Few car lines go all the way to Z.
But Nissan has been doing it since 1969, when it launched the Datsun 240Z – its long-hood sports car for the rest of us. I thought of it as a mini-Corvette back then and, honestly, I still do.
In fact, Nissan’s revived 2023 version, now simply called the Z, has a nose that mirrors both Corvettes past and present with its sleek, pointed snout. Still, the new model was smoothed out and the hatch roofline was thinned, giving the car a sleeker look. The Z was also powered by a 400-hp twin-turbo V6 and given a sleek new digital interior to bring it in line with today’s standard systems.
My pre-production test car (dealers will soon have theirs) was a stunning Seiran Blue Metallic with a black roof, two-tone paint scheme that adds $1,295 to the sticker price. But if I ever paid extra for the paint, this might do it. People took notice, some gave a thumbs up and others came out of their homes to see it up close at the curb. No doubt Nissan has nailed the modern-yet-retro style.
1 of 4
2023 Nissan Z
2 of 4
2023 Nissan Z
3 of 4
Aerial view of the 2023 Nissan Z
4 of 4
2023 Nissan Z rear bumper
No pretensions to it being a family car or hauling more than two, as there are only two seats here and a long cargo space under a glass hatch, but still a minor cargo space . If it’s only two of you with a suitcase each, then the Z can accommodate that. Golfers may need to make other arrangements and forgo a handcart.
Dynamic styling aside, the Z Performance tested was a well-controlled rocket ship with those 400 rear-drive horsepower pushing those freeway on-ramps like it was rolling off the pits of Road America. Maybe he could!
Unlike almost every other sports car, the Z comes standard with a 6-speed manual, otherwise known as a standard or shifter transmission. Young drivers may not know it, but that’s how many vehicles arrived. An automatic transmission would generally cost more. Ironically, today’s automatics (a nine-speed is optional) now get better fuel economy than manuals, but that’s another conversation.
The stick is fun and easy to switch between gears, although the casts are longer than I would have imagined. Mazda’s Miata still has the shortest throws I’ve encountered, but it works well and the clutch is moderately weighted so it’s not too taxing on the legs in slower traffic. My only initial concern was how far down I had to push the shifter to slide it all the way to the right for reverse, although I got used to it.
I should also mention that there is a SynchroRev Match system here to blip the motor and match its rpm to the gear you selected. So when you downshift through a turn, that noticeable engine response lets your passenger know you’re a legit road racer. Thank you technicians!
Nissan’s 3.0-liter twin-turbo engine is strong and smooth and feels strong when you shift gears. This model had poorly performing 19-inch tires that grip the road well until we had an early fall monsoon. An early shift to maintain traction was necessary in wetter conditions. All-season tires would help, but then you’d lose performance and undermine the main attraction of this car.
The handling, as hinted above, was responsive. Steering wheel feel is subdued and that steering wheel is leather-wrapped, as is the shift knob. The Nissan Z is well balanced with neutral handling.
The ride is firm as you’d expect in a car with just 100 inches of wheelbase. Also the Performance model adds a sportier suspension so if you prefer a bit of a smoother ride like me (I’m over 60) then the standard Z may be a more comforting choice and it will save you some the money.
Z’s brakes also deserve a mention here. The Performance version gets upgraded brakes with red calipers with Nissan labeling. Front and rear rotors are 14-inch and 13.8-inch vented, so stopping distance and speed are impressive. I suspect the standard brakes aren’t too shabby either.
Inside the Z, Nissan designers created a very comfortable and livable interior that would allow for long jaunts on the highway.
The digital instrument cluster is clean and the nine-inch (eight-inch is standard) touchscreen is big enough but not too powerful – and simple to use. I had no issues and the Bose sound system is solid as well.
The interior styling and comfortable seats are likely to wow most drivers.
First, this one featured blue leather seats and blue dash and door trim under a soft black dash top. The door inserts are leather-trimmed suede and the seats feature a perforated suede center section.
