2023 Nissan Z Performance review
Not many car lines go all the way to Z.
But Nissan has been doing that since 1969, when it launched the Datsun 240Z — its long-hooded sports car for the rest of us. I thought of it as a mini-Corvette at the time and, honestly, I still do.
In fact, Nissan’s relaunched 2023 version, now just called Z, has a nose that reflects both past and present Corvettes with its sleek pointy snout. Yet the new model has been smoothed and the hatch roofline has been slimmed, giving the car a sleeker look. The Z also has been powered up with a 400-horse twin-turbo V6 and given a spiffy, new digital interior to bring it in line with today’s standard systems.
My pre-production test car (dealers are to get theirs soon) was a stunning Seiran Blue Metallic with black roof, a two-tone paint scheme that adds $1,295 to the sticker price. But if ever I’d pay extra for paint, this may do it. People took notice, some gave a thumbs up and others came out of their houses to see it up close at the curb. No doubt Nissan nailed the modern yet retro styling.
No pretense of this being a family car or carrying more than two as there are just two seats here and a long cargo area under a glassy hatch, but still just minor cargo space. If there’ll be just be two of you with a suitcase each, then the Z can accommodate that. Golfers may have to make other arrangements and forgo a hand cart.
Its dynamic styling aside, the tested Z Performance was a well-controlled rocket with those 400 rear-wheel-driving horses pushing this up and down highway entry ramps like it was heading out of the pits at Road America. Perhaps it could!
Unlike almost any other sports car, the Z comes standard with a 6-speed manual, otherwise known as a standard transmission or stick shift. Younger drivers may not be aware, but this is the way many vehicles used to arrive. An automatic transmission would typically cost extra. Ironically, today’s automatics (a nine-speed is optional) now get better fuel economy than the manuals, but that’s another conversation.
The stick is fun and easy to shift between the gears, despite the throws being longer than I would’ve guessed. Mazda’s Miata still has the shortest throws I’ve encountered, but this works well and the clutch is moderately weighted so it’s not too leg constricting in slower traffic. My one initial concern was how hard I had to push the shifter down to slide it far right for reverse though I did get used to it.
I also need to mention that there’s a SynchroRev Match system here to blip the engine and match its revs to the gear you’ve selected. So, as you downshift into a corner, that noticeable response from the engine lets your passenger know you’re a legit road racer. Thanks techies!
Nissan’s twin-turbo 3.0-liter engine is stout and smooth and feels strong as you shift through the gears. This model had low-pro performance 19-inch tires that gripped the road well until we had an early fall monsoon. Shifting early to maintain traction was necessary in the wetter conditions. All-season tires would help, but then you would lose performance and undermine this car’s main attraction.
The handling, as insinuated above, was responsive. Wheel feel is moderate, and this steering wheel is wrapped in leather, as is the shift knob. The Nissan Z is well-balanced with neutral handling.
The ride is firm as you’d expect in a car of just 100-inch wheelbase. Plus, the Performance model adds a sportier tuned suspension, so if you prefer a bit softer ride like I do (I’m 60+), then the standard Z may be a more comforting choice and it will save you some money.
Z’s brakes also deserve a mention here. The Performance trim gets enhanced brakes with red calipers with Nissan labeling. Front and rear discs are vented 14 and 13.8 inches, so stopping distance and quickness is awesome. I suspect the standard brakes aren’t too shabby either.
Inside the Z, Nissan designers have created a very comfy, livable interior that would allow for long highway jaunts.
The digital dash is clean and the nine-inch touchscreen (eight-inch is standard) is big enough but not overpowering — plus simple to use. I had no issues, and the Bose sound system is solid too.
The interior styling and the comfy seats likely will dazzle most riders though.
First, this one featured blue leather seats and blue dash and door trim under a soft black dash top. Door inserts are suede trimmed in leather and the seats feature a suede center section that’s perforated.
The console and dash are basically a matte black so no glaring sun reflections here, something other car makers could learn from. That console is also trimmed in blue leather to add some visual pop.
