By on May 16, 2022

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

Well, sort of.

Nissan has worked hard to hype the new Z – yet 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 piloted an example of the last Z, but I do recall one thing: For all that car’s flaws and foibles, it succeeded at its core mission of being fun to drive.

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

Editor’s note: No swag disclosure is needed for this review – I wasn’t flown anywhere or fed on someone else’s dime or offered swag. I was simply loaned a new Z for a weekend in the same manner I am usually loaned test vehicles.

Backing up a second – the new Z may share some underskin parts with the 370Z, but the styling is completely different. Thank goodness for that – the 370Z always looked a bit awkward, without the classic lines of the Zs that came before. This new car nods at its predecessors while also looking modern – a nice blend of contemporary and retro that’s easy on the eyes. Only the gaping grille gives one pause.

You may be wondering how much of the old Z – generation Z34 – carries over to the Z35. Nissan tells me 80 percent is new and 20 percent carries over, but a bit of digging through the reviews from those who actually attended the first-drive event and did the legwork shows that the story is a bit more nuanced than that.

According to our friends at Jalopnik, the windshield, door windows, hatchback glass, roof panel, engine-start button, seat-heater switches, traction-control switch, trunk/hatch release, and window switches are among the parts that carryover. So are the interior door handles and air vents. The rear suspension geometry is also the same, though the dampers and bushings are new.

There is more parts-bin sorcery afoot – the available nine-speed automatic transmission comes from the Frontier pickup truck, though the case is lightweight and magnesium in this application. And the six-speed manual that my test car was equipped with also comes from the 370Z, though it does see some minor changes.

You also no doubt know that the 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 underhood (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 rag on Nissan for taking a pre-existing platform, modifying a large percentage of it while leaving 20 percent carryover, and then using the factory parts bin to round out the car and calling it a day. Even if you do nod in understanding when you read other reviews and see quotes from Hiroshi Tamura, who shepherded the new Z through production, talking about how making extensive use of the existing platform helped keep costs – and thus, MSRP – down.

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

Nissan asked journalists testing the car at home not to track it – no doubt to make sure no one had a bad day and bent sheetmetal, something I know a little about – so I settled for a jaunt to my favorite curvy road, with a side sampling of a nice little cloverleaf freeway exit that allows for some grin-inducing idiocy.

The very conspicuous presence of law enforcement* ruined a bit of my back-road fun, though I did manage to get a little hustle going before public safety showed up and started prowling around. I found that the Z turns in sharply, and it can turn in even more sharply should you need a mid-corner correction to find the apex. It does so with startling accuracy.

That’s the good – the bad was a wee bit of body roll. Tolerable, for sure, but a bit surprising in a sports coupe. Nissan also touts the speed-sensitive electric power steering’s mechanical feel in its press release but it still read as relatively artificial to me, though it’s well-weighted and, as noted above, pinpoint accurate.

*Thankfully, Johnny Law was merely lurking, and we did not interact. My wallet was not lightened and my drive proceeded just fine, though more slowly.

Nissan bestows the Z with a double-wishbone aluminum suspension up front. 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. Dampers front and rear use a new monotube shock absorber that’s larger in diameter than what was on the 370Z.

This suspension – sport-tuned on Performance trims like my tester – helps strike a nice balance between sports-car stiff and street-drive friendly. There were still times the ride was jarring on the pock-marked pavement that’s far too prevalent in the Chicago area, but on nicer surfaces, the Z rode quite comfortably.

Nissan has widened the track by 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 lurking underhood doesn’t sound particularly lovely, but it packs a very nice punch. Torque is available for passing (or just because you got a wild hair all of a sudden) in just about any gear – I didn’t need to downshift often when making passing maneuvers on the expressway.

I even managed to give the rear end a nice wiggle-waggle with a heavy dose of throttle in second gear – on dry pavement, nonetheless. As for the stick itself, the throws are just right in length and the snick-snick is satisfying, though I occasionally found the wrong gate and reverse sometimes needed a bit of extra effort to engage. The clutch is a bit heavy and take-up is a tad abrupt – I stalled a handful of times – but it’s easy to quickly get used to. Nissan’s rev-matching system is present here and can be switched on or off. The driveshaft is carbon-fiber composite.

Inside, the Z gets a digital, customizable gauge cluster with three potential views – Sport, Normal, and Enhanced. Steering-wheel switches make it easy to configure the cluster and move through the menus. The integrated 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 could tell, since I was running wireless Apple CarPlay most of the time.

