Hard to the Core It looks like a Z with a body kit, but the 2007 Nissan Nismo 350Z is a homologation special with a seam-welded chassis. By Erin Riches, Senior Content Editor Date posted: 07-24-2007 Seam-welded body/chassis - 306-hp VQ35HR V6 - 13.6-second quarter-mile at 103 mph - 71.0-mph slalom speed Five years since its rebirth, the Nissan 350Z remains one of the world's great performance bargains. But it isn't pretty. It isn't subtle. And it doesn't care whether you think the cabin is stylish or not. This is all part of the hard-core image Nissan has built for the Z. And rather than back away from it as the end of the Z-car's model cycle nears, Nissan is pushing this car's character right to the edge of reason. So here is the 2007 Nissan Nismo 350Z, a Z-car so hard-core you'd have to be slightly insane to drive it. Nissan figures only a few of you qualify, as only 1,500 examples of this limited-production car will come to the U.S. this year. A Nismo in Name Alone A stiffer body with more aggressive suspension tuning makes this the best-handling 350Z we've driven to date. Although Nissan is marketing it under the Nismo name, this 350Z is not, in fact, a product of its in-house tuning division. As we reported in our First Drive, it's the work of Autech, a Japanese company with a long history of modifying Nissans for commercial and mobility applications that has recently expanded into motorsports. Autech builds and prepares the Z-car that competes in the Japan Super GT racing series. That goes a long way toward explaining the appearance of the 2007 Nissan Nismo 350Z. With a front splitter so big it gives the car an underbite, exhaust outlets large enough to swallow a kitten and a rear wing only an Evo could love, this Z's racing-derived bodywork undoubtedly earns admiration in Tokyo. Around Los Angeles, however, the Nismo Z inspires the scorn of motorists who don't realize this garish body art exists for functional reasons. Purpose-Built for the Track 2007 brings a more potent V6 to the 350Z line, and part of the power gain comes from exposed, symmetrical intake ducts. Since the Nismo 350Z has been purpose-built to drive on roads that nobody else is using, it's probably understandable that it doesn't look right in California traffic. The Nismo Z replaces the 2003-'06 Track model at the top of the Nissan 350Z line, yet it's a more advanced instrument and takes its track-day responsibilities seriously. Autech begins by taking the Z-car's chassis off the assembly line and welding the seams of the unit body by hand, a common practice in racing. This labor-intensive technique gives this car an added measure of structural rigidity compared to the customary spot-welded chassis of the other Zs that simply roll off the assembly line. In addition, Autech has installed special Yamaha-designed mass dampers between the left and right frame rails of the unibody structure (one near the radiator core support and the other beneath the rear cargo area) to help counter the additional vibration that naturally accompanies a chassis stiffened not just by seam welding but also by the strut braces that are already a part of every 350Z chassis. Autech also revised the Z's suspension, which has been subtly softened over the years in response to Z-car drivers who kept asking for improved ride quality. The Nismo Z's spring and damper calibration is on par with that of a first-year 350Z Track, Nissan engineers tell us. In Japan, the Nismo Z wears 245/40R18 front and 265/35R19 rear Bridgestone Potenza RE01R tires, but the U.S. car wears less exotic RE050As, apparently a measure to accommodate our colder winters. A VQ That Lives to Spin The VQ35HR V6's peak output is identical to that of the V6 in the 2007 Infiniti G35 sedan, but the Z-car's V6 has a broader power band. While chassis upgrades define the 2007 Nissan Nismo 350Z, it's useful to remember that the whole point is to harness the VQ-Series V6, the centerpiece of the Z-car's personality. For 2007, all 350Zs have a new, higher-revving version of the 3.5-liter V6 known within Nissan as the VQ35HR. It's rated for 306 horsepower at 6,800 rpm and 268 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm. This doesn't look like much progress over the 300-hp motor in manual-shift 2006 350Zs, but keep in mind that the new V6 has been rated under the new, more-demanding SAE standards. More important, the new VQ has a flatter, broader torque curve, with 90 percent of peak torque available from 2,000-7,000 rpm. Redline is up to 7,500 rpm compared to last year's 7,000 rpm (or 6,600 rpm for the V6 matched with the Z's automatic transmission). It's a hard-earned transformation, as Nissan has swapped out 80 percent of the old VQ35DE engine's components. Revised air intakes, twin throttle bodies, a higher compression ratio and new cylinder heads with straighter intake ports squeeze out the extra power, while variable valve timing for the intake and exhaust cams broadens the usable range. To help the engine withstand the higher redline, the crankshaft's pins and journals are larger in diameter, and its main bearing carrier is supported by a ladder-type frame for additional stiffness. The connecting rods are 8.4mm longer to help reduce vibration, a measure that requires a revised engine block with a taller deck height. A Rich Sensory Experience Redline is up to 7,500 rpm; there's an addictive pitch change around 5,500 rpm that urges a full swing of the tach. Understandably, the Nismo Z comes only with the six-speed manual gearbox, which is