2023 Nissan Z: First Drive Review

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience 2023 Nissan Z
More than 50 years after the arrival of the original Datsun 240Z, Nissan continues the evolution of its two-seat sports car with the new seventh-generation Nissan Z. Although the new 2023 Nissan Z is not technically all-new because it’s based on the same platform as the previous generation, it looks — and more importantly feels — new thanks to a fresh exterior design, powerful twin-turbo engine, revised suspension and modern interior.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience 2023 Nissan Z Design
Nissan designers incorporated elements from previous generations of the Z while crafting the look of the new model. The classic silhouette closely follows the shape of the original 240Z with a long hood, short rear deck and fast slope to the roofline that ends at a blunt rear end that sits slightly lower than the front fenders. At the front, a large lower grille provides air to the radiator, intercooler and oil cooler. The LED headlights incorporate two half circles inspired by the Japan market-only 240ZG of the 1970s.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience Design Details
The rear fender blisters of the 2023 Nissan Z create haunches that direct air around the horizontal rear panel. The rear combination lights draw inspiration from the taillight design of the 300ZX of the early 1990s and incorporate modern LED taillights for a 3D effect. The Z Performance adds a front lip spoiler and a rear spoiler. A trim strip at the top of the side windows begins just behind the A-pillar and emphasizes the fast slope of the roofline. Don’t be surprised to see owners customize their new Zs by changing that trim element to different colors and materials.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience Raising the Bar
“Simply put, our goal is to make this the best Z yet, period. With each generation, we raise the bar, pushing the limits of Z and continuing to tap into the human instinct for that next thrilling journey,” said Hiroshi Tamura, chief product specialist of the new Z. “More than just powerful and agile, the 2023 Z is designed to be one with the driver for all kinds of on-road adventures,” said Tamura.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience Model Lineup
The 2023 Nissan Z will be offered in two trim levels: Z Sport and Z Performance, with Z Sport starting at $39,990 and Z Performance at $49,990. In addition, Nissan Z will launch with a special Proto Spec edition based on the Z Performance at $52,990; this edition is limited to 240 units. Prices do not include destination and handling charge of $1,025.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience 2023 Nissan Z Sport
The Nissan Z Sport is well equipped beginning with a 12.3-inch customizable TFT meter display with three display modes, an 8-inch center touchscreen display and three analog gauges in the center of the dash above a center screen displaying turbo boost, turbo turbine speed and a voltmeter. Standard seats are black cloth with synthetic suede inserts covering an 8-way manually adjustable driver’s seat and a 4-way adjustable passenger seat. Standard equipment includes Nissan’s intelligent key with push button start, intelligent cruise control and automatic temperature control.

© Nissan North America 2023 Nissan Z Performance
The Nissan Z Performance adds an 8-speaker Bose Audio System, a 9-inch touchscreen with navigation, NissanConnect Services with a Wi-Fi hotspot, a mechanical limited-slip differential, 19-inch RAYS super lightweight forged aluminum alloy wheels, Bridgestone Potenza S007 high performance tires, Nissan Sport Brakes, heated side mirrors, aluminum sport pedals, dual exhaust with Performance muffler and heated leather power seats.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience 2023 Nissan Z Proto Spec
The limited edition Proto Spec is a tribute to the Z Proto concept car that debuted in 2020 and preceded the launch of the 2023 Nissan Z. The Nissan Z Proto Spec includes Proto Spec-exclusive bronze 19-inch Rays lightweight forged aluminum alloy wheels, yellow brake calipers, leather-seats with yellow accents, Proto Spec suede + cloth door trim and yellow accent stitching.

© Nissan North America Under the Hood
All versions of the Nissan Z are powered by the same twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine used in the Infiniti Red Sport models, producing 400 horsepower at 6400 rpm and 350 lb-ft of torque from 1600 to 5200 rpm. That’s an increase of 68 horsepower and 80 lb-ft of torque over the previous 370Z. To deliver sharp response, small diameter turbochargers are used as well as a turbo speed sensor, recirculation valve and integrated exhaust manifold.

