2023 Nissan Z

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2023 Nissan Z First Drive Review: Return Of The Budget Performance Hero

We seriously didn't think it would happen, but the 2023 Nissan Z is finally here to replace the 370Z after a whopping 11-year production run. Following more than a decade of minimal changes, you'd forgive us for thinking Nissan would abandon its long-running sports car nameplate. Though this is technically a seventh-generation Z car, the Z with no numbers isn't quite as new as you might expect. In fact, it retains the 370Z's Z34 platform designation and that car's FM platform. And just to remind you how old the FM platform is, it debuted on the 350Z back in 2002.

How could a car with a two-decade-old platform possibly stand against the combined might of BMW and Toyota with the more modern GR Supra that will soon have a manual transmission option to match the Z? Well, Nissan's cost-cutting wasn't for naught, as the Z enters the sports car market with a starting price of $39,990 - $3,500 below a four-cylinder Supra - and a 400-horsepower twin-turbo V6 (18 hp more than the BMW-sourced inline-six).

Some time behind the wheel in Las Vegas showed Nissan knew what it was doing with the Z.

2023 Nissan Z Models

See trim levels and configurations:

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
Sport
3.0L Twin-Turbo V6 Gas
6-Speed Manual
Rear-Wheel Drive
$39,990

See all Trims and Specs

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Exterior: Vintage Inspiration Made Contemporary

It may have some old bones, but you'd never tell by looking at the new Z. The old 370Z's proportions never looked dated, it just needed a small nip tuck with some modern accouterments to feel like a product fit for the 2020s. Some have maligned the Z's boxy front grille, but in person, we think it really works with the design. In fact, we like everything about the heritage-inspired design. Those half-circle LED headlights hark back to the Japan market-only 240ZG, while those LED taillamps are clearly inspired by the Z32 300ZX. It's modern and vintage all in one, and we simply adore it.

Speaking of things we adore, Nissan offers an acceptably vibrant color pallet for its latest sports car. There are plenty of subtle hues like Gun Metallic, Black Diamond Metallic, Everest White TriCoat, Brilliant Silver, and Boulder Grey, but we love that there are more outlandish choices such as Rosewood Metallic, Passion Red TriCoast, Seiran Blue Metallic, and our personal favorite, Ikazuchi Yellow.

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Performance: Infiniti To The Rescue

Nissan's trusty VQ37VHR engine can finally be laid to rest, as the new Z adopts the fresher VR30DDTT 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 that also serves under the hood of the Infiniti Q50 Sedan and Q60 Coupe. The Z gets the most potent tune available for this mill, producing 400 hp and 350 lb-ft torque, substantial increases compared to the 370Z. This power plant brings the Z into the modern performance realm, posting a 0-60 sprint in the low four-second range (you will be quicker in the automatic).

Power flows to the rear wheels through either a standard six-speed manual transmission with rev-matching, or a no-cost nine-speed automatic that began life in the Titan pickup truck. Despite its modest origins, the nine-speed feels like a monumental improvement over the 370Z's seven-speed box. In fact, we wouldn't hesitate to recommend the auto, as it doesn't dampen the fun. Toyota's BMW-derived ZF box is quicker and more responsive, but we'd prefer not to ding Nissan too much for a well-executed automatic.

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Driving Impressions: A Sporty GT

At the first drive event in Las Vegas, Nissan brought out a 370Z so we could compare how the new Z feels back-to-back against the old. The lighter electric steering rack feels less cumbersome without losing an ounce of precision. The same can be said of both transmissions. We no longer feel the need to wrestle with the shifter to get it into gear like the old 370Z's manual, and in the automatic, the shifts felt crisper and more well-timed over the seven-speed unit in the 370Z.

