Which is the better track car – Nissan 370Z® NISMO® or an older modified 350Z?
Updated March 25, 2014
- Sexy body kit and wheels
- World-class brakes
- Pure driving joy
- Terrible blind spots in the rear
- Terrible thrashing engine sounds
- Shifter vibrates like a weed-whacker
- A ride you’re willing to put up with for track day fun
We’ve been in love with Nissan’s Z-cars since our awkward years in high school. Unforgettable was the neighbor put his shiny white, gently-used ‘71 240z up for sale in his front yard. When we stopped to look and expressed a keen interest, he threw us the keys and said, “Give her a try and bring her back tomorrow.” We never could get that car, but that driving experience changed our lives forever.
Fast forward an undisclosed number of years and while we now have the means to purchase a sports car, family responsibilities dictate some restraint in the need-for-speed department. After a compiling a very short short-list, a new 350Z was purchased in 2007.
If you’re currently in the market looking for a new sports car in the $35k range, you’ll know the choices are limited. In fact it’s not much of a list at all when you define your sports car as having only two doors, only two seats, quick and… oh yeah… sexy! This is where Nissan has been carrying the torch for the truly affordable sports car for over forty years. The quintessential Nissan Z.
Of course styling is subjective, so here’s our subjective opinion: Close up there are some strange styling cues like the bug-eyed headlight bulges, the ‘fangs’ on the original 370Z’s front fascia, and the 3-inch vertical flat sheet-metal at the edge of the wheel arches. But from afar, it looks much better. We must say the 370Z® NISMO® body kit is great. This car looks fast sitting still. For 2014, the lower portion of the body kit is painted charcoal metallic grey along with the mirrors, spoiler top, and the sexiest wheels we have ever seen on a factory car. Yes, ever!
The wheels are an enthusiast’s dream with a modern dramatic concave shape that brings the spokes from the recessed center hubs out to the very edge of the outer rim, making them look even bigger than the same 19-inch of other designs. They are nice and wide too, at 19×9.5 front and 19×10.5 rear, yet there’s still room under the fenders to go much wider if you crave ridiculously aggressive rubber.
Other NISMO-specific touches are found inside with Nismo stitched seats, red stitching in the leather, some red on the center gauge face and a racer-inspired red leather ‘north-pointer’ built into the steering wheel. For 2014, Nissan spec’d Alcantara material around the hand-holds. We were really looking forward to that wheel, but after driving it for a week we prefer leather for bare-hands. The Alcantara was slippery and had to keep a firm grip on the wheel that became tiring for our hands.
The seats are all manual and we found them very uncomfortable compared to the 350Z. It’s worth noting that the headrests are very far back – presumably to make room for your racing helmet. Overall, we didn’t care for the interior. The waterfall-like sweeping dash that started in the 300ZX (Z32) fits our preference for interior aesthetics. The 370Z looks like you’re sitting in a bowl with a bulbous instrument panel and center console sticking out. Yes, the materials feel better, but we didn’t care for the presentation.
Engine and Drivetrain:
Under the hood, the 370Z NISMO models benefit from a tidy red-painted engine cover, reinforced three-point strut brace, and 18 more ponies over standard Z’s 332 for an even 350 horsepower. However, our lightly modified 350Z still felt faster than the 370Z. Maybe we’re biased, but the 370Z feels like it puts the power to the ground much better than our 350Z. The clutch also has a much better feel with a compound leverage that is heavier in the initial travel, but lightens up when you have the clutch pedal fully depressed. Overall, a nice upgrade.
Also, the final drive is a bit shorter than the 350Z. It feels like a better car than the 350Z. Oh, and the rev-matching is just a game changer. Best thing to happen to a manual transmission since syncros. It’s not just drivetrain improvements that make this car shine.
Chassis and Braking:
The real differences between the 350Z and the 370Z are in chassis rigidity, handling, and braking improvements. The 370Z is just in another league from the 350Z in these areas. Gone is the dreaded brake-pad knock-back of the 350Z Brembo brakes. Stiffer, better quality wheel bearings, larger Akebono brakes, and a better mounting position for the calipers really brings the 370Z’s braking to a world-class level – a welcome improvement over the 350Z’s brake system.
Editor’s Note: If you plan to race, see your local tuner for some fade-resistant pads and a shot of Motul 600 performance brake fluid to keep fade completely away. Another must-have upgrade for 370Zs used on the track is an additional oil cooler. Otherwise the oil overheats and the car goes into “limp” mode after a few hard laps.
