If there’s any car out there that should fly the flag for Japanese sports cars - a cult breed in the UK not so long ago - it should really be the Nissan 370Z Nismo.
Ingredients such as a big-hearted 3.7-litre V6, six-speed manual gearbox, rear-wheel drive, uprated suspension, Recaro bucket seats and style upgrades to the Zed’s classic long-nosed, wide-hipped coupe shape scream that it should be a proper, emotive muscle car, and a visceral alternative to super-polished German rivals such as the BMW M235i, Audi TTS and Porsche Cayman.
High hopes, then, but also some very stiff competition.
What’s the 2014 Nissan 370Z Nismo like to drive?
Visceral doesn’t even come close. Very noisy does though. Despite thicker carpets and extra insulation to improve refinement for this face-lift, it still feels like you’re driving a mobile boom-box, with the cacophony of noises alternating from pervasive engine burr and transmission whine at low speeds, through to resonating tyre noise at higher speeds.
A very heavy clutch and a gearshift that’s short-throw, but also graunches and clunks through the cogs only emphasises the sense that the 370Z is something of a dinosaur by modern sports car standards. Yes, you could argue that this kind of blatant mechanical feel and bruising approach is a good thing, but it’s enormously wearing unless you find a road that the 370Z really suits.
Unfortunately those roads are very rare. Even your average winding B-road won’t do, never mind a motorway or urban route, where the Zed Nismo is all hard-work and no reward. You need a specific kind of fast, smooth, winding corner before you discover that there is a modicum of poise and satisfaction to be had from the heavy, consistent steering and tauter suspension.
In tighter bends and quick direction changes, the Nismo feels heavy; while the steering weight is good, it can be tricky to sense whether you’re nearing the limit of grip from the rear tyres.
It’s also unusual to find enough open road to really stretch this motor. It’s a coarse engine that doesn’t feel particularly smooth, and that needs to be stretched well beyond 6000rpm before it hits its stride. That means that most of your time is spent in the gruff dregs of the engine’s rev range, where it's punchy enough but doesn't sound very good.
Still, the standard rev-match is very effective; it blips the throttle for you on downshifts, making it easy to change gear smoothly whether you’re setting a personal best, or just driving to the shops. Having said that, the shift itself requires some serious muscle, and occasional swearing, at low speed.
Ride comfort isn’t too bad for a car of this ilk either, but it's far from comfortable. Undulations make the body bob up-and-down, so it fidgets incessantly around town, and mid-corner bumps unsettle it enough to occasionally make it lose traction, and not in a good way.
What’s the 2014 Nissan 370Z Nismo like inside?
Disappointing, given the heady price tag. While it’s great that you get a big colour screen with sat-nav, Bluetooth, USB-input and a decent Bose sound system, as well as cruise and climate controls, auto lights and wipers, and keyless entry and go, the Nissan still feels cheap for a near-£38k car.
There are swathes of scratchy feeling plastic around the gearstick and handbrake and up around the glovebox area, and plenty of details such as the dated-looking fuel gauge and odd blanking plates on the centre console speak of cost saving.
Having said that, the Alcantara steering wheel is ideal, and the new Recaro seats, while slightly limited in range of movement, are really supportive and comfortable even for long journeys, providing you’re not extremely tall, in which case you might want the seat to go back farther.
No reach-adjustment on the steering wheel, and very awkward manual adjustment controls also mean that it can still be tricky to find a natural-feeling position, despite the deep, part-leather bucket seats.
There’s little storage in the cabin, but for the glovebox and a narrow ledge behind the seats, while the boot is very shallow, so anything chunkier than a standard cabin bag could be a challenge to fit in.
Should I buy one?
You’d be wise not to. We can see how, in isolation, the 370Z Nismo could seem charming - a car that’s brimming with muscle car misbehaviour in a striking package - what you’d actually be doing is confusing hard work and discomfort with good old-fashioned fun.
If you really fancy a muscle car experience, then buy a manual BMW M235i. It’s faster, better handling, more comfortable, sounds great when you want it to and is drastically more refined when you don’t, has room for four, and an interior-finish worthy of its price, which is over £3000 less than the Nissan.
If that isn’t persuasion enough (and it really should be), then there’s the looming presence of the Porsche Cayman and Boxster, both of which have a chassis with a level of precision, cornering ability and grip the Nismo can only dream about, and are both within a few thousand pounds in 2.7-litre guise.
Standard Nissan 370Z models - although 17bhp less powerful - have the redeeming quality of being reasonable value given the performance and desirability inherent in a sports coupe. If you love the 370Z's looks, go for one of those and save yourself £10k.
What Car? says...
Nissan 370Z Nismo
Engine size 3.7 V6 petrol
Price from £37,575
Torque 274lb ft
0-62mph 5.2 seconds
Top speed 155mph
Fuel economy 26.6mpg