It’s hard to go unnoticed in the 2023 Nissan Z, especially when optioned with the limited-run Proto Spec trim coating the vehicle in “Ikazuchi Yellow Pearl” paired with bronze Rays wheels. Its design is both striking and familiar, sharing visual cues with nearly three decades worth of Nissan sports cars. Driving a vehicle that garners that level of attention means lots of nods, thumbs-ups, and the brief conversation after parking in a public lot. The overwhelming question I received while driving the Z over Memorial Day weekend was “is that electric?”
The answer is, of course, no. The Z is powered by a 400-horsepower twin-turbo V6 — seemingly far from the Japanese automaker’s $17.6 billion push toward an electric fleet. That commitment includes producing 23 electrified (15 fully electric) vehicles by 2030 across both Nissan and Infiniti.
Electrification aside, perhaps the more interesting trait is not what’s powering the rear wheels but the Z’s form factor. Two-seat sports cars don’t exactly fly off dealership lots the same way trucks and SUVs do. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t because the 2023 Z is a fantastic sports car.
Nissan is offering two trim levels for the Z. Both feature the same engine, manual (or automatic) transmission, and rear-wheel drive-only configuration. The base Sport trim starts at $39,990, and for an additional $10,000, you can option the Performance trim — adding upgrade brakes, a mechanical limited slip differential, and a host of interior upgrades. The Proto Spec on my loaner builds off the Performance trim and adds unique wheels, yellow contrast stitching, and suede interior trim. It’s also limited to 240 units, and if you’re just learning about this model, it’s already sold out. Sorry.
The parts bin sports car
We have come a long way from the terrible early-2000s era of rebadging cars. You know the ones. So please understand that calling the Z a parts bin car is not an insult but, rather, a necessary move for this car to exist in the first place. Developing any vehicle is very expensive (and time-consuming). I’m not cutting Nissan slack here. There are some questionable cost-cutting measures in the Z, like hard plastic trims and nearly 20-year-old buttons. But as a total package, Nissan did a great job of pulling parts from its own cars and its luxury counterpart, Infiniti, to create a very compelling package.
The Z shares its chassis with its predecessor, the 370Z. Nissan disguised the 15-year-old platform with updated body panels, modern daytime running lights, and a very cool retro-inspired rear light design. Nissan added updated monotube shocks, new rear suspension tuning, and claims torsional rigidity has been increased by over 10 percent compared to the outgoing 370Z.
Driving the Z was a blast. I logged about 500 miles after a week with the car, covering both high-speed cruising and winding back roads. It remained flat around corners with predictable power delivery resembling a naturally aspirated engine. At highway speeds, the Z felt more like a gran tourer, planted on the road and very easy to break the law if you’re not paying attention.
It’s not like the 370Z was a bad car, so sharing its chassis with the new Z and adding a bunch of power is a recipe for success. At this price point, especially when you consider the base Sport trim at $40,000, you’d be hard pressed to find another car that can compete with this package. Maybe the Supra? But you’d need to spend at least $52,000 to match (and likely beat) the Z’s performance. But that’s for a base Supra 3.0 with an automatic transmission. (Toyota has announced a manual is coming “later in 2022.”) Either way, this is the car I’m sure a lot of people have been waiting for, and it delivers.
Under the hood, the Z is powered by the same 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 engine found in the Infiniti Q50 (and Q60) Red Sport 400. It produces 400 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. Those numbers are up nearly 70 horsepower and 80 pound-feet from the outgoing naturally aspirated 3.7-liter V6. The increased power really sets the Z into a different class. It’s fast. The twin-turbo setup does a really great job eliminating turbo lag and maintaining a relatively linear acceleration. There is no hiding that this is a turbocharged engine, but you really don’t experience that delayed “boost” like you do in single-turbo setups.
Stepping into the Z is a bit of a mixed bag. If you have spent any time in the 370Z (or even 350Z), you will recognize some familiar features, starting with the door handles and even the entire door card, which are more or less pulled directly from the 370Z. The window controls are standard plastic switches, the HVAC controls are physical dials with no LED display in sight, and the entire center console is the same hard plastic we’ve seen year after year in the 370Z. The icing on the cake is the heated seat controls, which look and feel like the same ones found in an early 2000s Nissan Altima.
