Cribbing iconic design elements can backfire on a modern car, but the Nissan Z pulls it off. The front end’s eye-like headlights and squared-off grille carry just the right amount of Datsun vibe, while the 300ZX-style taillights look excellent tucked under the hatchback lid. The rear haunches are the right amount of thicc, while the long hood and roofline scream speed. My tester’s $1,295 two-tone black-and-blue paint job is sharp, too.
If you like blue outside, I hope you love it inside, because it’s everywhere. The Z on my driveway has blue leather and suede on the seats, as well as the lower halves of the door panels and dashboard, and it’s quite the conversation starter. The top half of the cabin is standard demure black plastic, but the overall layout is far more modern than in the past. The gauge pod atop the dashboard is still a fun little piece, even if I think nobody in the universe needs to know about turbine speed. My only real complaint in the design is that I think the lock button in the door handle looks cheap.
From a practicality standpoint, the 2023 Z gets an Andrew Krok Practicality Rating of “Somewhat.” The one permanently visible cup holder will handle most bottle sizes, with a second hidden under the sliding center armrest. Pop the armrest up and you get a cubby deep enough for a wallet and little else, but two pockets behind the seats and the cubby under the climate controls provide more unsecured storage in a pinch. The Z’s hatchback does the best it can, and it handles groceries like a champ, but taking two people to the airport for a weeklong vacation might be asking too much. Anything tall will undoubtedly smack against the glass, and any tall person may find themselves wishing the seats were positioned a little lower, especially if a helmet is involved.
I don’t give a single blip of brain power to worrying about headroom once I’m out on the road, though. That’s where the Z really gets me smiling. A 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 borrowed from Infiniti puts 400 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque at my disposal. Boost will build and the car will pull at nearly every point on the tachometer, making highway passes a breeze without worrying about downshifts. While I wish cars fitted with the six-speed manual transmission had the sport muffler that’s only legal on automatic-transmission variants, the engine note is only really hushed at lower speeds; as the tach approaches its 6,800-rpm redline, the V6 has no issue bouncing its song off the trees that line my favorite curvy backroads.
Despite a mild bump in curb weight over its predecessor, the new Z’s additional 68 hp and 80 lb-ft eliminates any thought about the scales when the going gets curvy. My Performance tester’s mechanical limited-slip differential keeps the power from constantly converting into yaw, although there’s more than enough oomph to get the Z sideways on purpose. The static dampers do a commendable job transferring weight without making the ride outright annoying on regular roads, although it does still feel stiff in daily use. The steering has a nice weight to it, and while it’s not as communicative as the 370Z’s old hydraulic getup, it’s plenty good by modern standards. The Performance-specific brakes are easy to modulate, making for a smooth experience in both daily-driving and oh-shit-was-that-a-cop situations. Tire noise isn’t an issue at lower speeds, but it definitely makes itself obvious at or above 70 mph.
This Nissan Z comes with a six-speed manual, but a nine-speed automatic is also available. The manual’s shift action is heavy but precise, with no concerns over missing a gate when rowing in either direction. Purists may enjoy the ol’ heel-toe action, but the Performance model’s rev-matching system is pitch perfect. My only real complaint here is the clutch pedal, which has a long, vague bite; it’s not a problem in quick-shift corner carving, but it’s far too easy to dial in the wrong amount of throttle when starting off, lending to some awkward head bobs. Rev hang is almost nonexistent, too, a growing rarity in modern sports cars.
All that power generally equates to thirst, but the 2023 Nissan Z isn’t too bad at the pump. The manual is rated at 18 mpg city and 24 mpg highway, although my right foot was having too much fun, leading to a combined personal rating of about 18 mpg. If you really want to lean into the thrift, the automatic variant boosts those EPA figures to 19 city and 28 highway.
Some sports cars are content to pretend tech doesn’t exist, but Nissan did a good job modernizing the Z in this area. An 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system is standard, with uplevel models getting a 9-incher, but both come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and run the same system you can find in any of Nissan’s latest models. The larger screen also includes embedded navigation, a Wi-Fi hotspot and an eight-speaker Bose audio system that sounds pretty good. One USB-A and one USB-C port provide plenty of juice for both passengers. A 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster puts all the pertinent information front and center, and it offers three different arrangements in case you don’t want to be reminded of your Pathfinder all the time.
There’s even a healthy amount of active and passive safety systems in here. Every Z up and down the lineup comes standard with automatic emergency braking, forward-collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and adaptive cruise control. Leave ’em on, turn ’em off, the choice is yours, but I’m happy they’re there.
While the outgoing 370Z felt like a bargain with a starting price in the $30,000 range, the all-new Nissan Z is a little harder on the wallet. The base Z will set you back $40,015, which includes $1,025 in destination charges. My Performance-trim tester throws in a whole host of goodies, from chassis tech to cabin tech, and it rings in at $53,210 after factoring in $500 for illuminated kick plates, $1,295 for the two-tone paint and $400 for floor mats. That might seem like quite the leap, but it’s still a few grand under the four-cylinder Toyota Supra.
After leaving the last Z to languish unchanged for a presidential administration or two, I had my reservations about the new generation. But with its big power bump, its newfound appreciation for modernity and an on-road character that’s simply tons of fun, we should all be happy that the sports-car arena is welcoming a new challenger.