- Nismo version's more powerful V6 makes 420 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque.
- Retuned suspension includes stiffer bushings, firmer springs and new dampers.
- Larger, more powerful brakes and stickier tires further improve performance.
- Are the upgrades worth the Nismo's $66,085 starting price? We drive it to find out.
Driven: 2024 Nissan Z Nismo Is the Sports Car We Hoped It Would Be
Sharper, more engaging and just plain better
Nissan debuted its new Z for the 2023 model and we were generally pleased with it. However, I'll quote our official Edmunds Rating Verdict here: "Unfortunately, the Z lacks the speed, precision and driver engagement that we think discerning drivers will expect. It's a great place to start but there's room for improvement." Could the 2024 Nissan Z Nismo be the solution?
The new Z Nismo (there was also a Nismo version of the old 370Z) has undergone a myriad of seemingly minor changes to the suspension, chassis, steering, engine and brakes with the intent of transforming the somewhat soft and more touring-oriented standard Z into more of a real performance car. That sounds great. But Nissan is also pricing the Z Nismo to start at $66,085, including destination. At that price, you might wonder whether the Toyota GR Supra, BMW M2 and Mustang Dark Horse — all of which are less expensive to start — are better deals. I was wondering too, which is why it was great to get an opportunity to drive the Z Nismo and find out exactly how much has changed.
More than just a sticker pack
Let's start with the styling. The Nismo gets a pointier bumper up front and a ducktail-style spoiler in back, both of which Nissan says were inspired by the special G version of the original first-generation Datsun 240Z. There are also aerodynamic styling touches in the form of canards on the front end, deeper side sills and a reprofiled rear fascia in order to clean up the airflow at the back of the car. Nissan claims these subtle enhancements serve to both reduce lift and produce a decent amount of downforce at speeds as low as 50 mph. At the time of publication, Nissan did not have specific numbers but was adamant that the downforce is real enough to be noticed.
Pictured is the so-called 240ZG. Want to know more? Wikipedia.
Under the hood, the standard Z's twin-turbo V6 has also been tweaked. Now making 420 horsepower and 384 lb-ft (up 20 hp and 34 lb-ft), the engine uses new independent ignition timing for each cylinder and a retuned electronic wastegate to allow the turbochargers to spin at a higher rpm, therefore making a bit more boost pressure at higher engine speeds. To manage the extra power, an additional sub-radiator has been added to the intercooler for increased cooling. It's worth noting that the Nismo's quoted power numbers are only achievable on 93 octane gasoline. For Z enthusiasts in California, or any other state that doesn't sell 93 octane, you'll need to add an octane booster if you want full potency from your engine.
As for the transmission, well, Nissan is not currently offering the Nismo with a manual gearbox. While that may happen in the future (pretty please?) that means the nine-speed automatic is standard equipment. The reasoning behind this is, according to Nissan, that buyers are more concerned with quicker acceleration and better lap times than rowing their own gears. And since modern day automatics shift more quickly than manual transmissions … there you go. But Nissan has made some changes to the standard Z's auto-box. There are additional clutch plates for increased heat tolerance, and the clutch throws are shorter, which results in quicker shifts.
Stopping the Nismo is made more effective thanks to larger 15-inch front rotors wearing larger, but still four-piston, calipers. The rear brakes remain the same, but the pads now feature a more aggressive compound for extended sessions of hard driving.
But wait …
Yeah, there's more. But now we're onto the changes made to improve handling. We'll start with the wheels, which remain 19-inchers but gain an extra half an inch in width over the standard model, making for 10-inch-wide fronts and 10.5-inch-wide rears. Wrapping those wheels, which are forged aluminum units from the well-known Rays brand, are 255/40 front and 285/35 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx non-run-flat tires with a relatively soft 200 treadwear rating.
While the suspension design is the same, control link bushings in the front suspension have been stiffened, as have those for the steering rack for more direct and accurate steering response. The chassis has also received minor upgrades in the form of stiffer anti-roll bars and a reinforced rear-mounted chassis brace. The Nismo's coil springs are also stiffer, and the dampers are larger in diameter and tuned specifically for the other suspension changes.
From paper to the track
Rather than sample the Z Nismo in isolation, Nissan lined up the standard Z in its Performance trim (with an automatic transmission) alongside the Nismo at Sonoma Raceway in Northern California. Five or so laps in the regular Z reconfirmed our misgivings about the Z's handling. To quote our test driver's notes from our original test of the 2023 Z with the Performance package:
"On the handling loop, as well as on a back road, though, the Z lacks composure from its suspension. Whether it's the bushings, the springs, the shocks or all of the above, the Z moves around quite a bit and can feel like the rear is about to let go. The Z always feels slightly unsettled and soft. Definitely room for a Nismo model here."
