All about the Nissan Z, its history, and the current model.
Scan the entirety of the Nissan performance universe and several models stand out. Skyline. GT-R. Fairlady. Z Series. Some models were marketed under the Datsun moniker, while others were never offered for sale in the U.S. No matter, the list is impressive, but it does not include various NISMO variants, pickup trucks, and SUVs that support Nissan’s performance prowess.
If there is one word that describes the Nissan Z series, it would be iconic. Yes, just like “epic” this appellation is overused, but it also serves as a superior descriptor than does seminal, epochal, and archetypal. Mostly, though, we recognize the Z as a rolling heritage for this Japanese brand.
In the Beginning
Car enthusiasts have been waiting years for Nissan to roll out a successor to the brand’s best-known sporty model, the 370Z. That version was produced from 2009 to 2020, an uncommonly long stretch and without a new design to follow immediately. Indeed, it has been two years since we have seen any Z model, with the delay in large part due to the COVID-19 pandemic that upset all sorts of plans for humanity, including the acquisition of needed parts to complete the new ride.
The Z may have fallen “victim” to that, but the delay was understandable. In any case, sales of the new 2023 Nissan Z commenced in June 2022, which brings us here. But before we move forward, a look back is necessary to set the foundation for this model line.
Making Datsun Known
In the 1960s, Nissan was a relatively unknown manufacturer in the U.S., although it had just begun marketing models under its Datsun nameplate. The company was part of the initial wave of Japanese manufacturers establishing a stake in the states, arriving about the same time as Toyota, but ahead of Honda. Its original models were low-cost, decently equipped, and employed quality standards that consumers noticed.
Yet, the company lacked a “halo” model to woo customers, much as Chevrolet had with the Corvette and later the Camaro, and Ford with the Mustang. Even Toyota with the 2000GT had an edge that Nissan needed to match.
Nissan Fairlady Z
Nissan responded to the market, by developing a unique model with two seats within a distinctly sports car layout. We call the Z a sports car because of its look and seating arrangement. Others call it a “grand tourer” because it lacks a V8. We think that label is not fair because there is so much more about a vehicle than what is under the hood. Therefore, in our minds, the Nissan Z is a sports car, and the seventh generation of a series birthed in the 1960s.
After much planning, the Nissan Fairlady Z was born. In Japan, the Nissan nameplate was always used, while Datsun was ascribed to models marketed overseas. By the early 1980s, the company began unifying its operation under the Nissan umbrella. Thus, the Nissan 300ZX, the fourth generation of this sports car series, was the first to drop the Datsun label.
The 240Z kicked things off for Datsun in the early 1970s, then was quickly succeeded by the 260Z and then the 280Z. Those models cover the first seven years and represent engine displacement. For example, the 240Z had a 2.4-liter straight-six, followed by 2.6- and 2.8-liter engines.
Collectively, they are counted as one generation with the second-generation Datsun 280ZX arriving in 1979, followed by the Nissan 300ZX in 1984. The 300ZX name was repeated in 1990 with the fourth-generation model. Both models offer a 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine.
After a six-year hiatus, the Z returned in 2003 as the Nissan 350Z. This time, a 3.5-liter V6 powers the sports coupe. It stayed in production through 2008, replaced the following year by the 370Z, which is motivated by a 3.7-liter V6. As mentioned, this model had a 12-year run before retirement. Nissan planned to take 2021 off, but with the Covid pandemic, the new model was delayed an additional year.
And here we are.
Highlights of the Seventh-Generation Nissan Z
Nissan offers the 2023 Z in coupe form only. The previous-generation model was also offered as a roadster version, but that option was dropped for its final model year. It is doubtful that Nissan will add a convertible, given the expensive engineering required to pull that off.
Grades and Prices
The 2023 Nissan Z is available in Sport ($39,990) and Performance ($49,990) grades. Also, a special Z Proto Spec ($52,990) model launches the new generation and builds on the Performance edition. Add $1,025 for the destination charge.
All grades feature a turbocharged engine paired with either an automatic or manual transmission. There is no price difference between them. Power routes to the rear wheels.
