Still no delicate sporting masterstroke, but neither should it be. A muscular, charismatic and fast GT with much improved road manners

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This is the increasingly coherent and self-possessing Nissan 370Z, in flagship Nismo specification.

You’ll remember that as a toe-dipping exercise before really establishing its Nismo performance sub-brand, Nissan gave its now seven-year-old V6 rear-drive coupe an official Nismo-branded motorsport makeover.

On a faster, well-sighted, flowing A-road meanwhile, the Nismo finds its niche. That tremulous V6 conjures real pace where you can really let it rev

The result can best be described as a momentary identity crisis. It involved some fairly serious chassis and body stiffening and some crass-looking aftermarket-catalogue body addenda, and frankly gave this simple muscle coupé rather too much performance attitude for its own good.

Roll on twelve months from that first attempt and, following the wider establishing of the Nismo brand, the opportunity’s been taken to shave some of the misplaced edge off the range-topping Zed. Not that Nissan will admit as much; according to the brochures, this Nismo is the most exciting and dynamic Z-car there has ever been (blah blah blah).

The truth, however, is that the outgoing Nismo version was too noisy, too stiff-legged and too extravagantly bespoilered to fit the bill. It served its purpose in as much as it proved the concept’s sales potential; half of all 370Zs sold in the UK are now Nismos. But as a road car, it needed refinement in more ways than one.

This 370Z Nismo has thicker carpets and better wheelarch insulation – both moves to dampen down the road roar that earlier examples suffered.

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It’s got new Recaro bucket seats, too – and outwardly, a more subtle but only marginally less purposeful-looking bodykit, where unique front and rear bumpers and side sills – plus a much less aggressive rear wing – replace the old, apparently do-it-yourself styling add-ons. The other standard equipment includes bi-xenon headlights, automatic wipers, climate control, a Bose sound system and Nissan's Connect Premium infotainment system complete with a 7.0in touchscreen display, sat nav, Bluetooth, DAB radio and a 9.4GB hard drive. 

Under the skin, the body braces and upgrades to the braking system and powertrain applied to the last Nismo are carried over, but both spring and damper rates have been reduced. The car’s Rays 19in wheels are also half an inch wider on the rear axle than the ones offered as an option on the standard 370Z.

Weighty controls and a flat, short-travel, heavy-feeling ride are the familiar character traits of this car at low speed. The gearbox retains its substantial, punchy feel, and the steering offers some contact patch feel – although not quite as much as you’d like.

The column lacks any telescoping adjustment at all, and the footwells are shallow enough that the long-legged probably won’t find the driving position perfect. For most, it’ll be good enough.

Show the car a bumpy, twisting lane and you’ll quickly become aware that this isn’t a true sports car. The wheel control isn’t dexterous enough, and the damping still too digital to give the car anything like the poise and delicacy of a Porsche Cayman, even a Toyota GT86.

Never are you more aware of the Zed’s weight and bullish temperament than when the chassis attempts to pummel the road flat rather than flowing over it. That said, there’s tolerable compliance here if you moderate your speed – which is progress.

On a faster, well-sighted, flowing A-road meanwhile, the Nismo finds its niche. That tremulous V6 conjures real pace where you can really let it rev, where before it had failed to blow you away sprinting between tighter bends from lower revs.

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The chassis and steering also take to smoother, gentler curves more naturally. Blending in the throttle teases tangible balance out of the handling, and letting the engine linger at higher crank speeds – while it could shake the screws out of your wristwatch, such is the vibration it sends through the controls – at least makes it feel like you’re getting your money’s worth.

It’s debatable whether you should pull the trigger and buy one. At nearly £38k, you might say it’s a fool’s errand to even try to find the performance value in a 370Z Nismo – especially when the standard car’s fully £10k cheaper. Considerably better sports cars are on offer at the Nismo’s level.

But perhaps that’s missing the point. Because in tweaking this flagship Zed as it has, Nissan itself has had to recognise that this isn’t really an out-and-out sports car, but more of an effusive, big-hearted, sporting GT – something we suspect Zed-car devotees have known since day one.

Having done that, it’s finally allowed the 370Z the freedom to breathe and just do what it does, and it does it as well as any of its forebears have.


Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Nissan 370Z Nismo First drives