2024 Nissan Z Nismo Review: A Middle-Aged Marathon Runner

It’s no secret that the “new” Nissan Z isn’t actually the freshest sports car out there. On the $45K base model, we’re mostly willing to look past its warmed-over 370Z underpinnings for its gorgeous shape and the nostalgia it evokes. At a time when affordable sports cars are being squeezed and spreadsheeted out of existence, we’re just grateful it exists at all. I’m glad to be with you, Samwise Gamgee. Here, at the end of all things.

But the top-dog, automatic-only $66K Nismo track special? I was skeptical. Could it really compete with the GR Supras, Mustang Dark Horses, and BMW M2s of the world? Yet, like a 40-year-old Olympian sneaking onto the podium, the Nismo Z surprises. It’s determined to prove the haters wrong, and despite a few glaring flaws, you can’t help but respect its hustle.

Maddox Kay

The Basics

Since the first 240, Zs have had a punk, underdog energy about them, putting Porsches and other more expensive cars on notice. Now, though, the Z is the old guard, honed and polished, and it’s hard to come across as the underdog when you’re the oldest guy in the room.

Let’s review the Z’s trim hierarchy for a moment. The base car comes in two levels: Sport and Performance. Sport is the basic car with 18-inch wheels, 400 horsepower, and cloth seats for a price tag of $44,110. For $10,000 more, the Performance trim gains a much-needed limited-slip differential, 19-inch forged wheels, better Akebono brakes, leather seats, and an aero kit. 

For another $14,000, the Nismo gets you Recaro seats, 20 more hp for a total of 420 (blaze those … tires), one-inch-bigger front rotors, sweet-looking Rays wheels, and an aggressive body kit. Beyond the bolt-on upgrades, Nismo has gone to town on the chassis, reinforcing the front core support and rear floor, adding stiffer engine mounts and sport suspension with higher spring rates and more damping. This reinforcement makes the Nismo Z 100 pounds heavier than an automatic-equipped Performance model, or 168 pounds more than one with the manual.

As you’ve probably heard, the Sport and Performance Zs are available with either a six-speed manual or a nine-speed automatic, while the Nismo exclusively gets the automatic, a wet-clutch unit licensed from Mercedes-Benz. More on that later.

Maddox Kay

Driving the Nissan Z Nismo

If you’re over six feet tall, stepping into the Nizmo (abbr.) is akin to putting on a helmet, though its cabin is not quite as claustrophobic as the Supra’s. The driving position is great, aided by the Recaros’ low height. Once moving, the hot Z is sharper, tauter, and more sporting from the outset. The German term “gestalt” defines something as more than the sum of its parts, and that describes Nismo’s changes. On paper, 20 hp and a few suspension tweaks don’t sound like much, but it delivers in the intangibles.

Whereas the Performance model I drove a year ago felt soft, with plenty of body motion and ride compliance, the Nismo is very much a Sports Car. It turns in quickly and doesn’t get caught in moments of inertia in quick left-right transitions. There’s noticeably less squat and dive under acceleration and braking, too. The steering responds precisely off-center, with a texture and fluidity that’s refreshingly analog. The Alcantara-rimmed wheel isn’t some swollen blob, either—it’s appropriately thin, although I shudder to think what its matted fur will look after a few years of palm sweat.

Maddox Kay

At speed, the ride is firm and controlled but not uncomfortable in the way the best-balanced cars can be. But drop below 30 mph on pockmarked streets, and the high spring rates and aggressive rebound make things almost unbearably harsh and jittery. Think head toss, side-to-side motion, and constant seesawing motion. I’d go as far as to say that if you live in a city or need to traverse bad roads regularly, save your money and get the Performance model with its extra compliance.

Finally, the Nizmo puts all 420 hp down much more efficiently, owing to its stickier Dunlop tires. Paired with the turbocharged engine’s surge of midrange torque, the standard car wanted to break loose in first, second, and occasionally third. That’s entertaining but not ideal if you’re trying to go somewhere without causing a scene. After dispatching some initial wheelspin, the Nismo hooks up in second gear and takes off, making the 0.1-second zero to 60 mph difference over the regular Z feel much more dramatic than that spec suggests.

