SONOMA, Calif. – On its own, the new Nissan Z is a fun-to-drive sport coupe that pulls hard on the nostalgic heartstrings. It’s held back by a last-generation platform that keeps it from competing against newer sports cars, though, and when compared to those rivals, it falls well short of expectations for performance and other areas. There was clearly room left at the top for something more capable, and now it’s here: the new, range-topping, track-intended 2024 Nissan Z Nismo. We were let loose on Sonoma Raceway to see whether it achieves the high-performance potential one expects from the Nismo badge.
The Z Nismo is set to go on sale this fall, with a starting MSRP of $66,085 (including $1,095 in destination fees). Yes, that price does seem pretty expensive, and we’ll get to that later. For now, let’s get into how it’s different from the regular Z.
Thanks to faster-spinning turbos, independent ignition spark timing control derived from the GT-R Nismo and increased cooling capacity, engine output increases to 420 horsepower from 400, and to 384 pound-feet of torque from 350. That’s not much, and it isn’t very noticeable from the driver’s seat. Then again, power wasn’t the Z’s problem – handling was. The Nismo gets wider and stickier tires in the form of Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT600s instead of the Z Performance’s Bridgestone Potenza S007s. These alone can be a game changer.
On top of that, the Z Nismo gets a reworked suspension, retuned steering (including a Sport+ drive mode), a stiffened chassis, upgraded brakes, lighter Rays 19-inch wheels, a remapped transmission and increased cooling capacity. The aerodynamics are also optimized to deliver downforce at speed, and in the process, make the Z look better. The new front fascia is longer, lower and its main air intake has been reshaped to look more purposeful. We like it much more than the standard Z (below in blue), which looks as though the designers tried too hard to integrate its awkward rectangular grille.
So how does it all come together for the Z Nismo at Sonoma Raceway? We tried the standard Z Performance first as a baseline, then moved on to the Nismo. Both had the nine-speed automatic transmission, since the Nismo is not offered with the six-speed manual. To be honest, it wasn’t missed, but that doesn’t mean that Nissan is still missing an opportunity to offer its ultimate Z in manual to stick-shift enthusiasts.
After turning a few “get-to-know-you” laps, we started exploring the Nismo’s potential. Right off the bat, it’s noticeably stiffer and more planted. There’s also a marked increase in traction and grip. Barreling toward turn one, the nose is more eager to turn in, slicing a path to the apex cone. Rough pavement right near the rumble strips barely phases composure. Back into the throttle, and the smooth twin-turbo V6 begins to sing. A quick lift and then a sharp pull to the other direction to get through turn two, and the Nismo is hitting its stride.
The pedal is planted to the floor well before the apex of the downhill, sweeping turn 6 Carousel, coaxing all four tires to begin gently sliding toward the outside of the turn, buzzing onto the rumble strips just as the track starts pointing straight again. The new Dunlop tires surrender grip very progressively and predictably, giving you plenty of time to react or just let them track out to corner exits. It’s easy to piece together a good, clean lap or to playfully poke the pedal to induce some power oversteer. The steering effort is a bit too light, but more importantly, it’s precise.
The Nismo is also forgiving. After staring just a moment too long at the first apex of Sonoma’s esses and getting out of sequence for the next series of bends, there was enough leeway to coax the Z Nismo back closer to the racing line without losing much ground to the lead vehicle. In this way, and in others, the Z Nismo is indeed a worthy track car, but it’s bound to be found in the intermediate group rather than the more manic advanced groups where your eyes would be glued to the mirrors looking for faster all-out track cars and race-prepped anomalies.
Odds are, most Z Nismo drivers won’t be spending the majority of their miles at a track, so we also took it for a spin into wine country. Despite fears that the suspension would be too stiff for public roads, the ride is perfectly acceptable for performance-minded drivers. It’s most definitely on the firm side, and there’s quite a bit of jostling over undulations in the pavement, but the initial impacts are blunted enough to keep from feeling overly harsh.
It turns out that road noise is the biggest complaint. On moderately coarse asphalt, the cacophony of white noise is excessive, and thuds from seams only add to it. It’s loud enough to drown out the stereo and can be taxing for long stretches.
The manually adjustable Recaro buckets are exclusive to the Nismo and provide an abundance of lateral support for a slight frame. Larger drivers will certainly want to ensure they fit comfortably without compressing their ribs. If track days are planned, bringing a helmet along to the dealer is a good idea to make sure all of you will still fit. At 5-foot-10, my helmet was already pushing into the headliner. The center leather section in the middle of the backrest also tended to be a bit stifling, even in mild weather.
With all of the preceding impressions logged, it’s safe to say that the Nismo is the best choice in the Z lineup. It may be able to pose a challenge to the Toyota Supra for a new nostalgic face-off in a way the regular Zs could not. It’s not the quickest track-day weapon, but should that really matter if you’re not racing for a trophy or cash? Above all, it’s fun.
Well, maybe not above all.
Let’s get into that price, because $66,085 is a LOT for a Z. That’s $12,780 more than the midrange Z Performance model. Is the Nismo nearly $13,000 better? In a word, yes. Perhaps a set of Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires could get you partway there, but again, the Nismo does look a helluva lot better. Unfortunately for the Z Nismo, other high-performance cars exist in its price range, and that’s where the real trouble starts. The inline-six Supra starts at $55,595, the BMW M240i at $50,695, and even the M2 rings in almost $2,000 cheaper. There’s also the wicked Audi RS3 for $62,795 and the new Ford Mustang GT Dark Horse starting at $61,510. Is the Z Nismo really worth more than all of those? In another word, doubtful.
The 2024 Nissan Z Nismo is good, solid fun, but the price is a tough pill to swallow. It’ll surely be a hit with the Z faithful and drivers of a certain age (myself included), but those groups are rather limited in scope. Add in the road noise and some disappointing interior carryovers from the last generation, and its appeal wanes a bit more. It’s certainly the best production Z, but when compared to rivals, it’s a challenger rather than a leader.