unchanged from last year's transmission, and the gear ratios take full advantage of the new engine's power band. This new high-revving engine is easily the most thrilling of any VQ we've ever driven. It pulls all the way across the face of the tachometer, and you can feel the power arriving as the revs climb. It has a full personality — multidimensional performance plus genuine throttle response — so it's always exciting to drive. The familiar heft of the short-throw shifter takes you back to other 350Zs you've known and loved. Although its heavy, brooding progress through the gates slows shift speed at the test track, you'll savor its bolt-action feel in any other situation. The clutch engages with expected haste, yet the take-up is surprisingly smooth. This Nismo Z test car posts some very impressive acceleration numbers — 5.1 seconds to 60 mph, 13.6 seconds through the quarter-mile at 103 mph. Among front-engine, rear-drive coupes on the near side of $50K, BMW's twin-turbo, 300-hp 335i is quicker, as are the Corvette and Shelby GT500. But these cars will take a few thousand more from your bank account than the Nismo Z. Drive It Hard Up front, four-piston Brembo calipers squeeze 12.8-inch discs. In back, there are two-piston calipers and 12.7-inch discs. More important, the 2007 Nissan Nismo 350Z makes its competition irrelevant as soon as the road ahead gets challenging. Here the Nismo behaves like other Zs in that it neither wants nor rewards a gentle touch. This is an uptight car that's at its best when it's manhandled. With no body roll to speak of, the best plan of attack is to build up pace progressively, paying close attention to tire grip. There's ample information coming from the road through the close-fitting driver seat and the comfortable grip of the three-spoke steering wheel. The steering itself feels a bit coarse, but it reacts quickly and has a weighty amount of effort. The brakes are the same Brembos on the 350Z Grand Touring, but response is immediate and they never fade. We weren't surprised when our Nismo Z turned in consistent 109-foot stops from 60 mph during instrumented testing. Before long, we're leaning hard on the Nismo 350Z, using the gifted VQ to adjust our own attitude as well as the car's. Worldly responsibilities seem far away. When our mountain road ends, we don't aim for the freeway. We pull a U-turn and turn on the bi-xenons. As good as the Nismo feels on public roads, the true gains of its seam-welded chassis can only be realized in a track environment. For a car that weighs 3,354 pounds, a 71.0-mph slalom speed and 0.91g on the skid pad are signs of talent — the last Lotus Elise we tested had less than a 1-mph advantage in the slalom. Mount up the Nismo Z with stickier tires and you'll have a capable if portly track-day car straight from the Nissan dealership. Reality Can Be Harsh Cabin materials are as drab as those of any other Nissan 350Z; Japan-spec leather seats have been excised in favor of less costly cloth. You could invent all sorts of justifications for buying a 2007 Nissan Nismo 350Z, but don't go thinking you can commute in this coupe. The combination of an ultrastiff chassis, aggressive suspension and big tires results in a car that rides harshly whenever the road isn't as smooth as a tabletop. Even worse is the booming resonance throughout the cockpit over certain pavement surfaces, a quirk that made a couple of our editors feel queasy. To really appreciate the 2007 Nissan Nismo 350Z, you'll need to be a little more insane than most Z-car buyers. Objectively speaking, it's the best-handling 350Z Nissan has ever built. On a subjective level, it's certainly the coolest Z to own. But if you're not into racing or planning a go at it, you better step away from this car. The 2007 Nissan Nismo 350Z is a serious car, and if you're some kind of whiner, you'd be better off with the kind of Z-car that ordinary people might buy. Although high-rpm tractability is the main thrust of the new VQ V6, there's still more than enough low-end torque to satisfy your inner adolescent. MSRP of Test Vehicle: $38,775 What Works: Delightful, free-revving V6; addictive exhaust sounds; mad cornering capabilities; strong brakes; spot-on driving position. What Needs Work: Lots of freeway hop; deafening road noise; disappointing interior materials. Bottom Line: It's hardly a daily driver, but as a dedicated partner for back roads or track-day events, the Nismo Z might be a relative bargain. Performance Color choices are restricted to black, white, silver or, as seen here, "Redline". 0 - 30 (sec): 1.9 0 - 45 (sec): 3.4 0 - 60 (sec): 5.1 0 - 75 (sec): 7.5 1/4 Mile (sec @ mph): 13.6 @ 103.0 30 - 0 (ft): 28 60 - 0 (ft): 109 Braking Rating (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor or Very Poor): Excellent Slalom (mph): 71 Skid Pad (g-force): .91g Handling Rating (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor or Very Poor): Excellent Db @ Idle: 48 Db @ Full Throttle: 88.7 Db @ 70 mph Cruise: 69 Acceleration: Best launch is with minimal wheelspin from a relatively low rpm (3,800). The shift feel of the short-throw shifter doesn't help with shift speed, as effort is high. Braking: Minimal idle pedal is nice, as is the rock-hard feel and engagement. Superb effectiveness. No fade. Handling: Skid pad: Probably the best-balanced 350Z I've ever driven. Very easy to sense the transition between neutral grip and oversteer. Slalom: Not a light car and its weight is obvious during slalom transitions. Still, 71.0 mph is moving.