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

Nissan’s done a nice job here, but there are flaws. There are some fit-and-finish issues, though my tester was pre-production, meaning that the build quality isn’t necessarily up to production standards. Some interior materials feel downmarket, though others are an upgrade over the 370Z. Road noise is a bit intrusive at times. And then there are the limitations inherent to this type of car – the center console is tiny and interior storage space is limited, though there is some useful space directly behind the seats, ahead of the hatch area.

The car’s design also hampers visibility to the rear – large blind spots are an issue during lane changes and also during tight maneuvering in parking lots.

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

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 starting.

Performance-spec trims like my test vehicle add heated seats, a mechanical clutch-type limited-slip differential, upgraded brakes, red-painted brake calipers, 19-inch wheels with Bridgestone Potenza tires, power seats, Bose audio, navigation, and aluminum pedals.

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

Advanced driver-aid systems include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and intelligent forward-collision warning.

Fuel economy isn’t listed yet. According to the trip computer, I saw seriously dismal numbers, but the computer seemed to change the average mpg and range numbers quickly, especially when parked and idling. Additionally, my weekend consisted of a fairly unusual mix of urban stop and go, suburban driving, freeway cruising, and aggressive testing, so I’m loath to use my experience as a representative sample.

The obvious target for this car is Toyota and its Supra. I’m on record as liking the Supra’s performance and styling, though I don’t care for the lifted-from-BMW interior much. And, of course, few of us have driven the upcoming stick-shift Supra as of yet. I found the Z to be generally more livable than the Toyota in day-to-day driving – the ride isn’t quite as stiff and there’s no nasty wind buffeting. I also found entry and exit to be easier for my tall frame.

I don’t know if the Z is better than the Supra. For one, I’ve not tracked a Z. But I did find it much easier to live with, with fewer compromises.

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

If that’s the formula, Nissan got it mostly right this time around. At the very least, the brand didn’t screw it up. The 370Z occasionally felt not fully formed, and it underwhelmed at times because of that, even if it was a pleasant dance partner on backroads. This one feels far more complete and well-rounded.

This new Z borrows from the old, so it’s more evolution than revolution. But it’s such a step in the right direction that there’s little 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 some new tricks has worked wonders.

[Images © 2022 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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45 Comments on “2023 Nissan Z First Drive – Old Dog, New Tricks...”

  • avatar

    This car looks great from the back but a bit high (as in 420) from the front with the droopy-lidded headlights. At least it’s not trying to look as angry as possible, which is refreshing in 2022.

    I’m grateful to see any new entry with a manual, although I can’t make a two-seater work at this point in my life. I wish the manual would be available in the Q50 with the same engine.

  • avatar

    I’ve got some mixed opinions on this thing.

    I like that it exists, and it will *very likely* be the last purely ICE-powered Z, ever. And I like the looks too – it does a decent job recalling past ones without falling fully into retro nonsense (think 02 Thunderbird).

    But, that FM platform is so dag gum ancient, it was time to kill it and do something new. Remember, it’s been around since 2003. It be old and heavy. As a result of the old platform, the interior looks old too. I think the wiser choice would’ve been to do a new platform that was hybrid and/or EV ready, that would be rear-drive and give Infiniti something to sell later*.

    And the engine is old, dating back to 2015 in the Infinitis. Power and torque from the 400RS version of that engine are pretty excellent though, and now you can have it in a less expensive package than the Q60. At the end of the day they’re asking Supra money for something that’s not on a new platform. I suspect only the die-hard Z fans are gonna go for it.

    Speaking of Q60, I expect an announcement any day that the Q60 is dead. It’s dated and low-volume, not really desirable, and if they were making a new one to coincide with this Z they’d have announced it already.

    *They could just be planning to switch all of Nissan-Mitsubishi to Renault EV platforms and do some consolidation, so Nissan might not be allowed to create anything new.

    • 0 avatar

      The entire idea of a manual-transmission, two-seat sports car is so retro that it’s hard to get upset about the platform being old. It’s heavier than a 911, sure, but it’s not really heavier than anything else that could be considered a direct competitor–i.e., pony cars and Supras. And in a similar vein there’s no competitor out there that has a truly good interior. The Supra is closest but it’s more expensive unless you want the two point oh tee version.

