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Video | The Nissan 370Z NISMO Is Fun, Fast and Ancient

I recently had the chance to drive a Nissan 370Z NISMO, which is still a new vehicle that Nissan makes, much to the surprise of many car enthusiasts. I say this because the current 370Z made its debut for the 2009 model year, meaning it is truly ancient in automotive terms — and oh, boy, does it show.

Well, actually, I’m being a bit unfair to the 370Z NISMO, so let me start with what I liked about it, namely: the driving experience. Even though this thing is 10 years old, it’s still fun to punch around — in part due to its naturally aspirated 3.7-liter V6, a relic by modern standards, but an enjoyable one. The engine makes 350 horsepower and 276 lb-ft of torque (up 18 hp and 6 lb-ft over the regular 370Z) and it’s responsive, quick to act when you push down the pedal and smooth to accelerate, with no unusual or disappointing lag like you get with some cars. I liked it.

I also enjoyed the handling, which I felt was reasonably sporty — good steering weight, good balance and fun to drive, which is no surprise considering the car’s rear-wheel drive chassis and its small size. The NISMO Z is, truly, an enjoyable car, even after all these years.

I also like the NISMO Z’s styling. I’ve always felt the 370Z is a nice-looking car, not so much handsome as cool-looking, with a design that seems more thrilling than many rivals that try to go for "beautiful" or "classy," and not "automotive fireplug." The 370Z looks fast even when it’s stopped, and the NISMO model, with its big rear wing and other add-ons, looks like the kind of car that wants to have fun.

Unfortunately, the accolades sort of stop there. In fact, for most people, they stop even before you get there, because it’s impossible to truly consider this car as a thing you will actually want to purchase when you see the price tag: a regular 370Z starts around $31,000, but the NISMO model starts around $43,000. Forty. Three. Thousand. To be clear, a Ford Mustang GT — which comes with a V8 that makes 460 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque — starts at $36,500. And it has two more seats. And way, way, way better technology.

And, indeed, that’s the Z’s next weak point: technology. The Z is an old car in a new world, and its ancient infotainment system is almost more befitting a museum than an actual, new, on-sale automobile. It’s not a touchscreen, it’s tiny and its functionality is impressively limited. Worse yet is the gauge cluster, which has no screen except for a small pixelated display with orange characters, like a late-1990s car. The fuel economy is also abysmal: 17 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway, if you get the manual, is only a tad better than the aforementioned Mustang GT.

So basically, if you get the Z, you get a nice-driving car that looks good … but you pay seven grand more than a Mustang GT, you get way less power, you get worse technology and you get two fewer seats. And, to me, that sort of sums up the Z: it’d be a great car if it existed in a vacuum. But here, in this world of competitors, it’s hard to justify. Very, very hard.

So who, exactly, buys it? "Z people," it seems — people who want a Z car, who have had Z cars in the past, and who don’t even consider a Mustang before they make their decision. If you’re not a Z person, however, this car is hard to justify — especially because it doesn’t just look slower and older than the Mustang GT on paper: it truly feels slower and older than the Mustang GT in practice, too, meaning it just can’t quite compete.

In the end, I enjoyed my time with the 370Z NISMO, but I’m glad I rented one rather than bought one. These are good cars, these are fun cars, but these are old cars — and I fear that the writing is on the wall for the Z: if it’s been this long and Nissan hasn’t redesigned it, I suspect there’s little hope that a redesign will come. It may be the end of the line for the beloved Z car, at least for now — but if you spend time in one, and then spend time in a modern competitor, you probably won’t mourn the loss. Find a Nissan 370Z for sale

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