Not too long ago, I was given the opportunity to test drive the latest Nismo edition Z33 350Z. This Nismo edition Z is the final evolution in the Z33 family, and the most sport-tuned 350Z available in North America (the only higher spec model is the 3.8 liter Z33 Nismo 380RS, available in Japan with a limited production number of 300 units!).
While I find the Z33 350Z to be a fun car in general, the Nismo version 350Z steps it up a few notches in the performance department – the Nismo Z handles better, shifts better, brakes harder, and accelerates with more ease.
I borrowed a Nismo Z during the time of the Formula D finale at Irwindale Speedway this year. Even though it was an extremely busy week, I definitely made sure I had a lot of fun with the car, taking short breaks throughout my busy work days preparing for the Irwindale event to blast through my favorite stretches of Southern California freeways and winding mountain roads nearby.
Nissan North America calls their final evolution Nismo 350Z "the best handling Z (Z33) ever." As long as we clarify that we're talking about factory built Zs, there's no doubt!
Nismo tuned the normal 4-wheel independent multi link suspension for better response, and enhanced the body welds and reinforcement components to make the car stiffer overall. Even though the car isn't necessarily lower, the car is more nimble due to higher spring rates and Nismo designed front and rear dampers (shocks). The car also comes with front and rear strut tower bars and bigger sway bars.
These handling improvements allowed me to place the car wherever I wanted when I was driving it on the freeway. I could easily maneuver through lanes to pass slower traffic on Southern Cali's sweeping, high speed freeway connectors (think 57N freeway to 10W freeway and/or 210W to 605S on the way to Irwindale); I could even stop quickly and safely when people in front of me suddenly stomp on their brakes in the middle of a turn (605S to 10E freeway). These were some practical, real life applications where I actually noticed how well the Nismo Z handled, but the most fun I had was running the car though my local mountain roads in the middle of the workday and early in the morning!
The Nismo edition 350Z definitely looks different than a standard trim 350. One of the things that's easy to notice is the Nismo Performance Aero package, which comes with a different front bumper and contrasting gray chin spoiler, some very clean and classy sideskirts, and a rear fascia with underbody air management diffuser, which also has been color coded gray to contrast from the normal body work. Another thing you might notice is the height and shape of the rear wing – the Nismo rear wing spoiler sits a bit higher for added downforce.
I'm still undecided on whether or not I like the front and rear bumper design, but I really like the sideskirts and rear wing of the Nismo Z. Perhaps I'm just so used to seeing Z33s with the clean lines of Vertex aero (my favorite brand of aftermarket aero kit for the 350Z).
Aside from the aero kit, one of the distinguishing features I immediately noticed about the Nismo edition Z33 is the 18x9J (front) and 19x10J inch (rear) Nismo/Rays Engineering super lightweight forged wheels. I think it's so cool that Nissan went with a Japanese performance wheel company like Rays, which has built its reputation over the years for producing top quality light weight racing wheels.
Suspension modifications aside, let's not forget that much of the reason the Nismo Z handles so well is because of its tires! Wrapped around the Nismo/Rays wheels are Bridgestone RE050A tires, sized 245/40/R18 up front, and 265/35/R19 in the rear. These tires are very sticky, especially because of the huge, wide road contact patch they provide. They definitely give the driver some added confidence when negotiating corners on winding mountain roads.
It's pretty hard to look towards the wheel wells without noticing the deep gold powdercoated Brembo disk brakes behind all four wheels. The Nismo 350 comes with Brembo 4-piston calipers up front and 2 piston calipers in the rear. Needless to say, the Brembos slow the car down immediately when you step on the brakes, which is perfect for late braking into a corner, or accelerating hard and exiting the freeway at the last minute. (I know it's not the safest practice to drive in this manner, but let's face it… I often see people doing it here on LA freeways so they don't miss their exit!)
