Z (it’s only Z now) nails modern, yet retro, looks and power …
Not many car lines go all the way to Z.
But Nissan has been going all the way since 1969 when it launched the Datsun 240Z its long-hooded sports car for the rest of us. I thought of it as a mini-Corvette at the time and, well, I still do.
In fact, Nissan’s relaunched 2023 version, now just called Z, has a nose that reflects both past and present Corvettes with its sleek pointy snout. Yet the new model has been smoothed and the hatch roofline slimmed to give the care a sleeker look. The Z also has been powered up with a 400-horse twin-turbo V6 and given a spiffy new digital-laden interior to bring it in line with today’s usual electronic wizardry.
My pre-production test car (dealers are to get theirs soon) was a stunning Seiran Blue Metallic with black roof, that two-tone paint scheme adding $1,295 to the sticker. But if ever I’d pay extra for paint, this may do it. Folks looked, some gave a thumbs up, others came out of their houses to see it up close at the curb. No doubt Nissan nailed the modern, yet retro, styling.
No pretense of this being a family car or carrying more than two as there are just two seats here and a long cargo area under a glassy hatch, but still just minor cargo space. Again, there will just be two of you with a suitcase each and Z accommodates that. Golfers may have to make other arrangements and forgo a hand cart.
Styling aside, and that’s hard to even say, the tested Z Performance was a well-controlled rocket with those 400 rear-wheel-driving horses pushing this up and down highway entry ramps like it was heading out of the pits at Road America. Heck, it just might!
Watch Mark’s video: Mark Savage reviews the 2023 Z Car – YouTube
Unlike almost any other sports car the Z comes standard with a 6-speed manual, otherwise known as a standard transmission or stick shift. Younger drivers may not be aware, but this is the way many vehicles used to arrive, an automatic tranny costing extra. Ironically, today’s automatics (a 9-speed is optional) now get better fuel economy than the manuals, but that’s another issue.
The stick is fun and easy to slide between the gears, although the throws are longer than I had anticipated. Mazda’s Miata still has the shortest throws I’ve encountered, but this works nicely and the clutch is moderately weighted so not a leg cramper in stop-and-go traffic. My one initial concern was how hard I had to push the shifter down to slide it far right for reverse. I got used to it.
Also need to mention that there’s a SynchroRev Match system here to blip the engine and match its revs to the gear you’ve selected. So as you downshift into a corner that sweet burp of the engine lets your passenger know you’re a legit road racer. Thanks techies!
Nissan’s twin-turbo 3.0-liter engine is stout and smooth. It feels strong as you slip through the gears and can easily lead to tire squawks. This had low-pro performance 19-inch tires that gripped the road like crazy until we had an early fall monsoon. Shifting early to maintain traction was needed in the wet. All-season tires would help, but then you lose performance and, well, Performance is this model’s last name.
Handling as insinuated above was sports car fun, meaning responsive. Wheel feel is moderate and this steering wheel is wrapped in leather, as is the shift knob. The Nissan Z is well-balanced with neutral handling. I’ve heard some say it’s too easy to swing its tail, but until it rained I was having no issues.
Ride is firm as you’d expect in a car of just 100-inch wheelbase. Plus the Performance model adds a sportier tuned suspension, so if like me you prefer a bit softer ride (I’m 60+) then the standard Z may be a more comforting choice, plus it will save you some dough.
Z’s brakes also deserve a mention here. The Performance trim gets enhanced brakes with red calipers with Nissan labeling. Front and rear discs are vented 14 and 13.8 inchers, so stopping distance and quickness is awesome. I suspect the standard brakes aren’t too shabby either.
Inside Nissan designers have created a very comfy, livable interior that would allow for long highway jaunts.
The digital dash is clean and the 9-inch touchscreen (8-inch is standard) is big enough but not overpowering, plus simple to use. I had no issues and the Bose sound system is solid too.
Interior styling and the comfy seats likely will dazzle most riders though.
First, this one featured blue leather seats and blue dash and door trim under a soft black dash top. Door inserts are suede trimmed in leather and the seats feature a suede center section that’s perforated.
