Nostalgia. It’s all the rage these days. Maverick gets back into an F-14 Tomcat. The crew of Star Trek: The Next Generation wake up the Enterprise-D. And yours truly, back inside a Nissan Z after almost 15 years. Like the 80s with Mav and Captain Picard, the world has changed significantly since my old 350Z debuted in 2002. Can this new one capture the magic?
2023 Nissan Z overview
Your damn right I get emotional over machines. I’m a dude, it’s what we do. Seeing Han Solo back in the Millennium Falcon after all this time, it gets me right here. My wife might give me a look, but there’s no shame.
If the 3000GT was my intro to the world of cars, then the 350Z was the car that taught me what performance really was. Forget about the original 70’s version, or the heavy 80’s 300ZXs – the 350Z is the one that matters to me. Those old souls were cool, but nostalgia involves evoking your own memories. I learned how to drive stick in the 350. Learned how to handle autocross in one. Even lost my virginity in one. Two out of those last three are true.
Now, this new Z. Looks awesome. Has all the right stuff, from a six-speed manual to twin-turbos and even an e-brake handle you still need to yank up. You bet I smiled when I sat in one. But tasty ingredients don’t always equal a delicious meal.
The new Nissan Z isn’t perfect.
Performance Score: 7. Zin Diesel
Do you remember the scene from the original Fast and Furious, where Mr. Toretto shifts his RX-7 and the camera takes you through the transmission gears and explosions and then boom – out da tailpipe? Well, that’s what driving this car is like. You need to SHIFT. To STOMP. To DRIFT.
Nothing Fairlady about this Z.
We start with a 3.0-liter V-6 that’s turbocharged to 400 horsepower. To me, that 400 is a physiological number. 399 is “slow”, 400 or more is fast.
And the new Z is fast enough to deliver decent performance. There’s torque just about everywhere in the rev range. Lag is only perceptible below 2,500 RPM.
Gone is the VQ, replaced by a VR from the GT-R, though here it’s 3.0 liters vs the 3.8 in Godzilla. Yet somehow it still sounds like a coffee grinder. The way it buzzes to its 7,000 RPM redline isn’t so much inspiring as it is laborious.
Revs are a bit slow to build, as if there is a delay inside all those microchips talking to each other. But once boost builds, grab the wheel and hang on tight. You won’t find yourself wringing out the engine or tapping the gas for blips just because, but it doesn’t take away from the Z’s overall driving experience unless you’ve driven a car with an inline-six.
If the shifter in a GT4 has the precision of a bolt action rifle, the one in this Z is Mac’s mini gun from Predator. Screaming is optional, but encouraged. It’s especially cranky on cold mornings, with that oh-so-missed grrinnndd as you try to pull from second to third. The clutch is heavy, with take up that’s a little vague. Don’t skip leg day.
But really, who cares about any of that. It’s fun to shift this car. Getting the nine-speed automatic would take away from the experience its trying to provide. If it makes you tired after a spirited drive, well, good.
Steering and Chassis
Here’s where things take a bad turn. I’m not sure if it’s because the Z rides on the now 20-year-old FM platform, or an overall lack of proper tuning, but this Nissan will not dance.
Body roll, squat and dive – none of it is well-controlled. The rear wants to meet the front pretty quickly, making you apply a lot of mid-corner corrections. Thankfully, the steering is superb and precise, perhaps only short of the Porsche or Blackwing in terms of feedback.
Missing in the Z is an adjustable suspension, which I applaud. No fussing with driving modes before zooming off. But if Nissan is only going to give me one calibration, can I make a few suggestions? A head start would be a set of Michelin Pilot Sports. Another could be to fix the amount of understeer, with 56% of the Z’s weight over the front axle.
Remember too that not much has changed from the 370Z. The pair share wheelbase, overall width, and roof height. Even some extra bracing welded on to the chassis yields only an 11% increase in stiffness. Insert flaccid jokes here.
The control arm front and multilink rear setups haven’t changed much either, but the new Z is about 250 pounds heavier than the 370, a car that came out in 2009.
Pinching pennies has led to a car that hasn’t evolved much.
The pedal feel matches the rest of the car – very stiff. They provide excellent feedback and are a reassuring element in a car that can make speedy driving feel a bit like work.
The Nissan Z is perhaps a sporty car as oppose to a Sports Car, proper. That was ok in 2003 – the Z was like a life preserver at sea. An S2000 wasn’t as fast, an E46 M3 was out of financial reach, and the RX-7 grew a tumor in the form of a back seat. Literally nothing else like it on the market.
