Christopher Little

Kaizen: 2016 Nissan 370Z Nismo

Nismo’s approach to the 370Z can be captured in a single word: kaizen. Kaizen simply means “change for better”. In the corporate world, kaizen has become MBA jargon synonymous with continuous improvement as it pertained to Japanese auto manufacturing. As a philosophy, it refers to the practice of making small, incremental, improvements to one’s life. While the corporate term is taught in the context of Toyota, it is the philosophy of kaizen that is present in this Nissan 370Z Nismo.

Nissan 370Z Nismo 9

My life has been a 26-year study in automotive environmental psychology. What began with early exposure to a 1985 300ZX was rekindled two years ago in the 370Z Roadster. As evident in that story, any opportunity that involves a Nissan Z-car is a personal experience. But this week goes beyond any normal week with a normal Nissan Z, if there were such a thing. This month, Nissan Motorsports International Limited turns 31. Nismo formed from the merger of two motorsports divisions within Nissan to build race cars and performance parts for road cars. In its 31-year history, Nismo has released a number of complete cars. Since 2009, Nismo has been tuning a unique 370Z for public consumption.

The engineers at Nismo have gone over every performance-related component in this 370Z. From suspension and brakes, to the engine and exhaust, there is improvement over the standard model. Both the interior and the exterior get worked over to make the most out of an already-capable platform. Starting in 2015, Nismo offered additional creature comforts to make the performance variant less of a compromise. The top-trim 370Z Nismo Tech model adds a 7-inch touchscreen navigation system with backup camera and auto-dimming rear mirror.

Nissan 370Z Nismo 7

The 370Z Nismo has always been visually distinct. The 370Z has a classic roadster shape, but Nismo worked carefully to improve its aggressive appearance and aerodynamic function. In 2015, the rear wing was replaced with a spoiler. The front fascia receives a set of horizontal LED running lights and a wider front grille to provide more cooling. The new front end, plus the Nismo’s unique side skirts and wheel-arch extensions, help it appear wider and more aggressive. The car is also shorter by nearly 3 inches, giving it a more compact and well-defined profile. The signature Nismo red stripe runs around the car from the front splitter, down the side skirts, and around the rear diffuser. The stripe is somewhat washed out by the Solid Red paint, but offers a distinctive offset in the three other available colors. Setting off the Nismo’s appearance even further is a staggered set of 19-inch RAYS lightweight wheels in charcoal gray. The 370Z has worn some attractive wheels, but these are the best ever.

Nissan 370Z Nismo 10

From the moment you get into the 370Z Nismo, you know things are different. The alcantara grip and red center mark of the steering wheel key into the performance intention. Nismo co-developed new Recaro sport seats exclusively for this car. They are, by far, the most comfortable and supportive seats we’ve ever tested. They’re perfectly contoured to hold you in place without squeezing or pinching. Taller drivers will find their knees a bit cramped, however. Fire up the 3.7L V6 and you’re greeting with a different sound. The Nismo Z is fitted with an exclusive h-pipe exhaust and muffler tuning for a deeper and more audible engine note. That engine has been improved with a sportier ECU, bumping power up to 350hp and 275lb-ft torque. The 370Z’s close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission with rev-matching remains unchanged. Rev-match up and down-shifts take a bit of getting used to. Your instinct to blip the throttle yourself on downshifts or “catch” the revs on upshifts will actually make shifts worse. Learning to leave the throttle alone until the clutch engages provides clean, fast shifts, unless you deactivate the assistance and do it all yourself.

The most notable changes to the Nismo Z’s character come in areas where we felt the previous Z Roadster could use work. A strut tower brace bar, stiffer springs and stabilizer bars, and performance dampers help stiffen the 370Z’s chassis, adding a sense of tautness and precision. There’s more feedback and it’s easier to predict how the car will react. Like the Sport Package equipped 370Z Roadster, the Nismo has a standard limited slip differential. However the shorter final-drive ratio gives the Nismo better responsiveness. With all the changes to help the Z go faster, engineers also fitted larger brakes, stiffer brake hoses, and high-performance brake fluid to help it stop. These aren’t huge improvements over the standard 370, but it’s the sum effect of these positive improvements that makes the difference.

Nissan 370Z Nismo 3

Jumping off the line and pulling to the 7400rpm redline, the Nismo Z is properly quick. Into second with a pop from the exhaust as the rev-counter resets. The engine never feels flat as the exhaust note rises from a howl to a high-rpm wail. The car shrinks as speed increases. It has a connectedness that other sports cars struggle to match. Just as the 285-width rear tires grip off the line, the 245 fronts hold steady in the corners. The Nismo-tuned suspension keeps roll out of the equation without being harsh. This is mature speed. It doesn’t slam your head back, it doesn’t knock your teeth out, and it doesn’t give you a headache. The countless subtle improvements are measured, metered to bring you the most joy without tripping over the line between road car and race car. There are, of course, still a few drawbacks. The 370Z is a bit dated now and its age comes across in a few of the interior and dials. There’s also an uncomfortable amount of buffeting with the windows down at speed.

Nissan 370Z Nismo 5

I may be biased with my admitted soft spot for the Z. The 370Z Nismo is supposed to be the best Z. And it is –even before setting aside my appreciation for the Z-car. Donning a professional level of skepticism, the 370Z Nismo offers steep competition to the likes of the Jaguar F-Type, BMW Z4, and Mercedes SLK. These are fine, up-market roadsters that you could certainly be very happy with. They’d likely outperform the Nismo as well, if you spent nearly 2x the as-tested price of the Nissan. The 370Z is endlessly more exciting than the new Mustang, as well. This is a car that captures you. It wants you to be involved, drawing you in with its savory curves and burbling exhaust. Not only is it the best Z, Nismo has engineered one of the most balanced and exciting roadsters on the market. They’ve done it by carefully taking addressing the 370Z’s flaws. They’ve done it by taking the best parts of Nissan’s 370Z and making them better. They’ve done it thought the principles of kaizen.

-Christopher Little

2016 Nissan 370Z Nismo Tech 6M/T
Carpeted floor mats $125
Destination Charges $825
As Tested MSRP $46,440

Then and Now: 2014 Nissan 370Z Roadster

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