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2024 Nissan Z NISMO First Drive Review: Overhaulin’

2024 Nissan Z NISMO
Photo: D.Heyman
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Dan Heyman
The upgrades from the standard Z range from mild to major

•    Auto123 gets in a first drive of the 2024 Nissan Z NISMO.

Sonoma County, CA - When the latest Nissan Z arrived for the 2023 model-year, it was met with a mixture of elation and derision from both the Z faithful and those looking to get into the sports car game at a bit of a discount.

For one, the base model comes in at less than 50 grand, and folks liked the twin-turbo power and the retro looks. But a lot of that was overshadowed by a feeling of heaviness and steering that fell too far to the left of precise.

Indeed, when you think of affordable sports cars like the Mazda MX-5 or Toyota GR86, it’s not really about the power. There are a number of inexpensive ways to get power – think Mustang or even V6 Challenger – but a car that has the precise handling aspects that really tap into the main nerve of drivers? That tougher.

The Z needed something to give it more precision, more balance, even more grip. What to do? Enter NISMO, Nissan’s performance division with its name taken from “NISsan MOtorsport”.

2024 Nissan Z NISMO, three-quarters rear
2024 Nissan Z NISMO, three-quarters rear
Photo: D.Heyman

Styling of the 2024 Nissan Z NISMO – 9.5/10

The standard Z is a looker, but the NISMO version (base price: $75,998) kicks things up a notch. It keeps the taillights and blacked-out rear fascia that recall the Z32 300ZX, the retro “Z” badging on the c-pillars and the profile of the OG in the Zed world, the 1969 Datsun 240Z. Then it adds:

  • Redesigned front and rear bumpers (with the fronts getting functional aero canards on their edges);
  • New 19-inch Rays wheels (with NISMO badging) shod with wider Dunlop SP Sportmax GT 600 rubber;
  • An extended rear spoiler for downforce;
  • And of course the eponymous red NISMO band ‘round the base of the body.

Add an all-new Stealth Gray body colour, and you have a comprehensive styling upgrade that combines what makes the standard grade so great and adds a little more oomph.

The car has a lower, wider stance, the blockier bumpers add a race car air and the wheels and tires are a great look. Especially from the rear, where you can really see the effects of the new bumper.

Nissan says that while the original new Z used the 240Z for inspiration, for the NISMO the muse was that car’s upgraded 240ZG form. It looks spectacular – especially when compared to the overly aftermarket look of the 370Z NISMO - and the only reason it doesn’t earn a 10/10 rating here is because for now, Canada is not getting the fabulous White Pearl paint colour with contrast black roof.

2024 Nissan Z NISMO, interior
2024 Nissan Z NISMO, interior
Photo: D.Heyman

Interior of the 2024 Nissan Z NISMO – 8.5/10

Inside, the Nismo benefits from all-new Recaro sports seats finished in genuine Alcantara suede and leather, Alcantara suede steering wheel and digital gauge cluster with updated graphics. It’s sharp enough to look at and gets some quasi-retro styling, but I think an analogue option would be the way to go here as it would provide more of a sense of occasion. Then again, race car interiors are all digital these days and the NISMO has been developed with track performance in mind.

Anodized start/stop and drive mode toggle buttons painted red look awesome and complete the look inside.

The seats themselves are deep buckets that are very supportive but don’t come heated or with power adjustments, as is often the case with performance seats. They do well to keep occupants in place, though the wider-hipped will feel a bit of a squeeze.

If you’re planning on tracking one of these – likely the case, if you listen to Nissan’s market research – know that while a 6-foot-and-a-bit person will be OK inside, adding a crash helmet changes things. When we took to the track, I had tilt the seatback waaay back in order to get my head in, which is pretty much the opposite of the correct driver position for track work. Luckily, the steering wheel tilts and telescopes through an impressive range of motion.

2024 Nissan Z NISMO, data screen
2024 Nissan Z NISMO, data screen
Photo: D.Heyman
2024 Nissan Z NISMO, dashboard
2024 Nissan Z NISMO, dashboard
Photo: D.Heyman

You still get the parcel shelves behind the seats that are sized for a small bag or helmet, so it’s nice to know that while there’s all manner of chassis reinforcement, there was no need to fit extra bracing behind the seats. Which is good because it’s snug inside the Z, and the storage bin stowed below the armrest is barely big enough to fit a wallet. And while there are two cupholders, one of them will get covered by the sliding armrest if you leave it in its forward position.

Technology in the 2024 Nissan Z NISMO – 7/10

The central infotainment display measures 8 inches like in the standard car and there is wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The NISMO also gets the upgraded Bose sound system from the top-spec Z Performance trim, which is nice, though it’s not the punchiest sound system in the segment (the Toyota Supra’s BMW-derived system, for example, is better). Better resolution on the backup camera would have been nice. Would also have been nice to see Nissan’s newer infotainment system (first seen in the Armada SUV) make its way down the line, though whether the larger screen would fit the dash here is anyone’s guess.

