In the world of high-performance Nissan cars, the Nismo badge carries weight. Like BMW M and Toyota’s Gazoo Racing arm, it oversees Nissan’s motorsports efforts and serves as its in-house tuning department for the automaker’s most performance-focused road car offerings. Founded in 1984, the skunkworks division has a reputation for building formidable track weapons like the GT-R Nismo, which set a lap record for volume production road cars at the famed Nürburgring back in 2013.
While the department has been relatively quiet lately (likely due to the limited number of enthusiast models that have graced Nissan’s line-up in recent years), we knew it was only a matter of time before we’d see its handiwork applied to the new Z.
As we noted in our first drive of the standard Z last year, the seventh-generation machine ushered in a much-needed overhaul of Nissan’s rear-drive sports car that addressed many of its predecessor’s shortcomings, but a few laps of Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s road course revealed that there was still room for improvement in terms of outright performance prowess.
Although the Z makes for a fast and capable grand tourer in Performance trim, its relatively soft tuning robs the car of some precision when pushed to its dynamic limits. Nismo, we theorized, would turn it into a good tool to go apex-hunting.
Now that it’s here in the flesh, we’re happy to report that our hypothesis has largely been proven true. However, Nissan also threw in a few curveballs we weren’t expecting.
The Z’s Nismo treatment is admirably holistic in scope. The makeover starts at the bodywork, which features aerodynamic aids like the three-piece rear spoiler, reshaped side sills and rear bumper, and canards that flank the sides of the new “G-Nose” front fascia, the latter of which features a wider, potentially less aesthetically controversial front grille than the standard Z.
Nissan says all these elements have been designed to improve aerodynamic performance, but the lack of a substantial front splitter and rear wing ultimately limits what’s possible here. The automaker will only say that the Z Nismo “produces positive downforce” at speed. Regardless, the package gives the Z a more purposeful look without upstaging its inherently handsome retro design.
The cabin has been treated to some performance-focused upgrades as well. A pair of manually adjusted, Alcantara-trimmed Recaro seats keep the driver and passenger firmly planted during spirited driving, while red accents grace the steering wheel, seats, start/stop button, drive mode selector, and gauge cluster graphics.
And as you’d expect, there’s plenty of model-exclusive performance hardware in the mix. A unique set of lightweight 19-inch Rays forged wheels complement the Z Nismo’s revised exterior, and they’re wrapped in track-ready Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tires that offer significantly more grip than the Z Performance’s factory Bridgestones.