First Drive: 2023 Nissan Z


First Drive: 2023 Nissan Z


The Z badge sits alongside the NSX and Miata as one of the most recognizable names in Japanese performance. Aside from a brief hiatus back in 2001, Nissan’s two-seater has been in continuous production for more than half a century, and over that time, the sports car has amassed a rabid following at home and abroad for its capability as well as its distinctive design.

About a decade after the original 240Z made its debut, Toyota introduced a new sports coupe of their own with the Supra (then known as the Celica Supra). It sparked a decades-long rivalry between the two performance machines, but the after Supra bowed out in 2002 – following in the footsteps of other recently-axed Japanese sports cars like the Mitsubishi 3000GT and Mazda RX-7 – the Z continued on ostensibly unchallenged by direct competition.

2023 Nissan Z Grille

The grille is perhaps the most polarizing design feature of the new Z, but it actually faithfully recreates the look of the original Z’s nose – albeit without a bumper. More importantly, the large grille allows the new turbocharged V6 to breathe properly.

As a result the 370Z, which was first introduced way back in 2008, had been really starting to show its age in recent years. Meanwhile, Toyota decided to partner up with BMW to develop a new sports car platform, an effort which yielded a new Supra back in 2019. Suddenly the powers that be at Nissan realized that the Z could no longer get by on cruise control.

Now entering its seventh generation, Nissan has looked to the Z’s heritage to inspire its latest design while also updating the technology throughout the platform, in turn creating a sports car that isn’t shy about celebrating its past while it simultaneously embraces the present. To find out if they’ve rekindled the old magic we headed out to Las Vegas, Nevada, to put the new coupe through its paces on the streets of Sin City, the ribbons of desert tarmac surrounding Lake Mead, and the road course at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Revisiting The Greatest Hits

The new Z is derived from the same platform that underpins the outgoing 370Z, itself an updated version of the 350Z architecture that debuted in 2002. But while previous iterations focused on taking the design into wholly uncharted territory, the new Z’s streamlined long nose, short deck proportions take obvious influence from the 240Z while also incorporating cues from the other Z models of the past, the latter of which can be seen in elements like the LED taillights, which are reminiscent of the 1990s-era 300ZX.

It’s masterfully executed, in our opinion. Even the grille, which is arguably the most polarizing feature of the new Z’s design, is a clear nod to tuned vintage Zs that have had the front bumper removed to shed some weight off of the front end. That big intake also serves a necessary function: providing suitable airflow for the new boosted powerplant under the hood and its related coolers.

The new Z ditches the naturally aspirated 3.7-liter V6 from the 370Z for a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6, an engine that first seen in the 2016 Infiniti Q50. Here it dishes out 400 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque, offering gains of 68 horsepower and 80 lb-ft of torque over its predecessor. Power is sent to the rear wheels through a six-speed manual transmission as-standard, which features auto rev-matching and no-lift upshifts on Performance-trimmed models, but a nine-speed automatic with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters is also available as a no-cost option.

2023 Nissan Z 3.0L TTV6

The new Z is motivated by a 3.0-liter twin turbocharged V6 that sends 400 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels. The new powerplant bests the outgoing naturally aspirated 3.7-liter V6 by 68 horsepower and 80lb-ft of torque.

To help utilize the newfound grunt, Nissan engineers also gave the platform a thorough rework, increasing body rigidity by 23.9 percent and torsional stiffness by 10.8 percent for improved steering response. The suspension geometry has also been revised to dial in more caster angle to provide better steering feel from the new electronically-assisted steering rack, while stiffer springs, retuned sway bars, and new monotube dampers are all onboard to further enhance the new Z’s handling.

The interior gets a much-needed update as well, adopting a design aesthetic that recalls the early Z cars while also incorporating meaningful tech updates like the new 12.3-inch customizable digital gauge cluster and a new infotainment system, the latter of which boasts wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality and is offered in 8.0-inch or 9.0-inch display sizes. The seats, switchgear, and other elements of the cabin clearly illustrate the DNA that’s shared with the 370Z (as well as the 350Z), but it’s still a significant step forward that addresses some of the most egregiously dated elements of the outgoing Z’s interior. It’s also nice to see heritage callbacks – like the analog gauge pod mounted on top of the instrument panel – reimagined for the modern era. In the 240Z those gauges monitored things like oil pressure and water temperature; in the new Z it’s boost pressure and turbine speed.

