Considering the motorsports pedigree of Nismo, which includes racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the Batman-inspired DeltaWing, Nissan’s performance arm never enjoyed the same mainstream respect as Mercedes-Benz’s AMG or BMW’s M division. And no wonder: Instead of producing sports cars on steroids, it slapped together mild tuning packages on humble rides like the Nissan Frontier. Thankfully, it realized that sprucing up trucks and compacts wouldn’t cut it, and gave the 2014 Nissan 370Z a flashy makeover. But did the street-racer visuals match what’s within?
Well, no—at least, not enough to burn an extra 10 grand.
What’s deceptive is that it looks menacing enough to slay lesser Porsches, compliments of its park-bench sized spoiler and a nose sloped like a Shinkansen bullet train. A bit too loud for my taste, but I may be in the minority; young valets were awestruck, and Mustang GTs buzzed around car like angry hornets trying to drag race me at stoplights. I wished Nissan focused more on the cabin instead; the Nismo-embroidered seats felt stock, and the red-accents couldn’t redeem the sea of glossy plastics that belong in a Versa.
Yet the race-inspired center yellow stripe on the leather-wrapped wheel suggested that I should judge it more for its performance. Sure, it’s a delightful car that tapped into the inner hooligan within, with a rear end that loved rotating with a healthy stab of gas pedal. But the same could be said for the standard 370Z. The rev-matching shifts with the manual were nice, but there’s an odd tug on the gear shifter whenever hitting the gas, and the clutch pedal feels too springy when letting off. Although the slight bump in horsepower from 332 to 350 gave a more lively response, it felt like gains attainable by bolt-ons. Plus, the unrelenting raspy drones sounded like the engine was trying to whip up a mean smoothie.
The modest performance gains also came at cost to practicality. The tuned suspension lacked refinement, and it’d bounce like a horse carriage on highways where other sports cars sailed through, making it ill-suited as a daily driver.
In the end, the $46,370 Nismo felt more like BMW M-Sport than M in the scope of upgrades. Not all is lost for the performance brand though: its hopped-up Juke is fun to throw around while still being affordable, and its upcoming Nissan GT-R purportedly hauls from 0-60 mph in 2 seconds flat. Hopefully, that means the best is yet to come.