In a world where EVs and crossovers rule the road, Nissan doesn’t have to build a two-seat, internal-combustion sports car. In 2020 – admittedly a bad year for car sales – the automaker only sold about 2,000 370Zs, roughly one-hundredth of Rogue sales. Even the legendary Toyota Supra only finds about 6,000 homes a year, so there’s clearly not a whole lot of money to be made on sporty coupes nowadays.
And yet, here we are, driving the 2023 Nissan Z. I could bore you with personal anecdotes or historical table-setting, but let’s just cut to the chase. This two-seater is a winner. Carrying the weight of a 53-year-old nameplate on its shoulders, Nissan’s sporty new coupe has a just-right balance of vintage charm and modern performance, and although it’s still based on the discontinued 370Z’s platform, the 2023 Z is much improved over its predecessor. Simply put, it’s a delight. That Nissan even built a new Z-car at all is something to be grateful for. That it’s actually pretty damn good is something to celebrate.
Verdict updated in August 2022 following a seven-day loan. A vehicle's verdict is relative only to its own segment and not the new-vehicle market as a whole. For more on how Motor1.com rates cars, click here.
|Quick Stats||2023 Nissan Z Performance|
|Engine||Twin-Turbocharged 3.0-Liter V6|
|Output||400 Horsepower / 350 Pound-Feet|
|Acceleration 0-60 MPH||4.5 Seconds (est.)|
|Fuel Economy||18 City / 24 Highway / 20 Combined MPG|
save over $3,400 on average off MSRP* on a new Nissan 370Z
Right On Track
Compared to the 370Z, the new two-seater packs a stronger punch for 2023. Gone is the old Z’s 3.7-liter V6, a relic of the muscular-but-thrashy VQ engine family. In its place is a slick, twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 that makes a healthy 400 horsepower and 350 pound-feet, increases of 68 and 80 compared to the 370Z. Thanks to a torque plateau that persists between 1,600 and 5,200 rpm and peak power that arrives at 6,400, the new Z feels as fast as its output suggests, although a 6,800-rpm fuel cutoff is a bit of a killjoy. At least the throttle response is noticeably sharper than before, giving the newest Nissan plenty of attitude.
The Z also has strategically reinforced front and rear subframes and a stiffer body structure. Unfortunately, those revisions demanded some weight gain, and the 2023 Nissan Z now weighs 3,486 pounds in its lightest Sport 6MT form – up nearly 50 pounds over even the heaviest 2020 370Z. In Performance trim with the nine-speed automatic, the Z-car stresses the scales to the tune of 3,602 pounds, so Nissan’s sports car isn’t really boxing in the lightweight division. Luckily, it packs that aforementioned stronger punch as well.
The 2023 Z proved its mettle in a brief comparison with its predecessor. Before hitting the road, we spent some time on a makeshift dragstrip on Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s pit lane. Nissan gave us some seat time behind the wheel of the 2020 370Z 50th Anniversary with the six-speed manual, and the old car was charming but flawed. Peaky power delivery made full-throttle launches a challenge, with a bit too much bogging when flooring it from a standstill.
There was no such issue in the 2023 Sport model with the manual gearbox, which responded to clutch-dropping acceleration runs with a smooth rush of torque. Nissan hasn’t quoted numbers yet, but my butt tells me that the new Z should hit 60 miles per hour in about 4.5 seconds.
The automatic-equipped Performance model I drove next felt faster still. Regardless of transmission choice, the Performance comes standard with launch control that doles out precise throttle application to keep the turbos spinning and not the tires. The nine-speed gearbox cracked off lightning-quick shifts on Nissan’s impromptu drag strip, and hitting 60 in 4 seconds flat seems distinctly possible. And regardless of trim or transmission choice, the engine sings a smooth Freddie Mercury tenor to the 370Z’s throaty David Bowie baritone – some might be disappointed in the sound, but others will be thrilled.
Round And Round
While the engine more than compensates for the added weight of the 2023 Nissan Z, I was a bit concerned it would come undone around corners. To help prevent such an occurrence, engineers revised the front suspension geometry with increased caster angle to improve stability, and all four corners sport thicker monotube dampers that minimize wheel hop over poor surfaces. Lighter wheels and wider tires across the lineup complete the track-day transformation.
Nissan gave me a few laps behind the wheel of both automatic and manual-equipped cars around the speedway’s outside road course, a mostly flat 2.4-mile loop with plenty of late apexes that would tax driver patience and reveal poor balance and understeer. And while the new Z’s added heft is slightly noticeable in fast transitions – it doesn’t change directions quite as nimbly as its predecessor – it handles tight turns and sweepers alike with neutral attitude, and controllable, line-tightening oversteer is always a toe-twitch away.
Introduce some elevation changes to the mix and the 2023 Z obliges. Out on the undulating, sweeping desert road toward Lake Mead, the twin-turbo sports car is just as enjoyable to drive. Although it appreciates smooth, predictable inputs, it’ll handle the occasional surprise braking or steering input without drama. A communicative chassis and steering help here, providing the driver with plenty of information to keep G-forces within the Z’s limits. And that aforementioned weight gain? It certainly doesn’t detract from the car’s sporty demeanor once away from the track.
