By Paul Herrold
1969: The first man landed on the moon, The Beatles recorded Abbey Road, their final album, and the world was introduced to a car that would redefine what a sports car should be: Nissan’s Datsun 240Z. Instead of another exclusive and expensive car with terrible reliability, Nissan proved that a sports car could be fun, affordable, and—get this—actually work. Now in its 7th generation, Nissan brings to market a new “Z Car” that retains all the same principles as the original—and a whole lot more.
Instantly recognizable and uniquely a Z—what Nissan calls their new creation—there is definitely a lot to like about this new car. From its long hood to its sculpted sides to its retro rear end—this is a handsome car that gets noticed and stands out. Add to that an impressive 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 engine making 400 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque, and you have something pretty special to not only park in your driveway, but also to drive. And that is what this car is all about, it’s a driver’s car. With two seats, rear-wheel-drive, an available manual transmission, and a turbo RPM gauge (the only car currently on the market to have one), being inside the 2023 Nissan Z feels like you are sitting in the cockpit of a fighter jet—and that’s even before you push the engine-start button.
When you do push that button, the engine comes to life with a humble growl that intensifies the more your right foot touches the pedal. It sounds like a proper exhaust should, at least for the automatic transmission version. Unfortunately, due to new federal noise regulations which test vehicles differently depending on the type of transmission they have, cars with manual transmission are equipped with a quieter muffler because of their different gearing.
For pricing, the new Z comes in two flavors: a Sport version and a step-up Performance version. Both models have the exact same power rating, and both give you a no-cost choice of either a “no-lift” 6-speed manual transmission that allows you to shift gears without taking your foot off the throttle, or a Mercedes-Benz-sourced 9-speed automatic. While the Sport model starts at a very reasonable $39,990 (plus $1,025 for destination), the Performance model is where you get maximum performance with larger brakes and tires, a limited slip differential with launch control, and a functional rear spoiler which ups the top speed from 136mph to 155mph. Unfortunately, all these extra goodies don’t come cheap: the Performance costs $49,990 plus destination—exactly $10K more than the Sport.
Driving the new Z can be summed up in two words: A blast. My press car was the Z Performance model, which felt willing to obey my commands with linear steering, predictable chassis feel, and strong brakes. The 6-speed manual shifter is light and snick-snicks into gear smoothly as long as you’re fairly gentle with it. More aggressive shifting—like trying to score a 0-60-mph launch—led to a missed 1st to 2nd shift on one occasion. Pedal placement is perfect and allows for easy heel-toe footwork—or you can just let the car do that for you with the “SynchroRev Match” feature engaged. And speaking of 0-60-mph times, the Z with the 6-speed does it in 4.5 seconds, while the automatic should be about 0.4 seconds quicker.
In order to keep development costs down, the new Z rides on a modified version of the previous-generation (370Z) platform. Nissan does a good job in masking this, but when driving the new Z at its absolute limit some of the older chassis’ characteristics come into play, specifically its body roll and suspension damping. And while I am nitpicking, the standard Bridgestone tires just don’t offer the same level of grip as some other tire brands do.
Overall, the new Z is a fun car to drive. It’s like a toy—something that stirs the soul and puts a smile on your face. Driving it makes you feel good. While it’s not practical, or even sensible, a sports car like the 2023 Nissan Z reminds us that it’s OK to occasionally buy something that we really don’t need, but rather, want.
2023 Nissan Z Performance Gallery
Click below for enlarged images.