Do NOT read this review if you don’t like to have fun driving. If you do, you might decide it’s time.
And by fun, I mean feel the thrill behind the wheel as well as when you pull up into a valet, parking lot or driveway and turn heads when you get out of a car.
Because that is what the Nissan 370Z Nismo is all about. Thrill.
I had the opportunity to drive the 370Z for a week, and I wanted to be behind the wheel every possible moment. The magic of the 370Z is the thrill of a performance car at a very affordable price: For about $40,000, every experience in this car is fun and engaging; you ride low to the ground, the engine is powerful (350 horsepower) and even small curves at 25 MPH feel like you’re on a race track. And the engine sounds louder than it does in most cars; the stick shift version has a ‘rev matching’ feature which revs the engine a bit when you downshift or put it in neutral, so you hear and feel the engine, even when slowing down.
During the week we had the 370Z, my family had to make certain compromises (“Sorry, I can’t take the kids to school; I don’t have room for them both in my car;” “Sorry, you’ll have to go to Costco, I don’t have room in my car,”). And at the end, saying goodbye to the 370Z was sort of like saying goodbye to your favorite vacation ever: gut-wrenching sadness.
A legacy of hotness, and one that put Nissan on the road to popularity
If you were around in the 1970’s you might remember when the Z series was first introduced. Nissan was called Datsun then, known for small, inexpensive, fuel efficient cars that were sort of like gnats flying in the face of Chevy, Ford and Chrysler: trying to threaten their market but not making a huge impact.
Then, Datsun’s 240Z changed the game; suddenly that row in parking lots that displayed American muscle cars like Mustangs, Camaros, Corvettes and Chargers was graced with this Euro-looking, bullet shaped sports car with a number for a name: The Datsun 240Z. And Japanese suddenly became sexy.
The perfect toy, for weekends or every day
The first thing I had to think about the week I drove the 370Z was about the practicality of a two-seater. This is a choice that can impact what is in your driveway: A two-door sports car for a family of four is a toy, not purely a transportation choice. And while some people are willing to drop a year’s salary on a four-wheeled toy, for most of us, that’s not practical (or makes us forgo other toys, like a Saint Laurent bucket bag or a pair of Tiek’s ballet flats—which, by the way, are perfect for driving a sports car).
But the price of the Nissan 370Z Nismo starts at about $41,000 (the base model starts at $29,000), compared with the Audi TTS, which starts at$51,000, the Lexus RC-F at $62,000 and the Porsche 911 at about $89,000 (but tops out near $200,000).
What is Nismo? It’s all about the drive
We took a short ride in the Nissan 370Z Nismo recently; here’s a video from that ride, and also a tour of the car:
Many of Nissan’s models come in a “Nismo” trim; Nismo is shorthand for Nissan Motor Sports, the competition arm of the automaker. You can get a Nismo trim for a few thousand dollars more and make every trip to the market feel like a a moment at the Grand Prix, even if you never go over the speed limit. While Nismo-trimmed models are designed to get the most performance from the engine, its tighter suspension, steering, special brakes, racing seats and interior details are designed to thrill. Nismo feels like a race car.
The 370Z Nismo brings the track feel to the average road: Cornering is tight and precise, which means even turning into your cul-de-sac at 20 MPH you can accelerate rather than brake while making a near perfect 90-degree turn.
The thrill of feeling the road and the thrust of the engine
When you accelerate onto the highway, over a hill or through a turn, you feel the road and the thrust of the engine, even if you’re not having your own little “Fast and Furious” moment (which, ahem, we never do).
Put a 6-speed manual in the picture (this is what I drove), and the experience takes you even closer to road, which becomes not just a path to your destination, but a challenge to be taken and won. Behind the wheel, you own the road.
Of course, if automatic is your thing, that can be fun too; we didn’t get to try out the automatic with paddle shifters, but the 6-speed was so much fun to drive, the paddle shifter option must be fun, too.
Spacious for such a small car
The 370Z is a coupe, so by definition, it doesn’t have a ton of interior space, though Nissan seemed to carve out every possible inch. The interior is designed to keep you snug in the seats and your stuff tucked away so nothing is flying around the cabin while you are challenging the road.
Some clever storage details make this possible including the roomy cargo space under the hatch and a nice little shelf behind the seats that was perfect—perfect!— for a handbag. Frankly, I wish every car had a shelf just like it. There is also a small ‘envelope’ box perfect for storing a papers, phone or a tablet behind the passenger’s seat, and while there’s only one cupholder, there are spaces in the door panels for water bottles. Last, there’s a small compartment in the arm rest, perfect for a phone and a few other things.
One thing to consider about the small cabin, though, is it can be hard to see out the back of the car. The ‘pillars’ that hold up the roof and the slope of the hatchback make visibility low. The rear view camera takes a lot of the guessing out of backing up, and blind spot monitors are a must. The model we drove didn’t have them, but I would insist on blind spot monitors if I bought this car.
Technology that is nicely tucked away, too
The 370Z’s interior focus is “race car,” all the way. So things like navigation and infotainment had to be integrated in a way that doesn’t intrude on the race car feel, and Nissan did a nice job of this. The small-ish touch screen offered navigation and radio, driver feedback and customizable settings. Driving gauges, including the tachometer, speedometer and fuel level are squarely framed in front of the steering wheel. In fact, the steering wheel and gauges are a singular module, so when you adjust the steering wheel up or down, the gauges move along with it; this way you never block your gauge view with the wheel (this can happen in other cars).
Climate and radio controls can also be controlled with buttons on the center console, so when you’re shifting gears and trying to change the station, you can easily and intuitively push a button without having to consult the touch screen. In fact, you can just use the screen to set your stations, then use the preset buttons to select stations without taking your eyes off the road.
Great Bose sound system, but listening to the engine is more satisfying
Last, just to enhance the pure feel of a sports car, you can install your own speakers or sound system: inside the arm rest are A/V ports that let you hook up your own tunes, just in case the premium sound system isn’t enough.
Though, much to my daughter’s chagrin, we didn’t spend a lot of time listening to the sound system in the 370Z. I picked her up at school that first day, and when she got into the car, she immediately started to tune to the pop radio station. I scolded her, “No, listen to the sound of the engine.” We are buffeted from our engine sounds in cars these days, but being this close to the road and the rhythm of shifting through the gears are a treat. She relaxed back into her seat and let the thrust and precision of the 370Z carry her home.
What We Loved
- Thrilling drive experience
- Smart key
- Nicely edited infotainment technology
- 6 speed manual shift
- Nismo trim includes Alcantara leather seat trim on the racing seats and a suede steering wheel
- ‘Rev matching’ gives a throaty roar when downshifting
- Roomy hatchback (with room for luggage!)
- Perfect place to store a handbag
- Bottle holders in the door panels
What you Need to Know
- 18MPG city/26 highway
- Two passenger car
- One USB port and one cupholder
- Driver and passenger seat adjustments are manual dials
- Blind spot monitors are a must
- Nismo trim level is the top of the 370Z line
- Low to the ground, so it can be hard to get in and out of (especially in a skirt and heels)
- Price of the model we drove: $46,440
Disclosure: Nissan loaned us the 370Z Nismo for our test drive; any opinions and thoughts are all our own.