There are just a few sports cars that have really stood the test of time. The Chevy Corvette is the grand old man, of course, and the Mazda Miata is over 30 years old now.
But right up there, at 52 years of age, is the Nissan Z, and its new incarnation is better than ever.
I used to have an original 1970 Datsun 240Z. My dad bought it new at the end of 1969 and I learned to drive stick shift in that car. The long hood and fastback coupe styling of the original Z-car remains timeless, as does its performance. Sure, 150 horsepower and an 8-second 0-60 time doesn’t sound like much today, but in that 2,300-pound body it was a revelation in its era.
Over time Nissan lost the recipe. The 280ZX that arrived in 1978 was overweight and soft, and it got worse from there. Although every so often, Nissan would shine again with an outstanding performance model like the third-generation twin-turbo 300ZX. The 350Z and 370Z showed promise, but never quite conjured the same magic as the original Z.
That’s all history now, because the 2023 Nissan Z went completely back to its roots, as a modern interpretation of a classic Japanese sports car. With modern power and sophistication, it’s an easy assessment to say this new model is the best Z-car ever produced.
The first thing you notice about the 2023 Nissan Z is that where the former 370Z hinted at the original design, the new Z simply looks like the first models from 1970. Sure, there are differences — no chrome bumpers, for example, and a little more sculpting here and there. But the intent is undeniable: this is the heir to the Datsun 240Z, and it looks as serious and purposeful as the original.
Sliding into the driver’s seat of the new Z was like taking a step back in time. Sure, the original steering wheel didn’t have any buttons on it, nor an airbag in the middle, but the feeling is there. The trademark three binnacles with gauges set high on the dash are all there too.
And like the original, there’s seating for two people and that’s it. There’s room for some stuff under the hatch, but not more than two people would need for a weekend away. Only the big 9-inch touchscreen seriously updates the car, but not in a bad way.
The biggest difference in the new Z is under the hood. There you get Nissan’s 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 engine, which also appears in many Infiniti sports cars. That’s a good thing — this is a solid, proven reliable engine.
The V-6 is good for 400 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque and the Z offers a 6-speed manual or 9-speed paddle-shifted automatic gearbox to drive the rear wheels. At the back end, there’s an honest mechanical limited slip differential putting power to both rear wheels when you need it.
The new Z also comes with launch control, which enables a jaw-dropping 0-60 time of 4.3 seconds and 12.9 seconds for the quarter mile.
Safety and Technology
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have not yet evaluated the Z. However, this sports car doesn’t skimp on safety and driver assistance tech, either.
All Z-cars come with adaptive cruise, forward collision mitigation, rear-view camera, auto high beams, blind spot monitor and of course traction and stability control. Believe me, the original could have used all that.
The 8-inch or 9-inch infotainment touchscreen works well and is nicely integrated into the dash. Wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto come standard, along with voice recognition tech and all the usual Bluetooth phone integration. There’s an optional Bose audio system with 8 speakers, and it sounds great.
It wouldn’t be fair to really compare the driving experience of the new Z to the original — for one thing, radial tires were a brand new feature back then. But we can fairly compare the feeling of the new Z to the original, and it measures up.
This is an all-out sports car. The steering is quick to the point of being a little darty until you get used to it. Unlike the rubbery and slow steering response of most of the SUVs we get stuck driving, the Z is all about right now.
The suspension, too, is not designed to isolate your body from the driving experience. The Z suspension is set to keep the tires in contact with the road and transmit information to you through the steering wheel and the seat.
If you haven’t had a car like this in a while, it can be a shock at first. But give it a good long drive through some windy mountain roads and you’ll wonder why on Earth you ever drove anything else. The seats hold your body in place and make you one with the car as you steer and move it almost by thought alone.
And there’s power — you may rarely have to give the Z full throttle because the car leaps ahead with plenty of torque and seemingly no end to the revs. Tight second- and-third gear corners are where this car wants to play, leaping from the hole and then using the big sport brakes to haul down for the next turn.
Do sign up for your next available track day. A proper race course may be the only place you can find the real limits of this car.
2023 Nissan Z 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; 6-speed manual transmission|
|Fuel Economy||18 mpg city/24 mpg hwy/20 mpg combined|
|Performance Specs||400 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque|
|Price||Base price: $41,015; As tested: $51,015 plus $1,025 destination charge.|
|On-Sale Date||Available now|
The 2023 Nissan Z comes in three specifications, but good luck finding the top Proto Spec trim. Just 240 (get it, 240 Z?) of these were made available in the United States and it sold out before the first cars hit the dock.
So that means there are really two trims. Those are Sport and Performance. Sport trim starts at $39,990 (plus $1,025 in destination fees) with standard two-piston front brakes, manual cloth driver’s seat, and some other stuff. Honestly, who cares? It’s got the same suspension and driveline as the Performance trim.
The Performance trim buys you the amazing Akebono 4-pot fixed calipers on the front brakes, heated seats, front and rear lip spoilers, and the Bose audio system. It’s a hefty price bump, though, at $49,990 plus destination fees.
Picking a trim is basically a matter of budget. Can you swing $50K? Good, get the Performance trim. If that’s a step too far, get the Sport trim. Either way you’re getting one of the best sports cars on the market.
2023 Nissan Z — Frequently Asked Questions
How fast is the Nissan Z?
The factory claims a top speed governed to 155 mph.
Will the Nissan Z be available with AWD?
Nope. Like the original, it’s rear-drive only.
Will the Nissan Z hold its value?
According to CarEdge, the Nissan Z will depreciate by 25% in five years, with a resale value of $36,548 for the Performance trim.