Putting The Z Through Its Paces

We headed to the infield of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway oval for our first stint behind the wheel of the Z, where Nissan had set up an impromptu drag strip to showcase the benefits of the turbo engine as well as the virtues of the new launch control feature. We cycled through three vehicles – a new Z Performance with a nine-speed automatic, a Z Sport with the six-speed manual, and a 50th Anniversary 370Z with a six-speed automatic.

Although the power doesn’t ramp up as linearly as it does in the naturally aspirated car, the benefits of the new torque curve – which hits its peak at just 1600 RPM and stays flat all the way to 5200 – are immediately obvious, leaving the outgoing car in the dust regardless of which transmission the new engine is hooked up to. It’s worth noting, however, that the new Z’s non-active exhaust is significantly more subdued than the 370Z’s, likely due in part to turbochargers’ natural muffling effect.

2023 Nissan Z Shifter

A six-speed manual gearbox the standard transmission for the new Z, and Performance models score auto rev-matching as well as a no-lift upshift feature is. A nine-speed automatic with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters is also available.

Nissan representatives noted that launch control benefits the automatic cars the most since the effect can be replicated by simply adjusting your clutch and throttle technique in the manual cars. In the former the feature is engaged by pulling in and holding both shift paddles, firmly pressing and holding the brake pedal with your left foot, and then holding the throttle down with your right. After that you simply side-step the brake pedal and, if everything goes according to plan, the Z will bolt off the line with just a hint of wheelspin.

We then headed out to the LVMS road course for lapping sessions in both automatic and manual-equipped Z Performance models, both of which had been outfitted with Nismo brake pads for track work. The new Z has put on some mass which brings its curb weight up to about 3600lbs in the automatic-equipped Performance models, but there’s plenty of power on tap to overcome it. There’s also a good amount of body control in high speed corners, under braking, and when utilizing the curbing, but it’s also clear that adjustable dampers and grippier rubber would greatly benefit this chassis.

On the track the nine-speed is most effective when placed into manual mode and shifted with the paddles, but the shifts aren’t as immediate as we’ve come to expect from the best automatics on the market today. The six-speed manual makes a strong case for itself in this context, offering not only a more engaging driving experience, but also a perfectly weighted clutch and a foolproof auto rev-matching system (which heel-toe purists can disable if they so choose), along with an exclusive carbon-fiber composite drive shaft that’s designed to put up with track abuse.

But as you’d expect, the Z is most at home on the fast, winding roads east of Vegas. The suspension tune strikes a nice balance between sportiness and compliance that yields confident high-speed stability without punishing you for it when you’re just cruising around town on imperfect pavement. Stints on the highway also gave us a chance to play around with the new tech, which generally looks sharp and is quick to respond to inputs, but it still feels like there’s some key pieces of the puzzle missing. For instance, while wireless CarPlay fired up on the infotainment system without issue, we soon realized that there’s no wireless charging pad available. This, combined with an unpolished built-in navigation system, means that most will either quickly drain their phone’s battery using Google Maps or simply plug it into one of the two available USB ports (one USB-A, one USB-C), which kind of defeats the purpose of the wireless screen mirroring feature to begin with.

Any of the Z’s potential shortcomings could be forgiven at the right price, but there essentially two versions of the car that are currently available – Sport and Performance – and the gulf between the two is vast in terms of both cost and capability. The Performance trim includes not only luxury content like the bigger infotainment display, Bose audio, and leather upholstery, but also hardware that we’d consider to be must-haves for anyone who is not planning to do significant modifications right out of the gate – like a limited-slip differential, bigger brakes, and a unique suspension tune. Coming in at just over $50K with destination and without any other options, it puts the Performance model up against cars like the BMW M240i xDrive, well-equipped Ford Mustang GTs and base-level Mach 1s, and of course the Supra – all of which include features like the adjustable dampers and active exhaust that the Z lacks.

But personality goes a long way when it comes to performance cars, and the Z has one that’s definitely all its own. Whether that will be enough to fend off the other worthy contenders in the segment is up to enthusiasts to decide.

2023 Nissan Z on track


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