2023 Nissan Z Review: Making up for lost time

Copying iconic design cues can backfire on a modern car, but the Nissan Z pulls it off. The eye-like headlights and square grille up front convey just the right amount of Datsun vibe, while the 300ZX-style taillights look superb tucked under the hatchback lid. The rear haunches have the right amount of thickness, while the long hood and roofline scream speed. The two-tone black and blue paint job on my $1,295 tester is also sharp.

If you like blue outside I hope you do love it inside, because it’s everywhere. The Z on my driveway has blue leather and suede on the seats, as well as the lower halves of the door panels and dash, and it’s quite the conversation starter. The top half of the cabin is subdued black plastic as standard, but the overall layout is far more modern than in the past. The dash gauge is still a fun little bit, even though I don’t think anyone in the universe needs to know anything about turbine speed. My only real complaint about the design is that I think the lock button in the door handle looks cheap.

From a practical point of view, the 2023 Z gets an Andrew Krok Practice rating of “Some”. One cup holder, which is permanently visible, holds most bottle sizes, a second one is hidden under the sliding center armrest. Folding up the armrest gives you a storage compartment deep enough for a wallet and little more, but two pockets behind the seats and the storage compartment under the air conditioning provide more unsecured storage in an emergency. The Z’s hatchback does its best and handles groceries like a champ, but taking two people to the airport for a week-long vacation might be asking too much. Anything big will no doubt bang against the glass, and any big person might wish the seats were positioned a bit lower, especially when a helmet is involved.

However, I don’t worry about headroom when I’m on the road. The Z really makes me smile. A 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 borrowed from Infiniti gives me 400 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. Boost builds and the car pulls at almost every point on the rev counter, making freeway crossings a breeze without worrying about downshifting. While I wish cars with the six-speed manual had the sport muffler only allowed on automatic transmission variants, the engine sound is only really muffled at lower speeds; As the tach nears its 6,800-rpm limit, the V6 has no problem bouncing its song off the trees that line my favorite winding roads.

2023 Nissan Z

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2023 Nissan Z

The Z’s turbocharged V6 feels more at home here than ever in Infiniti’s Red Sport 400 lineup from the start.

Andrew Krok/CNET

Despite a slight increase in curb weight over its predecessor, the new Z’s additional 68 hp and 80 lb-ft eliminates the thought of weighing the scales when things get cornering. My performance tester’s mechanical limited-slip differential keeps power from constantly being converted to yaw, although there’s more than enough momentum to intentionally bring the Z sideways. The static dampers do a commendable job of transferring weight without making the ride downright annoying on regular roads, although they still feel stiff in everyday use. The steering has a nice weight, and while not as responsive as the old 370Z hydraulic guise, it’s very good by modern standards. The performance-specific brakes are easy to modulate and ensure a smooth experience in both daily driving and oh-shit-was-the-a-cop situations. Tire noise isn’t an issue at lower speeds, but it’s definitely noticeable at or above 70 mph.

This Nissan Z is equipped with a six-speed manual gearbox, but a nine-speed automatic is also available. Manual shifting action is heavy but precise, with no qualms about missing a gate when rowing either way. Purists might enjoy the old heel-toe action, but the performance model’s RPM adjustment system is absolutely perfect. My only real complaint here is the clutch pedal, which has a long, vague bite; It’s no problem when carving fast corners, but it’s far too easy to apply the wrong amount of throttle when starting off, leading to some awkward head movements. RPM drop is also almost non-existent, a growing rarity in modern sports cars.

2023 Nissan Z

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2023 Nissan Z

The Z’s cabin puts everything within reach, and trust me, you won’t want to keep your hands off that slick shifter for long.

Andrew Krok/CNET

All that power is generally equivalent to thirst, but the 2023 Nissan Z isn’t that bad on the pump. The manual is rated at 18mpg city and 24mpg highway, although my right foot had too much fun, resulting in a combined personal rating of around 18mpg. If you really want to lean into economy, the automatic variant ups those EPA numbers to 19 urban and 28 highway.

Some sports cars are content to pretend tech doesn’t exist, but Nissan has done a good job of modernizing the Z in this area. An 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system is standard, with higher-end models getting a 9-inch model, but both come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and run the same system you’ll find in any of Nissan’s latest models. The larger screen also includes embedded navigation, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and an eight-speaker Bose audio system that sounds pretty good. A USB-A and a USB-C port provide plenty of juice for both passengers. A 12.3-inch digital gauge puts all relevant information front and center and offers three different layouts if you don’t want to be constantly reminded of your Pathfinder.

There’s even a healthy amount of active and passive safety systems here. Every Z up and down the lineup comes standard with automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control. Leave ’em on, turn ’em off, the choice is yours, but I’m glad they’re there.

2023 Nissan Z

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2023 Nissan Z

The 370Z’s contemporary “iPod” button is dead and buried, and in its place is something that feels appropriate to the Z’s new price tag.

Andrew Krok/CNET

While the outgoing 370Z felt like a bargain with a starting price in the $30,000 range, the all-new Nissan Z is a little harder on the wallet. The Base Z will set you back $40,015, including $1,025 in destination fees. My performance trim tester throws in a whole host of goodies, from chassis tech to cabin tech, and it rings at $53,210, after $500 for illuminated door sills, $1,295 for the two-tone paint job, and $400 -Dollars for floor mats were taken into account. That might seem like quite a leap, but it’s still a few grand below the four-cylinder Toyota Supra.

After letting the final Z languish unchanged for a presidential administration or two, I had my reservations about the new generation. But with its big boost in performance, its newfound appreciation for modernity and an on-road character that’s just loads of fun, we should all be happy to see the sports car arena welcoming a new challenger.

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