2005 Nissan 350Z NISMO
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By Laurance Yap
Photos by Grant Yoxon

Before you choke on the $62,000 price of this modified 350Z – one that doesn’t make much more power than the stock $45,000 version – realize that, as Nissan’s demonstrator car, it has every single NISMO performance part that the company could find bolted, glued, or stuck to it. Should you choose to modify your own 350Z, you can be much more selective, and get away with quite similar results. You will likely want some of the cosmetic additions, maybe a couple of the go-fast bits, maybe some of the neat pieces of interior trim; you will likely not want all of it. That is, after all, the name of the game.

It is a game that’s changed a lot in the last few years, this modifying thing, and the NISMO Z shows just how far it’s come. Tuning, once the realm of enthusiastic young guys souping up their Civics and Golfs in their parents’ garages, is now a lot richer, and a lot more mainstream, than it used to be. The kind of people you see driving highly-modified cars has changed; you’re as likely these days to see a professional dressed in a business suit and wearing an expensive watch and pair of shades as you are a teenager with baggy pants and backwards-turned baseball cap. The vehicles being modified are more diverse, too; the scene has expanded from primarily front-drive import cars to BMWs, Porsches, and even expensive domestic SUVs like the Hummer H2, Lincoln Navigator, and Cadillac Escalade.

2005 Nissan 350Z NISMO
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Much of the upscaling of the tuning scene has been driven by the manufacturers themselves. Brands like Mercedes’ AMG and BMW’s M division have increased their profiles and product portfolios dramatically over the last few years, introducing more, and more expensive, models to immediate and often record-breaking successes (Canada, in particular, is one of Mercedes’ best AMG markets). Clearly seeing an opportunity to hammer home the company’s performance image, as well as make a few bucks, Nissan has introduced a line of performance parts not just for the 350Z,

2005 Nissan 350Z NISMO
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but for the Sentra SE-R and even the Frontier pickup, under the NISMO (Nissan Motorsports International) brand that has been a fixture of the Japanese performance market for many years.

With NISMO parts, you’re buying genuine racing heritage. All of the parts available for the Z (in both aggressive street-sport S-tune and racing-intended R-tune form) come straight from the company’s motorsports program, and are derived from the parts used on racing Zs which participate with quite some success in the Japanese GT Championship. That includes the performance exhaust, air intake, and pumped-up R-tune suspension fitted to our test car, as well as the forged alloy wheels and aerodynamic body additions (in Japan, an even wilder body kit is available).

2005 Nissan 350Z NISMO
Click image to enlarge

Crucially, it also includes built-in peace of mind, as all NISMO S-Tune parts fitted by your dealer are covered for a year under Nissan’s warranty should anything go wrong. R-Tune parts, designed as they are for racing and track days, aren’t covered under warranty, but are built to even tougher specs.

The sense of quality and integration is palpable the moment you pull out of the parking lot in the NISMO Z. It feels like a total high-performance car, rather than a car that’s been souped up; the same engineers that designed the car are the ones who worked on the parts as well. All of the control efforts – the steering, which directs the monoblock wheels and Bridgestone RE040 tires, the chunky metal shift knob, and the brakes – all have uniform efforts and are easy to modulate. The engine, thanks to a cold air intake and a cat-back exhaust system, not only sounds better than ever, but revs more keenly, but is still tractable in downtown traffic; you can drive it smoothly and slowly without any extra effort.

2005 Nissan 350Z NISMO
Click image to enlarge

But the best part is surely the suspension: even though it’s lower and ostensibly stiffer than the stock set-up, with thicker anti-roll bars front and rear as well as a revised strut tower brace, it actually seems to ride better than the Z’s clumpy stock set-up, whether you’re in town or on the highway.

Be in no doubt that the NISMO Z handles better than the stock car, though. It’s not just that you can throw it into corners faster than the stock car, which you most certainly can; it’s that the various tweaks made have given the car an extra level of sensitivity and responsiveness that wasn’t there before.

2005 Nissan 350Z NISMO
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The stock Z is a big car that you drive with big arm motions and with big throttle openings; the NISMO bits give it a level of subtlety and sophistication that wasn’t there before. You can lean on it harder in corners thanks not only to the suspension’s improved stability and the extra grip from the tires, but the more-precise throttle response means you can dole out just a little more speed, or if you’re brutal (and a better driver than I) slide out the rear end to exactly the angle you want. While the car’s outright level of power is probably up only by a few horses, the amount of control you have over them, and the sound they make, is significantly improved.

2005 Nissan 350Z NISMO
Click image to enlarge

The good news is that of the $13,000-plus worth of modifications fitted to our test car with navigation, the performance enhancements account for only about half the tally. The wheels are the biggest expense at around $4,000, but the suspension upgrades are relatively inexpensive, as are the exhaust and cold-air intake. The biggest part of the price hit actually comes from the body kit, which totals almost $6,000 including the aggressive front spoiler, flared side skirts, and giant rear wing. The funky NISMO graphics package, which is one of the few stripe kits I’ve ever liked on a car, is $240. Interior upgrades are limited to a billet-aluminum shift knob and a set of floor mats, which would be easy to do without.

2005 Nissan 350Z NISMO
Click image to enlarge

Ideally, I’d pick the suspension upgrades, the wheels, shift knob, and the lower bits of the body kit without the spoiler and apply them to a 287-hp 350Z Track Pack or 300-hp Anniversary Edition, with their larger Brembo brakes; the Track Pack’s cloth seats are grippier than the leather ones in our tester, and the car’s lighter weight and overall more-aggressive demeanour better suit the NISMO modifications. Doing so would still leave you with a Z priced well north of $50,000, but it’s certainly a more interesting and exciting alternative to many cars priced in the same range, such as BMW’s oh-so-slick 3-series coupe, or a more luxurious but less-focused Infiniti G35 six-speed two-door.

2005 Nissan 350Z NISMO
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The beauty of the whole NISMO thing, and indeed the beauty of the whole tuning thing, though, is that you don’t need to do it all at once. You can start with a new Z, and pick up a key fob and a snazzy NISMO baseball cap and go from there, up through the S-Tune and R-Tune parts as your budget, interests, and driving skills mature. The stock Z, after all, is an excellent performance car in its own right, a car that takes time and effort to master; you may as well do that before trying to make it go faster. Once you’ve elevated your own level to that of the car, and are ready for more speed, more style, and more individuality, then the NISMO bits are right there to help you to the next level. That such a level is now set so high is an indication of just how far the whole game has progressed since its inception.

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