• 2023 Nissan Z Review - Familiar DNA Wrapped in a New Yet Retro Package

Ho-hum to the Eardrum

LISTEN 07:48

I’ll never forget how excited my buddy Tom was when he showed up to our workplace for the very first time to show off his shiny new 2003 Nissan 350Z - a legendary sports car that had just been revived amongst much fanfare. I never would have imagined that 20 years later that a) I would still be test-driving cars for a living and that b) that there would even still be a Z in production. But here we are with what turns out to be just the 2nd redesign of the Z during that time span. And you know what? It all feels very familiar.

  • 2023 Nissan Z Review - Familiar DNA Wrapped in a New Yet Retro Package
  • Year:
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
  • Transmission:
    6-speed manual
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    400 @ 6400
  • MPG(Cty):
  • MPG(Hwy):
  • Torque @ RPM:
    350 @ 1600
  • Energy:
  • Displacement:
    3.0 L
  • 0-60 time:
    4.5 sec.
  • Layout:
  • Price:

No Sport Muffler for Z Performance

I’ve driven a bunch of Zs through the years from Roadsters to Nismos, sticks to automatics; fun cars, no doubt, but they’ve never really charmed me to the point of craving. And that’s not a slight - it’s just that a stronger bond is formed with certain cars more than others. That sentiment holds true here with this all-new 7th generation model. I love its toy-like appearance, heritage-inspired design and purity of purpose but the new twin-turbo V6 just doesn’t give me “all the feels,” as the kids like to say, in terms of hitting the right notes. Over at corporate cousin Infiniti, this same 3.0-liter engine working through an automatic transmission performs admirably and roars to life in the Q60 Red Sport 400 coupe but here in this 6-speed-equipped Z Performance trim without the benefit of the optional 9-speed’s sport muffler, it’s ho-hum to the eardrum. So, for me, this car would have a new exhaust installed upon delivery.

More Power from a New Twin-Turbo V6

2023 Nissan Z Review - Familiar DNA Wrapped in a New Yet Retro Package
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That being said, it delivers a 400-horsepower thrill ride with a lengthy journey to its 7,000 RPM redline. First gear sounds strained and feels a bit reluctant but then upon the next shift the 2 small turbos begin to rocket the Z into its fun zone – 3rd and 4th gears on the curviest roads you can find. Trigger the SynchroRev Match feature by pressing the button on the center console for an automatic blip of the throttle while descending gears, delivering a smoother transition of power. But this too serves as a reminder that the Z’s exhaust pipes are missing some snap, crackle and pop. Zero-to-60 mph is now faster despite the Z’s modest weight gain with a big boost in torque to 350 lb-ft scrubbing that time down to the mid-4s. But this isn’t a light-to-light car for cruise night, especially with the manual. The V6’s power is best exploited on backroads where the benefits of this model’s Performance upgrades deliver the amusement park excitement of a rear-drive 2-seater riding on rails.

An Organic Sports Car Experience

2023 Nissan Z Review - Familiar DNA Wrapped in a New Yet Retro Package
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The Z is a very mechanical car - the way it shifts, the way it sounds. There’s an authentic and organic sports car vibe that’s palpable as soon as you fire it up. It’s not the easiest car to shift, in say, everyday driving but when driven as intended this is a very satisfying conduit to the high-revving V6. And you can wring this engine out well beyond the point at which it sounds like it should be shifted. It’s unnecessary to take the tach needle into the red to excavate the deep reservoir of power nor do you really want to because after 5,000 RPM or so it sounds like you are murdering this engine. And therein lies perhaps the Z’s biggest disappointment - it doesn’t make any pleasing sounds neither from inside nor outside the vehicle. That key visceral element is absent. But when these twin-turbos kick in there is bigtime power on tap and as for the handling, the Z feels as though it is superglued to the road; very reminiscent to the top dog GT-R in that regard.

Stick or Automatic?

2023 Nissan Z Review - Familiar DNA Wrapped in a New Yet Retro Package
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Stickier, wider rubber, a true mechanical limited slip differential, bigger brakes – it’s this Performance model you need if you’re chasing the pinnacle of Z driving. The base Sport trim forgoes these critical goodies but regardless both use brand-named, high-performance clutches that have proven reliable to long-use, spirited driving. The pedal itself is relatively easy to modulate but the Z’s clutch and shifter combo isn’t as fluid as the rowing motions found in the Toyota GR86 and Subaru BRZ. A 9-speed automatic with drive modes, paddle shifters and launch control is your other option. The revised suspension geometry maintains double wishbones in the front and a 5-link rear design with more impact compliance than before despite its sport-tuned nature so the balance of ride comfort and handling is very agreeable. Along with the stiffer body comprised of numerous strong but lightweight aluminum panels, this Z drives with more precision that’s also easier to attain regardless of the driver’s abilities. It never feels nervous or unbalanced and thus lavishes the driver with point-and-shoot confidence.

Keep Your Eyes on The Road

2023 Nissan Z Review - Familiar DNA Wrapped in a New Yet Retro Package
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I’m not a big fan of this saying but the Z’s cabin “is what it is” - it’s not spectacular in any way but for a sports car enthusiast it will suffice. If you’re over 6’ tall or under 5’7” the non-height adjustable seats may present an issue. Also, I wish there were more performance-oriented electronics in here a la Dodge, it can definitely be noisy from tire roar and the infotainment system is SOP Nissan which is to say it’s just okay. But once you start driving these matters fade into the background.

Great Seats – No True Height Adjustment

2023 Nissan Z Review - Familiar DNA Wrapped in a New Yet Retro Package
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The driver’s seat continues to use a dial to tilt the seat bottom up and down but it’s really not the kind of height adjustment you’re accustomed to…and there’s nada on the passenger side. But there are power controls for fore/aft and seatback recline on both seats. Manual-controlled lumbar and thigh support are also included for the driver. The leather seats with grippy, suede-like inserts are exactly what you want in a sports car absent of the extreme side bolstering that often plagues these types of cars nor do they encumber everyday use. This particular Z is a prototype so not everything is up to production standards but the electronic displays, particularly the driver’s, includes a sweet Z splash screen and 3 different meter displays adding some welcome modernity. You may also be surprised to see items like intelligent cruise control, rear cross traffic alert and wireless CarPlay on the Z’s menu but Nissan never skimps on safety tech. And by choosing this Performance model there are other perks such as an 8-speaker Bose stereo with active noise cancellation, built-in navigation, and heated seats – no wireless charge pad, however.

And speaking of familiar, the hatchback opens to a circuitous space every 350Z and 370Z owner knows quite well with additional body bracing that doubles as a barrier between occupants and cargo. Additional storage cubbies can be found behind the seats. It’s a small car but it doesn’t come across as prohibitively so. It’s easy enough to drive and appropriately comfortable for the daily commute. The Z still averages 20 mpg and still requires premium unleaded, preferably 93 octane.

Make Yours Yellow

2023 Nissan Z Review - Familiar DNA Wrapped in a New Yet Retro Package
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Pricing starts at $40,000 for the Z Sport and $50,000 for the Z Performance while my tester with the premium 2-tone paint and carpeted floor mats checks in at $53,210. And I wouldn’t entertain any other color than this Ikazuchi Yellow Pearl which is magnificent. So, as the Z and I part ways yet again it reminds me of an old friend - the kind you appreciate more and more as time goes on – but still not your best friend.

Steven Hammes
About the author

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