2023 Nissan Z First Drive – Old Dog, New Tricks


Discover the new Nissan Z. Same as the old Z.

Well, sort of.

Nissan has worked hard to publicize the new Z, but it’s an open secret that the new car shares some of its bones with the previous generation car.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

It’s been a few years since I’ve driven an example of the latest Z, but I do remember one thing: for all of this car’s flaws and weaknesses, it succeeded in its primary mission of being fun to drive.

Fortunately, and most importantly, this carries over to this heavily updated version.

Editor’s note: No loot disclosure is necessary for this review – I was not airlifted or fed at someone else’s expense or offered loot. I was simply loaned a new Z for a weekend in the same way that I usually get test vehicles loaned to me.

Save a second – the new Z may share some parts of the undercoat with the 370Z, but the styling is completely different. Thank goodness the 370Z has always looked a bit awkward, lacking the classic lines of the Zs that came before it. This new car nods to its predecessors while looking modern – a nice mix of contemporary and eye-pleasing retro. Only the gaping grille gives pause.

You might be wondering how much of the older Z – the Z34 generation – is carried over to the Z35. Nissan tells me that 80% is new and 20% carried over, but a little research into the reviews of those who actually attended the first-drive event and did the groundwork shows that the story is a bit more nuanced than that.

According to our friends at Jalopnik, windshield, door glass, tailgate glass, roof panel, engine start button, seat heater switches, traction control switch, trunk/tailgate release and the window switches are among the parts that are carried over. The same goes for interior door handles and air vents. The rear suspension geometry is also the same, although the shocks and bushings are new.

There’s more wizardry going on – the available nine-speed automatic transmission comes from the Frontier pickup, though the case is lightweight and magnesium in this application. And the six-speed manual transmission my test car was equipped with is also from the 370Z, though it does see some minor tweaks.

You also probably know that the 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 under the hood (400 horsepower, 350 lb-ft of torque) comes from the Infiniti Q50 and Infiniti Q60.

As for the platform itself, Nissan reps tell me it’s retuned.

It’s easy to blame Nissan for taking a pre-existing platform, modifying a large percentage of it while leaving 20% ​​carryover, then using the factory parts bin to complete the car and calling it a day. Even if you nod in understanding when you read other reviews and see quotes from Hiroshi Tamura, who helmed the new Z through production, on how heavy use of the existing platform enabled reduce costs – and therefore the MSRP -.

But here’s the thing – it mostly works. Of course, maybe that’s just the effect of the new sheetmetal. Fancy clothes can cover the same old structure underneath. But the driving experience is generally good enough, especially when it comes to ya-ha time you won’t care.

Nissan asked reporters testing the car at home not to follow it – presumably to make sure no one had a bad day and bent the sheet metal, something I know a little about – so I stuck with it of a jaunt down my favorite twisty road, with a sampling side of a cute little cloverleaf freeway exit that allows for some smile-inducing idiocy.

The very visible presence of law enforcement* spoiled my enjoyment of the side road a bit, although I did manage to get a bit of a commotion before public safety showed up and started prowling. I found the Z turns sharp, and it can turn even sharper if you need a mid-corner correction to find the apex. He does it with surprising precision.

That’s the good – the bad was a tiny bit of body roll. Tolerable, yes, but a little surprising in a sports coupe. Nissan also touts the mechanical feel of the speed-sensitive electric power steering in its press release, but it still feels relatively contrived to me, even though it’s nicely weighted and, as noted above, precise.

*Luckily Johnny Law was just hiding and we didn’t interact. My wallet was not lightened and my driving was very smooth, albeit slower.

Nissan gives the Z an aluminum double-wishbone front suspension. It has new geometry and a two-point front strut tower brace. The rear suspension is independent multi-link aluminum and there are front and rear stabilizer bars. Front and rear shocks use a new monotube shock that is larger in diameter than the 370Z.

This suspension — sport-tuned on Performance trims like my tester — helps strike a good balance between sports-car stiffness and road handling. There were still moments when the ride was shocking on the hail-scarred sidewalk that’s far too prevalent in the Chicago area, but on nicer surfaces the Z rode quite comfortably.

