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2023 Nissan Z First Drive: Z, OMG!


For a car named after the last letter of the alphabet, the Z car got off to an incredibly strong start. An instant hit when it landed on our shores in 1970, the first-generation Datsun 240Z sported a long, graceful hood, sloping fastback roofline, boxy Kamm tail, and powerful overhead cam inline six-cylinder engine. head driving the rear wheels. A starting price of just $3526, or about $26,000 in today’s money, led to an incredible rookie year. Eventually the 240Z became the 260Z and then the 280Z, and Datsun became Nissan. But the car’s 53-year history has been a bit of a rollercoaster. Strong sales, accolades and racing success were met with rising prices, a shrinking sports car market and eight model years with no Z at all.

With the new 2023 Z, Nissan hopes to bring back the thrills. It starts with the name itself. Until now, the adjacent number has always represented the engine’s metric displacement in three-digit shorthand. The 2023 Z is powered by a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, and past conventions require it to be called 300Z or 300ZX. A marketing meeting probably felt that a number lower than the last 370Z could be considered a step backwards. But engine displacement doesn’t define Nissan’s sports car; it’s the Z-ness of the thing.

On that front, the new Z is on point. It sticks to the classic formula that all predecessors shared: two doors, rear-wheel drive and a primo six-cylinder engine. It also maintains the nod to affordable performance that the 350Z and 370Z brought back. This Z is available in just two levels: a Sport priced at $41,015 and the Performance at $51,015. There’s also a special launch edition with paint and trim called Proto for $54,015, but it’s capped at 240 units. Those prices remain unchanged whether you choose the six-speed manual or the nine-speed automatic, and there are no options aside from exterior paint and interior colors.

Looking at the car in person under blue skies, one can easily see that the designers nailed it, even though the new Z shares its base platform with the 370Z to the point that they have a common 100 wheelbase, 4 inches, 72.6 inches wide, and 51.8 inches tall. The sloping rear roofline is much the same, but it’s now framed by more subtly muscular rear haunches. The faded look of the 350/370 tail is history, replaced by a clean vertical rear cut that is much more reminiscent of the original Z tail, with horizontally slotted LED taillights that echo the amazing 300ZX from the 90s.

The new Z is 4.9 inches longer than before and all the extra length is in the nose. It was a necessity, as the twin-turbo V6 requires a veritable club sandwich of heat exchangers, with an air-to-liquid intercooler and transmission and oil coolers joining the usual AC radiator and condenser. This did little to faze the designers, as it allowed them to lengthen the hood and resculpt the nose in homage to the 240Z. It also results in a large, square grille under the leading edge of the hood, a feature that looks less prominent when standing beside it than from the ground-level vantage point of most photographs.

The VR30DDTT motor package is worth it. It’s the same V6 that powers the Infiniti Q50 and Q60 Red Sport, and its 400 horsepower at 6400 rpm and 350 lb-ft of torque at 1600 rpm eclipse the naturally aspirated 370Z by around 68 horsepower and 80 lb-ft. At around 3500 pounds, the Sport weighs about 150 pounds more than a base version of its predecessor, mainly because of the new engine. But the twin-turbo six successfully hides the extra mass, as each horsepower now has about nine pounds to displace, compared to 10 pounds per pony in the 370Z. Raced hard on a circuit, the Z felt suitably quick and eager. The turbo lag never looked up, to the point where the engine pulled off a believable imitation of naturally aspirated.

See the pictures

2023 Nissan Z First Drive: Z, OMG!

Greg PajoCar and driver

See the pictures

2023 Nissan Z First Drive: Z, OMG!

Greg PajoCar and driver

No wonder. Integrated exhaust manifolds pack the turbochargers against the sidewalls of the block, and the turbos have built-in speed sensors linked to wastegate control to keep turbine speeds near maximum. There’s also a recirculation circuit that helps maintain turbo speed as you let off the throttle on corner entry.

A reworked six-speed manual gearbox now includes no-lift launch control available on the Performance trim, and either way its shift action is noticeably less cogged, thanks to re-profiled detents, with clutch engagement Considerably smoother thanks to a new externally mounted clutch actuation cylinder. As for the nine-speed automatic, its chunky paddle shifters are part of an incredibly simple procedure to arm its new launch control: hold the brake pedal, pull both paddles, press the accelerator, release the brakes and hang on. In either case, Performance models more effectively direct the resulting heckling to the pavement thanks to a new clutch-type limited-slip differential that replaces the outgoing viscous unit.

The body structure has more torsional stiffness, but the suspension pickup points are unchanged. That said, Nissan selectively and surgically retuned the Z’s chassis from a baseline of 370Z. The front caster angle increases thanks to a new upper control arm, and a power-assisted steering rack replaces the old hydraulic block. The twin-tube shocks on the 370Z are replaced with more precise monotube units that develop damping force much faster. The Sport gets a square 245/45R-18 tire setup, while the Performance has a 255/40R-19 front and 275/35R-19 rear offset.

It all adds up to a Z car that clings tenaciously to the track, with reachable limits that are easy to embrace and correct. There’s a bit of understeer if you load a corner too hard, but the nose tucks obediently if you take a deep breath. It is also much more livable day after day. The ride has shed its old flint and coarse road noise is no longer an ever-present annoyance. The steering builds up well and communicates on the trail but doesn’t do much of the same when steered straight. Our long-range Sonata N Line has better centered definition when cruising the highway.

Inside the Z’s cabin, the dimensions are virtually identical to the 370Z, which isn’t a bad thing. The steering wheel now telescopes to increase your chances of finding a good driving position. The infotainment system benefits from volume and adjustment buttons and cordless phone mirroring, but the climate control temperature dials struggle with tiny numbers that are hard to make out. The star player has to be the configurable gauge cluster, particularly in Sport mode, which evokes a large analog-looking tachometer front and center, race-style oriented so the red line is at the top. Progressive multi-color shift lights sit just below the lip of the instrument binnacle, and they converge towards the middle as they approach the 6800 rpm redline. It’s equally fabulous with the manual transmission or with the automatic in manual mode, but you can turn them off if you prefer the dark.

It’s easy to love the new Z, but it’s too soon to say we’ve completely fallen in love with it. It certainly looks worthy of love: its 400-hp V6 gets our full attention, and it’s a more refined and liveable daily driver than the 370Z. But the awards don’t always translate into commercial success, and the fierce competition means we won’t know if it’s true love until we’ve compared the Z to its foes.

Features

Features

2023 Nissan Z

Vehicle type: front engine, rear wheel drive, 2 seater, 2 door hatchback

THE PRICE

Base: Sport, $41,105; Performance, $51,105; Prototype, $54,105

ENGINE

24-valve V6 twin-turbocharged and intercooled, aluminum block heads, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 183″32997cm3

Power: 400 hp at 6,400 rpm
Torque: 350 lb-ft at 1,600 rpm

TRANSMISSIONS

6-speed manual, 9-speed automatic

DIMENSIONS

Wheelbase: 100.4″
Length: 172.4″
Width: 72.6″
Height: 51.8″
Passenger volume: 52 feet3

Trunk volume: 7 feet3

Unloaded weight (CD east): 3500-3600 lbs.

PERFORMANCE (CD IS)

100 km/h: 4.2 to 4.4 s
100 mph: 10.1-10.4 sec
1/4 mile: 13.0-13.3 sec
Top speed: 155mph

EPA FUEL ECONOMY

Combined/City/Highway: 20-22/18-19/24-28 mpg


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