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2013 Nissan 370Z Nismo Road Test

The sports car world's (s)lumbering giant

What It Is
A track-focused version of Nissan's legendary "Z" sports car.
Best Thing
SyncroRev Match could be the best thing to happen to the manual transmission since the sixth gear was invented.
Worst Thing
Harsh ride not appropriate for anything but a track or winding backroad, feels bigger and slower than it is.
Snap Judgment
A one-trick pony that only excels in its area. We'd rather have the non-Nismo version, or something else entirely.


When I first looked at the 2013 Nissan Nismo 370Z, I thought this might be the perfect car for guys my age, having grown up in the 1990s and 2000s playing Gran Turismo games, fancying themselves good drivers, indoctrinated by Japanese cars and drifting, wearing flat-billed hats, listening to hip-hop, and wishing they were Paul Walker. So I'm not exactly the target demographic, but I got the age right, and I'm always up for a spirited drive. Then, I looked at the price -- $46,000 -- and quickly changed my tune. Might this car be better for a midlife crisis then?

But by the end of my weekend with the Nismo 370Z, I wondered what Touch of Gray customer would want it. My back ached. I'd talk on the Bluetooth phone system with a tremor in voice, juttering my words over every bump in the road that would feel like a fault line. This car would be a miserable way to travel on a daily basis and would only be worse for a 50- or 60-something. Maybe I just didn't get the point of it yet.

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What We Drove

Getting into a new 370Z doesn't have to cost anywhere near the price of our Nismo -- short for Nissan Motorsports, by the way. A base 2013 Nissan 370Z starts at $33,910, including $790 for destination and handling, already putting it a few grand above a loaded 200-horsepower Subaru BRZ and well into Mustang GT and Chevrolet Camaro SS territory, both of which pack more than 400 horsepower. The Nismo package bumps the car up from 332 horsepower to 350, stiffens the suspension, add a limited-slip differential, body kit, large, Porsche-like spoiler, 19-inch RAYS wheels, a specially tuned exhaust system, bigger brakes, HID headlights, LED tail lights, and a plaque with the car's build number on it. It succeeds the base 370Z, the Touring package, and the Sport package, starting at $43,810.

But wait, there's more. Our car also came with the Bose package ($1,350) with six primary speakers and two subwoofers, an in-dash six-disc CD player -- almost quaint for 2013 -- SiriusXM satellite radio, and Bluetooth. Additionally, it had Nismo carpeted floor mats ($125) and a tiny backup camera ($790) built into the rearview mirror that was just one step above useless, putting our grand total at $46,065, or right between a track-focused Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE and a base 2013 Chevrolet Corvette. This is where we tell you we would have preferred the softer-riding, cheaper 370Z Touring with the Sport package for a week. The Touring model has a nav system, leather, and a much larger rearview monitor available at a loaded price of $43,790. The reality is that sometimes you have to work with what the automaker has on-hand to test.

The Nissan 370Z hasn't been safety tested by either the IIHS or the NHTSA. Just in case you have children you need to tote around, it comes equipped with an upper tether LATCH point behind the passenger seat.

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The Commute

Ka-THUNK, ka-THUNK, ka-THUNK. If you've ever ridden a galloping horse or sat on a school bus over a row of train tracks, you know exactly what it's like to drive the Nismo 370Z on city streets. It only gets worse on highways.

In Los Angeles, many streets have deep storm gutters that rarely go used, and they double as inverted speed bumps. After bottoming out on a few, we got the point that this car wasn't one we could drive normally, instead we were forced into taking such otherwise non-obstacles diagonally, and hoping there was no oncoming traffic to avoid scraping the low-hanging front bumper. At highway speeds, the theme was similar, only you can't help but hear its engine thrum a loud, coarse, constant, and tiresome note. Along with plenty of tire noise from the Z's wide tires, the car became a burden to drive for long distances, which was only slightly remedied by turning on the Bose stereo. At more than 3,300 pounds -- about 100 pounds more than a Corvette -- we have to wonder how such a small car weighs so much. It's sure not because of sound deadening.

Inside, the 370Z Nismo is a relatively sparse, intuitive, driver-focused environment, with supportive, grippy cloth-covered sport buckets with manual adjustments. Without the navigation screen that's available in other Z models, your entertainment system is limited to just a basic head unit that glows orange at night.

The Grocery Run

The 370Z isn't an especially wide vehicle, but it feels like it. Its flared fenders extend out as far as a new Ford Fusion's, but you're in a much smaller car, sitting way inboard. Combined with the small windows, the Z doesn't provide the driver with a good sense of where you are in relationship to, say, a concrete wall in a narrow alley. Don't worry, the car survived unscathed.