© Nissan North America Transmission Choices
The 3.0-liter twin turbo gets matched with a 6-speed manual transmission with an EXEDY high-performance clutch; changes to the design of the shift mechanism improve its feel. The Z Performance includes SynchroRev Match to automatically match engine revs on downshifts. Available at no additional cost is a new 9-speed automatic transmission with standard paddle shifters, manual shift mode, launch control and downshift rev matching.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience Launch Control
Launch control is standard equipment for both the Z Sport and Z Performance with the 9-speed automatic transmission. The Z Performance also includes launch control with the 6-speed manual transmission as well as no-lift shifting. When launch control is activated, the driver can upshift to the next gear without releasing the accelerator pedal, even with the 6-speed manual — a first for a rear-wheel-drive Nissan vehicle.

© Nissan North America Rigid Body
We mentioned earlier that the 2023 Nissan Z rides on the same platform as the previous generation 370Z. However, engineers made significant upgrades that increase torsional stiffness by 10.8 percent and body rigidity by 23.9 percent. Suspension improvements include geometry changes to enhance steering response, as well as monotube shock absorbers for better control and faster response. The electronic power steering is designed to be stiffer than 370Z yet provide a smoother, more precise feeling. The brake system is engineered to feel more like the GT-R with linear feedback and good controllability.

© Nissan North America Wheels and Tires
The standard wheels for 2023 Nissan Z Sport are 18-inch dark painted aluminum alloys wrapped with 245/45R18 Yokohama ADVAN Sport high-performance tires front and rear. The Z Performance adds 19-inch RAYS super lightweight forged aluminum alloy wheels with Bridgestone Potenza S007 high performance tires. The Z has staggered tire sizes of 255/40R19 on the front and 275/30R19 on the rear.

© Nissan North America Inner Space
The interior of the 2023 Nissan Z is designed much like its exterior, combining modern technology with vintage Z touches such as analog gauge pods in the center of the dash. The modern-tech focus goes to the 12.3-instrument digital instrument display and the center infotainment screen. The digital instrument display offers three modes: Normal, Enhanced and Sport. The Normal mode uses the center area for navigation, audio and vehicle information. Enhanced pushes the tachometer and speedometer toward the edges for a larger navigation map. Sport mode displays the tachometer at the center and adds shift-up lights at the top of the tachometer. Sport mode also allows the driver to display a boost gauge or G meter.

© Nissan North America Analog Pods
The center stack of the 2023 Nissan Z features an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen with the analog gauge pods at the top and three rotary dials for climate control settings below. The stack is nicely laid out with easy-to-use dials below the touchscreen and knobs for volume and tuning. The thicker steering wheel has a contoured rear surface, and the shifters for both the manual transmission and the automatic are new.

© Nissan North America On the Track
Nissan invited us to Las Vegas for our first opportunity to drive the 2023 Nissan Z. We began the day at Las Vegas Motor Speedway doing standing-start acceleration runs on the pit lane, followed by laps on the exterior road course at the speedway. We capped the day with a drive on some curvy roads out to Lake Mead. That first experience with the 2023 Nissan Z was pedal-to-metal acceleration runs from a standing start to nearly 90 mph, which showcased not only the powerful new engine, but also how different the new Z is from the previous generation, since we performed the same acceleration run in the 370Z after driving the 2023 Z first.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience Quick Acceleration
Even without launch control engaged, the new Z hooks up well and accelerates hard with the automatic transmission, which delivers lightning-fast shifts and chirps the tires in second gear. With launch control activated, the next run was even faster with a controlled and efficient launch that maximizes tire grip. With the manual transmission we experienced a bit more wheelspin at launch. Naturally the manual is not as fast as the automatic since it’s simply impossible to shift as quickly — but it’s still more fun. Switching to the manual 370Z after driving the new Z revealed how different the new car is. Everything about it looks and feels better. Although Nissan has not released official zero to 60 mph times for the new Z, we would expect that number to be in the low 4-second range — at least with the automatic transmission.

