the Nismo so special.

It took us seven days and more than 750 miles with the 2010 Nissan 370Z Nismo to finally put into words just what makes this brute so dang special, even though we sensed why after a few miles. You know how you always read car reviews that say stuff like, "Even though [whatever] can hoof it around the Nürburgring in less time that it takes you to blink, it's equally happy just limping around town in second gear?" Well the Nismo is totally
unhappy to limp around town in second gear. In fact, it's miserable and it lets you know just how displeased it is via the aforementioned grunts, groans and clanks. They're like a warning chime, "Please sir, you're not flogging me hard enough."

And it's not only that. We found it impossible to be in the Nismo and be behind another car. You simply have
to pass them. Likewise, it's impossible to obey posted speed limits. The Nismo won't let you. You have to push it, step on it, abuse it – the Nismo forces your hand (and foot) into constant acts of hoonage. And the world, or at least the roads, are a better place for it.

So says us. And we know we're in the minority, but we need cars that demand to be punched in the face, that leave their driver with no choice but to go for that extra tenth while shedding that extra second and melting more rubber. We believe they're called sports cars. While sadly a dying breed in Japan these days, the 2010 Nissan 370Z Nismo fits the description perfectly.

Photos copyright ©2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

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