2023 Nissan Z, All you want to know & watch about a Great Car
2023 Nissan Z Performance Manual First Test: Compromised but Still Intriguing
Nissan’s updated Z is a powerful yet charmingly old-school sports car.
- Retrotastic style
- More power than before is always better
- Comfortable ride
- Heavier, and you feel it
- Dull responses
- Nowhere as refined as Supra
When Nissan finally redesigned its Z sports car this year, the bar for the 370Z’s replacement had lowered to mere microns off the floor. The old Z was available for sale continuously since 2009, receiving only minor upgrades along the way. We’re not going to say “any new-ish car with four wheels and the shape of a sports car” would have sufficed, but the 2023 Z’s job was relatively straightforward.
Thankfully, Nissan exceeded most expectations with the new Z, delivering a sport coupe so stylish, so powerful, and so affordable as to almost make you forget the underlying platform is … effectively still the same as the ancient 370Z’s.
We Found The Beef
You probably won’t detect the connection to yesterday’s 370Z unless you peek at the new Z’s curb weight and notice the car’s unusually tall cowl. Both are the direct result of Nissan recycling the 370Z’s sedan-based platform; its bones were shared with the Infiniti G37, a larger vehicle that, when scaled to the Z’s smaller footprint, betrayed its more upright structure.
They can even trace their roots back to the two-decades-old 350Z. Reinforcing this architecture to its present, admirably stiff state required adding bracing and, thus, mass. Our Performance trim, stick-shift 2023 Nissan Z weighs 3,519 pounds, about 100 pounds heavier than a 2017 370Z we tested years ago.
Some of that extra cheddar comes from the new-to-Z, if not exactly all-new, VR30DDTT twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 engine. Borrowed from the Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 models, this engine spits out a Toyota Supra-beating 400 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. Those figures are well beyond the 370Z’s 332 hp and 270 lb-ft, generated by a tractor-like 3.7-liter naturally aspirated V-6, and they eclipse the last-generation 370Z NISMO variant’s 350 hp and 276 lb-ft.
However, contending with quite a bit more Z in the metal, the twin-turbo V-6’s impact on the 2023 Z’s performance is muted. We managed to scoot the new model to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, a few tenths of a second quicker than non-NISMO previous-generation 370Zs and on par with the 350-horse NISMO variants. Toyota’s lighter, until-now-automatic-transmission-only Supra is about a second quicker to 60 mph.
In practice, the VR30DDTT engine pulls strongly and with a refinement the old VQ engine could only dream of. The engine now spins without vibration and puts out pleasing guttural noises; by contrast, the previous Z’s VQ engine behaved, sounded like, and felt like a truck engine. We noticed the six-speed manual’s shift lever still bucks around when getting onto or quickly off the throttle, but it’s the only notable physical manifestation of the engine’s work.
As before, there is no “sport” mode for the Z, only a satisfying physical button to the left of the steering wheel for defeating traction and stability control, and another alongside the shifter for the rev-matching S-Mode function. The manual transmission (a nine-speed auto is optional at no cost) is generally satisfying to use with rev-match on or off, but the throws are longer than in a GR Supra manual, and the decently weighted, springy clutch pedal has a long stroke.
New-Age Power, Old-School Moves
Nissan is adamant we should not view the Z as a “track car,” which on the surface seems strange, because the Z is a 400-hp, rear-wheel-drive sports car that, as tested here, comes with a Performance trim option. That designation includes a new clutch-type locking rear differential, bigger Akebono front brakes, and lightweight 19-inch Rays wheels.
Why its maker would deem a car set up this way as unwelcome on a track, even for an amateur track day, would normally be a head-scratcher. But it makes sense in the way the Z drives; it’s soft, comfortable, even. The body leans in corners, dives when you hit the brakes, and goes on-plane when you goose the twin-turbo V-6.
We piloted the Z around a short, winding circuit at our testing venue, and found it entertaining for precisely, we think, the reasons Nissan feels it shouldn’t have been there. The weightier forced-induction V-6 pushes the Z’s weight distribution forward relative to the 370Z, such that 57 percent of its mass presses through the front tires.
Along with the suspension’s general compliance, this makes for an oversteery experience as you near and pass through the handling limits. But thanks to the body lean, even novices can figure out how much grip remains in reserve. On our skidpad, the Z hung on for a 0.93-g average, matching the previous-gen NISMO variant. Toyota’s GR Supra has similar roll compliance, if not quite as much, and has higher limits while being snappier at the limit, making it less friendly for would-be drifters.
Of course, more than mere fun goes into a car’s track-worthiness, and there’s no getting around the Z’s braking power. While it’s fine on, say, a fast road, we noticed the binders fading after a few laps of our course. This aspect alone would make us hesitate to track the Z on a regular basis if we owned it, unless we addressed the issues via aftermarket components. Nevertheless, we recorded a 110-foot best stop from 60 mph, right in line with the lighter Supra.
Do You Zee Now?
Given the 2023 Nissan Z’s lack of hardcore abilities or intent, most customers likely will be served just fine by the base model that costs $10,000 less than this Performance version. You get the same engine and the same general goodness, minus a few performance parts the Z doesn’t put to particularly good use, anyhow—well, aside from that locking differential, which comes in handy when sliding the car around.
More to the point: Even in Performance trim, the Z lives in an interesting corner of the market; it costs a few thousand bucks less than an equivalent six-cylinder Toyota GR Supra—the base Z even undercuts the entry-level four-cylinder Supra—and may even be cross-shopped against V-8-powered Mustangs and Camaros, four-cylinder BMW 2 series Coupes, and maybe even BMW’s two-seat Z4 roadster (the Supra’s German cousin).
On the other hand, it’s priced in premium hot hatch territory, making it a less practical but similar-performing alternative to enthusiast models such as VW’s Golf R, Honda’s Civic Type R, and the new Toyota GR Corolla.
The fact this car puts up numbers akin to the old 370Z’s tier-above NISMO variant shows this redesign brought improvement, even if the rest of the non-numbers-focused experience relaxes. And therein lies the rub: We think a softer-edged, more road-focused sports car is novel and worthy of praise in today’s age of ever-stiffening suspensions and Nürburgring development laps. It’s too bad, however, that behind its appealing tuning, the Z feels old in other ways that don’t show up in the objective test results.
There’s geriatric Nissan switchgear from previous generations interspersed among the new displays; the interior trim went abuzz over rougher roads, despite the soft ride; and there’s still that old-timey driveshaft windup that clunks its head up when shifting amongst lower gears at city speeds. A truly all-new car could have addressed these shortcomings, all of which carryover from the 370Z. Instead, Nissan gives enthusiasts more power and slightly better performance, more style, and a fresh touchscreen. There’s somehow still some charm in that.
Looks good! More details?
|2023 Nissan Z Specifications|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$53,610|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door hatchback|
|ENGINE||3.0L Twin-turbo direct-injected DOHC 24-valve 60-degree V-6|
|POWER (SAE NET)||400 hp @ 6,400 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||350 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,519 lb (57/43%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||172.4 x 72.6 x 51.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.9 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||13.5 sec @ 105.3 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||110 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.93 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||25.3 sec @ 0.74 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||18/24/20 mpg|
|EPA RANGE, COMB||328 miles (est)|