Imagine with me that there’s no pandemic. You’re out for some drinks, and you’re approached by an old flame. What do you do? Give them the cold shoulder? Have a polite chat and maybe offer some apology for whatever stupid thing you did way back when? Or do you indulge them with a last dance for old times’ sake?
When I drove the 50th Anniversary edition of the 2020 Nissan Z, I figured that was my last hurrah with this generation of the Z car — a car that refused to change its ways as the rest of the world marched on into the future. A year and a half after what I thought was goodbye, Autoblog Road Test Editor Zac Palmer surprised me with a 370Z Nismo in my driveway. Me and the Z … we danced.
The Nismo just absolutely begs you to wring out its 3.7-liter V6. It unleashes its peak of 350 horsepower at a screaming 7,400 rpm, and a lot of its torque, which reaches 276 pound-feet at 5,200 rpm, is loaded right back in the chamber on a downshift. The Nismo’s H-pipe exhaust clearly communicates everything the engine is doing under the hood. It’s simply hard to hold back from slamming your foot all the way to the floor between shifts, and the feeling of the lever landing solidly in to place is addictive.
I can’t remember the last car I drove that so giddily chirped its tires going into second gear, let alone third. Pretty much everything has an automatic transmission these days, and even the scarce few with a manual gearbox could have all-wheel drive. But, with the proper urgency applied, the Nismo still chirps. That sound and feel are tied to memory, and experiencing it brought back not just old Nissan memories, but of cars like the Honda S2000 and Roush-tuned Mustangs, and of a fledgling career as a car writer when driver engagement was pretty much all that mattered to me. Downshifting is a treat too, and you can have it your way — sloppy, heel/toe or automatically rev-matched.
Steering the Nismo through country curves is an absolute treat, too. The steering itself provides a good amount of feel, along with snappy turn-in and a linear build of heft. That weight offers a good sense of control on a tightening-radius curve taken at speed. The suspension traces the road beneath it, with minimal travel and a sublime lack of body roll. That taut suspension is also quite communicative, to say the least.
And despite its age, the 370Z is still an absolute looker, with a design that has withstood the past 12 years with ease. The proportions transcend time, and the aerodynamic bits spice it up like a dash of hot sauce. All it would need is a few extra creature comforts and a tech upgrade to make it feel somewhat up to date, and Nissan could maybe get a few more years out of the model.
But I feel like I’ve aged more quickly than the Z, and some things about the Nismo just don’t endear themselves to this driver over a decade after its introduction. Yes, the sound of the exhaust does get one’s pulse racing, but that can also be exhausting — I found myself yearning for that seventh gear that comes with the automatic transmission as I cruised the highway in the six-speed manual’s top gear. I previously never had to think about putting a car seat in a Z before, but I needed to get my kindergartener to school somehow. I extended the car seat’s top tether to its very limit in order to reach the anchor through the rear hatch, and contorted myself around the thing as I strapped it to the passenger seat.
Worst of all, though, was the suspension feel. Stiff springs and a near-complete lack of body roll are great at the track, but the Nismo’s setup was downright punishing as it crashed over frost heaves, small potholes and other imperfections. Ten years ago, I might have daily driven a Nismo if given the opportunity. Now, no way.
But once the large son was safely at school, I could hop off the highway and hit the empty, smoother country roads without a passenger constantly threatening to barf. And me and the Z, we danced.
It’s the end of an era, to be sure, but it’s not the last chapter in the Z car story. The new generation, whatever it may be called, has been previewed by the Nissan Z Proto. That concept sports a manual transmission and a 400-horsepower twin-turbo V6 borrowed from Infiniti. And if the rumor is true — and why wouldn’t this one be? — we’ll see a Nismo version of that, too. Here’s hoping it chirps.