The spine-busting ride complements the visibility issues in parking-lot driving. Alas, if you're buying the Nismo, you have to know what you're getting yourself into: heavy steering, tiny clutch engagement point, lack of a cargo cover, and minuscule rearview monitor that's about half the size of an iPhone screen. Deal with it. At just 6.9 cubic feet of cargo space, we were able to fit in eight of our grocery bags, but it could have held another five had the hatch not crushed the upright bags. Our recommendation: Use plastic bags when buying eggs.

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The Weekend Fun

Ah, finally, we get to the good part. After adjusting the Z's rearview mirror--a useless exercise because the wing impedes visibility--and pulling the sun visor down--an equally futile activity because it blocks the whole windshield--we set out for the infamous Mulholland Drive to test this car's stuff.

With wide flanks, the Nismo feels hunkered down and nimble on twisty patches, yet the sensation is deceivingly slow, due in part to the droning engine noise and its peaky powerband that never feels like a punch to the gut like, say, BMW's similarly powerful turbocharged six-cylinder.

The Nismo 370Z is a throwback to a time when you had to really know how to drive a car to get the most out of it. There are only 100.4 in. between the front and rear tires, 4 fewer shorter than the old 350Z's from 2003 to 2008. That shortness causes the 370Z to be a bit twitchy and tail-happy, like a Subaru BRZ, but with higher limits. The Nismo 370Z doesn't have a multitude control modes like most newer sports cars that allow even inexperienced drivers to feel like racing rock stars. It has two: Stability control on, and a mode that will read you your Last Rites if you run short of talent.

Even with stability control on, the car always feels like it wants to go sideways, its tires skipping across the road like a cheap eraser as the stability control plays in loco parentis with the rear brakes. Unlike the equally tail-happy Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ, there's 600 pounds more inertia you're toting around in the 370Z. What makes it even more unsettling is the lack of feel in the brakes, making you guess as to whether or not they'll show up for work.

Certainly a capable performer, the 370Z Nismo feels in its element more driving fast than in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Absolutely, the best part of driving the car was its SyncroRev Match, which automatically kicks engine revs up on downshifts to eliminate any transmission clunking. It went a long way to make up for our so-so rev-matching skills and keep the car slingshotting from corner to corner.

Summary

After one attractive woman coming over to look at the car, many other gawkers, a handful of people revving their sports cars alongside the Z at intersections, including a Mustang Mach 1, we can confirm that our Magma Red Nismo 370Z was a real attention-getter. We just wish it was a little more livable. OK, a lot more livable.

We drive many cars, and most of them we wish we could have a little more time driving. Not this one. It's a specialized car that's optimized for a track--not as a daily driver. It has a limited appeal for diehard Nissan enthusiasts, nostalgists who long for a limited-edition sports car, or those for whom a Nissan GT-R is out of reach. Unfortunately for the rest of us, it sacrifices too much livability for the sake of performance, and even at that, you're going to have more fun driving a BMW 335i around a stretch of mountain road than the Z, and your whole family will be able to enjoy it.

We hesitate to write off the 370Z completely because it feels like there's a good everyday sports car underneath the surface, especially with a much more agreeable suspension in other versions that gives up very little real-world performance. We want to test that car. But against the Nismo, a Mustang GT is faster and rides better, and a Camaro 1LE is more track-focused and costs less. A Subaru BRZ wins us over on the smiles per hour and won't go out of its way to try and collapse your spine when you're driving it. We don't often recommend used cars, but you can even get a year-old Corvette for the same money, and you'd be much more satisfied living with it.

For the built-in audience Nissan expects this car to have, Nissan should have no difficulty selling it. For the rest of us, put it on a diet, cut the price, expand outward visibility, and give it a ride that will make us appreciate it as a daily driver as much as we do when we're on a twisty piece of tarmac.

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Spec Box

Price-as-tested: $46,065
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 18 mpg
EPA Highway: 26 mpg
EPA Combined: 21 mpg
Observed: 17.1 mpg
Cargo Space: 8 Grocery bags
Estimated Combined Range: 399 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Average

Notebook Quotes

"The 370Z NISMO is a perfect example of a vehicle that hits the Performance of Intended Function bullseye. A good daily driver it is not, but that's not what it's meant to be. Nissan designed the 370Z Nismo to kick butt and take names on a track, and in that aspect, I think they succeeded." -Trevor Dorchies, Associate Editor
"This thing rides like it has cement in the shocks. Ridiculous. It pounds over every single railroad track, rut, tar ribbon, crack, dropped penny, and paint stripe you see, and I have a hard time thinking that this Z has such a huge handling advantage over other Zs that the stiff ride is worth it." -Keith Buglewicz, News Editor

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