It’s an article of faith among sports car cultists that manual transmissions are better than automatics. It’s the subject of t-shirts and ball caps, bumper stickers and snide comments about millennials and now, Gen Z.
Arguing the issue is pointless because there is no evidence that will sway a single mind. So it was with some trepidation that I collected the new Nissan Z equipped with a 9-speed automatic transmission for this week’s review. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried about anything except my old sports car guy street cred.
The 2023 Nissan Z is still technically in its first model year, having appeared in late 2021 as a 2023 model. However, the automatic transmission option came a little later, after the manual-only launch edition had its moment.
But the Z car is still a two-seat, two-door fastback hatch sports car, true to the styling of the original 240Z from 53 years ago. It’s fast, nimble, and utterly delightful regardless of which transmission you choose.
Nissan has been on a voyage back to the original styling that made the 240Z the most exciting sports car of the early 1970s. While the British and Italians had made fastbacks with hatches before, none of them achieved the success of the Datsun (as it was branded then) Z-car.
Over time, the 240Z grew its displacement and its body into the 260Z 2+2 and then the 280ZX with four seats. But decades later in 2008 when the 350Z was retired in favor of the 370Z, Nissan started back towards the lean and aggressive original style. It’s still a winner today, as the Z is the best-looking of its lineage since the original.
The retro treatment continues inside the Z. Most obviously, the three binnacled gauges atop the dashboard pay homage to the Z cars of the 1970s. Everything else has been updated, but sympathetically to the original sports car DNA of Datsun. The result is a sports car that is comfortable and convenient, but still built for purpose. You can spend all day in the Z car and still feel good, but this car yearns to hold you tight while you carve some corners.
The Nissan Z is powered by the same twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 you’ll find in various other Nissan and Infiniti products. In the Z, this engine yields 400 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. Behind the engine is a 9-speed Mercedes-Benz transmission driving the rear wheels through a multi-disc limited slip differential.
The automatic comes with paddle shifters and a launch control setting. Because our test car was a Performance trim model instead of the base Sport trim, we also got a more aggressive suspension, sway bar package, and bigger brakes. The automatic transmission Z weighs about 75 more pounds than the manual, clocking in just over 3,600 pounds. That’s a lot of avoirdupois for a sports car, but the power under the hood makes it all feel light.
Safety and Technology
Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have rated the Z, and they didn’t rate its predecessor either. But the Z comes with all the usual refinements, such as automatic emergency braking, collision warning, blind-spot and lane departure, and automatic high beams.
On the dash you get a 9-inch infotainment touchscreen with navigation, and a 12.3-inch driver information display. It’s nice, and the 8-speaker Bose audio system is perfectly adequate to the task. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included.
The Z simply begs for a winding mountain road so you can appreciate the razor-sharp steering and the way the engine rockets you out of turns. This car is wasted on a freeway, but it’s still fun. The engine has a snarl that the engineers must have finessed from one of the original straight-6 240Z engines, and that will put a smile on your face.
The automatic has one quirk I didn’t like — at a stop it behaves more like a twin-clutch. You have to tip in a little throttle to get the car moving and you can feel the uptake when the transmission engages. It should be smoother, in my opinion, but that’s still a small quibble.
Here’s the thing: the automatic is faster than rowing your own gears with the stick. Car and Driver’s instrumented testing got the automatic Z to 60 in 4.3 seconds, with the stick taking 4.5. They had the same results in a quarter-mile run, with the automatic beating the stick by 0.3 seconds and 4 mph. In sports car driving, downshifting on that mountain road I mentioned is immediate with the touch of a paddle, while it takes about a second or more with a clutch and stick.
I didn’t feel like I gave up anything in the way of performance driving the automatic, and when I was stuck in city traffic, it was a definite plus. Nissan doesn’t charge a penny more for the slushbox, so you can choose for yourself.
2023 Nissan Z Performance A/T Specifications
|Dimension||L: 172.4 inches/W: 72.6 inches/H: 51.8 inches/Wheelbase: 100.4 inches|
|Powertrain||3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6; 9-speed automatic transmission|
|Fuel Economy||19 mpg city/28 mpg hwy/22 mpg combined|
|Performance Specs||400 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque|
|Price||Base price: $49,990; As tested: $53,655 plus $1,025 destination charge.|
|On-Sale Date||Available now|
The 2023 Nissan Z is a $50,000 sports car, so it’s competing with the Toyota Supra and the less expensive BMWs like the M240i or 430i coupe. Generally speaking, the Z offers better performance than the Toyota, and it’s a different flavor of sports car than the Germans give you.
You can save about $10,000 by choosing the base Sport trim, and you still get to choose the manual or automatic transmission. The difference between Sport and Performance trim pricing is enough that you’ll have to weigh carefully whether the extra suspension and brake package and the spoilers and interior are worth the extra money.
For me, I’d probably go cheap and choose Sport, but I don’t mind a Spartan sports car. But when it comes to the transmission, I’d get the automatic. As we said, there’s really no downside to the two-pedal option, except perhaps the scorn of your purist friends, but that should dissipate as they experience your new Z car.
2023 Nissan Z Performance A/T— Frequently Asked Questions
How fast is the Nissan Z?
The factory claims a top speed governed to 155 mph.
Where is the Nissan Z made?
Final assembly is in Los Angeles, California.
Does the Nissan Z have a back seat?
No. It’s a two-seat car.