ISMO, the performance arm of Nissan, is in a rut. Right now, NISMO offers a branded upgrade package for four of its parent brand’s models: the 370Z, GT-R, Juke, and now, the Sentra. There was a time when Nissan’s performance badges meant something significant, a time when the 300ZX Turbo was a blinding rocket of a car, a time when the Sentra SE-R Spec V was the best kept secret in economy sport compacts, a time when Skyline GT-R existed. Et cetera, et cetera.
Those times appear to be long gone, and Nissan—the manufacturer of the top-selling SUV in America (that’d be the Rogue)—seems to be treating the NISMO badge with a disregard that would suggest a good enthusiast car is no longer worth the effort.
Why do I think this? Look at their lineup of half-baked, outdated performance cars. Start with the 370Z. It’s built on a platform that has been in use since 2009, when I was in middle school—and I can legally drink now. It costs around $30,000—a price tag that places it in a seriously competitive neighborhood today.
The Ford Mustang GT is priced at $33,200, and it not only shoves the 370Z into a locker, it eats the lunch of the $42,000 NISMO 370Z too. Its independent rear suspension makes it handle better than any Mustang before it, and its 5.0 V-8 propels it from 0-60 in 4.3 seconds. The NISMO 370Z only manages 4.9 seconds, and it costs $9,000 more.
And NISMO loyalists are starting to abandon ship. My neighbor’s son, a guy who restored a 260Z as a teen, passed on the 370Z NISMO, opting for the base model instead. It was, as he said, “better—but not $12,000 better.”
The GT-R is getting long in the tooth too. as it predates the 370Z, and its age will reach two digits this December. At its US market launch in 2008, the GT-R cost $70,000, which is $80,000 in today’s money, and today’s GT-R is $110,000. The GT-R went from being the five figure supercar killer to being another supercar. Yes, incremental improvements have been made over the car’s life, as it launched with horse counts in the 470s and it now boasts 565 ponies instead. Do those improvements add up to $30,000 worth? Not according to the market. Annual US market GT-R sales have halved since 2014, though 2017 looks to be a better year than 2016 did for the GT-R.
But the GT-R has no natural predators, no similar competitors, so it should be safe, right? Nope. The Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio has come knocking on the GT-R’s door. It also sports a twin turbo V-6, 4 wheel drive, computer wizardry for handling’s sake, and it has a better interior to boot. The GT-R has it beat in power and 0-60 times, but it should, because it costs a mind-blowing $38,000 more.
Then there’s the Juke NISMO and RS. $28,000 gets you 215 horsepower and a respectable 0-60 time of 6.6 seconds. A fair hot hatch by any standards. Unfortunately, fair doesn’t cut it in today’s market, because it has to compete with the Ford Fiesta ST, which is about as quick, doing 0-60 in 6.7 seconds, but it costs a quarter less than the Juke, as its MSRP sits at $21,100. The Fiesta is, if the automotive press is to be believed, the Second Coming in car form, which makes the comparison all the more embarrassing for Nissan. Oh, and yes, they are in the same class of car— their wheelbase and overall length are within 3″ of each other. Nissan doesn’t get the luxury of copping out and pretending the Juke is a competitor to the Focus.
Finally, we come to the Sentra NISMO. The Sentra NISMO makes 188 horsepower, which is less than the Subaru BRZ, which is often bemoaned for its lack of power. This gives it a power to weight ratio of 125 horsepower per ton, which makes it negligibly faster than a Honda Odyssey, which has 113 horsepower per ton. Motor Trend, after extensive testing, lambasted the Sentra NISMO for making minimal improvements to 2007’s Sentra SE-R Spec V, which reached 60 from a dig almost a second faster than today’s car.
You could argue that Nissan is just keeping the current 370Z and GT-R platforms afloat until their replacements can be released… but there is no indication that the next Z-car or GT-R are in development. With the release of the Sentra NISMO, they seem to have committed to mediocrity for the long haul. Someone needs to remind them of the cars they used to make, like the 240SX and Skyline, because Nissan needs a wake up call.