A SHIPMENT of fairy dust arrived this week from Nismo-land in Japan, sprinkled over the top of a lightly tweaked Nissan 370Z.
If any car needs the magic it's the ancient Zed, which has been around almost unchanged since 2009. It's an old-school driving car with a front-mounted V6 and rear-wheel drive, not a trendy front-drive turbo hatch - or the gargantuan GT-R Godzilla that it follows as the second Nismo model in the go-faster local line-up.
The Nismo changes are simple and predictable, from firmer suspension and bigger wheels to spoilers, Recaro sports seat, alcantara wrapping on the steering wheel and some stickers. There are a double-bazooka exhaust, chassis dampers and slightly higher engine outputs, up by 8kW/8Nm.
So why bother?
"I think it will sustain interest in the Zed as a car. I'm not banking on it giving the car a kick in sales,” says outgoing Nissan Australia managing director Richard Emery. "It's to get more excitement into our showrooms.”
Any excitement will be good. Nissan has retreated into SUVs and light commercials as it works to make a smarter business case for passenger cars in Australia. It's relying on Nismo to polish the GT-R and 370Z badges.
Emery anticipates the 370Z will run for at least another two years - despite a complete blank on plans for a successor - and believes the update and major price adjustments will stabilise sales at 300-400 annually.
For many, the best thing about the 370Z Nismo coupe is the price change it brings for the whole Zed family. The six models start from $49,990, with the manual Nismo version from $61,490 and the auto from $63,990.
Emery expects 30 per cent of 370Z sales to have the Nismo gear and buyers to come from two obvious - but very different - groups. "There are males 45-65, married, probably with no kids at home, excited by driving. Then males 20-24, Nismo enthusiasts.”
ON THE ROAD
This is not what I expect from a 370Z with Nismo badges. I'm fearing something from the "Pull out the suspension, make it loud” crew. This one is smoother and more refined than the regular 370Z and generally more pleasant.
Its advanced age is obvious. I can't find a digital speedometer anywhere, the cabin is messy and outdated and there are none of the latest advanced safety features.
Still, the basics will still work for people who like to drive and the Recaro seats are great.
It's no rocket ship, though it is easier to keep the car running along thanks to the shove of the mid-range torque. It runs well to the red-line, too, with a great bark from the Nismo exhaust.
The body changes give the car a bit more visual heft. The wheels are set 15mm wider apart but the bigger advantage comes from separate mass dampers that aid suspension compliance. Some people might find more grip from wider rear 245-35 Dunlop tyres.
The exhaust also removes the drone of the regular 370Z - and the rear looks great.
Introducing Nismo models allows a price cut. The starting price has never been cheaper, at $49,990.
The suspension is tweaked with old-school springs and dampers but there is Bose active noise-cancelling to help in the cabin. Chassis dampers reduce vibration but the Nismo strut brace in the engine bay is the regular one from a Zed ... with a special sticker.
The Nismo exhaust is a complete dual set-up for better flow, working with tweaks to the engine management computer. Extra 8kW and 8Nm outputs are undetectable.
The 370Z has always been fun but not very refined. The Nismo package smooths the edges, allows more confident cornering and makes any drive more relaxing and rewarding.
The shape is unchanged, so the Nismo tweaking is just tinkering around the edges with a spoiler, side skirts and badges. The 19-inch Rays forged alloys save weight.
A little does quite a lot for the 370Z. The Nismo car is sweeter to drive but keep an eye on the speedo.
AT A GLANCE
NISSAN 370Z NISMO
PRICE From $61,490
SAFETY Not rated
ENGINE 3.7-litre V6, 253kW/371Nm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual, 7-speed auto; RWD
THIRST From 10.4L/100km
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