Then there's that engine. Adding two turbochargers makes a world of difference, creating an entirely different driving experience. Unlike the 370Z, the new car doesn't require drivers to rev it to redline to wring every last ounce of power out of it. Instead, you can accelerate at modest rpm and still roast the tires with the turbocharged torque. The VR30 sounded pretty good in the Q50 and Q60, but it truly sings here. We'd go so far as to say that this engine makes more pleasant sounds than the GT-R's twin-turbo six, also a VR-family motor, for the record.

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On The Track: Room For Nismo

We'd describe the Z as more of a sporty GT car than a track-bred monster. This description feels accurate as we pushed the Z around the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, catching up to our lead-follow instructor without much difficulty. Power is plentiful around the track, which we last lapped in a Shelby GT500, but other elements of the experience like the suspension are more at home on the street. The Z is plenty capable at full tilt, but we feel the suspension is too soft for frequent track usage. This is where Nismo could come in with some stiffer springs and some more aggressive Recaro seats (we almost fell out of the base chairs).

Nissan only included two drive modes (Normal and Sport) on the automatic trim, so there's not much to set up before you drive it quickly. The automatic model comes standard with easy-to-use launch control, helping get off the line with ease. Manual-equipped Performance grades get a new advanced launch assist control system, which lets you choose your launch rpm. Though we had slightly more fun in the manual, the automatic never felt like a hindrance on the track.

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Interior: Familiar But Improved

If you've ever sat in the 370Z (or even a 350Z), you'll notice several carryover elements in the new car. The climate and seat controls are taken straight from the old car. Those unique door-mounted air vents? Yeah, those have been there since the 350Z. Despite the obvious cost-cutting, Nissan put the money where it needed to go: the infotainment. A new eight-inch touchscreen comes standard with a nine-inch unit available on the higher grade. This minimal change makes a world of a difference considering the 370Z had the same basic radio or 2009-era navigation head unit for its entire life cycle.

A standard fully-digital instrument cluster that includes an excellent Sport design and the dash-mounted physical gauges combine modern and retro design themes in a manner that matches the exterior. Sure, the Supra feels more premium inside, but it also costs more. And while Toyota delivers a mostly black interior, Nissan has fun options like blue or black/red and black/yellow combinations. The Z is pretty practical too, with the same sizable hatchback area behind the rear seats as the outgoing 370Z.

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Verdict: A Budget Hero

We can't say the 2023 Z is the greatest new sports car available on the market. However, given its sub-$40,000 starting price and 400-hp powertrain, we can easily call it one of the best bargains in the sports car segment. The Supra offers quicker performance and nicer interior, but it costs around $12,000 more than a base Z for the 3.0 inline-six. We could say the same of the Chevrolet Corvette, which costs a whopping $20,000 more than the Z. Meanwhile, cheaper sports cars like the Mazda MX-5 Miata, Toyota GR 86, and Subaru BRZ don't even come close to matching the Z's power.

It may seem like a copout to say the Z is "great for the price", but we applaud Nissan for analyzing the market, being smart with its recourses, and producing a product that slots right in the sweet spot between entry-level sports cars and the more expensive premium options. If you're currently looking in the $40,000-$50,000 price range, the new Z is a great option.

A word of caution, however, as the base model doesn't come with all the great handling features you want to harness 400 hp.

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Pricing, Trims, & Competitors: Watch Out

Pricing for the Z Sport trim starts at $39,990 before a $1,025 destination fee. Both the manual and automatic are the same price, which is a nice touch. That makes it cheaper than the far less powerful four-cylinder Supra. Stepping up to the Z Performance is a hefty jump at $49,990, but it adds 19-inch wheels with wider tires, a limited-slip differential, a larger nine-inch touchscreen, Bose audio system, heated leather seats, and more. The Performance offers simply too many great features to recommend skipping it.

For a special touch, the limited-edition Z Proto model costs $52,990, but Nissan only plans to build 240 of them. We like the Proto's yellow brake calipers, bronze 19-inch RAYS aluminum-alloy wheels, and special black/yellow interior theme, but we don't think it's worth cresting the $50,000 mark.

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