Surprisingly, nor does the nine-speed auto. It has only two drive modes, Normal and Sport, but that’s all it needs. The former balances smoothness and thrift nicely, making it a good choice for the churchgoing, pious crowd. Toggle the switch, though, and the don’t-call-it-a-slushbox Nissan Z delivers rev-matched downshifts and firm gear changes that are a totally different kind of righteous. I didn’t even bother with the paddle shifters because the transmission did an excellent job of predicting what gear I would need based on speed, braking application, and lateral G-forces.
But no one buys a Z-car based on logic, fuzzy or otherwise. That’s where the standard six-speed manual comes in, offering all those “driver involvement” tropes that car enthusiasts love to tout. The shift throws are well-spaced – close for quick work but distinct enough to ensure you’ve selected the right gear – and although the lever feels a bit notchy, it’s nonetheless accurate and balk-free. The clutch, likewise, is a bit heavy, but takeup is consistent and accurate. Heel-toe braking is also easy for novices like me, though the Performance model’s standard rev-match system adds some automation to the manual gearbox.
Diamond In The Rough
Based as it is on a decade-plus-old platform, the 2023 Nissan Z has a few flaws to report, all relating to its interior. The 370Z shows up loud and clear in the new car’s hard-plastic center console, and although Nissan carved out space for a second cupholder, it’s hidden under a flimsy-feeling and poorly padded armrest lid.
Unfortunately, that’s not the worst carryover part in the cabin. The seat frames port over unchanged from the 370Z, bringing with them a seating position that’s too high for helmet-on headroom and too lacking in thigh support to be comfortable over long distances, and the passenger-side seat isn’t height-adjustable at all. The seat foam has reportedly been redesigned for the 2023 Nissan Z, but it still feels a bit thin, leading to some tired-bum after a few hours behind the wheel. Neither I nor my codriver could stop fidgeting for the last half-hour of our time in the Z.
Those old-fashioned bits and pieces are a shame, because the rest of the cabin is pretty nice. A new 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a standard 8.0-inch touchscreen on the base car or 9.0-inch screen on the Performance model will keep modernists happy. Nissan’s infotainment software is also as easy to use here as it is in a Pathfinder, with a smattering of hard buttons accompanying a logical layout of menus and functions on the screen. And those pixels live in a sharply designed new dashboard that feels modern, yet still retains a three-gauge pod on top to remind folks of the old Z-cars.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Z’s most definitive technological benefit over its Toyota Supra rival is its safety suite. Every trim, including the base car with the manual transmission, has adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and lane-keep assistance, all of which play nicely together to keep the Z well-positioned in even heavy traffic. And the whole system deactivates easily, helpful when hammering down a twisty road where steering intervention might be a nuisance instead of a help. The Supra gets standard emergency braking and lane-departure prevention, but getting adaptive cruise control requires ticking an option box.
Speaking of that Toyota-badged, BMW-built sports coupe, Nissan rightly considers the Supra 3.0 to be the most natural rival to the 2023 Z. Both offer turbocharged six-cylinder, rear-drive thrills, with similar performance on paper. But their personalities are worlds apart. The Supra is undeniably more polished thanks to Bavaria-sourced interior bits and suspension tuning that feels decidedly Germanic and solid. But because of that, the Toyota feels a bit cold and sterile, with less of the playful, tail-happy attitude of the Z. Everything on the Nissan, from the snarling exhaust note to the slightly harsher ride, makes it more involving to drive.
Then there’s the price difference. The base Nissan Z starts at $41,015 including $1,025 destination, which gets you 18-inch wheels and the aforementioned 8.0-inch touchscreen and 400-horsepower V6. Stepping into the Performance is $10,000 more, adding Bose audio, heated leather upholstery, and the larger 9.0-inch screen, as well as more substantive upgrades like a mechanical limited-slip rear differential, upsized brakes, and forged 19-inch wheels.
Toyota won’t let you have a Supra unless you fork over at least $44,565, and even then, it’ll only be the four-cylinder model with 255 hp. If you want a 382-hp turbo six in your Supra, be prepared to spend $52,920, and if you want adaptive cruise and blind-spot monitoring, you’d better find another $3,155 in your piggy bank. Weighing a $56,070 Supra against a $51,015 Z is a challenge – the extra five large plays out in a nicer interior and greater comfort if those are priorities.
Then again, Nissan doesn’t require you to spend all that much for turbo-six power, which would incline me to buy a base Z over either a Performance model or any Supra. Sure, the 2023 Nissan Z isn’t as polished as its longtime Toyota rival, but if I had 41 grand burning a hole in my pocket, the allure of 400 twin-turbocharged ponies would be very hard to ignore.
Of course, I’d love to be proven wrong by driving them both back to back. So all that’s left to do is line up both those two-seat Japanese sports cars (and maybe even a few similarly priced domestic ponies) and decide, once and for all, which is best.
Gallery: 2023 Nissan Z First Drive
2023 Nissan Z Performance