The Last Letter in Sports Cars – The North State Journal

SAN DIEGO — The manual transmission is on its way out.

In the last decade, as automatic transmissions have gained gears and ubiquity, the practical advantages of a manual transmission have faded. They have worse fuel economy as cars have switched to 9 and 10 speed units optimized for highway driving. And manual transmissions aren’t even cheaper anymore, with fewer buyers actually wanting to specify them.

Manual transmissions have now been relegated to a mere handful of cars. So what’s the enthusiast to do when you want, in auto journalism’s eye-rolling cliché expression, “your own rowing”?

Enter the 2023 Nissan Z

The new Z is the latest in five decades and seven generations of iconic Nissan sports cars. It drops the numeric prefix for the first time in the US, otherwise it would go from 370Z to 300Z because of the reduced displacement, and we can’t have smaller numbers in our car names.

It takes a significant chunk of the outgoing 370Z’s platform and powertrain to cut costs. But that’s okay because it manages to keep costs down and it was an excellent platform to start with.

Under the hood is an excellent 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 borrowed from the Infiniti Q50 and Q60 Red Sport, producing an impressive 400 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. That’s 400 horsepower for $40,000, as Nissan reps have told me multiple times, which is a pretty solid bang for the buck.

The Z I rode around San Diego for a few hours last week looks better than ever. It takes inspiration from a long line of previous Z vehicles, with a long hood and short tail with an overall length five inches longer than the 370Z despite sharing the same wheelbase.

I’m a big fan of using LED lights as design elements rather than having dull incandescent bulbs, and the Z knocks it out of the park. The eye-like semicircles of the headlights are inspired by the ’70s Japan-only 240ZG, and the taillights are a modern take on the early ’90s 300ZX. Teens from that era will recognize the Heck right away, and the nostalgia will sell more than a few Zs.

The car is comfortable to drive, with short throws on the six-speed manual and a forgiving clutch. Even more forgiving is the fantastic SynchroRev Match system, which automatically matches engine revs to your gear choice before you release the clutch and allows for smooth downshifts when you want to drop the hammer.

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A nine-speed automatic is available for free, although I imagine manuals will be a popular option for the Z. It should be anyway as this is an enthusiast car and manuals are so hard to find. Enthusiasts will also find a manual parking brake, which can come in handy when you want to practice your drifting game.

Although much of the interior will be recognizable as a holdover from the 370Z (including the entire trunk and the climate and window controls), the dashboard and infotainment screen are new. The cluster was designed with the help of a Nissan racer so the rev counter hits the red line at exactly 12 o’clock and things like oil pressure and differential temperature are clearly displayed. A green, yellow and red shift indicator also helps maximize your performance.

Nissan has simplified purchasing, which is better for customers, and simplified production for a company trying to squeeze every dollar out of this little sports car.

There are only two trim levels, Sport for $41,015 and Performance for $10,000 more. Heading upstairs gives you a whole host of upgrades, including a limited-slip differential, better brakes, 19-inch forged aluminum alloy wheels and high-performance tires, a rear spoiler, leather seats, heated seats, and a 9-inch touchscreen Apple wireless CarPlay and a Bose audio system.

The Sport model only gets an 8-inch screen, 18-inch wheels, and wired CarPlay, but it’s still an inviting platform for folks looking to maximize their fun-to-buck ratio. Android Auto is oddly wired regardless of trim. Nissan pointed out that using an older engine means tuning houses will already stock a variety of performance parts for Z buyers looking to upgrade their drives. There are only a handful of options including an upgraded Nismo exhaust that you will definitely want to grab.

But it’s the design and heritage that brings it home for me. The new Z is stunningly beautiful, especially the Seiran Blue tester I had. Be sure to go for the blue interior that looks stunning. Black is so boring. It can’t help but put a smile on your face, especially if you’re craving an old-gen Z. The proportions are almost perfect, the driving experience is great and the design (especially the brake lights) is puristic Z.

It’s the best affordable sports car you can buy right now, offering the looks, performance and sheer fun that only a proper sports car can deliver – four hundred horsepower for forty thousand dollars. The Toyota Supra is more expensive for 100 horses less.

Z is literally the last letter in sports cars. It’s coming to dealers this summer.

Photos courtesy of Nissan

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