The Nissan Z’s reputation has traversed a long and bumpy road since its 1969 debut. First there was the 240Z— brilliant, balanced, light, and clean. Then came the orthodontist’s delight, the 280ZX, and a few hundred pounds of needless weight.

Only the complete game-reset of the fantabulous 1990 300ZX was able to rescue its sports car reputation, and even then it took twin turbos to overcome its pork.In 2003, Nissan shrank the Z back down to size and rediscovered its roots, first as the 350Z. A stunning performance machine, today’s Z might be the best yet—but even Nissan confesses it needs a few tweaks before it gets on the track.

That resulting car is the 370Z NISMO, a special edition that carves seconds off of its lap times. It’s slightly different on paper: The 3.7-liter V-6 makes 350 horsepower, while the stock car makes 332 hp, and it’s only available with a six-speed manual gearbox, while cushier Zs can come with a seven-speed automatic. The hardcore car mags point to a 0 60 mph time of about 4.5 seconds and a top speed of about 150 mph.

The suspension’s stiffer. The wheels grow into 19-inchers. The brakes get stronger, and the tires get stickier. So you’ll notice the difference from a standstill; Nissan scatters some badges and emblems around the body and bolts a massive spoiler on the rear end. Sound deadening isn’t the Z’s forte, and the NISMO reverberates all the time with a throbby V-6 idle that turns into a howl any time you tip into the gas.

It’s alive: Brush the brakes lightly and it takes a set, then rotate the wheel just an inch or so and the NISMO Z slices the apex off corners with diamond-blade precision. Downshift rapidly for the next tight turn, and the Z’s electronics will blip the throttle so you don’t muff the shift or dump unsettling power to the rear wheels in mid-corner.

The $41,290 370Z NISMO is a potent performer that can run blazingly fast lap times at Laguna Seca or Infineon, but it rides rough, and exhaust and tire noise pinball around the cockpit at volumes that its sound system can’t overcome. Still, it’s in the best shape of its life, and you’ll never be embarrassed to show up The NIS MO derives its name from combining “Nissan” and “motor to a race weekend in the NISMO.