Maddox Kay

The Highs and Lows

The Z Nismo looks great, in a factory tuner car sorta way. The slimmer nose, lower ride height, and canards with lipstick-red accents lend it a more aggressive stance compared to the ordinary Z. And those nine-spoke Rays wheels? Chef’s kiss. It was a hit both at a car meet and with random passersby on the street. Inside, the Recaro buckets (basically a Sportster CS two-piece) are excellent—supportive and well-bolstered without being uncomfortable on long drives. As in the normal Z, the 12.3-inch navigation screen is easy to use and retains physical controls for HVAC. On the road, I appreciate the sharper dynamics and accept the ride penalty as the cost of a sports car experience.

What I can’t accept is the lack of a manual transmission option. Porsche realized it with the GT3, Toyota realized it with the Supra, but Nissan stubbornly followed their mistaken footsteps by making the Nismo auto-only. The difference? The 991 GT3 and Mk5 Supra had good automatics. While the Z’s nine-speed upshifts crisply at full throttle, it’s a bit of a one-trick pony. There’s an unpredictable buffer time at low speeds before your shift request is processed and delivered, and getting on the throttle in automatic mode can cause it to bug out and respond lazily before slamming a downshift. I found the transmission unpredictable, and I had to accommodate it instead of vice versa. 

Maddox Kay

There’s an easy solution here: A fucking clutch pedal. At launch, Nissan said choosing the automatic boiled down to faster lap times, and I’m sure the added expense of certifying both variants didn’t help. But if other sports car sales are anything to go by, Nissan would’ve sold at least half of these as sticks. Let’s hope they realize their mistake before it’s too late.

Nissan Z Nismo Features, Options, and Competition

The Z Nismo doesn’t offer many options. You get to choose from five colors (red is the only actual color; the rest are grayscale), and … that’s it. It’s kind of refreshing that this car isn’t about paint-matched seat belts or flexing at Cars and Coffee—it’s about driving. Not to beat a dead horse with a stick, but if it’s about driving, why is there no manual transmission in the best version?

Maddox Kay

The Nismo Z’s $67,441 price of entry puts it in the league of rear-drive performance coupes like the Ford Mustang Dark Horse ($60,865), BMW M2 ($63,815), and Toyota Supra ($59,790 in 3.0 Premium trim). All of these cars are more modern than the Z, and they all offer manual transmissions. I think the Z looks better than any of them on the outside, but its interior is noticeably lower-rent.

Fuel Economy

According to the EPA, the Nismo Z gets 17 mpg in the city, 24 on the highway, and 19 combined. Compared to automatic versions of the aforementioned competition, it’s slightly more efficient than the Dark Horse (5.0-liter V8s are thirsty, folks), practically matches the M2, but is notably less efficient than the six-cylinder Supra which manages 26 mpg combined.

EPA

Value and Verdict

The 2024 Nissan Z Nismo is a middle-aged marathoner: Impressive when viewed in isolation and respectable for its heroic effort. Viewed in the context of its peers, though, it looks tired, and Nissan made a couple of crucial missteps that keep it from overcoming that disadvantage. More expensive than its fresher competition, the Nismo Z feels like the end of something rather than the beginning.

During my week with the Z, I kept making excuses for it. I wanted to root for it; wanted it to succeed. It is a much better car dynamically than the standard Z, even if its clunky transmission and bouncy low-speed ride are annoying. Realistically, I think it’s the best-handling street car Nismo could’ve made with this platform. 

Like the best protagonists, it’s lovable but flawed, an enigma on four wheels. Though it may not be the best car in its class, I’m glad the Nismo Z is here. Here, at the end of all things.

2024 Nissan Z Nismo Specs
Base Price (as tested)$66,085 ($68,280)
Powertrain3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 | 9-speed automatic | rear-wheel drive
Horsepower420 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque384 lb-ft @ 2,000 – 5,200 rpm
Curb Weight3,704 pounds
Seating Capacity2
Cargo Volume6.9 cubic feet
0-60 mph4.1 seconds
EPA Fuel Economy17 mpg city | 24 highway | 19 combined
Quick TakeA middle-aged marathoner: Impressive when viewed in isolation, and respectable for its heroic effort in the face of fresher competition.
Score7.5/10

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