2024 Nissan Z NISMO, rear
2024 Nissan Z NISMO, rear
Photo: D.Heyman

Driving the 2024 Nissan Z NISMO – 8.5/10

We’ll get the elephant in the room out of the way: yes, the Z NISMO is only available with a 9-speed automatic transmission, this while the standard Z does have a manual option. Once again, the Nismo’s penchant for track work is the reasoning behind the decision. According to Nissan, those interested in a NISMO Z are all about lap times, and the auto is just the faster way to go, plain and simple.

It's the same auto transmission the regular Z gets gets, except with more clutch plates and tweaked to provide 27-percent faster upshifts and 50-percent faster downshifts. You’ll feel it especially in the new Sport+ mode, which sharpens throttle response, hangs on to gears longer when in auto mode and relaxes the VDC system for more rear-end slip.

The results of all this can absolutely be felt (we drove the Z Performance just before the NISMO for comparison). The car squats and leaps forth with more ferocity than the old car (there’s a launch control system; hold the brake, pull both paddles at once to activate, floor it).

The Nismo’s 428 hp and 384 lb-ft counts are up 20 and 34, respectively, on the Z Performance. You will feel the difference though it weighs 100 lb more which cuts into the effect the extra power has. Indeed, it would have been nice for them to find just a few extra horses – maybe 30 more instead of 20 – and while the aftermarket is surely already on it, it’s not so much a leap up from the standard Z as it is a step forward.

2024 Nissan Z NISMO, front
2024 Nissan Z NISMO, front
Photo: D.Heyman

Not so when it comes to the power and handling. In that department, the Nismo Z is absolutely, certifiably a drastic leap up from the Z. The wheels and tires and the shocks are different and stuff is stiffened, for instance the springs and the bushings. There are bigger brakes, different calipers and increased torsional rigidity (by 2.5 percent) and lateral rigidity (by 12 percent).

The steering rack is also more rigid, so that the feel from that great Alcantara wheel is knocking on the door of much pricier stuff like the BMW M4 and even the Porsche Cayman GT4. It’s a faster steer as well. The steering ratio hasn’t changed, but the rigidity through the steering column and the grippier tires down below mean smaller adjustments are required for big returns. The dead zone is there just enough so you’re not constantly adjusting on the highway (especially if you reduce the drive mode), but other than that, this is as direct a steering rack as you’re going to find, especially at this price level.

And then there’s the road grip. Even on Sonoma Raceway’s tricky downhill left-right-left complex, it was impossible to unstick those Dunlops. Even in Sport+ it was hard to even get them chirping no matter how much throttle I gave, or how much lift-off oversteer I tried to achieve. The NISMO just grips and grips and grips some more, inspiring real confidence. It’s an incredible feat that does away with the parts-bin feel of both the 370Z and 350Z NISMOs, cars that were too stiff, too loud and just too harsh for the extra cash they commanded.

2024 Nissan Z NISMO, NISMO badging
2024 Nissan Z NISMO, NISMO badging
Photo: D.Heyman

Some of your questions about the 2024 Nissan Z Nismo:

Has a manual transmission been completely ruled out?
While Nissan reps on-hand during the event were sticking to their “we don’t discuss future products” line, they didn’t completely rule it out and there’s nothing about the NISMO upgrade that prevents it from getting the Z’s manual box. Indeed, if they did it with the GR Supra, they can do it here.

What other trims are available for the 2024 NIssan Z?
In addition to the NISMO ($79,998), there’s also Z Performance ($61,998) and Z Sport ($50,998). All but the NISMO are available with either a 6-speed manual or 9-speed auto transmission.

The final word
When I tested the Nissan Z both on road and track last year, I wanted to like it more than I did. The powertrain was fine, but there was just something missing that prevented it from reaching the next level, one that was fully clear of the 370Z it was replacing. It needed better steering, it needed stickier road grip and it needed more body and chassis control.

In fact, it needed some NISMO. And NISMO has delivered, bringing us a car that is a clear-as-day upgrade over the car it starts out as and maybe - just maybe - it will be enough to bring the Z car back into the spotlight as an attractive sub-100K sports car.

Competitors of the 2024 Nissan Z NISMO

  • BMW M2
  • Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
  • Ford Mustang GT
  • Honda Civic Type R
  • Toyota GR Supra
2024 Nissan Z NISMO, profile
2024 Nissan Z NISMO, profile
Photo: D.Heyman

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Dan Heyman
Dan Heyman
Automotive expert
  • Over 12 years' experience as an automotive journalist
  • More than 70 test drives in the past year
  • Participation in over 150 new vehicle launches in the presence of the brand's technical specialists