I recently had a blast behind the wheel of a 2016 Nissan 370Z NISMO at the Road America racetrack in Wisconsin. But unlike most of the cars I get to drive, I could only experience the Z on track and not the street. But that’d be something silly to complain about — right?
“There’s nothing truly revolutionary about the ongoing 370Z, but it’s track-proven record, combined with NISMO’s racing sorcery, make this a strong contender in the sports-coupe market”
NISMO is synonymous with racing performance, and this 2016 NISMO-tuned 370Z isn’t the exception. Start with the tried and true VQ V6 engine which produces a whopping 350 horses, all sent to the rear wheels for your drifting pleasure. And not to mention it loves being revved up to its 7,500-rpm redline.
In the looks department, the signature NISMO front end, side skirts and rear diffuser wrap the Z in an aggressive, but purposeful aero look. The 14″ sport brake rotors, 4-piston calipers and GTR-inspired high rigidity brake lines make sure you stop on a dime. And last but not least, Nissan’s Viscous Limited-Slip Differential (VLSD) made my my autocross laps look fun and quite heroic.
On the track the Z feels like it’s on rails, and it inspires you with a sense of confidence that only comes along with well engineered high performance vehicles. Acceleration is instant, and the steering is precise and offers plenty of feedback — which is rarity in most modern cars. But, my favorite characteristic is what happens when you step on the brakes and shift down a couple of gears, as which every downshift the Z blips the throttle and makes you feel and sound like true LeMans racer. It’s amazing.
What’s there not to love? The price
A 370Z NISMO will set you back anywhere from $41,990 to $45,990 depending on the number of tech options your fingertips desire, but the soul of the Z remains the same regardless — so choose wisely. In my opinion, the NISMO seems to be a car marketed for the Z and Fairlady enthusiasts, just like the Golf R is to the GTI cult members. In both instances, the price is more than one can justify.
With that being said, this track-hungry Z is kind of a nightmare when it comes to practicality, or family-friendliness. But it consistently performed like a champ, lap after lap on the race track, which is its ultimate goal. Even though this is a street car capable of being a daily driver, you may want to look at signing up for a few track days in order to experience the true magic of the 370Z NISMO. It won’t disappoint you!
And if Autocross is your thing, here’s some advice on how to impress your buddies at the next track meet!
Autocross: A timed competition in which drivers navigate one at a time through a defined permanent or temporary course. Autocross courses are typically short in distance and tend to place demands on car handling and driver skill rather than on engine power and outright speed.
Autocross is a popular form of “racing” that’s grown tremendously due to its flexibility to be performed at different venues at relatively low costs. All you need to set up an autocross venue is an empty parking lot or track, stopwatch (or timing system), safety cones, and if you’re fancy — a few hay bales. For the participants (drivers and passengers), all you need is a helmet and for your vehicle to pass a basic safety inspection.
Autocross is a lot about handling and little about power. The reason behind that is that most autocross events are performed at parking lots or karting tracks, therefore high speed straights are almost non-existent, but tight and sharp turns abound.
How to succeed at autocross: Know the track and know your car
First of all, I spent most of my teenage years racing various forms of shifter karts and small formula cars with the hopes of making it to F1. Clearly — I didn’t. But the upside is to triumph at the local karting track, or shame other journalists at karting or autocross media events. Such was the case on the video below where I came in second out of 80 or so journalists — and I did so on my first shot at that track and car. My gap was less than three tenths of a second to first place. Not too shabby. So while I’m not Sebastian Vettel, my advice isn’t completely worthless.
Walk the track. Autocross tracks are tiny, so don’t be lazy and go out there to get a good idea of what the layout and surface feels like.
Do you have a manual or automatic transmission? If you have a manual transmission then it’s imperative to compromise on a gear that will allow you to get through the entire course with minimal shifting (or none). Shifting makes you add valuable time and momentum. You are better off briefly lifting off the throttle in order to avoid shifting, than to actually waste time shifting up and then quickly shift down again. If you have an automatic transmission, keep the engine in the optimum rev range to keep the transmission from shifting through the turns.
Can you turn off the traction control? Depending on the surface, this may help or hurt you. Turning traction control off could help you get on the gas sooner and faster, but it could also create wheel spin.
Does your car like understeer or oversteer? Understeer is when a car likes to push forward or go straight under braking or turning. Oversteer is when the rear-end has a tendency to step out. This may vary depending on the type of drivetrain, tires, or suspension set up your car is equipped with. Learn how to balance your car while cornering in order to keep a neutral flow through the turns.
Be smooth. This is perhaps the most important thing in autocross and any form of racing. Don’t be choppy, watch your hands and make sure you are using smooth and gradual steering inputs. Also don’t stab the brake or throttle. Think of a lap around the circuit as a smooth waltz that’s happening at high speed.
Go slow. I know what you’re thinking — huh? Autocross is about piecing all the different sections of the track together, if you speed too much you will have to brake sooner, braking sooner means adding time. But if you don’t brake enough, then you will understeer into a corner and lose your balance and rhythm. Going “slow” and being smooth are key to being to scoring a clean and fast lap.
Once you have all of these down, relax, and let your hands and feet do their magic. And, remember that your fastest slap will be the one that felt like your easiest lap. Have fun!