THE PROS & CONS
- What’s best: Rear-wheel drive goodness with all-motor V6 power and a manual transmission as your only choice. Driving bliss personified.
- What’s Worst: Not civilized, by any means.
- What’s Interesting: Hydraulic power steering, if you can believe it.
I am very nervous for the Nissan 370Z. Scratch that; since it’s not really a sentient being – although many car people (myself included) may argue otherwise, citing the way Memphis Raines in Gone in 60 Seconds tenderly talks to his treasured Shelby on numerous occasions – I am very nervous for the people who love driving cars like this, again myself included.
I am also nervous for the legions – legions – of Nissan Z-car fans; there are lots of these, so many so that I am nervous for the Renault/Nissan/Mitsubishi/whatever else execs, should they do what I’m nervous they’re going to, and that’s kill the Z-car line. Do that, and those legions of Z fans are going to go bat-Z crazy and descend on them in their modified war machine Z cars.
Why the foreshadowing of doom? Well, I’ve attended many international auto shows over the last few years – many since this latest Z-car was revealed, way back in ’06 – and have heard hide nor hair of a 390Z, or whatever the next Zed may be. Of course, when it comes to the RNMWe alliance, we’ve heard plenty about how they plan on releasing a zillion EV cars by 2022 or whatever it is, but nothing about the next in this long line of Nissan models that, for now, seems to have reached a bit of a tipping point/climax with what you see here: the 2019 Nissan 370Z NISMO, so named for Nissan’s motorsport division, and so very spectacular.
So let’s enjoy it while we can, then, shall we, as part of the last bastion of the affordable performance-and-little-else car: RWD, front-engined, two doors, manual transmission, hydraulic power steering. So, a perfect fit for the Hunter S. Thompson quote at the top of this page.
It starts with the body mods; more specifically, it starts with the bodykit, which, while taken down a notch since the last NISMO in the showy department, is still very present: the rear spoiler is now smaller and of the ducktail variety, but the flared rear fenders leave little to the imagination. The NISMO version is only an inch wider with a 0.6” wider track than the standard 370Z, but it looks a whole lot more than that. Considering that since the 370Z is not a very long car overall, it looks almost as wide as it is long, and has a menacing stance that would make a Porsche Cayman nervous. I couldn’t stop looking at it from the rear and rear ¾ views; heck, I couldn’t stop looking at it from most angles. How Nissan has managed to keep such an older car look so, well, new is a feat in itself. The standard black wheels and red striping sure do help – what a package.
Inside, it’s somewhat less enamouring; it has its eye-catching details such as two-tone suede/leather seats and racing-style wheel topped with a red centering band, but it’s mostly blacks and greys in here. Blacks and greys, plus a bunch of plastic panels that you just know are going to get scratched as soon as you get out after coming home from the dealership. The shift knob is a particular letdown; it’s big, bulbous and cheap-feeling and you just know most NISMOers are going to be hitting the aftermarket just as quickly as they scratch the lower door cards. You gotta love the big tach (that says “REV” on it – nice), though, as well as the three gauges crowning the centre stack; there’s just something about driving and looking out over those that has you feeling that much more ensconced by the cockpit, like you’re sat in a proper racing car. Far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing wrong with that.
It’s funny I mention “ensconced” here, because gauges or not, you don’t need much to help you feel more ensconced past what’s provided by the Recaro seats, a NISMO specialty that comes standard. They are incredibly snug, and they will have the wider-hipped among us feeling a little sore after long drives. As I would soon find out during my test they provide a bit of a preview of what the NISMO’s all about.
Like the Subaru STI, it is not for the faint of heart, this thing. It’s not all that civilized, it’s loud and it makes no bones about being one of the purest examples of a bare bones sports car that you can buy new today.
You find out as soon as you set off that the clutch is heavy, and while the gear lever action is mostly good, getting into third either from 2nd or 4th is not something I felt I ever really mastered after my week with the car. It’s a bit sticky around that gear’s gate for some reason, and unfortunately, the only time it really bothered me was when I was doing what the NISMO does best: hustling down one of my favorite mountain roads, in a glorious frenzy of all-motor mechanical goodness.
For ’19, the NISMO maintains the SynchroRevMatch system it’s always had, whereby the throttle is automatically blipped as you downshift, for smoother transitions and less power loss during shifting. Some have taken issue with this, but I feel that’s mostly because it’s hard to master the perfect downshift and since this does that for you, those that have practiced for years are a little…miffed. Plus, it can be deactivated by pressing the button marked “S-Mode” to the right of the shifter. I do like how activating S-mode takes a quick press of the button; if you want to deactivate it, you have to hold it down for a little longer. Because you don’t really want to deactivate it, right? Cheeky.
Power for the NISMO is rated at 350 hp and 276 lb-ft of torque, which all gets to the wheels nice and smoothly thanks to the naturally-aspirated 3.7L VQ V6 that we’ve grown to love over the years. The lack of any kind of forced induction also makes for a pleasingly addictive exhaust note (as does some special NISMO exhaust tuning), as well as an induction wail that I can’t remember hearing so clearly this side of a Shelby GT500. This really is the perfect engine for a sports car like this; there are more powerful turbocharged options currently serving duty in the likes of the Infiniti Q50 sedan and Q60 coupe, but I don’t think I’d option my 370Z that way even if I had the choice. Sure; there are times where you start to feel the engine straining a little and you really have to take it close to redline to wring the most out of it, but the way it interacts with the driver is just so perfect that those foibles are easily overlooked.
Helping in that cause is the steering and handling. I didn’t love the heavy steering (hydraulically assisted here, and pretty much nowhere else in the car world today) while trundling ‘round town, but as I started to tackle the twisties, I knew I would have it no other way. The NISMO conversion means sticky Dunlop SP Sport MAXX GT600 rubber, increased roll stiffness, higher spring and stabilizer bar rates as well as all manner of chassis tuning. Somehow, it feels athletic without being overly jarring when the goings get slower and bumpier, leaving the heavy clutch and steering (and those seats, I guess) as the only real harbingers of its no-nonsense performance attitude when in town. On the open road, though, it feels perfectly dialled in, the steering wheel writhing a little in your hands and letting you know that you’re at the helm of one of the all-time great handling sports cars, engineered by folks that have had decades of great handlers to draw from.
Oh, there’s tech; it has a back-up cam (actually my car had two: the traditional version displayed on the central infotainment screen, plus a secondary cam appearing within the rear view mirror, a $1,232 standalone option), Bluetooth streaming audio – even auto climate control but…really? Is that what you’re here for? The music, maybe, but come ON. Skip the computers, and let me just enjoy that granular, focused, purebred performance. Nissan continues to nail all that with this car, and they’d better be making another one.
I, of course, am nervous that they won’t.
2019 Nissan 370Z NISMO
BODY STYLE: Two-door sports coupe
DRIVE METHOD: Front-mounted motor, rear-wheel drive.
ENGINE: 3.7L V6; Power: 350hp; Torque: 276 lb-ft
TRANSMISSION: Six-speed manual
CARGO CAPACITY: 197 litres
FUEL ECONOMY (EST): 12.6/9.3 L/100 km city/highway
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