Chassis and Suspension:
Chassis-wise, Autech no longer feels the need to pull the car from the assembly line and add additional spot-welds to stiffen/reinforce the chassis for the NISMO version like they did with the 350Z. And you still get those Autech chassis dampers with the NISMO version. Handling feel is much better. The wheelbase has been shortened by four inches and you sit closer to the rear wheels, which lets you feel what the rear end is doing. This results in the driver feeling like part of the car versus being along for the ride. Skidpad numbers are a big improvement compared with the 350z.
Keep in mind the 370Z suspension components were developed during their experimentation and resounding success with the GTR. Nissan scrapped most of the 350Z’s 60-plus suspension patents and borrowed technology from the GTR’s design. That’s great for the track, but if your roads are as torn up as the ones in the California bay area, that suspension might knock your kidneys out. It is a bit unnerving to take bumpy corners at speed. The suspension is the stiffest factory suspension we’ve felt in any car.
On smooth pavement or a track, it’s great. Anyone who drives a NISMO Z has made a conscious decision to give up all the electronics, leather, nav, etc and put up with a punishing ride on the street just to have a car that rewards them on the track, which likely accounts for 3% of their total driving. Would we make the same choice? Absolutely! There’s something about this car devoid all of the electronics, whose sole purpose is to allow you to enjoy a twisty back-road. It’s just pure joy.
Is the NISMO model worth it?
That’s debatable. Take a 370Z Sport ($33,000) and add on the NISMO bits for an additional $13,000. The NISMO tweaks are all very cool, but many seem superficial in the big picture. Stickers? Red stitching? NISMO logos? NISMO branded exhaust that’s no louder than stock. Really? The 18 horsepower increase barely keeps up with the increased weight of the NISMO add-ons.
Here is what you get for $13,000 that matters: You get the sexiest wheels ever made for a car in a size and style you’ll keep, a very nice body kit, suspension to glue you to the road and brakes that affect the earth’s rotation and bulge your eyes out. But if you are going to spend $13,000 on modifying a car, do you want one that Nissan modified for you or would you rather personalize your own, suited to your tastes?
Power. Sure it’s powerful, but Nissan’s Z-car has not had a substantial improvement in 0-60 times since the twin-turbo 300zx in 1990. That’s 24 years of little acceleration improvement. The Z is more about a well-balanced sports car than outright power, but the muscle cars and hot hatches and sedans are now surpassing the Z in acceleration and that’s just not okay. Nissan needs to step up their game.
We thought our lightly modified 2007 350Z with the VQ35HR engine felt a bit stronger than the Nissan-tweaked NISMO 370Z. Just to make sure we weren’t suffering under some 350Z hero complex, we took the Nismo over to Z Car Garage in San Jose, Calif. who also keeps our car’s performance from becoming eclipsed by newer models. Rob, the owner graciously offered to dyno the 370Z NISMO and provided a printout with of the 350Z’s numbers on the same chart for comparison.
Sure enough, the older 350Z is putting down more power and torque.
Should you get a 370z?
That depends. If you have an older 350Z and you love it, it’ll take a lot of mods to get to this performance level, but it’ll still be cheaper than a new vehicle. If you have a late-model 350Z with the ‘HR’ engine definitely just mod it. If you don’t have a Z car yet, I’d suggest waiting to see what the next-gen Z is all about. It should be a 2015 model. If you like it, you’ll be glad you waited. If you like the 370Z better, you’ll be able to pick one up for a song when the next-gen hits showrooms.
Overall, the 370Z is brilliant, but is it doomed?
We are worried that the Nissan Z may again become extinct. To keep the cost of the Z down, it needs to share parts with other vehicles in the Nissan’s line-up. Newer sporty cars are starting to come down in size and weight, but the 370Z currently shares a (shortened) chassis with a 4-door sedan which has been growing in size to keep up with the sedan market.
Some of the 370’z odd lines are to help break up the expansive sheet-metal and mask the larger chassis. The beltline (top of the hood where it meets the windows) is actually taller that the 350Z’s beltline. I think Nissan’s GTR R&D money should have been spent reinventing the Z and going back to its roots with a smaller dedicated chassis. Nissan, why bring supercar performance to the upper-class? Bring real sports-car performance to the masses! The 370Z needs 400 horsepower, plain and simple. Or it needs to shrink considerably. The chassis and the brakes are more than capable, but bring us the power to compete with hot hatches and Sporty AWD cars like the Suby STI and Mitsu Evo. Don’t let the new Honda Civic Type R corner us and take our lunch money.