– Napa, California
The Nissan Z is still one of the best-looking sports cars you can buy right now, but it doesn’t do anything remarkably well in terms of performance. Yeah it’s fast, but so-so suspension tuning, a hefty curb weight, and just okay gearboxes keep it from being a truly desirable performance vehicle among the ranks of the BMW M2 and Porsche 718 Cayman.
But after a few laps around Sonoma Raceway and some time driving through the hills of Napa Valley, the Z Nismo proves to be the much-needed antidote to the standard Z's ills. With more power, a stiffer chassis, bigger brakes, and better aerodynamics, the Nismo model makes the Z something worth craving. Yes, even without a manual gearbox.
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|Quick Specs||2024 Nissan Z Nismo|
|Engine||Twin-Turbocharged 3.0-Liter Inline-Six|
|Output||420 Horsepower / 384 Pound-Feet|
|0-60 MPH||4.1 Seconds (est.)|
|Base Price||$64,990 + $1,095 Destination|
|On-Sale Date||Fall 2024|
Nissan massaged the twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine to 420 hp and 384 lb-ft, which gives the Nismo model an extra 20 horsepower and 34 pound-feet over the base Z. That may not sound like much, but considering the Z is already one of the most powerful cars in the class, Nissan says the power improvements to the Nismo model were deliberately subtle.
More boost and improved ignition timing technology from the GT-R quash whatever low-end turbo lag lingers in the base Z. Torque peaks at 2,000 rpms (the Supra still spools up faster with a 1,600-rpm peak), and the standard launch control system – which we tested on Sonoma's professional quarter-mile drag strip – sends the Z Nismo into a healthy sprint.
Nissan doesn't publish an official 0-60 time for the Nismo model, but considering the base car gets there in about 4.5 seconds, the Nismo should come in under a few tenths of a second under that mark. Alternatives like the BMW M2 still have a more visceral gut punch off the line, but the Z Nismo focuses most of its energy on mid-range and top-end shove, where it excels.
Minor cooling upgrades and more aerodynamic bodywork improve airflow as the Z Nismo powers through the upper limits of the rev range with remarkable speed. And where the standard Z's boost begins to bottom out near redline, the Nismo's upgraded turbos keep spinning for a powerful plateau until the next shift.
Bigger brakes, meanwhile, ensure the Nismo stops quicker too; measuring 15.0 inches up front and 13.8 inches in the rear, the speed arresters come with four-piston front calipers. The bigger brakes bring the Z Nismo down to speed quickly on the track without feeling too grabby on the road.
Give A Shift
No, there is no manual gearbox; Nissan says most Nismo buyers will be tracking their cars and thus will prefer to set faster lap times with the inherently quicker automatic. That'd be an easier pill to swallow if the nine-speed were tuned to perfection – it's not.
The transmission holds gears for an annoyingly long amount of time in the new Sport Plus drive mode. Even Nissan engineers admit you probably shouldn’t tick to this setting it on public roads. On the track though, the overly aggressive gearbox helps keep the Z Nismo feeling faster; bouncing off redline around the back S-curves of Sonoma is one of the few instances where the high-revving gearbox makes sense. For the road though, keep it in Sport mode and the nine-speed executes shifts with far better timing and precision.
The suspension is damped beautifully for performance driving, even if it is a bit back-breaking – oh the woes of owning a sports car. The Nismo's stiffer dampers, mechanical diff, and improved rigidity (2.5 percent all-around) tame the Z's otherwise unruly suspension, even though the car is about 100 pounds heavier than the Performance model. The Z Nismo is flatter and faster than the base car when attacking a tight turn.
The Z Nismo is flatter and faster than the base car when attacking a tight turn.
The tires deserve a lot of credit here. The standard Dunlop SP Sport MAXX GT600 rubber (255 front and 285 rear) wraps around 19-inch lightweight wheels, and the end result is a huge improvement in grip. The ultra-sticky compound on the Z Nismo is the same as the tires on the GT-R, which makes the Z feel almost as tenacious as its supercar sibling.
The electronic power steering has nice heft and excellent feedback, employing for the first time what Nissan calls its "one-shot" technology. The idea is that Z Nismo drivers only need one fluid movement to enter and exit a turn with no micro-adjustments. And on a track like Sonoma, fluidity is important.
On Turn One – a long, uphill sweeper that bleeds into a blind crest – a light leftward tug on the steering wheel is enough to get Nismo’s nose pointed accurately into the apex, no micro-adjustments required. That same ideology rings true on the road; even on a tight 90-degree turn, the "one-shot" steering felt beautifully precise and didn’t require any fiddling midway through.
Still A Stunner
The Nissan Z is a damn good-looking car and the Z Nismo looks even better. The racey touches applied to this version are subtle, in line with the subtly updated performance, but they give it a more aggressive aesthetic.
Most importantly: Red. The revised front and rear bumpers and side skirts don the Nismo signature red stripe which you’ll find on everything from the former Juke Nismo (RIP) to the hardcore GT-R Nismo. It works here too, with the aggressive shape of the added aerodynamics giving the car a much sportier look in general. And the larger rear spoiler, while designed for increasing downforce, also looks stellar on the backside of the retro-designed coupe.
Even the controversial grille looks better here, featuring a more subdued treatment that sheds the basic waffle-like texture for a sleeker honeycomb pattern for improved aero. There’s also a sleek gloss black accent just below the hood line that houses the signature “Nismo” logo on the left side of the bumper.
And you can get the Z Nismo in any color you want as long as it’s Passion Red or some form of gray, white, or black. The interior isn’t any more colorful with new black Alcantara Recaro sport bucket seats with a red center stripe. Sorry to anyone who likes colors.
At least the Recaros in the Z Nismo are much, much better than the Z’s standard chairs. These thrones provide excellent bolstering for aggressive driving and a great shape for long-term butt and back support, but they still aren’t super adjustable. The all-manual controls only allow for fore and aft movements – you still can’t move the seat up or down.
Nissan even tweaked the gauge cluster to help differentiate the Nismo model from its base brethren with – you guessed it – red graphics and Nismo logos aplenty. It does use the same clunky, outdated infotainment system as the base Z with the bigger 9.0-inch touchscreen, but at least wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard.
Here’s the kicker: The Nissan Z Nismo starts at $66,085 in the US with the destination fee included. That’s $22,780 more than the base Z and $12,780 pricier than the Z Performance – and frankly, it isn’t $12,000 better. To the Z Nismo’s credit, at least, it is one of the more powerful cars in the class while the equivalent Audi and Porsche track products cost closer to $70,000. Still, $66,000 can get you a lot of performance these days.
Regardless, the Nismo badge is exactly what this car needed. The extra kick of power and the retuned suspension means you can really hammer this car hard, be it on a canyon road or on the track. And even though it lacks the manual gearbox that many buyers do want and expect of a car like this (see: Toyota Supra), the thoughtful performance upgrades elsewhere make the Z Nismo a more exciting proposition than the base car.
Gallery: 2024 Nissan Z Nismo First Drive Review
2024 Nissan Z Nismo