  • avatar

    Not offering a limited-slip unless you pop for a $10K option package is lame.

    Although the RS400 Infiniti models don’t offer one at any price so I guess this is an improvement.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The exterior lines are shockingly clean – I like that part of it a lot.

    As for the nose – you’re not grillin’ until you’re in an Audi, BMW, Lexus, or Genesis. This one doesn’t bother me at all.

    • 0 avatar

      Wholeheartedly agree. This is nice design work. And from Nissan??!!

      • 0 avatar

        Nissan is making some decent looking stuff these days. I’m a fan of the styling on their sedans in particular. Now they need to end the CVT romance.

        • 0 avatar

          The CVT with a V6 is a fine CUV powertrain. I will die on this hill.

          In non-sport applications, the CVT/four combination is worse not because of the CVT but because Nissan’s fours are noisy and thrashy.

          • 0 avatar

            The bigger issue is for a long time Nissan had a lot of issues with their CVT compared to Honda and Subaru. Other then that it would be fine.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            SR20DE would like a word. Not its fault Nissan cant match the standard they set 30 years ago.

          • 0 avatar

            That was a fun engine but it was noisy and thrashy too. Going back even further than that I’m not sure I can think of a truly refined Nissan four — too bad from the same company that made the amazing first iteration of the VQ.

          • 0 avatar

            My completely unreasonable take is that the CVT paired with the old Maxima V6 was awful. This was 10 years ago, but I remember thinking Ghosn was on drugs for green lighting that combination. CVT ruins cars or at least it did back then.

            I will acknowledge that Honda tuned CVTs just feel and drive better, but nowhere near as good as a traditional auto or dual clutch trans.

  • avatar

    Shame they made the new Z no longer affordable. $50k plus for a LSD equipped model is ridiculous. Its essentially a 350Z platform and an Infiniti engine, all pieces that have more than been paid off. This is all profit for Nissan yet they did nothing to take advantage of that and instead priced it higher. Nissan lost this former 300ZX, 350Z, and 370Z owner. I can’t afford this Z now. Toyota GR86 here I come.

    • 0 avatar

      These will sell for significantly less money in the real world than the Civic Type R and Corolla GR.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      This new 400z is 400 horsepower. Offering a base model with 300-320 hp that costs thousands less isn’t a bad idea and would pull people into the showroom.
      The roof design with the drip rail body seams just cries for a lift off targa top.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        Maybe an NA version to go with the twin turbo like Z’s past.

      • 0 avatar
        Ol Shel

        It costs very little to give a car a bunch of horsepower. Reducing that power by offering the NA V6 barely saves any money, and adds development costs, and would harm their profits.

        Be glad they’re producing such a fun car at a reasonable cost. There are other options for those who can’t afford the new Z. To me, the 86 is the spiritual successor to the 240Z.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      It hasn’t been an “affordable” sports car since the 70’s. the 80’s and 90’s cars were packed with high tech (for the time) and priced accordingly. The 240 filled the affordable, sporty RWD role but it is no more.

  • avatar

    Glad I didn’t wait for this – sounds way too much like my ’03 350Z whose main faults were a heavy clutch, bone jarring suspension, loud, cheap interior, limited storage along with a traction control system that had only two settings: kill you and bore you. Glad to see they finally put the right engine in it… sadly its 5 years too late.

    Thankful such a machine is still available for sale in a world of CVT CUVs but Nissan just grabbed some left over parts and phoned it in. For $40k I got a used C7 Z51 which is in a whole different league with massive V8 torque, amazing mag-ride suspension, wonderful exhaust note, very upscale interior (yes in a GM vehicle) and a huge hatch plus a removable targa roof.

  • avatar

    They’ve designed a rolling classic but cannot unsee the comically huge gas door.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      “the comically huge gas door”

      Maybe they’re planning to save on tooling when they fit a CCS charging port beneath that door for the electric version.

      I’m only half-joking.

  • avatar

    I’m getting serious Eclipse vibes from this.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Does it still have the R200 in the back? That would make it full-circle retro if so.

  • avatar

    Reasonably decent looking. But whoever hired the designer from Kia that did the same thing to the roof rails as on the Optima from a couple generations back should be lashed to death with a wet noodle!

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    I had the original. Loved it. This newest version does have some – rather distant – visual links to the original. Sorry, I’d have my first one in an instant, but will take a by on this one.

