Test drive: Nissan 370Z Nismo

Ever wondered what your teenage son is up to in his bedroom? If he’s hooked on computer games then chances are he knows more about the 370Z Nismo than your local Nissan dealer.

Nismo cars feature on PlayStation, where players race against each other in the fantasy world of Gran Turismo. They can choose from 1,200 images of auto-erotica, including Ferraris, Lamborghinis and the awesome Nissan Nismo.

If the thought of computer games appeals like a trip to the dentist, then welcome back to the real world. You can drive a high-performance 370Z Nismo for just under £37,000, and be a super-cool parent too.

Race-car performance from Nissan

Nissan claims the 370Z Nismo brings ‘race track performance and technology to the street’ and it’s not far wrong. Considering this 2+2 coupe is cheaper than a Porsche Cayman and offers as many thrills, it represents excellent value for money.

The Nismo is a tweaked version of the standard 370Z, loaded with a hefty 3.7-litre V6 engine, finely tuned to produce 340bhp. The suspension is beefed up, with black, 19-inch alloy wheels for grip.

A huge spoiler dominates the tailgate but Nismo also has two of the largest exhaust pipes ever borrowed from a dragster. Fortunately, they’ve been tuned to emit only modest noise levels.

That said, it’s not a car for shrinking violets. The bodywork bulges muscles in all the right places and you can expect plenty of attention on the motorway.

The Nismo really comes into its own when you steer it down a winding A-road.

With so much power directed to the rear wheels, it’s quite tempting to fling the 370Z around with wild abandon. The back end will lose grip if you push too hard but that’s easily rectified with some fine steering adjustment.

I found the ride extra firm and that means you will feel every bump on an uneven surface. At least the sports seats are softer than they look and provide support in all the right places.

The Nismo can gobble up the 0-60mph dash in 5.2 seconds but really this is a car that’s all about handling. It’s beautifully balanced and you don’t have to be a driver with Lewis Hamilton’s skillset to enjoy racetrack thrills.

Inside, the 370Z cabin is surprisingly practical too. You can squeeze your son and a friend into the rear seats but only for short journeys. There’s a decent sized boot and Nissan has even found the space for a proper cupholder!

If you are going to have a mid-life crisis then I can’t think of a better car for the money. And your son is going to love you for buying one too.

The alternative: Toyota GT86
High50 Cars Drive of the month Toyota GT86
The Toyota GT86 is an authentic low-cost, rear-wheel sports car and offers good performance

Toyota’s GT86 is the perfect antidote to the 370Z Nismo. While the Nissan is a heavyweight coupe with a mighty 3.7-litre engine, the Toyota boasts a modest 2.0-litre unit that churns out 197bhp.

No contest? Well, not so because thanks to the GT86’s lower weight and agility, it’s an authentic, low-cost sports car that rivals any coupe on the market. It has aggressive styling and some mock, carbon fibre trim inside the cabin doesn’t look out of place either.

Like the Mazda MX-5, or more extreme Caterham 7, the GT86 is aimed directly at the purist and drivers who like their motoring fun without any whistles and bells. That’s not to say the Toyota isn’t well-equipped, it’s just primarily a driver’s car.

And while the Nismo’s hefty engine pulls well from low revs, the GT86 has to be revved hard to 7,000rpm to extract maximum performance from the smaller engine. You can try to drive it sedately but I found the temptation to push on too great.

The 0-60mph time is a modest 7.6 seconds, slower than a lot of hot hatchbacks out there. However, don’t let that figure fool you, it may not be fast but the Toyota has a very pleasing level of performance.

In fact, I can’t think of a more entertaining, rear-wheel drive car. Even the driving position is perfect, with slick and precise steering and just enough noise from the exhaust to make it sound exciting too.

The GT86 is less refined than the 370Z but with prices starting at £24,995, it’s an absolute bargain of a coupe.

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