Nissan’s longest-running nameplate is back for 2023, and not only is it the cheapest way into the 400-horsepower club, but it’s also one of the smartest. By taking the 2021 and 2022 model years off, the Nissan Z might have outsmarted us all.
We recently had the opportunity to drive the new Z on a track and out on the open road on the outskirts of Las Vegas, arguably the best city in America for car enthusiasts. Like Nissan’s NSANY, +3.08% sports car, one that can sometimes fly under the radar. With more than 300 sunny days a year and hundreds of miles of rarely traversed, ultrasmooth, winding pavement lurking just miles outside the city limits, perhaps we should all head to Sin City.
Here are five discoveries we made about the new Z.
1. It’s definitely not ‘all-new,’ but that’s OK
Justifiably proud of the Z’s heritage, Nissan trucked its amazing collection of ultra-low-mileage classic Z cars to its Las Vegas launch. While the 2003 350Z that rebooted the brand after the 300ZX bowed out nearly a decade prior may not have been the high point in the model’s history, continuous evolution over the years has refined it into quite the car.
Nissan had an essentially new 350Z on display, and what struck me was just how similar that 20-year-old model is to the latest car.
Its wheelbase is the same. Its suspension isn’t all that different. Its ergonomics inside are darn near identical. Sure, the current Z has the obligatory touchscreen (a Z first, amazingly), but its seats feel basically the same as the 2003 edition. Ignore those bits, however, and only a steering wheel that both tilts and telescopes now makes the new model feel, well, “new.”
2. What’s new is actually old: those cool design cues
The 2023 Nissan Z
Nissan designers dug deep into the Z’s past for the latest model. With its LED running lights on, its headlights take the shape of the chrome outline on the original. Its long-hood, gently sloping roofline look fits the same mold as several of its predecessors.
And perhaps most notably, its taillights nod to the 300ZX of the 1990s. If you want to feel really old, consider this: the 300ZX was unveiled 33 years ago. Yeah, it’s properly vintage now.
The 2023 Nissan Z and the old 300ZX.
3. Its passport might as well wear the bald eagle
As part of its normal vehicle development process, Nissan runs just about every global product through its sprawling proving grounds south of Phoenix, Arizona. In normal times, a model such as the Z would visit Phoenix in various prototype stages for testing to ensure that it met the automaker’s benchmarks.
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With the coronavirus gripping the world in 2020 and 2021, however, Nissan could not affordably move prototypes between Japan and Arizona. Additionally, restrictions kept engineers stuck at their bases. Engineering a car from afar only works to a degree; after all, those in charge of making sure that steering inputs feel progressive and natural need to actually drive the car.
As a result, Nissan’s Arizona engineering team was tasked with developing one of the automaker’s halo cars.
The 2023 Nissan Z
4. You really want the performance trim level
A hundred bucks (or so) per horsepower seems pretty appealing on paper since the base 2023 Nissan Z Sport runs $39,990 (or $41,015 with the mandatory $1,025 destination charge).
If only that were the one to buy. The $51,015 Z Performance costs a whopping $10,000 more, but it brings essential features to the table for anyone looking to unlock this sports car’s track-and-curvy-road abilities. A good old-fashioned mechanical limited-slip rear differential ensures optimal traction when goosing it through a tight corner. At the same time, the uprated brakes inspire more confidence when taking advantage of all that power.
Otherwise, the Performance adds 19-inch wheels that the Z doesn’t really need, plus leather seats and a few other small bits. All models have an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple AAPL, +3.28% CarPlay and Android Auto, adaptive cruise control, and a few other niceties we expect at this price point.
Maybe the limited-slip diff and big brakes will be stand-alone options next year.
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5. No-lift shift is a hoot
Imagine keeping your right foot planted on the skinny pedal while executing upshifts for the fastest possible acceleration. Previously only on far costlier sports cars, this trick no-lift shift tech has made its way to Nissan Z models with manual transmissions.
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While not something a typical driver will use daily, it works oh so well with the fairly smooth, torque-heavy 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6.
This story originally ran on Autotrader.com.