2024 Nissan Z NISMO Review: No conquest, no contest
The standard Z sports car makes no claim to track-worthiness. More of a grand touring car, Nissan says. We agree; our handful of laps at Las Vegas Speedway in the Z Performance last year revealed noticeable body motion, a bit of softness in the brake pedal, and an automatic transmission that was overeager to downshift. The car is nevertheless entertaining on the street, however, so we had high hopes that the hotter Z NISMO—new for 2024—would feed the fun and dial up the capability.
At Nissan’s invitation, we met the Z NISMO on the winding roads of Sonoma, California, and turned a few laps at Sonoma Speedway. Because this isn’t a mystery novel, we’ll spoil the ending: In its pursuit of track performance and durability, Nissan’s latest NISMO model improves on the standard Z in almost every respect imaginable. On the other hand, the new car is practically irrelevant to anyone who hasn’t already decided to buy it.
What does that mean, exactly? Nissan freely admits that it developed the Z NISMO for the model’s—and the brand’s—most die-hard adherents. The design maintains the familiar shape of the original Datsun 240Z, amplifying it with genuine aerodynamic improvements without going overkill. Subtle design details like the elongated “G-Nose”—an homage to the 240ZG Group 4 homologation special of the early ’70s and its similar rhinoplasty—speak to a deeply passionate and knowledgeable fanbase.
The Z NISMO has to be for these people, if for no other reason than that few others will be able to justify the cost. Pricing for the NISMO starts at $66,015, which is almost 13 grand more than the Z Performance. For context, that’s a few thousand north of the BMW M2 and just shy of a base 2024 Corvette. Not the point, said Paul Hawson, Nissan’s Director of Advanced Product Planning and Strategy: “We are really focused just on our customers, and not so much on conquest.”
Put another way, if you wanted a Z NISMO when it was a poster on your wall in 2008, this one is true to that lineage, benefitting from 15 years of model development and technological advancement. On flip side, it’s $66K for a car whose fundamental underpinnings haven’t changed a ton since the first Obama administration, before he went gray.
Let’s run down the list of important tweaks, starting with the engine. Nissan squeezed 20 more horses and 34 lb-ft of torque from the Z’s VQ-series 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6, totaling 420 hp and 384 lb-ft. The extra spice comes courtesy of a faster-spinning turbo, an additional intercooler up front to reduce the temperature of the intake air, and the GT-R supercar’s independent ignition timing control to optimize combustion in each cylinder.
You can have any gearbox you want as long as it’s Nissan’s nine-speed automatic. In the NISMO it’s fortified with new clutch packs that reduce slip and, in turn, boast higher heat capacity. The clutch stroke is also shortened, which, combined with revised programming, reduces shift times. Downshifts, when using the NISMO’s specific Sport+ drive mode, are almost twice as fast as in the Performance.
The suspension is significantly stiffer, and combined with a number of body, steering, and structural reinforcements, it improves the Z NISMO’s response to inputs. There are minor changes to the front suspension geometry, but the soft stuff is where NISMO focused its efforts—larger and stiffer dampers, unique stabilizer bars, stiffer bushings, and higher spring rates. You still get 19-inch RAYS forged wheels as in the Performance, but here they are wider (totaling 10 inches up front and 10.5 inches in the rear) and lighter.
Larger brakes, along with additional sub-radiators that include an engine oil cooler, make up the bulk of the NISMO’s 100-pound weight gain over the automatic Z Performance. Rotors are enlarged to 13.8 inches in the rear and 15 inches up front, with larger calipers. Pads are said to be considerably more aggressive so they can hold up to track abuse.
Specs: 2024 Nissan Z NISMO
Powertrain: 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6; nine-speed automatic
Horsepower: 420 @ 6400 rpm
Torque: 384 lb-ft @ 2000–5200 rpm
Layout: Rear-drive, two-door, two-passenger coupe
Weight: 3704 lb
EPA-rated fuel economy: 17/24/19 mpg city/hwy/combined
0–60 mph: low-4 sec (est.)
Competitors: Toyota GR Supra, BMW M2
Abuse the Z NISMO is exactly what Christian Spencer, Senior Manager of Performance Development, and his team did for months as they tuned the car at California’s Buttonwillow Raceway. The BMW M2 and Toyota Supra 3.0 served as primary benchmarks. “Our objective was to ensure the Z NISMO could hold up to non-stop punishment for 30 minutes,” he said, which they figured was a bit longer than most track-day sessions.
