Driven: 2023 Nissan Z Is A Tale Of Three Cars

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Either way, Nissan sent us a base model to drive.

Finally, we have a new Z car from Nissan. While it still uses the same underlying platform as the long-in-the-tooth 370Z two-seater sports car (itself an advancement of the 350Z), it features a heavily revised chassis, a sophisticated new skin, and the spectacular twin-turbo V6 previously only seen in Infiniti Red Sport 400 trimmed models, of which there are two. With a starting price of around $40,000 with a 400-horsepower engine, the Z has hurtled into the market otherwise occupied by the Toyota Supra and BMW Z4 corporate cousins, but with more power and a lesser price tag.

Recently, this writer had some serious seat time over a week with the new Nissan Z. A road trip from California to Las Vegas showed us the Nissan Z as a grand tourer, while back home, we hit the mountain roads for some sports car fun. While in Vegas, we got a chance to chat with tuners getting their first look at the Z and a market Nissan embraces heartily. We had high hopes for the Z, and this is what we found.

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Style: Paint Is The Key

When we first saw the new Z, it was in photos. When we next saw the Z, it was in a studio and taking photos. In both cases, the color was bright. While it looks cool in solid brighter colors, seeing it in silver was an "Aha!" moment. In bold colors, the Z has a bold charm that will suit many people, but they hide just how sophisticated the styling is.

You may never hear us express this opinion again, but silver is the correct color for the Z. It reflects the light to show off the lines and curves and helps the retro vibe that's written into the styling DNA. We were handed the keys to a Sport trim in Gun Metal paint; unusually for any manufacturer, Nissan sent us the base model, and the only addition to the car is the $380 floor mat option. The paint is a no-cost option, and the 18-inch wheels and dual exhaust are standard.

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Drivetrain: All The Power

The first thing we said after driving the Infiniti Q50 and Q60 Red Sport models with the twin-turbo V6 in them was, "Holy crap! Why isn't this in the Z car already?!" It's a beast of an engine making 400 hp and 350 lb-ft torque - a substantial increase over the outgoing 370Z's V6 and up 18 hp over the straight-six Toyota Supra. Opt for the Z's automatic transmission; you should be in the low four-second 0-60 mph range. However, the enthusiast's choice is going to be the six-speed manual.

There's no messing around with the Nissan Z. The power goes to the rear wheels and the Sport trim we had was the manual. It's a medium-throw shifter and uses a strong clutch, but it isn't heavy. It's not the most refined shifting experience from the clutch or the stick, but it's as precise and satisfying as it needs to be. Power comes in big gobs with a heavy right foot as the turbo comes fully on tap, meaning you can shift into second gear and burn some rubber; then, as the turbo ramps up, the wheels will scrabble for grip again, especially since the Sport trim doesn't get a limited-slip differential.

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Interior: Well Measured

The Z is not the smallest sports car you'll find. Compared to the Mazda MX-5, it has a roomy cockpit your six-foot-one reviewer was perfectly comfortable in. Compared to the larger Toyota Supra, the Z isn't as snug to slip into. It's a car two full-size adults can spend a day in without feeling compressed. To us, the space is just right. The driving position is on the money, as well. The Sport trim has manual adjustments on the seat, and they're easy enough to set. From there, all the controls are laid out nicely. There are knobs for controls that should have knobs and buttons for things that should have buttons. The cloth sports seats are comfortable and have some lumbar adjustment for the driver.

In the center of the dashboard is a 12.3-inch display common in all trims at launch, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. A six-speaker audio system takes care of the sound and does it well for a base model system. A Bose Premium Audio System is the upgrade on other trims, but we can't get excited about any Bose system.

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On The Road: Z The Grand Tourer

We didn't get a chance to take the Nissan Z on some mountain roads before leaving for the freeway slog to Las Vegas. With two of us on the trip, it was a pleasant surprise to find we could pack a large and medium size travel bag plus a camera rucksack with room left that could fit another rucksack. With some creative thinking and shuffling around due to the wheel wells.

Out on the road, the ride is forgiving. If you're expecting the Nissan Z in basic trims to be riding hard and low, you'll be disappointed. If you're going to be daily driving Nissan's sports car, you're not going to suffer. On the freeway, even on California's broken concrete, the ride is fine. The steering has a little heft to it and is more precise than the 370Z's. Add that power, and the Z becomes a fine grand tourer. It's not as strong in the lower power band, but you have six gears on the manual and nine with the automatic. Once you're in the power band, overtaking goes from easy to swift.

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On The Road: Z The Sports Car

The Nissan Z is fast, and the engine is like a little devil on your shoulder telling you to go faster. It's relentless, even if it doesn't sound like it. The Sport trim doesn't come with auto rev-matching, so that's all on the driver. And the driver will want to, as the brakes are a carryover from the Nissan 370Z and on the spongey side. That's not a problem when cruising, but we would like a bit more bite on a backroad. The Sport trim also doesn't come with a limited slip diff (LSD) like the higher trims, and it is sorely missed due to the power available.

Between that and the softer suspension, the Z Sport is not as surefooted as we would like through a corner, even with the stiffer chassis over the 370Z. That's not to say it's not fast and fun; it's a question of potential, and Nissan was keen to point out that it expected the Sport trim to be the tuner's favorite. The aftermarket is already gearing up, so a choice of LSDs and suspension to suit budgets and driving styles will be available by the time the Z is delivered to dealerships.

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On The Road: Z The Tuner Car

Nissan leans into the cult of Z when it comes to tuning, so it was no surprise that it garnered a ton of attention on display at FuelFest Las Vegas 2021. We spoke with a bunch of people over an hour, and the resounding response was that the first thing people would do is change the suspension to lower it and swap the wheels and tires to fill out the wheel arches.

It's exactly what we would do with the Sport trim as well, along with an LSD of choice and some attention to the brakes. The beauty is that the engine would be the last thing we would play with, although there is certainly power left on the table, and people have already been playing with different turbos. The potential as a tuner car is huge here, and the aftermarket will be as expansive, if not more so, than the 370Zs.

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Verdict: Should You Buy The Nissan Z Sport Trim?

If you're not the type to regularly hammer a car down a back road, then the Sport trim is a fast grand tourer with handling chops you can enjoy. We weren't expecting to be able to say that about the Nissan Z, but there you are. For around $40,000, it's a great grand tourer and a fun daily driver. However, if you want an out-of-the-box back road burner or daily driver to hit the track with at weekends, you'll want to go up a trim level at least. Our first driving experience included some track time, and it was only the stiffer suspension that took some criticism. Or you could wait for the Nismo version, which we can safely assume will come with a big suspension upgrade.

The other sweet spot for the Sport trim is for tuners and drifters that want to start out with something that only has delivery miles on the clock. The building blocks for something that'll blow your own socks off are there.

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