Mt. Tremblant, Quebec — Three years after the 370Z left showrooms, Nissan has gone back to the drawing board and brought us the 2023 Z. That’s “Z”; not “400Z” as most people expected. That would have continued the nomenclature Nissan has employed for its popular rear-wheel-drive sports car ever since the Datsun 240Z debuted in 1969, but according to Nissan, this is a proper rebirth for the Z car, with the return of turbocharging for the fist time since 2000’s 300ZX and a return of the more compact styling that we saw from the original. Nissan says that if you look at the new Z from side-on and cover the old car’s signature headlight cutouts, the original and this new car are spitting images of each other.
I’m not sure I totally agree with that, but I do like how they’ve also referenced other Z cars in the design; the rear facia, for example, gets the black rear insert and stacked headlights from the Z32 300ZX car and the classic “Z” logo is perfectly placed on the c-pillars. While there’s more interior room here than there was in the 370Z, the new car looks more compact than both the 370Z and the 350Z that came before that.
A design element that is all new to the Z, however, is that katana sword elements sprinkled across the exterior, seen most obviously on the trim piece between the roof and side windows. The motif is also found on the wheels, which measure 18- or 19-inches and are the most aggressively-styled wheels we’ve ever seen on a Z. They get more aggressive still if you opt for the limited-edition Proto Spec package that also adds special yellow interior trim and a plaque denoting it as a special edition. It’s a limited run; we’re talking maybe 50 cars or so in Canada.
The overall design is also smoother than previous and while it’s great they’ve managed to reduce drag, the housing for the new flush-mounted door handles gets an added panel required to house the electronic locking mechanism. It looks a little too busy, to the point of seeming somewhat unfinished.
Not that the standard interior colourways are shrinking violets; you can get straight black, sure, but you can also get a mainly blue interior as well as one with eye-catching red inserts. All models, meanwhile, get the customary three gauges atop the dash – one for boost pressure, one for voltage, one for the turbo’s turbine speed – but the gauge cluster has now become a fully digitized affair as standard. It can be modified three ways – Sport, Normal and Enhanced – each one changing the gauge look as well as changing the info displayed. The Sport version, for example, features extra gauges for elements such as engine oil temp and water temp and brings the 7,000 RPM mark right to the top of the gauge face. According to Nissan, racing drivers were consulted in the design process. It looks great and sharp; it’s just too bad the back-up camera doesn’t follow suit, its somewhat blurry image looking like something from a few years back.
Much more contemporary is the standard fitment of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, though they cannot pair wirelessly with your phone.
All this comes with a starting price of just $46,498 for the Sport trim (three trims are available: Sport, Performance — $58,498 and Proto Spec — $64,248; add $1,500 to each trim for a nine-speed automatic) which puts it roughly on-par with a Ford Mustang GT and Chevrolet Camaro SS, but undercuts the Toyota Supra 2.0 by over 10 grand. In our eyes, with it twin-turbo V6, standard digital dash, dual exhaust, intelligent cruise control, auto climate control and LED head- and taillights, that makes the new Z a very competitively-priced entrant into the sports car game.
Comfort-wise, don’t expect the Z to feel like a grand-tourer inside; it has been developed with the average American male in mind – about 6’3” and 170 pounds, give or take – but I am 6’3” and I had to be creative with the seat adjustments, a process that ended with me having to move the seat all the way back on its rails and with its seatback tilted more than I’d normally have it. Luckily, the steering wheel now telescopes for length, which is a first for a Z car. Limiting how far the seatback can go, however, are a pair of storage bins, one behind each seat. They’re nice to have for stuff like small umbrellas or perhaps a glasses case. I wonder if it would have behooved Nissan to just forget about those, and allow the seat to come back that much further.
What they have done it terms of storage, however, is added a second cupholder that can be hidden when not in use by sliding the central storage bin’s lid forwards. It’s a smart exercise in interior packaging that works well in what is a cabin that’s supposed to recall the cockpit of a fighter jet. Having just watched the latest Top Gun movie on the plane on the way over, I found that aspect to be relatively enticing.
