The latest Nissan Z, stylistically speaking, pays homage to the Zs of old. But, critically, brings the right amount of modern tech to keep up with the hustle and bustle of the modern world.
We live in transient automotive times. Every new vehicle we see is electrified this and hybrid that. All the momentum points to EVs quickly taking over our roads, with automated versions of them not far behind. And for that reason alone, the brand new, seventh-generation Nissan Z is novel, in that it’s not novel at all. And I love it.
What we have here is a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, two-seat sports car with a long hood, wide rear fender flares, and dual exhaust tips sticking out from under the rear bumper. What we don’t have is hybrid anything. Or any kind of automated, load-leveling, pro-active, think-for-you chassis technology. Instead, if you get a Z Performance at least (more on that a few paragraphs down), a mechanical limited-slip differential helps put power down at corner exit. Nice.
The source of that power? A twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 that cranks out 400 horsepower at 6400 rpm, and 350 lb-ft of torque between 1600-5200 rpm, which is an improvement over the 370Z’s naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V-6 by 68 horsepower and 80 lb-ft of torque, respectively. The square bore and stroke set-up squeeze pistons toward top-dead-center tightly with a high for a turbo motor 10.3:1 compression ratio. And, car enthusiasts rejoice, that power is then channeled to your choice of a nine-speed automatic, or six-speed manual transmission. Huzzah!
That makes the powertrain old-school, in a sense, or perhaps practical. Either way, it’s proper sports car.
As is the chassis. The four-wheel-independent suspension uses double-wishbone geometry up front and multilink in the rear. Importantly, to keep weight down and responses quick, the arms up front are made of aluminum, as are the links in back. New for the ‘23 Z, you get monotube dampers front and rear, which is better for response. As well as increased caster angle to improve high-speed stability and steering feel.
And the steering rack itself got a far bit of TLC from engineers. It is a stiffer system than the outgoing 370Z, which improves both feel and directness of the front end.
All of that is critical to enjoy the drive of the Z, but ultimately secondary. As no one would care if they didn’t like to look at it. But here, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. Nissan took heavy influence from the original, especially in the front-end. And, in profile, old and new are darn near doppelgangers. In back, you get a healthy dollop of the 90s 300ZX, which holds a special place in my car loving childhood.
Altogether, it epitomizes sports car. It’s the kind of shape you’d expect an eight-year-old to pen if you said, “draw a fast car.” Low to the ground, edgy, and purposeful. It’s classic, yet swoopy. The elements of old and new congeal in a way to simultaneously make you feel nostalgic and excited about the future, as overall design blends the two seamlessly.
Inside, however, modern largely takes over. You get a fully digital 12.3-inch screen for your instrument cluster and an eight- or nine-inch center console touchscreen, depending on trim, in between the two-passengers. That’s in addition to an array of USB and general power supply ports, and a steering wheel emblazoned with all kinds of switches and buttons to all kinds of things. But you still get a nod to simpler times as three analog gauges sit atop the dash in the center: a turbo boost gauge, a turbo speed gauge, and a voltmeter. The seats themselves are comfortable and supportive. And the steering wheel gives a nice thick rim to grab on to.
At launch, you choose between three different Z trims. The Z Sport starts at $41,015 and gets your foot in the door of the sports car world. You ride on 18-inch wheels and get the same 400 horsepower, rear-wheel-drive coupe, with either a manual or automatic, as anybody else. But you do go without a few creature comforts inside the cabin, like heated seats.
However, even though upgrading to the Z Performance costs an additional 10k, some added mechanical bits make it tempting. To start, Nissan upgrades the brakes from 12.6-inch front and 12.1-inch rear rotors to 14.0- and 13.8-inches respectively. The increased thermal mass alone would help massively if you want to venture off for a track day.
Not to mention, the 18s are swapped for forged 19s that are also wider, and accommodate a staggered tire setup, 255s in front 275s in back, instead of 245s at all four corners. Then there’s the aforementioned mechanical limited-slip differential. The Z performance also get a lovely front chin and rear spoiler, which don’t do much for actual performance, but look the business!
And, yes, I’m old enough to enjoy leather wrapping around bits of the interior, the nine- instead of eight-inch touchscreen and the always appreciated in Michigan heated seats. The Z performance costs $51,015.
The third and final Z model at launch is called Z Proto Spec and costs $54,015. It’s a Z Performance with yellow-colored brake calipers, bronze-colored 19-inch wheels, different manual shift knob, seats with yellow accents, and a few other bits and bobs. Nissan is only selling 240 of them. Get it? It looks cool but think this will only satisfy the truly hard-core Z fans.
But any car enthusiast will enjoy the satisfying drive of the 2023 Z. Nissan brilliantly executed combining all the different attributes of the car into one cohesive machine. You get communicative steering that also quickly responses to your inputs to give you a nice and direct feeling front-end.
Carry speed into a corner and the steering sends clear signals as you approach the limit, allowing you to delicately modulate to clip the apex just so at mid-corner. All along the way, the body leans a bit, in fact more than I find ideal, but still sports car appropriate. Ideal for me, by the way, is a formula car—so, I guess, not entirely fair. Anyway, slowly apply throttle as you aim towards corner exit and the turbo V-6 provides plenty of muscle to rocket up to the next bend. It’s fun!
The Nissan Z is fun in the corners. The chassis balance front to rear is spot-on. It fundamentally understeers, but not egregiously so, and you have plenty of power to send rearward to neutralize balance in the corner or put the rear in to a bit of a slide. Just keep your tire budget in mind before you get too adventurous.
The Z is fun in a straight line too. Peak torque of 350 lb-ft is stout, and access to it between 1600-5200 rpm, gives you a nice and broad powerband to work with. With several seconds of open road, you’ll find yourself cresting 100 mph with very little trouble. And rowing through the gears is so satisfying.
Now, to have a moment of nit pickiness. This is not the smoothest V6 on the market today. Especially in the higher revs, under heavy load, the otherwise pleasant sound gets a touch coarse. On the other hand, not many turbo engines rev as high as 6800 rpm, as this one does. Fair trade, as far as I’m concerned. Also, this is not as precise a shifter as you get from Porsche or Honda. And I’d prefer the throws between gears to be a smidge shorter.
But, ultimately, who cares?!? This is a proper sports car with real power, priced at obtainable levels. One that rides comfortably on normal roads, when real life demands you simply need to get from point A to point B. Yet delivers real thrills on the occasions you find yourself with traffic free twisty tarmac.
Nissan beautifully combined elements of Z cars of old that also meets all the demands of the modern world. And that is something to celebrate.