All the model’s past wrongs


There are few letters that carry as much weight in the automotive industry as Z. The grand touring abbreviation “GT” is up there, as is BMW’s “M” and the more general “R”, which usually means running. But for the past few years, when car geeks said “there’s a new Z coming,” they were talking about the 2023 Nissan Z, the iconic two-seat sports car that’s now 53 years old.

The Nissan Z debuted in the United States in 1970 as the Datsun 240Z, with the numbers indicating a 2.4 liter engine. Displacement and engine name have grown to 2.6 liters for the 260, 2.8 liters for the 280 and so on through the 300ZX, 350Z and more recently the 370Z, displacing 3.7 liters in a V6.

The 370Z was retired in 2020 to make way for the newest, fastest and best Z ever, which premiered earlier this year after the previous version spent a decade on the road. Early in the redesign, it wasn’t difficult to convince the team in Japan that a new Z was needed, according to a US-based spokesperson. But it was hard to get the right retro/modern design.

“When we took on the challenge of redefining the Z for a new generation, we had to explore what the car meant to us, as designers and within the context of Nissan,” said Alfonso Albaisa, senior vice president of the Nissan’s global design. Newsweek.

“The Z is a car that is a passion, a heart and a soul, but also a vehicle of memories. Looking at the design ideas, we realized that this car should be the best you remember as a Z – not a literal interpretation You can see echoes of each Gen Z in many angles of the vehicle, from the hood bulge to the taillights. It’s not a direct lift from what came before, but how you perhaps remember a distinctive styling cue that can only be the Nissan Z.”

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Nissan has struck a near-perfect balance with the Z on those fronts, with the retro LEDs on the back and the cheese grater up front. The overall shape is nearly identical to the original Z, with a clean profile devoid of any character lines.

The only downside is that the grille has to be partially covered for engine cooling reasons, which draws attention to that piece of plastic. However, from the driver’s seat, on a race track outside the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, an owner will want all the cooling they can get.

True to the formula of the legendary nameplate, the Nissan Z is a two-seat coupe that comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission. For 2023, it also comes with a nine-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Both are rear-wheel drive.

Z Performance models feature a mechanical limited-slip differential (LSDs distribute power to the rear wheel with the most traction); the more economical Z Sport version has a brake and traction control system to accomplish the same task with less sophistication.

The new Nissan features a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, shared with Infiniti, but for the first time the company does not use the engine number in the name, simply calling it Nissan Z. The engine produces 400 horsepower and 350 lb-ft. of torque.

2023 Nissan Z
Nissan brought a handful of 2023 Zs to Las Vegas to test.
Jake Lingeman

The new twin-turbocharged engine is a masterpiece, delivering quick take-offs before hitting peak torque at just 1,600 rpm and sustaining that power down to 5,000 rpm. The new Z easily outperformed the old one in a drag race, which Nissan had on hand to compare.

On the 2.4-mile road course, the Z automatic transmission didn’t seem up to the task of keeping race pace without using the paddle shifters. Even these were a little slower than some competitors with other automatic (BMW, Dodge SRT) or dual-clutch transmissions.

The six-speed manual was excellent with gears that felt just right and smooth action between gears. The clutch pedal was a bit finicky and springy just at the mesh point, which took some getting used to. On the track, it was easier to predict a gear for maximum power. The downside was the sound.

The 2023 Nissan Z has an updated double-wishbone front suspension setup with non-adjustable shock absorbers. The rear features a multi-link setup and a three-point front strut tower brace (which stiffens the front end, improving steering) is standard. The Performance trim gets a slightly sportier setting for the suspension, but unlike many high-performance vehicles on the market today, there’s only one setting.

2023 Nissan Z
The 2023 Nissan Z features a new grille, but it is partially blocked for cooling purposes.
Jake Lingeman

Z-ness was very important to us,” chief product specialist Hiroshi Tamura said during a roundtable in Las Vegas. “The first is the look. It’s a gorgeous design. Then, of course, is performance. Great acceleration. High speeds. Then the sound. It has a nice exhaust note, don’t say noise. These are the key elements.”

From the driver’s seat, the engine and exhaust seemed to reach maximum volume and maximum pitch at around 3,500 rpm and stayed there until the transmission shifted gears. It’s a certain kind of piercing drone (even through a helmet) that will make a driver recognize that it’s not a purpose-built track car. The previous generation of Z never quite succeeded either. From the outside, the exhaust sounds different and much more melodic.

The Z is fun when pushed to its limits on a closed course, but not terribly rewarding like the bigger ponycars, or even something smaller like the Subaru BRZ.

Where the Z is very rewarding is on the road, where even a trail junkie spends most of his time. On the wide Nevada desert roads, the Z was in its element. The suspension, while a little soft for the track, was perfect for the imperfect roads of the American West. Fast turns on asphalt showed the Z had just enough suppleness to be comfortable for hours on end.

2023 Nissan Z
The 2023 Nissan Z is more at home on the highway than on the track.
Jake Lingeman

And when those long bursts for top speed on the track are traded for shorter, but still enjoyable runs on two-lane highways, the exhaust note is far more tolerable. This car is made to move in pleasure, not in anger. Downshifts are accompanied by small nudges in Sport mode, a mode that also relieves traction control, but does not disable it.

Nissan added electric power steering and retuned the suspension geometry for 2023 to refine the Z, and it succeeded. It also eliminated some of the vibration from the shifter, which has been part of the Z’s heritage for years. Both of these changes resulted in a noticeably better drive, but it took away a bit of the analogy the Z was known for.

Inside the cabin, Nissan only changed what needed to be changed. That means a new 8-inch touchscreen in the center and a 12.3-inch digital driver cluster behind the steering wheel that includes shift lights, a g-meter and several other slick features, including a large tachometer at the center.

Three gauge modules face the driver from the dash indicating boost pressure, turbo speed and volts. Below the screen are three physical dials for climate control, which are simple and excellent. Volume and tuning are also controlled by dials that are easy to grasp without looking.

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Soft seat cushions adjust height fore and aft, allowing for the perfect driving position, and fabric inserts and plush padding (in Sport and Performance leather versions) keep the driver in place, no matter g-forces. . The interior can be chosen in black, blue or red, while the special Proto versions have yellow accents.

Standard features include push-button start, adaptive cruise control, reverse monitor, parking sensors, two 12-volt power outlets and two USB ports. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth and satellite radio are also included. The Z Performance grade gets a 9-inch touchscreen with navigation and a better audio system.

Although the technology has reached the modern era, the safety suite is only average in the Nissan Z. It comes standard with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, blind spot warning, lane warning, rear cross traffic alert and intelligent forward collision warning.

With a base price of $39,990 for the 400-hp 2023 Nissan Z Sport, it has plenty of competition from above and below. The Toyota GR86 and Subaru BRZ have about half the power but are over ten thousand cheaper. The Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro range from less expensive and less powerful to more expensive and more powerful. The Toyota GR Supra ($51,540 with the 382-hp six-cylinder) is also looking to appeal to some of those same coupe buyers.

The Performance version starts at $49,990, with sportier suspension tuning, a larger touchscreen and leather seats.

What Nissan has managed to do with the Z is frankly amazing. He righted all of his past wrongs in power and appearance, and left alone the items that worked. The only thing the interior really needed was a tech upgrade, and it got one. He felt a little undernourished in recent years. No more. It was never really intended to be a track machine, but Nissan still left some room above the Z for an even sportier Nismo version. Justice has been served for an automotive icon, something few can claim.


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