Even more enticing, of course, is the prospect of how much fun that can be had with this powertrain. Rear-wheel drive, a twin-turbo V6 and six-speed manual transmission? That’s a combo made in heaven for gearheads.
Our day started in the manual, and as soon as you plip that starter button the Z starts to buzz and vibrate as if straining against its restraints, ready to explode from the gate.
Explode it does, to the tune of 0-100 km/h in about 4.5 seconds and on to a 250 km/h top speed. Clutch take-up and lever throw is right on the money. Nissan has also turned the neat trick of engineering a manual gearbox that can predict which gear is coming next for quicker engagement and when you activate Sport mode by pressing a button mounted ahead of the shift lever, you gain access to power-on upshifts and rev-matched downshifts. It should be noted, however, that if you want to turn off rev-matching, the only way to do so is to disengage sport mode, which is a bit of a shame. But then it isn’t, really, because all Sport mode does is activate those two features and allows for a louder exhaust note on Performance models – Performance also adds upgraded brakes with red calipers, Bose audio, heated leather seats, aluminum pedals, 19” Rays wheels and mechanical limited slip differential.
Whether you’re driving a manual or automatic car, though, Sport mode doesn’t change your steering weight, doesn’t change your suspension settings and doesn’t increase throttle response – and there are no supplementary controls that allow you to do so.
What an engine, though. It’s rated at 400 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque, which are up from 332 and 270, respectively, on the 370Z. The response from stop is great, but what really impresses is just how good in-gear acceleration is at speed. You can jump from 60 to 100 km/h in 4th gear without hardly breaking a sweat, the engine just churning ahead of you like a good, big-hearted V6 should.
The engine’s responsiveness is equalled by the immediacy of the steering. While it’s now an electronically-assisted set-up, it’s incredibly weighty and meaty feeling and its rack is mounted so solidly that even over pockmarked Quebecois backroads, the steering never felt flustered, never felt overmatched. It just provides instantaneous turn-in to the point where you easily forget that Sport mode doesn’t modify the steering. It’s direct enough from the outset, thank you very much.
Thing is, that directness and the firm suspension set-up translates to some nervousness in less-committed scenarios, such as when on the highway. There were a few too many instances where I was forced to wrestle with a writhing steering wheel that at times, felt like it was trying to pull me into the other lane.
Switching to a car equipped with the automatic transmission, I found the driver engagement to be watered down a little, of course, but since the rest of the car is wound so tightly, the quick response from the paddles fits rather well. Also, because of some strange loophole in the rules of max allowed engine decibel levels, cars equipped with the automatic transmission are actually louder than manual-equipped cars on startup; manual cars get louder only once you hit the Sport button. What a liked the least about the auto was the shape of the electronic shift lever, which is an oblong thing that seems almost too futuristic when compared to the rest of the cabin’s environs, which include analogue climate controls and traditional three-spoke steering wheel.
That’s on “normal” roads; we also had the chance to take the Z on the Mount Tremblant racetrack and there, everything about the Z comes nicely in to focus. That instantaneous acceleration is perfectly at home here, while that oh-so-direct steering allows for precise wheel placement.
Which was important for this trackday as it came on the back of a rainy evening, which was compounded by the fact that it had been quite dry leading up to the day, meaning all that grease and oil left behind by days of racing in the dry comes to the surface in the rain, making the track properly greasy.
It was to the point where you could be coming out of a corner in third gear and just a dab of throttle – say, a quarter input – could get the tail stepping out. Luckily, that steering is so direct that recovering these instances was a mere steering wheel flick away. It also allowed us to keep the Z within an inch of the curbing – very slippery in these conditions – to get the most out of the available track. The Z is tailor-made for this stuff, like a true sports car.
I suppose what surprised most about the Z was how focused in proved to be. I went into this drive thinking it would be just a little softer than its most obvious Supra competition, perhaps a little more grand-touring like but that’s not the case. With that taut chassis and incredibly juicy engine, this is one pretty hardcore sports car that provides a committed drive – so long as you’re ready to commit to it, as well.
- Fantastic engine and transmission options
- Ultra-direct steering
- Exterior styling is modern, but also a great callback to Zees of old
- Nervous on the highway
- Not exactly roomy
- Lack of chassis and powertrain adjustability