© Nissan North America Road Course
The Las Vegas Motor Speedway Outside Road Course is a great spot for testing a car like the 2023 Nissan Z. The track configuration meant we were using primarily third gear for most of the lap, with two longer straights that would top out in fourth. With a professional driver in the lead car to help us maintain the proper pace, we drove the Nissan Z Performance with both transmission options and could really feel the improvements to the new Z. Acceleration out of slower corners is incredibly strong, with maximum torque available from a low rpm and across a wide range. Steering response and corner turn-in are good even without true steering feedback, and the car responds the way one would expect based on input. The brakes have a good, linear feeling for well-controlled hard braking.

© Nissan North America Fun on Track
Although the manual transmission of the 2023 Nissan Z provides more fun on track, the automatic transmission in Sport mode does a fine job of holding lower gears through corners and downshifting under hard braking. During our testing we never felt the need to manually shift the automatic to get the performance we required, but it’s always available if the driver wants to use the paddles. The Nissan Z Performance with the manual transmission includes SynchroRev Match. This system makes downshifts under braking easy by perfectly matching engine rpm to vehicle speed in the lower gear. Although it can be fun for enthusiasts to turn off the rev matching and work on heel-toe technique, using the rev matching allows perfect downshifts for concentrating on other aspects of driving.

© Nissan North America In the Wild
It’s one thing to see a new car for the first time at an auto show or in a dealer showroom, but seeing how a vehicle looks out in the world can be a totally different experience, and the 2023 Nissan Z looks fantastic in the wild. Nissan designers really got things right with the silhouette, the front end and all the retro design cues of previous-generations Z cars. When drivers see the Nissan Z in their rearview mirrors or anyone sees it in profile they will know exactly what it is.

© Nissan North America Seats and Storage
The seats are comfortable and hold the driver in position, but it would be nice if they were 8-way power instead of only fore and aft adjustment and seatback adjust being power with manual height adjustments. Also there is no covered storage space, although there will be an accessory cargo cover available but not as a factory option.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience On the Road
The new Nissan Z is fun to drive, looks great and the new engine has a lot of power. And it’s not simply about the 400 horsepower; the overall drivability comes from maximum torque at 1600 to 5200 rpm. The 2023 Nissan Z performs well on track yet it is still comfortable for everyday use on the street. Nissan predicts that as much as 50 percent of Z buyers will choose the manual transmission, although the 9-speed automatic is top notch. We used manual shift mode in the automatic more on the highway than on the track — a must for the added engagement. Although the new shifter and clutch feel better than the previous model, it can be a bit difficult to make consistently smooth shifts without concentrating.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content Experience Competitive Price
In terms of sales, the Nissan Z will always be a low-volume car, so kudos to Nissan for putting so much effort into creating the new model and doing it without a partner (as Toyota did to bring back the Supra). The new car has improved a lot, even though it’s based on the same platform. The 2023 truly feels like a new car. Everything about it feels improved and the design is fantastic. And Nissan also did a good job keeping the price competitive, although the $10,000 jump to the Z Performance is really the car most would likely want.

© Nissan North America Right for You?
All things being equal, the 2023 Nissan Z is a small, two-seat sports car without much cargo space and no covered storage, but a Z car is about driving enjoyment, not practicality. The new model is lots of fun to drive thanks to a powerful engine and great looks. For a rear-wheel-drive coupe, the options from other automakers offer a lot less power or are a lot more expensive, making the new Nissan Z an attractive choice for buyers seeking a fun, sporty ride.

© Nissan North America Rating: 8.5
Pros: Great design; powerful engine; fun on track and street.
Cons: No covered storage space; manual seat adjustments.
Bottom Line: The best Nissan Z ever continues the tradition with a sporty design, a powerful turbo engine and great retro/modern looks.

 

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