The 2023 Z proves that Nissan still knows how to make great sports cars

Until Nissan unveiled the Z Proto “concept” in September 2020, there was a lot of uncertainty among Z enthusiasts and fans as to whether a new model would ever arrive. Nissan has been suffering financially for several years with declining sales and a variety of corporate political issues. Despite a 50-year legacy, a new Z was no lock for approval. Despite all that, we’ve now driven the new 7th Gen Z and can say it’s excellent.

Unlike all previous Z generations sold outside of Japan, this edition has no numbers associated with the name, it is simply Z. Japanese customers will of course still receive the Fairlady Z badge on their cars. Like the last two generations, this Z continues to be offered with just two seats, no nonsense with tiny, completely unusable rear seats.

While the new Z retains the same basic architecture used for the 370Z since 2008, it has been thoroughly refined. There’s a double wishbone suspension setup in the front corners and a multi-link arrangement at the rear and of course the drive torque only goes to the rear wheels as it should be in any proper sports car . Brake sizes are also essentially the same as before, as is the 100.4-inch wheelbase.

The biggest change is the design, which is now reminiscent of the first-generation Z from the 1970s more than any other variant in the past four decades. It is by no means a retro design and looks quite fresh. But the proportions have the classic long hood and rear cabin look. Compared to the 370Z, the effect is enhanced by a longer nose that is part of a five-inch longer body.

The LED headlights have a pair of arched signature lights that echo the look of refraction in the Japanese market 240ZG light covers of the 1970s and give this new Z face distinct from anything currently available. Out back, the taillights subtly pick up the oval look of the lamps from the 1990s 300ZX. For those familiar with the Z’s history, these cues are a nice touch without beating you over the head with retro. Compared to its most direct competitor, the Toyota Supra, the Z has a cleaner, more refined look, devoid of any superfluous details like faux vents.

The Z’s cockpit is a huge step up from the 370Z. The materials feel noticeably more premium than before. The example I drove had a two-tone interior with black and blue that matches the gorgeous Serian Blue exterior. The cab is also available in red/black or all black. The limited edition Z Proto Speck gets yellow interior accents to go with the yellow exterior first seen on the Z Proto concept in 2020.

Directly in front of the driver is a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel with bright colors and plenty of contrast. To the left is an eight-inch infotainment touchscreen which, like other recent Nissans, is a much better display than the dim, low-contrast screens Nissan has used for years. The infotainment interface, however, is the same one Nissan has used for the better part of a decade, and it certainly feels dated compared to most other recent systems. It’s time for a revamp and Nissan is expected to follow its alliance partner Renault in adopting Android Automotive although no timetable has been given.

However, the Z isn’t about staring at the center display, it’s about driving like it always has been. In this regard, the Z shines. Like every Z since the 300ZX launched in 1984, this one is powered by a V6 engine, in this case downsized from 3.7 to 3.0 liters. This is the same twin-turbocharged unit found in the Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400. With 400 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque, it’s a substantial improvement over the 332 horsepower and 270 lb-ft from the old engine. In particular, the biturbo hits its peak torque at 1,600 rpm while the naturally aspirated unit had to rev to 5,200 for peak torque. The Z has a little more horsepower and a little less torque than the Supra.

In a very pleasant surprise, Nissan is offering the Z with the choice of either a six-speed manual or a nine-speed automatic. I was able to spend my driving time with the manual gearbox and while the automatic transmission is probably slightly quicker to accelerate, the stick remains remarkably engaging. It’s not necessarily the smoothest gearbox in the world, but at least Nissan offers it from day one, rather than forcing three-pedal enthusiasts to wait like Toyota did.

Although it shares the same basic architecture as the 370Z, this new Z is noticeably more composed on the road. Ride quality was surprisingly good on Michigan roads, and once I pulled off the highway onto more rural pavement, it really hit the mark.

The twin-turbo V6 proved very responsive, especially when I was stuck behind someone pulling a pontoon boat out to one of the local lakes now that the weather had warmed up. Dropping from sixth to fifth and pressing the right pedal, the Z quickly accelerated from just 50 mph to a significantly higher (but undisclosed) speed to execute the pass.

Over a few laps around my favorite section of twisty roads, the steering was precise and the brakes were very easy to modulate. Cutting through a winding road that winds between two wetlands, the Z felt perfectly balanced and never had any twitches. The thrust coming out of each curve just gradually pours out.

The instrument cluster display features a large tachometer in the center flanked by smaller analog gauges on either side. Above the tachometer is a horizontal bar graph that changes from green to yellow to red as it approaches the 7000 rpm red line.

Given that the snow and ice have melted in Michigan, that means it’s officially road construction season and stop-and-go traffic can be a reality at any time on any road. For situations where precise throttle acceleration becomes a bit too much for a base ride, the Z retains the SynchroRev matching system that debuted on the 370Z. When the button in front and to the right of the shifter is pressed, each time the shifter is moved to a lower gear, the engine rpm magically adjusts to the right gear for smooth engagement. I prefer not to use it in corners, but I can definitely see the benefit in traffic.

The new Z is a wonderfully attractive sports car to drive without pretending to be something that isn’t. Strictly two seats, limited cargo and stunning looks. The 2023 Z Sport with 18-inch wheels starts at just $41,015 including delivery. The Z Performance I drove with bigger brakes, 19-inch forged alloy wheels with Bridgestone Potenza S007 tires and a few other extra features costs $51,015. Two-tone paint on the model I drove adds another $1,295. There is also a limited edition Proto Spec for launch which costs $54,015. Nissan may have struggled a bit over the past few years, but they pulled it off with this new Z.

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