Sports car sales are dwindling and inexpensive ones are an even more endangered species. Despite the segment wasting away as the world is taken over by egg-shaped EVs and humdrum crossovers, Nissan has decided it needs a place to plant a flag. The 2023 Nissan Z—yes, just “Z”—is where the buck stops.
As the most powerful Z car ever built, it’s an impressive beast on paper. Offering 400 horsepower for a little more than $40,000 to start, it’s also one of the few affordable sports cars left. It also is, however, a heavy refresh as opposed to a truly all-new car.
I spent a week with one to see not only what it’s like to live with, but also whether or not this new Z car is worth celebrating.
2023 Nissan Z Review Specs
- Base price (Proto Spec trim as tested): $41,015 ($53,210)
- Powertrain: 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 | 6-speed manual | rear-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 400 @ 6,400 rpm
- Torque: 350 lb-ft @ 1,600 to 5,200 rpm
- Seating capacity: 2
- Cargo capacity: 6.9 cubic feet
- Curb weight: 3,486 to 3,602 pounds
EPA fuel economy:
- Manual: 18 mpg city | 24 highway | 20 combined
- Automatic: 19 mpg city | 28 highway | 22 combined
- Quick take: The new Z isn’t perfect, but it would only take minor changes to make it an all-time great. When the Nismo comes around, they might just happen.
- Score: 8/10
Let’s start with what this car is to Nissan enthusiasts. Look around the Japanese automaker’s lineup and things are a little dreary. The GT-R, the brand’s flagship, is more than a decade old, no longer sold in the United States, and has a future that’s hazy, to say the least. Many of its cars, from the Sentra to the Maxima, fill a segment and not much else. New and inspiring Nissan products are hard to come by, and the Z aims to be a car the automaker can point to when someone asks, “What would you say you do here?”
The fact that the 2023 Z is merely a heavy refresh isn’t promising, then, but the keyword here is “heavy.” On the outside, the Z gets a brand new outer skin to sit on its carried-over platform. It is a stunningly handsome car. I’ll go ahead and call it one of the most well-proportioned front-engined sports cars on sale today. It already looks pretty damn great in pictures but, let me be clear, it’s even better in person. It’s the sort of car you want to see in more colors just to understand which one suits the body best. (Spoiler alert: They’re all good.)
The inside is a similar story; some stuff from the previous car and some refresh. The carried-over switchgear from the old 370Z—which was produced starting in 2009—sticks out like, well, switchgear that’s more than a decade old in a car for sale in 2022. HVAC controls, window switches, and most glaringly, the heated seat controls are all direct carryovers from the old car, as are the door handles. The eight-speaker Bose sound system is also subpar, and confirmed to be a carryover part from the 370Z. The big things you look at and interact with, though—namely the steering wheel, instrument cluster, and touchscreen display—are new. They refreshed the interior just enough for it to feel like an honest effort was made, and premium materials like suede on the seating surfaces and door cards in this top trim car do a lot to make the space feel fresher than it actually is and to boost the illusion of newness.
What is new—at least, in Z form—is the VR30DDTT twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 making the aforementioned 400 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. It’s the same engine found in the Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400 and, in the Z, can be paired with a standard six-speed manual with a high-performance Exedy clutch or an optional nine-speed automatic with paddles. I’ll give you six guesses as to which I’d prefer. Power goes exclusively to the rear and manual cars benefit from a carbon-fiber composite driveshaft.
Driving the Nissan Z
The driver’s seat is where it all becomes clear what this thing really is. A monster. If I can tell you anything for certain about the Z, it’s that it hauls, especially at highway speeds. A quick auto-matched downshift into any gear besides sixth and the Z’s ample power and torque become very apparent. “Yes, that’s definitely 400 hp,” I thought to myself on my first pull.
The chassis is similarly blissful. This car rides great yet offers endless grip and confidence in the corners. There is body roll, but not enough to be unpleasant on the road. Likewise, the turning circle feels extremely tight, perhaps thanks to the car’s relatively short 100-inch wheelbase. It’s nimble while the steering is of a natural weight and offers reasonable feedback. The brakes were a bit touchy, but definitely strong and I got used to them quickly. As a package, it all just works.
