The instructor tells me to look for the dirt road on the hill beyond the track to point the 2024 Nissan Z Nismo in the right direction. It’s my first time driving Sonoma Raceway and all the hype couldn’t have prepared me for the quick elevation changes and blind turns of a track carved out of a hill. 

After four laps in the more docile 2024 Nissan Z Performance model, we take lead-follow laps in the new track-ready Z Nismo. The first turn banks hard left and climbs as vertical as any track grade I’ve been on. Then it’s a hard right 90-degree turn into a quick descent and switchback. There’s so much to process that I don’t even see the alleged dirt road until the subsequent round of four laps in the Z Nismo. 

The advice helps, but not as much as being the tail of a five-car train because I’m the Sonoma noob. The initial bank before the climb helps control the direction and balance, but it’s where it bends back left that the structural changes of the Nismo over the base Z become apparent. New stabilizer bars front and rear conspire with the larger dampers and springs to counter the forces pushing me wide, and I’m able to use the bank to climb straight into the blind turn. 

2024 Nissan Z Nismo2024 Nissan Z Nismo

That shot of throttle uphill shows another performance advantage. The twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 is tuned to 420 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque in the Nismo, up from 400 hp and 350 lb-ft in the Z. The combustion chambers and valve timing have been optimized with tech used from the GT-R, and there’s enhanced intake air cooling over other Zs, Nissan says, to better handle track days. Even though the turbochargers are the same as in the Z, they spin faster, but Nissan didn’t disclose the change in boost pressure. From behind the wheel, the extra power feels evident as soon as I come off the brake onto the gas. 

Outside of the track, carving through the twisties cresting over wine country, I needed to double-click the paddle shifters sourced from the GT-R to get the right gear going into and then exiting a hairpin. It required active and predictive flicks to have the optimal torque, which peaks as early as 2,000 rpm. 

I don’t need it on the track, thanks in part to the extra Sport+ mode in Nismo models that holds the gears longer, and downshifts more progressively. Out in the hilly country, I toggled between Normal and Sport. 

2024 Nissan Z Nismo2024 Nissan Z Nismo

The 6-speed manual isn’t offered on the Nismo, only the 9-speed automatic. The change to Sport+ mode is a welcome one. I focus on the blind hard right, finding the dirt road line and the imminent descent into another right, instead of playing with the paddles. In this moment, the danger and adrenaline take hold, but I also feel vulnerable, stripped away of my defenses in a hostile world and placing complete trust in my partner, the Z Nismo. It’s like love.

I could have trusted the brakes more and rode them harder. The Nismo features larger brakes at 15.0 inches up front (14.0 inches on the Performance Z) and 13.8 inches at the rear, with 4-piston front and 2-piston rear aluminum calipers, the better to arrest the staggered Rays 19-inch alloy wheels (19×10 up front, 19×10.5 inches at the rear, a half-inch wider than on the Z Performance). Other performance cars have better braking systems, but with four groups taking four hard laps with about 20-30 minutes between group sessions, the smell of burbling brake fluid or the sight of reddened rotors was mostly absent. The brakes on the Z Nismo handled a track day just fine. 

For one second, the mania calms down, the lines appear clear, the hard double bend right downhill before the carousel all comes into focus and I can see what to do and how to do it, envisioning the high-speed straight out of the carousel.  

The laps all blend together here, and it’s my third go-round in the Nismo and the most eager one yet. I’m poised to hit the apex out of the carousel, swing out wide right then straighten out to try and hit 100 mph before the next downhill hairpin into the long S on the lower end of the track. My confidence is high, too high for my ability. 

2024 Nissan Z Nismo2024 Nissan Z Nismo

Before I started, another instructor encouraged me to press and hold the stability control button (labeled VDC) until the red-hued 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster flashed a “Traction” mode. Using the antilock braking system, and paired with Sport+ mode, it allows for more rotation and slip angle before stability control kicks in. It brakes the inside rear wheel for more rotation into a turn, then brakes the outside rear wheel coming out of the turn to arrest that rotation. It can’t help stupid, though. 

I goose the throttle too soon before completing the carousel. The Nismo’s ducktail swings out to my right, I overcorrect too hard left, and the tail goes in front and the long nose to the rear. Not where you want to be. I have two wheels off; I turn around and play catchup, humbled yet happy, if not a little shaky. The other drivers didn’t notice, except for my instructor who says, “That looked like fun!”

I turn it off for the last lap, but it’s mostly a cool down. I blew my chance. 

There’s more fun to be had, including the dragstrip run to test launch control and the effects of the Nismo’s additional 102 pounds over the Performance model, to a total curb weight of 3,704 pounds. Nissan doesn’t quote 0-60 mph times or top speeds, but it feels like around four seconds with launch control: mash the brake, pull and hold both paddles, mash the gas, then let go of everything but the throttle. The red speedo clocks 118 mph before I begin braking; I have no idea what the time was for the quarter-mile. 

2024 Nissan Z Nismo2024 Nissan Z Nismo2024 Nissan Z Nismo2024 Nissan Z Nismo2024 Nissan Z Nismo2024 Nissan Z Nismo

Earlier in the day, before my humbling, I had driven the quicker BMW M2 to the track before taking the 2024 Nissan Z Nismo on a zig-zagging road course filled with hairpins and ascending and descending esses. The Z Nismo was a much comfier tourer than the M2 with its carbon-fiber bucket seats, and it didn’t seem that much stiffer than the Z Performance. 

The Nismo still only seats two, and it lacks the power seat functions of the Z Performance; you can raise or lower the seat bottom, or tip up the thigh cushion with the manual dials on the seat side, but otherwise, there’s no adjusting the seat back. Still, my body had fewer complaints during my three-hour road ride than during my trip in the M2.

2024 Nissan Z Nismo2024 Nissan Z Nismo

It was out in the wild more so than at the track where I noticed the fantastic grip from the Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT600 performance tires upgraded from the Potenzas on the Z Performance. Turn the steering wheel just 5-10 degrees, and they take hold so well it felt as if it were a different steering system than in the Z; aside from more rigid bushings, they’re the same. 

Also carrying over from the Z is most of the interior, except for the leather upholstery and leather-wrapped steering wheel’s red stripe at the 12-o’clock position and other badging. The 9.0-inch touchscreen is right sized for the compact dash, and its display and menu functions feel like a throwback from when touchscreens first started proliferating. It fits in the overall vibe of the Z Nismo, whereas the gear shifter used in most other Nissan’s does not fit as well.

 2024 Nissan Z Nismo2024 Nissan Z Nismo

The $66,085 Z Nismo, with all its aerodynamic upgrades to the exterior, including canards on the front end, a front splitter, a larger rear spoiler and diffuser, all trimmed with Nismo red, and a more open grille for better engine cooling, marks a trackable upgrade over the Z Performance, which costs $53,305. It’s a significant price upgrade, and best reserved for enthuZiasts planning on regular track days. 

I’d love another shot at Sonoma in the Z Nismo, and maybe next time I’ll keep the front end pointed in the right direction. 

Nissan paid for airfare and lodging for Motor Authority to bring you this firsthand report. 

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