The Takeaway: When Datsun released the 240Z in 1969, it redefined what a sports car could be in the United States. That car had plenty of power, could properly navigate corners without folding over itself, and was reasonably affordable. Now referred to as just the “Z,” the 2023 iteration is a clear homage to the definitive 240Z. It’s clear that the design department reached deep into its historical cookie jar to create a beautifully eclectic aesthetic. From the driver’s seat, it’s a much better package than the previous 370Z, which was in dire need of improvement.
- The new VR30DDTT engine sounds really nice inside the cabin, an upgrade over the typically lackluster soundtrack.
- The new rack-assist electronic power steering system is much smoother and more communicative than the previous hydraulic assist.
- The new twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine is potent, delivering 400 horsepower to the rear wheels.
- Base Price: $39,990 ($49,990 as tested)
- Engine: Twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6
- Horsepower: 400 hp (68 hp more than 370Z)
- Torque: 350 lb-ft (80 lb-ft more than 370Z)
- 0-60 Time: 4.1 seconds
- Transmission: 9-speed automatic (6-speed manual is also available)
- Drivetrain: Rear-wheel drive
What’s In A Name
The story of the Z began in 1969 with the Datsun 240Z—also referred to as the Fairlady Z. In its initial run, it put Nissan on the map, with over 1 million sold in the states over the span of just a decade. To offer some perspective, it would take Corvette 25 years to sell the same number of vehicles. Coming to America, the Fairlady Z would become the 240 Z, with the numbers referring to the engine displacement of 2.4 liters and the Z being a reference to the last letter (or word in this case) of sports cars. The original “Fairlady” Z name came from the musical My Fair Lady, featuring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison.
When Nissan revealed its Z Proto in 2020, it threw the internet into rapture. It was clear that the Japanese automaker wanted to pay homage to previous Z vehicles—particularly the 240Z and 300ZX. We had seen photos and laid eyes on it in the flesh at both the LA and New York Auto Shows. Now we got to drive it.
For 2023, the Z is available in three flavors: sport, performance, and proto specifications. Pricing ramps up rapidly from $39,990 to $49,990 to $52,990, respectively. Throughout the initial drive program, we spent most of the time behind the wheel of Performance-spec cars. In terms of improvements over the standard model, these receive bigger wheels, performance brakes, and a clutch-type limited-slip differential for added traction.
Behind The Wheel
Nissan was very proud to announce that the 2022 Z offers 400 horsepower for less than $40,000. Under the hood it uses the same twin-turbocharged VR30DDTT powerplant as the Infiniti Q50 and Q60. Even with it being a VR-series engine, it’s not a direct carryover from the Nissan GTR—which uses the 3.8-liter VR38DETT. Regardless, 400 horses is more than enough with only rear-wheel drive; thankfully, the throttle mapping is excellent. The vehicle was super intuitive, whether I was pushing the envelope at the track or being smooth on the road. This remained true with both the nine-speed automatic and six-speed manual transmission options.
Of the two, I can comfortably say that I preferred the manual gearbox—especially when driving hard. Rowing through the gears was buttery smooth, and I never missed a shift. I was much more disappointed with the nine-speed automatic gearbox, which is a slower single-clutch slushmatic rather than a crisp and fast dual-clutch gearbox—a bit of a strange decision in today’s climate. My disappointment came mainly from knowing Nissan can do so much better.
With the performance-spec testers starting at $49,990, that puts them directly in competition with other sports cars like the BMW M240i, Ford Mustang GT350, and even a base-model Porsche 718 Cayman. In this day and age where most buyers are likely going to spec an automatic gearbox over a manual, a double-clutch gearbox is almost a staple in this segment.
There’s no hiding the fact that the latest Z uses the same chassis as the 370Z. However, it’s been breathed upon by Nissan’s engineers, now featuring more structural rigidity. The added stiffness was very noticeable around the outfield race track outside of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where the vehicle remained planted through some of the more demanding high- and medium-speed bits of the track. Having said that, I’m pleased that the suspension remained soft and supple throughout the road drive that followed. Sure, this is no Rolls Royce, but the Z is perfectly usable for daily driving.
A Sleek New Design With Nods To Its Heritage
I was smitten from the moment I laid eyes on the new Z. Walking around the exterior, it’s quite obvious that it harkens back to the original 240Z. And the newest model isn’t some jumbled-up tribute. Think of it more as a remaster of the greatest hits.
Starting at the front, the new light package is absolutely a throwback to the Fairlady Z with its dished-in headlights. Nissan did a fantastic job capturing the profile in its LED daytime running lights. Another, rather controversial, aspect of the front fascia that makes a comeback is the boxy front grille. But I personally think it looks tremendous. While it’s a direct carryover from the original, it also serves a purpose. Fitting a new twin-turbocharged engine under the hood necessitated much higher cooling requirements, which the bigger grille delivers.
Hiroshi Tamura, Nissan’s head of product planning, described the 2023 Z’s exterior as fresh and sleek, with an appearance that communicates respect for its lineage. From a side-on profile, the Z’s silhouette is nearly indistinguishable from that of the original car. It features the same long hood and short decklid—the area above the trunk—that made the 240Z one of the best-looking cars of its day.
If the taillights are giving you a case of ’90s deja vu, your reaction isn’t unfounded. The rear fascia was heavily inspired by the taillights from the 1990s 300ZX. The black plastic that flanks the brake lights really accentuates how flat the rear fascia is compared to the rest of the car. Oh yeah, the Performance-pack also gives you that tastefully designed ducktail spoiler.
Tight and Bright Interior
The Z’s cockpit is a mixed bag of good and bad, with several issues that are worth pointing out. During their presentation, Nissan talked long and hard about the importance of proper driving ergonomics; music to my ears, as I’m very OCD about my driving position. Therefore, let’s start with the good news.
The interior is a genuinely nice place to sit and a substantial upgrade over the previous 370Z. Thankfully, Nissan didn’t fall foul of the current movement in the automotive space to eliminate all physical knobs and buttons from the cabin. The Z retains well-thought-out controls for the infotainment system and air conditioning. Each knob and button all featured a nice detent, confirming the adjustments I was making. The touchscreen infotainment system was also super responsive and laid out very intuitively.
I commend Nissan for how easy it was to adjust the steering wheel and the seat. The steering wheel acts just like any other telescoping wheel I’ve used since I got my license. The seat was equally the same story with knobs on the left side to adjust the angle of the seat bottom and rocker switches on the right to adjust the back.
However, the interior was cramped—surprisingly so for someone like myself with my five-foot-nine stature. I must’ve had an inch of headroom at best. During the track portion of the press drive where it was compulsory to wear a helmet, I had to wedge my head under the roof to even fit in the car. Even without a brain bucket, I still felt a bit squeezed inside of the cockpit.
If nothing else, I think the Z looks absolutely tremendous. Nissan had previous versions of the Z (including the 240Z) on display, giving us the ability to compare them back to back—and it’s clear where the inspiration came from. Design will always be controversial, but Nissan’s latest high-performance sports car looks inherently modern without straying from its roots.
As for the way it drives, it’s noticeably better than the 370Z on which it’s based. Sure, it sits atop an evolution of the same chassis, but Nissan has left no stone unturned in the pursuit of finding more performance. The myriad upgrades lead to a final product that feels nice to drive, but I wouldn’t call it an absolute widowmaker. If you compare the Z to other similarly priced sports cars, you’re going to be disappointed. However, if you look at it through the lens of Japanese sports cars, you’ll fall in love.
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