How do you take elements of the time-honored Z and incorporate them within a modern body? You do this with much thought and care.
In this department, Nissan largely succeeds even if the grille design seems contrary. Regardless, the retro-inspired look of the latest model pays tribute to its heritage in a modern package.
Nissan built the new Z on the previous generation’s platform, but made improvements everywhere, especially to the body. No roadster version is available, but the coupe is a delicious example of sports car bliss with its long hood, cascading roofline, and rear haunch.
Take note of the many design elements that define the latest model. From sporty lighting elements to side body sculpting, the look is all Z. From the rear, the modernized fascia with its raised diffuser and large exhaust ports are a welcome combination. We couldn’t take our eyes off the latest rendition of the Nissan’s logo as well as the Z emblem. Even the design of the side mirrors and the available skirting are worthy of much examination. It all ties together to form a handsome package.
There is very little difference between the grades with most of the exterior features. Both come with LED low and high-beam headlights, LED daytime running lights, and LED taillights. A black front grille with 24 horizontal slats, manually folding body-color side mirrors with turn signal indicators, side sill spoilers, and a manual hatch is standard. The Performance grade, though, adds a front chin spoiler, heated side mirrors, and a rear spoiler.
Wheels and Rubber
Nissan outfits the Sport trim with 18-inch dark-painted aluminum wheels wrapped within Yokohama ADVAN Sport high-performance tires. The Performance grade earns 19-inch RAYS super lightweight forged aluminum-alloy wheels. Bronze wheels are optional. Here, Bridgestone Potenza S0007 high-performance rubber is on all four corners.
The Sport trim comes with fixed 2-piston front, and single-piston rear/cast iron brake calipers. As for the Performance model, it is outfitted with floating 4-piston front, 2-piston rear/aluminum calipers dressed in red or optional yellow.
Although the 2023 Z is available in three monotone exterior color choices, there are six two-tone choices to consider as well. The standard two-tone paint adds $895, while the premium two-tone is a $1,295 upgrade. However, choosing the Passion Red TriCoat is a unique color scheme that ups the price by $1,695.
Every upgrade or option is bundled with the chosen grade. Even so, there are a few port-installed accessories that supply further customization. These include a dual racing stripe with or without the spoiler ($595), exterior welcome lighting ($395), and illuminated kick plates ($400/$500).
The Z’s interior is sports car snug and that is fine with us. The cabin envelopes the driver and passenger without imbuing claustrophobia and is also suitable for all but the very tall. Modern meets vintage here with traditional dials and contemporary screens blending without contradiction. Take note of the dashboard with its three analog pod displays carrying forward.
The 12.3-inch digital instrument panel display offers three settings and crisp readouts with it. Although we enjoy the traditional design, the modern display is easier to read when the sun becomes a factor as well as for night driving.
Sturdy seating is always welcome, and the Z delivers. The seats are supportive, and bolstered, but not at all uncomfortable. They help passengers stay planted when driving vigorously without the discomfort some seats offer. Manually controlled cloth seats are standard; the Performance trim brings in leather with power-adjustable support.
Modern Meets Vintage
Nissan found the correct balance between modern and vintage through its deep-dish steering wheel with telescopic capabilities. USB and port outlets are recognizable connection points; the traditional dials are welcome. We were especially pleased that Nissan placed a pair of HVAC vents in each door as we found they do a stellar job of keeping people comfortable. Finally, excellent fit and finish with choice materials supply sophistication befitting the Z Series.
As for trunk space, lift the hatchback and there are 6.9 cubic feet available and that’s about one-third less than the competing Toyota GR Supra. Without sample luggage available, we imagine three soft-case bags sitting side-by-side in the storage area. That is not a lot of space for some but should supply enough room to take a long weekend getaway to the beach, lake, or mountains.
Port-installed accessories include interior door scuff protection ($210), interior accent lighting ($445), and a floor mat package with a first aid kit and cargo net ($480/$500).
On the tech front, the Nissan Z comes with either an 8-inch touchscreen display (Sport) or a 9-inch screen (Performance). The Sport model has a 6-speaker Nissan audio system, while the Performance grade features an 8-speaker Bose system. The Performance model also comes with NissanConnect services with a WiFi hotspot.