Nissan widened the track 1.5 inches up front and 1.2 in the rear, and the car is almost 5 inches longer than a 370Z.

The twin-turbo hood that hides under the hood does not look particularly good, but it contains a very nice punch. Torque is available for passing (or just because you suddenly have wild hair) in just about any gear – I didn’t need to downshift often when performing passing maneuvers on the highway.

I even managed to give the rear a nice wiggle with a heavy dose of throttle in second gear—on dry pavement, nonetheless. As for the stick itself, the throws are the right length and the snick-snick is satisfying, although I sometimes found the wrong gate and the reverse sometimes required a little extra effort to engage . The clutch is a bit heavy and the start is a bit harsh – I stalled a handful of times – but you get used to it quickly. Nissan’s rev-matching system is present here and can be turned on or off. The driveshaft is made of carbon fiber composite.

Inside, the Z gets a customizable digital gauge cluster with three potential views – Sport, Normal and Enhanced. Steering wheel controls make it easy to configure the group and navigate the menus. The built-in infotainment system is standard Nissan fare, which means it’s not the sexiest design but it’s usable enough – or at least, as far as I can tell, since I was using Apple CarPlay wireless most of the time.

There’s a volume knob, yay, as well as a tuning knob. No BS haptic touch here. The HVAC controls are delightfully old-school, too.

Nissan has done a good job here, but there are flaws. There are some fit and finish issues, even though my tester was pre-production, which means the build quality isn’t necessarily up to production standards. Some interior materials feel low-end, though others are an upgrade over the 370Z. Road noise is sometimes a bit intrusive. And then there are the inherent limitations of this type of car – the center console is tiny and interior storage space is limited, although there is useful space directly behind the seats, in front of the hatch area .

The car’s design also hampers rearward visibility – large blind spots are a problem when changing lanes and also when maneuvering tightly in parking lots.

Pricing starts at $39,990 with the Performance trim at $49,990 and the Proto Spec Special Edition trim at $52,990. Destination adds $1,025, and those MSRPs are the same for both transmissions.

Base cars have 18-inch wheels, automatic climate control, satellite radio, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, USB (one A, one C), smart cruise control, and keyless entry and start.

Performance trim like my tester adds heated seats, mechanical clutch-type limited-slip differential, upgraded brakes, red-painted brake calipers, 19-inch wheels with Bridgestone Potenza tires, seats electric, Bose audio, navigation and aluminum pedals.

Proto Spec cars are only available if you select the Performance trim first and get yellow painted calipers, bronze RAYS wheels, a special stick shift knob and unique trim tips.

Advanced driver assistance systems include Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Blind Spot Warning, Lane Departure Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Intelligent Lane Warning. front collision.

Fuel economy is not yet listed. According to the trip computer, I saw some seriously dismal numbers, but the computer seemed to change the average mpg and range numbers quickly, especially when parked and idling. Also, my weekend consisted of a rather unusual mix of urban stop-and-go, commuter driving, highway cruising and aggressive testing, so I’m reluctant to use my experience as a representative sample.

The obvious target for this car is Toyota and its Supra. I said I liked the Supra’s performance and styling, although I didn’t care much for the BMW-inspired interior. And, of course, few of us have ever driven the next stick-shift Supra. I found the Z to be generally more livable than the Toyota in everyday driving – the ride isn’t as stiff and there’s no nasty wind. I also found getting in and out easier for my tall frame.

I don’t know if the Z is better than the Supra. For one, I didn’t follow a Z. But I found it much more easy-going, with fewer compromises.

Regardless of how it compares to the Toyota, the essence of the Z has always been, at least for me, to be a fun-to-drive, relatively affordable two-seat sports coupe that balances street and sport.

If that’s the formula, Nissan got it right this time around. At the very least, the brand hasn’t messed it up. The 370Z sometimes didn’t feel fully formed, and it was sometimes let down because of it, even though it was a nice dance partner on back roads. This one feels much more full and well-balanced.

This new Z borrows from the old one, so it’s more of an evolution than a revolution. But it’s such a step in the right direction that there’s not much to complain about.

A clean sheet Z would excite, no doubt. And done right, it could be a huge leap forward. That said, teaching this old dog new tricks has worked wonders.

[Images © 2022 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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