  • avatar

    Another still born ICE model. Wrong move from Nissan. They should just kill it and invest saved money into EV development.

  • avatar

    Like it a lot. I take this over the Supra and a V8 Mustang over either of them.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Solid. Would buy. At least it is an actual Nissan.

  • avatar

    The old Infiniti v6 can’t hold a candle to the sublime BMW B58 straight six in the Supra. That’s the Supa’s ace in the hole

  • avatar

    The pony-car formula has been proven over and over but the Japanese would rather do it their own way, and lose every time. We all lose. It’s no different than the pickup formula. It’s just so stupid.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      It is a 2 seat sports car…not a pony car.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s part of the problem. At least put in seats for kids and it’s a 2+2, for multiple reasons including increased sales. It’s not like it’s a no-compromise sport car either. I’ll take an early Fiero over this.

        • 0 avatar

          “I’ll take an early Fiero over this.”

          Ouch, sick burn. Pun intended.

          • 0 avatar

            I’m not against sporty cars, just the greed, how they’re packaged, priced and killed too soon. Then they wonder why.

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          They made a 2+2 for like 3 generations
          It never was a huge seller. Besides if you need a Z with a back Seat Infiniti has you covered.

          Look, I get it, it isn’t exactly what I want (I’d prefer less original Z and more Z32 styling), but I’m not going to get upset about a company offering a 2 seat, 400 horsepower sports car with a manual. This is a win for people who claim to like cars. There are other options if you need a back seat. They don’t build this for you to take the kids to school in.

  • avatar

    I really like the way it looks. if I was in the market for a car in this class it would be top of the list. Pricing is up there but not surprising.
    I’m in the camp that given the crash of sales in this segment the fact they even bothered ins a good thing.

  • avatar

    They’ve done a fantastic job, on par with what happened to the Mustang when they went for a retro look.

    This is the first time that Nissan has caught my attention (in a good way) since the Datsun name disappeared in the US.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    I’d get this over a Mustang. I don’t need a back seat and appreciate them building an option.

    I’ve only had a couple of the so called pony cars (Mustang, Challenger and I guess a clapped out third gen F body that I don’t count) and I much prefer an actual sports car. I liked the 350, but the timing never lined up to get one. Anyway, other than having RWD and 2 doors, I don’t get all the Mustang comparisons.

    The more I see this, the more I like it.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d get it over a ‘Stang, too. Tentatively ,I’d also get the non-lsd version without the “performance” suspension. The latter likely just being stiffer than the standard.

      A somewhat heavy, 400hp turbo car, is a GT, not a sports car. With an LSD, it may be a decent track car. But off track, the lsd is pointless for what a car this powerful and heavy shines at: Higher speed runs on soewhat more open roads.

      The 86 and Miata will be better at tight, sports-car, stuff regardless. For close-enough-to-ustify-taking-the-detour elapsed time between LA and Bozeman off-freeway, vs sitting on i15; the non-lsd, slightly softer sprung version of this, could well make plenty of sense. The 350 is stable at good speeds on open stretches of even somewhat bumpy, off camber Nevada and Idaho roads. The ‘Stang still, even in it’s latest iteratuion, just doesn’t do that too well. The 400 could also be fun for casual playing with AMGs in LA, in a much more interactive, if cruder, package.

      It may no longer be a “bragging rights” car, but in the current marketplace, at least going by specs and the 350, it certainly appears to fit into a meaningful enthusiast niche.

      The lsd version, will almost certainly be slower to outgrow on bigger, faster tracks, than the 86/Miata; for those looking for that. Hope the upgraded brakes are specced with intermittent track use in mind. For GT use, the “base” could well be a real sleeper-keeper.

  • avatar

    Personally, I like the Z styling over the ‘Bat Mo Bile’ Supra. I think the Z-4 is the platform cutie in that family.

  • avatar
    John R

    I, for one, am glad that this thing even exists and I’m over the moon that it turned out as well as it did even if Nissan went back into the Nissan/Infiniti cupboard to make it happen.

    Frankly, I think that it is a minor miracle that that there is even another Z at all. Given the financial challenges currently being faced by this company and the fact that even childless 20 and 30 year-olds are buying CUVs and SUVs Nissan would have been more than justified to put the Z to bed and create another SUV that slots between the Rogue and Murano.

    Hell, the fact that Nissan did this completely in-house without resorting to a joint-venture like Toyota has done – twice – is probably another miracle.

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