Atop the dash for a retro look are three gauges that might matter if you were racing as they indicate Boost, Turbo Speed and Volts. I’d challenge most folks to know what voltage their car should be showing on a gauge (about 14 here) and as long as I can feel the turbo boost, I’m not sure I need a number placed on it. So, while I appreciate the retro look, I’d say substitute more useful info such as a fuel gauge or clock.
Nissan’s performance seats are beautifully sculpted and fitted to encircle the driver and passenger so they don’t slide about, or even move, when the car is rocketing around tight rural highway turns or during a track day. Shorter folks may find these a bit too confining, but I loved the seats, which are partially powered. That’s right, there are two power buttons on the inside edge (toward the console) of the seat. These control fore and aft movement and the seat back’s angle. It can take a bit to get used to the location though I did within a week.
On the left side are manual controls to adjust the seat bottom’s angle and a height adjustment for the rear of the seat bottom. I’d like it to go just a tad higher, but I’m just 5’5”. Nissan heats the seats too — another nice feature.
The Z’s steering wheel is a manual tilt/telescope model, but round and not heated. I’d prefer a flat-bottom wheel in any sports car; not to mention it creates more knee room when one is shifting a manual and also when exiting. I also found that unless I could open the door to its maximum sweep, I had trouble getting my right foot clear of its edge when getting out.
They’re some other issues to consider inside as well. First, the cup holders are so far back on the console — they are difficult to use, though they may be easier for long-legged drivers who may position the seat all the way back. The storage box there is also way behind the elbow, but then again, this is a two-seater and space is limited, especially with a manual shift lever on the console.
There also is no wireless phone charger in the tray under the center stack, just a nice spot to lay your phone. And while I know this is a sports car with a throaty growl, road noise, especially on cement, that can make listening to the radio a bit of a chore.
I did like the three climate control dials, all of which can be set to automatic for fan speed, temperature and the directional. Nice!
Safety features are solid here too with smart cruise control, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, a lane departure warning and blind-spot monitor.
Fuel economy is nothing special, but you’re buying this for power, not efficiency. The EPA rates Nissan’s Z at 18 mpg city and 24 highway for the manual version and I got 22.8 mpg in a mix of city and highway. And yes, this drinks premium fuel. Note that the automatic is rated better at 19 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.
As for the pricing, the base level Nissan Z is an absolute bargain for power, looks and handling, starting at $41,015, including delivery. So, think of it as 400 hp for $40,000. There are two more levels though, and these push the envelope a bit, exceeding $50,000.
The tested Performance model starts at $51,015 with delivery and ended up at $53,210 adding just the snazzy paint job, illuminated kick plates ($500) and floor mats ($400). The top-level Proto Spec lists at $54,015.
The Z epitomizes modern fastback style sports car and is an automotive icon. At its base price, it’s extremely attractive. Move up to the higher versions and you’re in the Audi TT and BMW Z4 range. So, at that level you may just want to consider a Kia Stinger or Ford Mustang and get a rear seat to boot!
FAST STATS: 2023 Nissan Z Performance
Hits: Stylish 2-seater, excellent power, balanced neutral handling, good brakes, slick stick shift. Excellent seat comfort, heated seats, automatic climate control dials, good info screen size and function and good level of safety devices.
Misses: Firm ride, considerable road noise at highway speeds, tough exit when door isn’t 100% opened, awkward cup holder placement, no heated steering wheel, no flat-bottom wheel, long shift throws, no wireless charger, little cargo room and premium fuel preferred.
Made in: Japan
Engine: 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, 400 hp/350 torque
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Weight: 3,507 lbs.
Wheelbase: 100.4 in.
Length: 172.4 in.
Cargo: 7.0 cu.ft.
MPG: 22.8 (tested)
Base Price: $51,015 (includes delivery)
Illuminated kick plates, $500
Two-tone paint, $1,295
Floor mats, $400
Test vehicle: $53,210
Sources: Nissan, www.kbb.com