When you open the door of the Nismo Z, it's impossible not to notice the subtle-and-elegant Nismo embroidered floormats, which provide nice contrast to the aluminum Z door sill plate. Very classy, Nissan! Good job. I also like how the three boxes designed into the actual Z logo and the sill plate continue the design aesthetic of the normal Z33 track edition wheels. Very cool.
Let's get to the heart of the matter. The Nismo 350Z accelerates more quickly than other stock 350Zs I've driven. This is partially because of the free-flowing Nismo exhaust, but most of it has to do with the higher-response VQ35HR engine found in later models of the Z33. It's a 3.5 liter DOHC V6 engine that produces 306hp and 268 ft lbs of torque. Not too shabby! This HR engine definitely revs more quickly and seems much more powerful than normal 350Z engines.
That might be due to the internals of the HR engine – microfinished crankshaft and cams, molybdenum-coated pistons, Nissan direct ignition system, drive-by-wire throttle, Nismo carbon fiber composite driveshaft, variable valve timing (Nissan calls it CVTCS)… topped off with a nice viscous limited slip differential. Perfect, especially since we're all hooked on LSD nowadays!
Also noticeable when popping the hood is the front strut tower brace – there's a matching one in the rear, but it's covered.
You might also notice the clean Nismo faced tachometer with shift light in the OEM location. Pretty cool. Nissan even took extra steps to make you notice it by making it a different color than the normal black gauges.
I like the contrasting red stitch on the steering wheel, which matches the seats. I also like the aluminum foot pedals and dead pedal. The Nismo Z definitely has a nicer looking interior than normal Zs. Don't get too excited though; the stereo head unit still isn't the best. It's okay though, who cares… Nissan knows that most people who buy this car will swap it out for an aftermarket stereo anyway. I definitely would. Or at least add a small amplifier! I don't think the factory sound system goes loud enough, especially when I'm blasting through Southern Cali's Pacific Coast Highway with the windows open to let the cool ocean breeze in.
Yes, I know the floormat and foot sill on the driver side look kind of dusty – that's because I took these photos up in the canyons, and I parked on a dirt road. I didn't notice it at first, but the flash lit it up, and I didn't notice til I had the photos up on my computer. My bad.
Another thing I like about this car is the small cargo net attached to the passenger side floor space, and the padded knee-rests next to the center console; that was pretty thoughtful of you, Nissan! Each of the Nismo Zs are numbered and specially produced, so the car also comes with a Nismo aluminum etched serial plate, which you can kind of see next to the shifter.
More important than that is what lies underneath the shifter! The Nismo 350Z comes with a close ratio 6-speed manual transmission that really, really improves the driving feel of the car! It's very responsive, and a huge improvement to the normal transmission! The gears are perfectly suited to driving the car in usable rpm ranges. This 6spd close ratio transmission, matched to the HR engine, is probably my favorite feature of the car, and the reason I'd buy a Nismo Z over a normal Z. (That is, if I had $38 grand in my budget.)
Again, I really like the look of the red and black contrasting seats, with the cellphone holder on the bottom! However, I don't like the fact that when you push back on the headrests hard enough, you can feel the two bars from the headrests in your back. Not good. If I owned this car though, I'd probably swap out the OEM Nismo seats for Recaros anyway, so I wouldn't have that problem for long.
Who says the Z doesn't have much room? Haha… it has a few storage compartments behind the seats, but it's really just that… storage compartments. For papers, books, small camera gear, whatever. You can't fit much back there, but who cares? It's a Nismo Z! I do like the fact that there's a second cigarette lighter/power outlet behind the center console! Perfect for those of us who use 2 cell phones or have a separate powered Navi unit. See those speakers back there? They should be louder. Maybe the storage compartment behind the driver seat would be a good place for a small amp.
I do like the optional accessory trunk net to keep your backpack from sliding around when you're cornering, and the little Z-pouch that attaches behind the passenger seat. Good place to put a small CD holder.
Here's the rear of the Nismo Z. Such a fun car to drive. I'd love to test one out again; next time, on a racetrack!