Those looking to spend about $60,000 on performance motoring have never had it better. There’s considerable choice at this price point – sixty grand can buy a properly diverse set of new wheels. All-paw hatches like the Volkswagen Golf R and Ford Focus RS join more muscly options like the Ford Mustang GT and, for a little while longer, the Holden Commodore SS V Redline, while pure options like the Mazda MX-5 RF or Toyota 86 leave plenty of spare change leftover, without short-changing on thrills. But that same $60,000 can now buy an altogether more unique Japanese sports car: the 2017 Nissan 370Z NISMO.
To be honest, it was almost surprising to find out that the regular 370Z – a car that debuted to the world in 2008 – is still kicking. However, the arrival of a pureblood NISMO variant is, indeed, something to get excited about. Like AMG is to Mercedes and STI is to Subaru, NISMO are the real deal. They substantially alter donor Nissans, upping the engine outputs, reconfiguring the suspension and brakes, and swapping in more focussed and aggressive aesthetics.
And so they’ve done here. The new NISMO trim ($61,490) is the fastest and meanest of today’s Nissan Z-cars, and it sits atop a repriced, three-tier 370Z lineup that now starts under fifty grand. That’s not too bad for a 245kW, 3.7-litre V6 in the basic, six-speed manual coupe; skip the $2,500 auto and the (admittedly good-looking) $11,000 convertible option. The rational choice here is between the $49,990 coupe or the properly-ballsy NISMO ($61,490), which sees the wick turned up by 8kW and 8Nm to 253kW and 371Nm. But the bump in output is probably the smallest difference the $11,500 jump to NISMO territory makes: the real change is underneath, where the 370Z NISMO’s chassis finally feels planted controllable. Firmer springs, harder damping and wide, grippy Dunlop SP Maxx Sport rubber keeps the NISMO planted where the basic car more easily gets the jitters. And the NISMO aesthetic is unmissable: the clean lines of the standard are cluttered with new aero, huge new exhaust outlets are subbed in, and red accents are found inside and out.
But before we get into all that, a bit of history. The 370Z is the current iteration of Nissan’s sporty Z-car lineage that traces back to the Datsun 240Z of 1969. The Z-cars play second fiddle in the Nissan lineup only to the GT-R supercar – a NISMO edition of the ballistic GT-R launched here earlier in the year, priced at $299,000. While the current Z’s 2008 vintage dates it on paper, it’s held up better than you’d expect a nine year old car to have done so. The looks, in particular, remain fresh and exciting – the fastback profile and lunging stance really work, especially in NISMO form.
Inside, the button-laden cabin does age this car, but quality materials and a good driving position mean the basics are taken care of. What the 370Z needed was that price cut to acknowledge its age vis-a-vis its rivals. The 370Z NISMO model is new, but the coupé and convertible underneath it in the range have had their prices cut between $4,940 and $7,440. Nissan are hoping this will revive slow sales, and it should. The 370Z is a fun car to drive, it packs a solid feature set and, despite its age, it’s the best Nissan product on sale today, barring the insane GT-R.
Nissan says they’ve found two broad groups interested in the 370Z NISMO. They’re targeting on one hand younger car enthusiasts that might otherwise go for an 86 or WRX, and on the other, dads who no longer need practicality. Nissan boldly ventures that the former demographic might even be considering an Audi TT. Certainly, opting for a relatively little-known Nissan coupe over any of those options is a bold move, but after a day’s hard driving across Queensland’s stunning D’Aguilar range, I think the 370Z ought to be a contender for these people. It’s not a bad looker and it’s got plenty of stuff, but that’s not the point. The 370Z – and especially the NISMO – is a salute to a form of motoring that won’t be around for long. A naturally-aspirated, big-block 3.7-litre V6 that loves to rev, driving the rear wheels alone through a six-speed short-shift manual: that’s an endangered species if I ever saw one. Almost too thirsty and dirty for modern emissions regs, the 370Z NISMO is an enjoyable antidote to the 2.0-litre turbocharged engines that will continue their path to monopolising the lower-cost performance segment.
Key specs (as tested)
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