2007 Nissan Nismo 350Z new car reviews

Nissan photo

With a replacement for the Nissan 350Z lurking just around the next apex for model year 2009, the performance nuts at Nismo decided to give the current 350Z a proper sendoff. These wild tuners snuck into the factory late one night and gave a handful of 2007 350Zs a case of the crazies. The result is the fierce, unapologetic and thoroughly entertaining Nismo 350Z.

Any time there's a tuner model of a sports car introduced, we skip to the bottom of the press release to see how much of a power boost the “special” version offers. Although grunt is up a bit--the completely revised VQ35HR-spec motor now produces a healthy 306 horsepower--that applies to all 2007 350Zs, from the $38,050 Nismo all the way down to the $27,900 Base model.

So if the power's the same, what did Nismo do?

Perhaps you noticed the exterior changes--if not, please contact your optometrist. The Nismo aerodynamics package includes a unique fascia with a chin spoiler up front and a dual wing and rear diffuser/bumper combo in the rear. These pieces are inspired by the purposeful design of the Japanese Grand Touring Championship-series winning Nissan GT500 350Zs.

Skepticism is our reflex whenever we see crazy body work, but Nissan assures us that these pieces are functional. Where a standard Nissan 350Z generates about nine pounds of lift up front and 18 pounds of lift in the rear at 73 mph, the Nismo add-ons flip that to 11 pounds of downforce at the front and 33 pounds of downforce out back at the same speed. This is accomplished without screwing up the coefficient of drag too badly, as the Nismo cuts the air with a Cd of 0.339, just 0.028 off the base Z.

Mercifully, the Nismo 350Z is much more than just the same book with a fancy new dust jacket. The frame is reinforced in a number of areas, thanks to an expansion of the welding area at the top of the A and B pillars and the addition of reinforcement bars and panels at the front and rear. The bulk of the benefit goes to the radiator core area, which is 160 percent as stiff as a standard 350Z.

Take a peek in the gaping maw above the chin spoiler or under the spare tire lid and you'll see Yamaha-branded dampers running horizontally and connecting key structural points. These body dampers are also unique to the Nismo 350Z and are purported to control body vibrations. As a result of either the body dampers or the chassis reinforcements--probably both--the Nismo 350Z is a very rigid car. The solid nature of the cabin reminded us of a street car with a roll bar installed.

To use this stiffer chassis, the Nismo 350Z has a number of significant suspension upgrades. The springs are 35 percent stiffer front and rear compared to the stock 350Z, with a 25 percent higher damping factor up front and 50 percent more damping in the rear. The front anti-roll bar is untouched from stock, but the rear is a larger diameter unit that is 37 percent stiffer.

Massive lightweight forged wheels--built by Rays and coated in gunmetal gray--are bolted to the Nismo 350's upgraded suspension. They're shod in very sticky Bridgestone Potenza RE050A tires that seem just about perfectly suited to the car's aggressive street manners.

The cherry on top is the Nismo exhaust system, an attractive laser-welded dual pipe setup that actually sounded glorious at wide-open throttle without being intrusive in cruising conditions. It's a bit louder than stock, perhaps, but you won't notice that when you're trying to peer past the huge wing in the rearview mirror to see the state trooper who might or might not be following you--in other words, the exhaust note is far from the most obtrusive thing on the car.

There are a couple changes we could have done without. The move to a silver gauge face on the tachometer sacrifices, for no good reason, the perfect orange-on-black legibility that the rest of the gauges enjoy. Several GRM staffers agreed that as a result, the Nismo tach is unnecessarily hard to see in the daytime.

Also, it might be something we've just never noticed on a 350Z before, but when we leaned our heads against the headrest we could feel a push in our upper backs as the headrest posts reacted to the leverage. We weren't happy to discover this; the only other car in which we've experienced this brand of discomfort was a very inexpensive Korean econobox.

After spending some time driving the Nismo 350 around town and at the autocross, we grew to like it a great deal more than any previous 350Z we've driven. The beefed-up construction, racy handling and hey-lookit-me sound and styling of this Nismo-enhanced sports car aren't for everyone, but a long jab of the throttle and some exciting corners will erase troubles from your mind and turn you into a Nismo-crazy convert. Fewer than 3000 Nismo 350Zs are slated to come to the U.S. during the 2007 and 2008 model years.

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