Nissan’s new sports car isn’t perfect, though, which might sound strange considering it has an excellent engine and chassis. It’s let down by multiple small details that definitely add up. The first is that the flywheel feels very heavy. Fast shifts when I was really on it felt unnatural and awkward. The shifter also doesn’t feel great, although it is better than anything BMW has to offer (not good news, then, for the manual Toyota Supra). It feels rubbery and the throw is long. Not really up to snuff for a two-seat driver’s car but I’m sure the aftermarket or the eventual Nismo version will address it.
The exhaust needs work, too. The Z is too quiet, even if it is attempting to appeal to a broad customer base. This is strange because the theoretically more luxurious Infiniti Q60, which offers the same engine, is one of the loudest stock cars I've ever driven. In higher trims at least, the Z deserves a dual-mode exhaust, which brings me to another complaint: no drive modes. I sort of found it charming that it didn’t have any at first, but the end result is that the vehicle feels older and less capable because of it. Yes, there is “S-Mode” which enables automatic rev-matching on downshifts, but that’s it. I’m not asking for anything like adaptive dampers, just a tighter throttle and louder exhaust note to help it feel more alive.
This car’s tendency to err on the side of silence isn’t all bad, though, because it’s shockingly quiet inside above 55 mph, and certainly quieter than any other car I’ve driven that starts at around $40K. Throw in the decent interior quality and impressive-by-sports-car-standards fuel economy, and the Z—even in base trim—is an excellent grand touring car.
Nissan Z Features, Options, and Competition
That being said, the trims in terms of their price and content are another place where the Z is a bit of a letdown. The base trim is a ton of car for the money, but you have to cough up another 10 grand for the Performance trim if you want a limited-slip differential. If you plan on driving this car in wintery weather or on track, you probably want that LSD which, I can now attest firsthand, makes the Z very capable of lighting up its tires. If all of that power were funnelled into a single rear wheel… well, let’s just say I don’t think that would be a great use of the car’s or the driver’s time. If it were my money, I’d still go for base just because the Performance trim upgrades don’t really warrant the $10,000 premium.
The competition really boils down to what a potential owner is willing to be seen in. Personally, I think the Chevy Camaro is a criminally underrated vehicle that’s, for the money, a lot more car than this at a similar price. It has a V8, the transmission is better, and the 1LE will spank a new Z around a track. But some people just don’t want to be seen in the things. The same can be said for the Ford Mustang. I would say the Z can keep up with them, but not surpass them. Again, a potential Z buyer may not even consider an American muscle car, though. If that’s the case, this is an acceptable alternative, just don’t expect it to sound as good or haul quite as hard. The interior quality is comparable to both of the Americans, though.
Per official EPA ratings, the Z is right about where it should be for a V6 sports car. It’s right in line with the V6 Chevy Camaro, give and take a couple of mpg in the city and on the highway, respectively, and edges out the V8 Mustang GT by a couple of mpg overall. The BMW-powered Supra produces much better numbers but it should be noted that the 26 mpg displayed below is for the eight-speed automatic car and not the forthcoming manual, which hasn’t been rated by the EPA just yet.
All of that feels a little academic, though, because after living with it for a week, fuel economy appears to be grossly understated. If you actually achieve the EPA-estimated 24 mpg on the highway, put away your heavy foot in its granite clog. I was able to achieve more than 30 mpg all day long on the Interstate, with that number peaking at 33 mpg with a little effort. This is despite the Z sitting above 2,500 rpm at highway speeds in sixth gear.
Value and Verdict
Let’s get back around to what this is for the money, though. It’s quiet, powerful, economical, and—believe it or not—even spacious. Shock towers intrude in on the rear cargo area, but there’s still a ton of usable space. If you only live with one other person who needs to go places, this thing is downright practical. It also has usable storage solutions up front, like shelves behind the seats and spacious cubbies in the doors.
The fact that the practical side of this car is even worth mentioning really hammers home what this thing is: well-rounded. It needs a little work in a few areas related to the driving experience, but as a complete package and at the price Nissan is asking for it, the new Z is hard to beat. Yes, the Camaro and Mustang exist and they’re better for the money (I would personally rather get a Camaro 1LE). The bottom line, though, is the Z can hang with those cars.
In short, the world is running out of cars like this one—affordable performance GTs—and it’s a good one by any standard. It has its flaws, but they certainly aren’t a dealbreaker. Even despite them, though, this is one of the more charming new automobiles for sale today. It carries the Z name proudly and it’s absolutely worth celebrating.
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