Whenever we get a call from a car manufacturer asking us to come out to the track and test out their track prepped vehicles, it becomes an all out wrestling match on who gets to go. Well this time I was lucky enough to pull the long straw and was sent to test out NISMO-equipped 350Zs and Sentra SE-R Spec Vs. The event was held at the famed Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamond, Calif., and it was there Nissan hoped to demonstrate how NISMO performance products can increase the fun factor on two already high-performance vehicles.
At the track we were debriefed about the two levels of specification of NISMO components that will be offered through the Nissan dealers nationwide. The S-tune components are intended for street driving and are covered by the Limited Nissan Parts and Accessories Warranty. While the R-tune components are designed for high-performance, off-highway applications. After the short presentation we were sent to the track. There were three Sentra SE-R Spec Vs (stock, S-tune and R-tune) and three 350Zs (stock, S-tune and R-tune). We were instructed by Nissan to work our way up from stock to S-tune and then the R-tune to fully understand how each stage of modification enhances the vehicle.
I started with the stock Sentra SE-R Spec V and I have to say although quick at the exits due to its broad torque curve, the car lacked gusto at the top end. The Sentra felt like it was struggling to get up to speed on the straight-aways. Next up was the S-tune SE-R Spec V, which was modified with a NISMO cat-back exhaust system, NISMO front sway bar and shocks and springs kit, NISMO wheels wrapped with BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KD. Upon first impression the car still lacked top-end power but the S-tune Sentra was much more fun to drive than the stock counterpart. One reason is with the better suspension components and stickier tires, I was able to carry more speed through the turns, allowing for the engine to stay further up in the powerband. Although the rear lacked a sway bar I was able to trail brake the car, sliding the rear of the vehicle around the corners for proper exits direction. I was impressed that even with so few modifications, the S-tune Sentra made my heart race. Last of the Sentras to be tested was the R-tune version equipped with NISMO camshafts, NISMO cold-air intake, NISMO header and cat-back exhaust, S-tune NISMO front and rear sway bars and shocks and springs kit, R-tune lower tie-bar and front strut tower brace, NISMO front brake pads and NISMO wheels wrapped with BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KD. All I have to say when I drove the R-tune Spec V is, "WOW! This car really moves." Stab on the throttle and you quickly reach redline in an instant. The R-tune Sentra hugs the corners without missing a beat. The R-tune Sentra was so fun I had to give it a whirl a second time and it was the only vehicle I drove twice. Our guess is the combination of the extra NISMO engine components and the NISMO rear sway bar really brought out the beast in the Sentra.
With all the Sentras tested I moved on to the 350Z, jumping into the stock version first. Having driven a 350Z before, I new what to expect and wasn't overexcited about the stock version. However, I was able to drift a couple of the corners of Willow on the less sticky tires. Next up was the S-tune 350Z modified with a NISMO cat-back exhaust, NISMO S-tune suspension with revised front and rear sway bars, shocks and springs and NISMO wheels covered with BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KD. The difference a properly set-up suspension on an already amazing track car is phenomenal. The car felt like it rode on rails. The S-Tune 350Z stuck to the road and wouldn't let go. Wherever you pointed the steering wheel is exactly where it went. The rear was never loose, just glued to the ground at all times. Last but not the least of the cars I drove was the R-tuned 350Z. The R-tuned version came equipped with all the S-tune suspension components with the addition of an R-tune rear stabilizer bar for performance upgrades. Besides the cat-back exhaust, the Z also was modified with NISMO headers, NISMO camshafts, NISMO cold-air intake, NISMO lightweight flywheel, clutch disc and clutch cover, NISMO limited-slip differential, NISMO power steering cooler, NISMO brake pads with the same wheel and tire package as the S-tune. The increased performance components made the ultimate difference between the S-tune and R-tune versions. Running nearly an identical suspension set-up as the S-tune version I noticed I was able to explode out of the exits carrying much more speed to the next corner. The increased brake capacity due to the more aggressive brake pads also helped tremendously, slowing the Z down to turn-in speeds. No matter how hard I pushed the 350Z I still felt comfortably in control and that is a good thing when you are doing 100-plus mph on the straight-aways and have to brake as hard as you can to make the next corner.
After the event was over I met with some representatives and I found out that NISMO will also be offering performance components for the older 300ZXs, 240SXs and previous generation Sentra SE-Rs under the Legacy line-up, however, all Legacy components are designated R-tune, are not under warranty and are sold "as is." And that's not all because NISMO performance parts will also be offered for the Altima sedan, the Frontier truck and Xterra sport utility. All we have to say is, "It's about time."