But this is 2023, and there are tons of “fifth-generation fighters” aiming to take your lunch money. The Z had to be better.
Utility Score: 4. Milk run
This is a hatchback, and that means a gigantic opening in the rear. Nissan must somehow stiffen the body in other ways, one of which being a strut tower brace.
In the 350Z, it cut right across the trunk, bisecting it. Do you know how many times I had to get creative just to get luggage to fit?
I digress. In the new Z, it’s moved upstream near your head, leaving a nice clear opening to fit a bikini and tooth brush. You cannot stand up a carton of milk in the rear section, so plan your Whole Foods trip accordingly.
Inside the cabin, it’s tight. I wouldn’t fit with a racing helmet on, and there’s only one cup holder unless you lift the arm rest. Basically impossible since we’re rowing our own. Your bros will have to get that iced coffee in size small.
Fuel Economy: 6. Zip and sip
The Z had a little over 300 miles per tank with me, and it averages 20 MPG combined. The only battery on board is the one used to crank over the engine. No doubt the automatic will achieve better range, but if that’s your concern perhaps something in size Prius is more your speed.
Everything is fine here, no surprises – let’s move along.
Features and Comfort: 6. Buttons, blinkers and boost
I actually LOL’d as I sat in this car. There’s trying to evoke nostalgia in modern form – the Z’s exterior excels at this. But on the inside, everything is as it was 20 years ago. No really – the seat heater buttons are exactly the same.
The history of this car is very important to Nissan, so yes, they are aware that those three gauge pods atop the dash serve no real purpose in a modern car, but the 240Z had ’em, and so here we are. And there are other fun elements too – the digital dash provides a nice clear readout (with more gauges!), the tach right there at center stage. A thin steering wheel looks and feels great – why can’t every car get one of these.
But then, look around. It’s cool to have a hand brake back in a modern car, but it’s taken from the 350Z. Ditto the buttons on the doors and signal stalks too. I do appreciate the three climate control dials, another hold over, but why are they angled away from the driver? The Oh, shit handles are gone though – probably should have left those.
The seats themselves are merely acceptable. Bolstering could be more aggressive, but they look nice with red/black accents to match the outside. I also wish the seat cushion bottom were longer for more thigh support.
The navigation screen has Apple CarPlay, so Nissan’s own system is rendered pointless pretty quickly. As a final exclamation point, back to those three dials. Very fun, really. But shouldn’t a modern Z have three different little screens that you could adjust to display gauges that matter to you. What’s more important, turbine speed or oil temperature? Hell, why can’t one show audio input or tire pressure? A missed opportunity.
One homage to rule them all
With such a storied history to pillage from, Nissan selected “all of the above”, and thus this new Z has hints from pretty much every generation. Well, bravo Nissan because it works to stunning effect.
The shape is very 240, even the headlights evoke a circular shape. But the rear light bar calls upon a favorite of mine, the 90s-era 300ZX. Later Z cars were very different from the original successful models, but really, there’s something for everyone.
Fans of 350 and 370Zs will rejoice – the plastic faux aluminum door handles are gone, replaced by body-colored ones. But they seem to be meant for a Velociraptor, because my wrists don’t really turn in a manor that Nissan designed the doors to open.
Also, you’ll probably disagree with me, but this thing needed a set of chrome wheels. No? I guess we left those back in the 90s.
The Nissan Z is a car you want to love, but something is missing
Imagine that you have a date with a ten lined up. You’re so excited. The weather is perfect, the food delicious, drinks flowing. Conversation too. You want to like this person, and it’s clear that as the evening progresses, they are into it. But something is missing for you. Try as you might, by the end of the date, you know…they aren’t the one. It’s a depressing feeling. “I’ll call you”, but you won’t.
You can see where this is going. Throughout the week I had the Nissan Z, the weather was perfect. I took it to the beach, on back roads – places you want to drive in cars like this. Everyone looked at it; numerous thumbs up occurred. The stage was set.
Well, I really, really tried. If couples therapy were available for cars, me and Z would be there. Alas, I couldn’t fall in love.
The engine doesn’t take much joy in its work, and the suspension makes you feel unsettled. Combine that with simply average touring abilities, and the Z excels at nothing. I know, manual transmission, sporty engine, sexy looks. But there has to be more substance to make you want to bring a car home attached to a five-year loan.
I’m glad this car exists. I hope there’s always a Nissan Z. But as I dropped it off, I had that same depressed-date feeling. I didn’t really look back at it. I’ll call you, Z.
Maverick landed his Tomcat. Captain Picard parked the Enterprise-D back in a museum. The past is a nice place to visit, but sometimes its best to leave it there.
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