With a mere four laps on Sonoma Speedway to sample the car, we can’t say how this Z holds up to that goal. We can, however, confirm with confidence that the NISMO is leaps and bounds better than a Z Performance around the same road course. For starters, the Recaro seats are more comfortable than the base seats, keeping us more snug without resorting to excessive bolstering. By far the biggest improvement to the driving experience, however, comes as a result of the Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT600 tires—more immediate turn in, gobs more grip, more predictable breakaway than the lesser Bridgestone Potenza S007s. The GT600s are drawn from the aforementioned GT-R, which meant they were familiar to the NISMO team and could benefit from the company’s existing relationship with tire development engineers at Dunlop. Beyond that, Spencer says, he likes the tire’s durability over multiple track outings.
On track, thanks to those grippy tires, thanks to the recalibrated suspension, the Z NISMO feels agile and planted. There’s a subtle lean as you set your steering angle before corner entry, and the trick from there seemed to be balancing on the tire and waiting for the earliest possible moment to add throttle. You have to be both patient and delicate with that last part, because ham-footing will break loose the rears. It’s catchable, however, and never does the Z NISMO feel unruly or capricious. Most reassuring are the brakes, which offer impressive response and powerful stopping force right at the top of the pedal travel.
Less trustworthy is the automatic transmission, which—just as in the Z Performance—would often roughly downshift at inopportune times and take us by surprise when left to its own logic. The shift paddles in manual mode were much more reliable, and switching into Sport rather than Sport+ mode provided more rheostat-like throttle control.
We noticed the same thing on the street, compounded by a tendency to lurch when upshifting as the car descended big hills. Otherwise, the Z NISMO is a peach out in the real world—sharper in every way than the Z Performance yet only slightly less livable from a ride comfort perspective. This is a titanic departure from the outgoing 370Z NISMO, whose ruthless suspension left drivers worse off than if they’d sparred with Tyson. The 2024 NISMO is generally pleasant on surface streets, less so over longer stretches of uneven pavement where the ride gets busy and unsettled. The upgraded engine’s beefy mid-range makes easy work of Sonoma’s considerable hills, however, riding on a wave of healthy, usable torque. Our only wish is for a sweeter, louder exhaust note (it’s the same as the standard Z’s), especially because the Dunlops roar above pretty much every other sound, even with the windows up. The stereo offers no relief in this respect, despite the fact that it pumps into the cabin synthesized engine noise.
Though Nissan says it eschewed a manual gearbox for the NISMO because customer feedback suggested they prioritize lap times, it’s hard to take that statement seriously. For one, Spencer says that if there’s enough customer demand a manual Z NISMO is possible. Second, the most serious road-course speed demons in pursuit of a turnkey showroom solution seem unlikely to choose the Z NISMO, when a 500-hp Mustang Dark Horse costs about $6000 less—and sounds a whole lot better, too. As is the case with most road cars that claim to be for track use, most Z NISMO customers will never take their car lapping, and enthusiasts really should have the option to row their own if feasible.
Leaving aside everything we’ve covered thus far, the Z NISMO’s low production will mean it finds its way into the hands of precious few outside its most dedicated fanbase. Just look at the limited production of the ordinary Z, whose U.S. sales this year totaled just 966 cars through June. Part of that is due to production delays related to semiconductor shortages, as well as a new manufacturing process at Nissan’s factory in Tochigi, Japan, but it’s also a deliberate strategy. “It’s getting harder and harder to make sports cars,” explained Hawson, the product planning director. The days of us making 15 or 25 thousand 350Zs is long gone, which means the Z NISMO is a limited version of a limited car.”
Such are the times. An optimistic approach would be to just celebrate that Nissan has delivered a NISMO version at all, and quite a good one. Great-looking, fun to drive on the street, and fulfilling on track. From a Z fan’s perspective, the NISMO might even be considered $13,000 more sports car, given all of the meaningful improvements—the ultimate Z car to which they can aspire. And for everyone else, those who can’t wrap their head around why anyone would pine for a Z NISMO over an M2 or Mustang Dark Horse? They’ll be happier running along and playing with their own toys, anyway.
2024 Nissan Z NISMO
Highs: Appealing design. Balanced chassis suitable for road course or street. Rock-star engine for those who bow at the VQ altar.
Lows: Tough price to swallow, given the competition at that level. Guaranteed scarce production volume. No manual gearbox.
Takeaway: Although it’s certainly one for the fans, the best-performing Z car ever is surprisingly well-rounded.