If it sounds like I’m nitpicking, I kind of am! None of these details affect how this car drives (and I’m sure a lot of you will say they don’t matter), but these are buttons and switches you will touch every time you step into this car. And for me, whenever I sat down in the Z, I was reminded of where Nissan cut costs. It’s not exactly something I’d love in a vehicle that retails for $56,210.
That said, supply chain shortages, etc., etc., etc. I am still very happy this car exists. And maybe on the base model starting at $39,990 (good luck finding one), these touches are a bit more acceptable.
The list of new vehicles available with a manual transmission has been dwindling year after year. Thankfully, Nissan did the thing and kept an optional manual transmission in the Z. And y’all, it’s great. I couldn’t stop driving this car. The six-speed transmission felt sharp with a leather-wrapped shift knob and short throws. The gearing felt right for this engine. On a public back road, you can really stay within a couple gears and not have to constantly hunt for power.
Carried over from the 370Z is optional rev matching. It’s only available on the Performance trim with manual transmission. Could I live without it? Yes. Did I have rev matching enabled 99 percent of the time? Also yes. My last two cars have been manual (BMW E90 and MK4 GTI), and I’ve admittedly turned my nose up at the thought of a computer helping me downshift, but it’s actually a really useful feature — not only for newer stick drivers but also seasoned ones who haven’t spent their days perfecting the heel-toe downshift.
If a third pedal is not for you, the Z is also available with a nine-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. I did not have a chance to drive it, but if I were purchasing this car, I would likely not even consider it. Save the manuals!
I want to turn your attention back to the Z’s interior because maybe I was a little harsh up top. Looking past the plastic and straight ahead is a brand-new 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster. The graphics are simple — mostly red, black, and white — but it looks fantastic. I think the simplicity works in its favor without any tacky graphics or weird shading. Seriously, this is a great example of how to properly do a digital gauge cluster. There are three customizable views that completely reconfigure the display:
- Normal: tachometer on the left, speedometer on the right, and customizable center for nav, current audio track, or cruise control info.
- Enhanced: tachometer even further to the left, speedometer even further to the right, and a wide customizable center.
- Sport: tachometer front and center with your digital speed slightly to the upper right. Water and engine oil temp gauges on the right and a customizable left side for boost pressure, G-force meter, and more. There are also shift lights that come in from the left and right.
The steering wheel buttons look like capacitive touch buttons but are thankfully physical switches. You have the standard controls you’d expect: media playback, cruise control, and buttons to adjust the digital gauge. The steering wheel itself is also very nice. It’s wrapped in leather and Nissan says there was inspiration from the R32 GT-R. Fancy!
The center screen looks great. It’s bright and high-res. My tester had the optional nine-inch touchscreen display with an optional Bose 8 speaker sound system. The base Sport trim comes with an eight-inch touch display, but both come standard with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. I would not upgrade from the Sport to Performance for the larger screen and Bose audio. The Bose system was fine but nothing to write home around. Supporting the nine-inch display are two physical dials for volume and tune as well as a row of buttons to quickly access different screens like audio and camera.
Oof, speaking of the camera. C’mon, Nissan. The backup camera is… fine. It’s quite low resolution and just looks very outdated. But again, $56,210. I’m not looking for 4K, but I would settle for at least HD. It could also be wider. Nissan does include front and rear parking sensors standard, which is nice. Thank you.
Rounding out the interior tech are three gauges above the center screen that show boost pressure, turbo speed, and battery volts. This is another situation of something we don’t need, but it adds to the experience of this car. I like them, even if it’s just to watch needles move when I accelerate.
Finally, the Z features the standard run of modern safety and convenience features. Adaptive cruise control worked great on long drives. This isn’t exactly the car you’d want to take road trips in, but if you do, this cruise control is great. You also have blind spot monitors, lane departure warnings, and rear cross traffic alerts when backing up.
What’s next for the Z?
The 2023 Nissan Z is a relic of the past. It’s a fantastic sports car releasing among global supply chain shortages (already delaying its release), record gas prices ($80-plus to fill this tank during my review), and a questionable past couple of years for Nissan. Not to mention the electrification of the entire automotive industry. This will likely be the final Z powered by an internal combustion engine.
The Z is not here to push Nissan into the future; it’s a celebration of the company’s past as it steers in a new direction.
(I just hope that direction looks better than the Ariya.)
Photography by Phil Esposito / The Verge