Console and dash are basically a matte black so no nasty sun reflections here, something other car makers could learn from. That console is trimmed in blue leather to add visual pop too.
Atop the dash for a retro look are three gauges that might matter if you were racing as they tell Boost, Turbo Speedm and Volts. I’d challenge most folks to know what voltage their car should be showing on a gauge (about 14 here) and as long as I can feel the turbo boost I’m not sure I need a number placed on it. So while I appreciate the retro look, I’d say substitute more useful info such as a fuel gauge or clock.
Nissan’s performance seats are beautifully sculpted and fitted to encircle the driver and passenger so they don’t slide about, or even move, when the car is rocketing around tight rural highway twisties, or during a track day. Shorter folks may find these a bit too confining, but I loved the seats, which are partially powered. That’s right, there are two power buttons on the inside edge (toward the console) of the seat. These control fore and aft movement and the seat back’s angle. Takes a bit to get used to the location, but I did within a week.
On the left side are manual controls to adjust the seat bottom’s angle and a height adjustment for the rear of the seat bottom. I’d like it to go just a tad higher, but I’m just 5-5. Nissan heats the seats too.
The Z’s steering wheel is a manual tilt/telescope model, but round and not heated. I’d prefer a flat-bottom wheel in any sports car and especially to create more knee room when one is shifting a manual and also when exiting. I found too that unless I could open the door to its maximum sweep I had trouble getting my right foot clear of its edge when getting out.
A couple other issues to consider inside. First, the cup holders are so far back on the console they are difficult to use, although easier for long-legged drivers who may position the seat all the way back. The storage box there also is way behind the elbow, but then again, this is a two-seater and space is limited, especially with a manual shift lever on the console.
There also is no wireless phone charger in the tray under the center stack, just a nice spot to lay your phone. And while I know this is a sports car with a throaty growl, road noise, especially on cement, can make listening to the radio a bit of a chore.
I did like the three climate control dials, all of which can be set to automatic for fan speed, temperature and the directional. Nice!
Safety features are solid here too with smart cruise control, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, a lane departure warning, and blind-spot monitor.
Fuel economy is nothing special, but you’re buying this for power, not efficiency. The EPA rates Nissan’s Z at 18 mpg city and 24 highway for the manual version and I got 22.8 mpg in a mix of city and highway. And yes, this drinks premium fuel.
Note that the automatic is rated better at 19 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.
The base level Nissan Z is an absolute bargain for power, looks and handling, starting at $41,015, including delivery. So think of it as 400 hp for $40k. There are two more levels though, and these push the envelope a bit, exceeding $50k.
The tested Performance model starts at $51,015 with delivery and ended up at $53,210 adding just the snazzy paint job, illuminated kick plates ($500), and floor mats ($400). The top level Proto Spec lists at $54,015.
Z epitomizes modern fastback style sports car and is an automotive icon. At its base price it’s extremely attractive. Move up to the higher versions and you’re in the Audi TT and BMW Z4 range. So at that level you may just want to consider a Kia Stinger or Ford Mustang and get a rear seat to boot!
FAST STATS: 2023 Nissan Z Performance
Hits: Stylish 2-seater, excellent power, balanced neutral handling, good brakes, slick stick shift. Excellent seat comfort, heated seats, automatic climate control dials, good info screen size and function and good level of safety devices.
Misses: Firm ride, considerable road noise at highway speeds, tough exit when door isn’t 100% opened, awkward cup holder placement, no heated steering wheel, no flat-bottom wheel, long shift throws, no wireless charger, little cargo room and premium fuel preferred.
Made in: Japan
Engine: 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, 400 hp/350 torque
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Weight: 3,507 lbs.
Wheelbase: 100.4 in.
Length: 172.4 in.
Cargo: 7.0 cu.ft.
MPG: 22.8 (tested)
Base Price: $51,015 (includes delivery)
Illuminated kick plates, $500
Two-tone paint, $1,295
Floor mats, $400
Test vehicle: $53,210
Sources: Nissan, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage