It took some getting used to, as I'm used to heel-toeing my own throttle, but once I let the Z help out, I was pleased to be able to focus more acutely on the business of accelerating, braking, and turning. A nice side effect was that I was able to drop the clutch between shifts more quickly and confidently, with less slipping, which leads me to believe that the service life of the clutch may be extended as well.
SynchroRev Match doesn't do much to help the 3.7-liter V-6's tendency to float its revs, so waiting for the tachometer's needle to drop for a perfectly timed upshift will still take a beat or two longer than a downshift. Also, you'll still need to know how to slide into first gear from a stop; this isn't exactly an "Easy Mode" for drivers unfamiliar with manual gearboxes.
And if you dislike the Z's rev-matching (or just want to practice your heel-toe footwork), the system can be disabled with the touch of a button near the shifter.
A less-than-ideal daily driver
Let's start with the sour before getting to the sweet: the 2014 Nissan 370Z Nismo is probably the most uncomfortable ride I've reviewed all year. That said, I expected it to be so and I think it is totally worth the literal pain in my rear.
Cruise along at 60 mph and you'll hear loads of road noise coming from the giant wheel-and-tire combo and firm suspension. The white noise is so loud that you sometimes can't even hear the Z's exhaust note over it, which is a shame. And I may be wrong, but I doubt the standard four-speaker stereo could compete either -- hence, my recommendation of the Bose audio.
The firm ride has plenty of road feel, revealing bumps and imperfections in highways that I previously thought were butter-smooth, and then jarring and jostling my body over the rougher surface streets and back roads around my San Francisco/Oakland stomping grounds. After one admittedly long and particularly rough testing day spent sussing out new driving roads, I was surprised to find my legs sore, battered, and beat up by the Z's stiff seat bolsters.
SynchroRev Match made the Z a bit easier to live with when grinding through rush-hour traffic, but the limited cargo space of the rear hatch, the super-stiff ride, and the limited rear visibility conspire to make this coupe a less-than-ideal daily driver and possibly the worst road trip car you could choose. There, I said it -- but to be honest, I couldn't care less.
Going very fast
The Z is only good at one thing: going fast. Push your foot into the "go-faster" pedal, and all of the Z's other compromises melt away as the scenery around you blurs.
There's a simple brutality to the 370Z Nismo's formula for building its speed: take a great V-6 rear-drive power train and mate it with loads of grippy rubber with a well-sorted suspension between them. There's no sport or comfort mode, no adaptive suspension, complex forced induction, or other gadgetry (discounting the rev-matching). This is modern Japanese muscle.
The increased power of the Nismo's tune is certainly welcome, but the standard Z is already plenty fast, and this Nismo Zed doesn't feel noticeably faster in a straight line than a non-Nismo or a Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 R-Spec. This is probably because the Nismo model is also a few pounds heavier (68 of 'em, to be exact) than the standard model thanks to the bulkier aerodynamics, the additional chassis bracing, and that ridiculous spoiler on the rear deck.
However, the Nismo Z really shines in the corners, where there's so much gosh-darn grip. Go ahead and push it a bit harder in the corner; this car just sticks to the tarmac, tackling corners at a much higher speed than I'd have thought possible with next to no drama. That said, larger bumps and midturn potholes (the kind that you find on poorly maintained, twisty mountain roads) can be a bit of an issue for the Nismo Z's super-stiff suspension, so take care when you're really pushing it lest you find the rear end hopping a few inches laterally midcorner.
You'd think that a 350-horsepower, rear-drive coupe like the Z would be a great car for goofy burnouts and powerslides, but those wide 285s out back just don't want to let go of the road without good reason. This is a good thing; burnouts are for overcompensating high schoolers. Give me gobs of grip and faster cornering speed any day.
The same grip that's good for going faster works to stop the Nismo Z quickly as well, working in tandem with the Z's massive four-piston front brake calipers (and two pistons out back). The real benefit of the upgraded stoppers, brake lines, and using the same brake fluid as the mighty Nissan GT-R will probably be felt at the track, where the Z should be more resistant to brake fade, but I was unable to test this claim.
Fingertip steering feedback has never been the strong suit of this generation of the Nissan Z, and while the Nismo isn't bad in this respect, it is no exception. On the other hand, the steering rack, which hasn't made the jump to electric assist, is nicely weighted, giving the Z a confidence-inspiring point-and-shoot feeling. You can be sure that the front end will go exactly where you point that little red stripe at the top of the steering wheel.
The 2014 Nissan 370Z Nismo earns low marks for its almost complete lack of cabin tech, which is highlighted by an aux-input and a nearly $800 rear-camera option. Tech is the most heavily weighted of our three scoring categories, so even with high marks for performance and moderate marks for design, the Nismo ends up with a middling score. The standard 2014 370Z with available navigation, Bluetooth audio, and USB/iPod connectivity would have earned at least a whole extra star. That doesn't mean that I didn't love this brute, it's just the way the numbers lined up.
I've complained a bit about the Z's comfort, but no one buys a 370Z Nismo with its big spoiler and stiff ride because it's the best car to run errands in, and commute in traffic. You buy it to go fast and it does that one thing very well.
I may be letting my inner car snob show, but if you don't budget regular track meets, or at least autocross events, into your life with the Nismo, you're probably better off with the standard Z's Sport package or, better yet, a Hyundai Genesis 3.8 R-Spec. Both coupes are a bit easier to live with, a lot less expensive, and probably just as quick on your favorite back roads.
If you're ready to throw comfort to the wind for the most hard-core of the Zs, you're looking at a sticker price of $43,020. Add in our equipped options -- the Bose audio, the floormats, the illuminated kick plates, and the rear camera -- and a $790 destination charge to reach our as-tested price of $46,370.
|Model||2014 Nissan 370Z Nismo|
|Power train||3.7-liter V-6, 6-speed manual transmission with SynchroRev Match, viscous limited-slip differential, rear-wheel drive|
|EPA fuel economy||18 city, 26 highway, 21 combined mpg|
|Observed fuel economy||N/A|
|Bluetooth phone support||Optional|
|Disc player||Single-slot CD standard, optional 6-disc in-dash changer|
|MP3 player support||Standard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input|
|Other digital audio||Optional SiriusXM satellite radio|
|Audio system||Optional 8-speaker Bose audio system with 2 subwoofers|
|Driver aids||Optional rear camera|
|Price as tested||$46,370|