The remaining features are common to both models. These include Bluetooth, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Siri Eyes Free. Voice recognition, two USB ports, and satellite radio complete the offerings.
It is doubtful that the Nissan Z will go through the customary safety testing taken by high-volume models. Neither the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety nor the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducts crash tests on most sports cars.
It is a given that large, high-profile vehicles are the safest. Sports and compact cars are on the other side of the spectrum.
But there are features included with the 2023 model that are intended to prevent accidents. Specifically, all models come with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and forward collision warning. Also, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane-departure warning are included.
Engine, Transmission, and Drivetrain
Nissan wisely ditched the naturally aspirated 3.7-liter V6 engine in the previous generation model for an Infiniti motor. Under the hood of every 2023 Z is a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 engine with 400 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. That engine motivates the Infiniti Q50 and the Infiniti Q60, models that we have driven and found entirely suitable for enthusiasts.
The Z’s new engine outshines the previous model with 332 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque available. With performance increases of about 20 and 30 percent respectively, the change is noticeable for a vehicle that weighs approximately 100 pounds more than its predecessor. As before, a six-speed manual is offered, while a 9-speed automatic adds two cogs to the previous arrangement. Notably, customers can choose either transmission without paying extra. Further, the automatic comes with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
As always, power routes to the rear wheels in the Nissan Z. We can almost imagine an all-wheel-drive variant receiving consideration, but the added weight and cost would change the Z’s mission. Z fans know what they want and power routing exclusively to the rear wheels is it.
On the Road
Nissan lent us a 2023 Z with an automatic transmission. We would have preferred the manual gearbox, but that is not a complaint. Just a preference. No doubt, Z faithful are thrilled that a manual remains, in this case, one with short throws, active rev-matching, and a launch mode. Three-pedal driving is not dead, even if the U.S. take rate is quite small.
Our model had the 9-speed automatic transmission, supplied by ZF. It is worth noting that ZF has received some undeserved flack in recent years for its modern transmissions as customers complained about shifting issues, namely slow gear changes and noise. However, ZF has noted that the problem is software related, not mechanical, with the former being the fault of the manufacturer. We mention this here because the spillover sometimes colors the impression people have about a transmission. For the record, the Z shows none of the problems that once dogged certain Chrysler and Acura models.
Give Nissan credit for developing a thoroughly fun-to-drive sports car. The new Z is fast, as expected, with excellent step-off power and robust acceleration. Only the slightest amount of turbo lag is detected and only then when the engine is cold or occasionally under hard acceleration. When pressing the pedal to the medal, the turbos quickly spool in a 1-2 manner, throwing down full power on demand.
And its speed is significant, with Motor Trend measuring a 0-60 mph time of just 4.3 seconds and 12.9 seconds with the quarter-mile at 107.6 mph. Although we push our test models accordingly, we do not measure performance unless that information appears on the dashboard. So go with the Motor Trend analysis (see article link below) and remember that the Z runs best with premium gas.
Compared to the previous-generation model (which we have driven), the new Z offers improved steering. We sensed a connection to the car as well as to the road that is better than before. Nissan added heft to the steering wheel and enhanced handling for an improved drive. Only the Performance model comes with a limited-slip differential and is a strong difference-maker on twisty roads and corners.
The current Z demonstrates poise and balance, with a suspension tuned for comfort. We praise this model for its engine grunt and sweet exhaust note, with both underscoring the performance credibility of this model.
There is one model that is nearest to the Z in the competitive sphere and that is the Toyota GR Supra. Until recently, the Supra was not named, but thanks to Toyota’s partnership with BMW, we have a new model to do battle with Nissan.
Beyond the Supra, there are a handful of other models that might draw the attention of shoppers. From the lower end of the sporty spectrum are the Mazda MX-5 Miata, Toyota GR 86, and the Subaru BRZ. Move up into the sports car ranks and the Chevrolet Corvette comes to mind. We also believe customers who shop for the Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, and Ford Mustang will keep the Z in mind. From Europe, the BMW M2 is the nearest model in this category.