The console and dash are mostly matte black, so no glare from the sun here, something other automakers might learn from. This console is also trimmed in blue leather to add visual flair.
Atop the dash for a retro look are three gauges that might matter if you were racing as they show Boost, Turbo Speed and Volts. I would challenge most people to know what voltage their car should be showing on a gauge (about 14 here) and as long as I can feel the turbo I’m not sure I need a number on it. So while I appreciate the retro look, I’d say it should be replaced with more useful information such as a fuel gauge or a clock.
Nissan’s performance seats are beautifully sculpted and adjusted to surround the driver and passenger so they won’t slide or even move when the car flies through tight turns on a rural highway or during a day on the track . Shorter people might find them a bit too confined, but I loved the seats, which are partially electric. 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 angle of the seat back. It may take a bit of getting used to the location, although I did it in a week.
On the left side are manual controls for adjusting the angle of the seat and height adjustment for the back of the seat. I wish it was a little taller, but I’m only 5’5”. Nissan also heats the seats – another nice feature.
The Z’s steering wheel is a manual tilt/telescoping model, but round and non-heated. I would prefer a flat bottom wheel in any sports car; not to mention it creates more knee room when moving a manual and also when exiting. I also found that unless I could open the door to its fullest, I had trouble getting my right foot off its edge when exiting.
There are also other issues to consider inside. First, the cupholders are so far back on the console – they’re difficult to use, although they may be easier for long-legged drivers who can position the seat all the way back. The storage box there is also way behind the elbow, but then again, this is a two-seater and space is limited, especially with a manual shifter on the console.
There’s also no wireless phone charger in the tray under the center console, just a nice place to put your phone. And while I know this is a sports car with a throaty growl, the road noise, especially on cement, can make listening to the radio a bit of a pain.
I liked the three climate dials, all of which can be set to automatic for fan speed, temperature, and direction. Pleasant!
Safety features are strong here too with intelligent cruise control, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and blind spot monitor.
Fuel economy is nothing special, but you buy it for power, not efficiency. The EPA rates the Nissan Z at 18 mpg city and 24 highway for the manual version and I got 22.8 mpg in a city and highway mix. And yes, it drinks premium fuel. Note that the automatic is better rated at 19 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.
As for price, the base Nissan Z is an absolute bargain for power, looks and handling, starting at $41,015 including delivery. So consider it 400 hp for $40,000. There are two other levels though, and these push the limits a bit, going over $50,000.
The Performance model tested starts at $51,015 with delivery and ended at $53,210 just adding the sleek paint job, lighted skid plates ($500) and floor mats ($400). The top-level Proto spec comes in at $54,015.
The Z epitomizes the modern fastback-style sports car and is an automotive icon. At its base price, it is extremely attractive. Upgrade to higher versions and you are in the Audi TT and BMW Z4 range. So at this level you might just want to consider a Kia Stinger or a Ford Mustang and get a back seat to boot!
QUICK STATS: 2023 Nissan Z Performance
Shots: Sleek 2-seater, excellent power, balanced neutral handling, good brakes, smooth shifter. Excellent seat comfort, heated seats, automatic air conditioning dials, good size and function of the information display and a good level of safety features.
Miss: Firm ride, considerable road noise at highway speeds, difficult exit when door isn’t 100% open, awkward cupholder placement, no heated steering wheel, no flat-bottomed wheel, long shift runs of speed, no wireless charger, little cargo space and high end. preferred fuel.
Made in: Japan
Engine: 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, 400 hp/350 torque
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Lester: 3,507 pounds.
Wheelbase: 100.4 in.
Length: 172.4 in.
Cargo: 7.0 cu.ft.
MPG: 22.8 (tested)
Base price: $51,015 (delivery included)
Invoice: N / A
Illuminated skid plates, $500
Two-tone paint, $1,295
Test vehicle: $53,210
Sources: Nissan, www.kbb.com