Someone should give that guy a raise.
Around Sonoma Raceway's undulating track, the standard Z always felt a bit unsettled, especially midcorner. Even as a sports car Z Performance lacked the true sharpness and accuracy you get in a Supra. And while it's always fun to drive around a racetrack, it wasn't particularly rewarding in the Z. Factor in Sonoma's notoriously close concrete walls and confidence just wasn't what you want from a sports car.
Jumping straight into the Nismo didn't feel particularly different. The seats are unique to the car and feature a bit more support and good manual adjustability, while the steering wheel now sports faux suede wrapping. But as soon as I trundled down the pit lane, some of the changes to the Nismo became immediately apparent. Even at low speeds, the steering felt much tighter and more direct, and once I turned in for the first corner, the Z Nismo felt like a proper sports car. It was nearly a night and day difference.
Certainly the stickier tires added some much-needed grip but the somewhat wobbly and uncertain handling in and out of a corner were all but gone. I did my laps in the Nismo's Sport+ driving mode. Not available on the standard Z, this mode sharpens throttle response and makes the transmission shifts more aggressive. While I did feel the difference in the Nismo's transmission compared to the standard model, I still think there's room for improvement in the nine-speed automatic. Shifts are quicker but lack the snap of those in a Supra or a BMW M2. I'd also love to have a closer-ratio gearbox for quicker acceleration.
Even with the bump in power given to the Nismo's engine, the character of the twin-turbo V6 remains the same. It has a broad powerband with a lot of torque under 4,500 rpm, allowing you to hold gears between corners or even use a taller gear in an effort to keep wheelspin to a minimum. While Nissan wouldn't reveal the Nismo's 0-60 mph time, I think that with the stickier tires and the addition of standard launch control, the hi-po Z will likely hit the magic speed in about 4 seconds flat.
Into the real world
Even with Nissan's claims that the Z Nismo is track-ready, most people will put far more miles under their belts on the road. So I ventured out onto the real and sometimes good and sometimes broken pavement of Northern California to see what the Nismo offered.
Again, it felt like a proper sports car. Where the standard Z is far more plush — its comfortable ride is one of its high points — the Nismo is pretty firm at all times. There are three drive modes, but none adjust the suspension; there are no adaptive dampers like there are on the Mustang Dark Horse or M2.
That's not necessarily bad. In my brief time behind the wheel, I think Nissan got it right for the Nismo; it's a sports car and it rides like a sports car. There is a bit of jostling over rougher surfaces, but the ride quality never degrades into anything remotely uncomfortable and the car can still soak up larger dips. I like that Nissan focused on getting the baseline correct from the get-go instead of leaving it to the driver to hopefully figure out through various suspension firmness settings.
Flicking the drive mode selector switch also frees up the exhaust and delivers just enough pops and burbles to sound a little more aggressive without being obnoxious. There is piped-in engine sound, which I don't particularly care for no matter what vehicle it is, but it's not overbearing or droney in the Nismo.
The direct steering and taut handling I felt on the track are still apparent on the street. The Nismo is eager to turn in but doesn't do so with too much aggression. Nissan said the alignment isn't particularly aggressive, nor did it look that way to my eyes, so that further goes to show the level of development of the suspension and the standard limited-slip differential. If there is something I'd like a few additional settings for, it's the stability control system. When on, its settings are fairly conservative and I found it too easily triggered on tighter uphill turns. But when you shut it off, it's fully off. There's no middle setting that allows for a bit more tail-out fun before the stability control is triggered.
Through the tighter turns and down the more narrow roads, the Nismo felt smaller than some of its competitors. It's classic two-seat form factor makes you worry less about touching lane lines and its corners are easy to judge. It's more low-slung than an M2 but far smaller, and lighter than a Mustang Dark Horse.
While we celebrated the rebirth of the iconic Z in 2023, once we got our hands on one, we thought it fell a bit short of being a true performance car. Relative to its rivals, it fell short in agility, stability, precision and driver engagement, all of which are critical components to the sports car experience. But the Nismo looks to have addressed all of our criticisms. It's sharper, far more engaging and delivers that true sports car experience the standard Z lacks. It's a marked improvement over the standard model and is definitely worth a look if a true sports car is what you're after. But the Nismo demands quite the price premium over the standard Z. The aforementioned Supra, M2 and Mustang Dark Horse are all a touch more well rounded, especially for the money, but the Nismo tuning finally makes the Z a good sports car and gives it a character all its own.