Nissan Z Considerations
Some may fault Nissan for carrying over the previous platform to develop the latest Z. Though that is true, the criticism is not entirely fair as Nissan likely could not justify the expense of fresh architecture to undergird a niche model. Besides the low-demand GT-R, there are not any other models that could share the platform.
The retro style with modern touches supplies a solid connection to the Z Series. We believe fans will flock to this sports car and give it the support it deserves. Choose the Performance grade to gain all the benefits of the new model. It will cost you more than $50,000 though and that expense will create pause for some consumers.
2023 Nissan Z Specifications
|Price Range||$39,990 to $52,990|
|Standard Engine||3.0-liter, Twin-Turbo V6|
|Horsepower||400 hp @ 6,400 rpm|
|Torque (lb.-ft.)||350 lb.-ft. @ 1,600 to 5,200 rpm|
|Transmission||9-speed automatic or 6-speed manual|
|Curb Weight (pounds)||3,486 to 3,602|
|Shoulder room (f,r…inches)||54.2|
|Hip room (f,r…inches)||54.6|
|Storage (cubic feet)||6.9|
|Gross combined weight rating (pounds)||NR|
|Fuel Tank (gallons)||16.4|
|EPA Fuel MPG (city/highway/combined)||18/24/20; 19/28/22|
|Manufacturing Plant||Louisville, Kentucky|
Specifications supplied by the manufacturer.
Addendum: Key Attributes of the 2023 Nissan Z
Fetching, Heritage Design
Nissan could have played it safe when designing the 2023 Z. Fortunately, they did not. Instead, the automaker found a way to blend a heritage canvas with a modern design. The look is fetching, a real head-turner of a sports car. The modern touches are evident in the grille, logos, insignia, and lighting. The shape, though, is reminiscent of some of the earliest Zs. The tail lights are a modern interpretation of the 300ZX’s look.
Inside, the same amalgamation is apparent with the trio of circular analog displays fixed on the dashboard above the center console and canted to the driver. But the overall feel is more modern with ample connection points, a display screen, and a digital instrument panel to consider. The seats are designed to aid comfort and they fulfill this mission with ease.
Power to the People
Gone is the previous naturally aspirated V6 engine. In its place is an Infiniti-supplied twin-turbocharged V6. This engine is more powerful than its predecessor and designed to deliver copious amounts of power on demand. The Z’s engine never flags and continually imparts power throughout the band curve.
Paired with the engine is a pair of transmission choices. Our pick is the short-throw six-speed manual. This one includes down-shift rev-matching and clean clutch uptake. The other choice is a ZF-supplied automatic. Steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters supply a more engaging ride with the latter.
Sport or Performance Grades
Nissan supplies just two grades with the 2023 Z – Sport and Performance. There is a $10,000 difference between the two, but for some, the base model is more than enough. Keep in mind that there are no extra funds required for your transmission choice, therefore upgrading may not be necessary.
Yet, the Performance model comes with a limited-slip differential, a rear spoiler, and other embellishments that make this model truly the sportier of the two. Further, the Z Proto Spec Package ($3,000) is unique to the Performance grade, a limited-edition bonus that we believe will spawn additional special packages in subsequent years. What will NISMO deliver next?
Consider Your Space
No sports car is roomy, but we must say that most 6-foot-tall individuals should find the cabin to their liking. It doesn’t have the tight quarters of a Mazda MX-5 Miata, but then it doesn’t supply the roominess of sport coupes with rear seats. The Z finds a middle ground and occupies it quite well.
Trunk space, though, is quite limiting with just under 7 cubic feet to utilize. It still is useful for mid-range trips with your significant other. Just keep in mind that judicious packing is necessary to make that space useful. But it is a sacrifice worth making, especially if winding roads with switchbacks are along your route.
Jurnecka, R. (2021, August 18). The Nissan Z: History, Generations, Specifications. Motor Trend
(2021, August 18). 2023 Nissan Z Press Kit. Official Nissan U.S. Newsroom.
Rehbock, B. (2022, July 20). 2023 Nissan Z Performance First Test Review: Next-Gen Z Is Better Than Expected. Motor Trend
See Also — First Look at the 2023 Models
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