Car reviews - Nissan - Z
That engine, good ride/handling balance, retro design, cabin upgrades
Room for improvement
Needs a better exhaust note, tyre grip levels, overly permissive ESC
It’s the Z you’ve all been waiting for – and it delivers on the hype
1 Sep 2022
By TONY O'KANE
It’s been a long time since Nissan last debuted an all-new sports car, and technically speaking, we’re still waiting for one... the ‘new’ 2023 Nissan Z isn’t exactly all-new.
If anything, it’s something of a patchwork quilt. Old cloth rearranged into a new form. But if that sounds like a lazy re-hash, the reality is quite the opposite: rather than being warmed-up leftovers, the new Z plays more like a Greatest Hits album.
The only real clean-sheet thinking applied to the new Z is in its name: it dispenses with the alphanumeric nomenclature that’s been applied to every generation of Z-car, from 240Z to 370Z, in favour of just that single letter. Z. Though entirely new, even the styling isn’t truly original – the headlamps up front mimic the round lights of the classic 240Z, their LED DRL’s recalling the light bleed those sealed beams made on the inside of their housings.
At the back, slim LED light tubes are arranged into elongated slots and sit within a black rectangular frame, harking back to the Z32 300ZX’s taillights, a car that won acclaim – and bulk sales – in the USA when it launched back in 1989.
But those retro callbacks and the rest of the 2023 Z’s pumped-up styling actually mesh well with the chassis, which is itself largely the same as the 370Zs.
Though there’s some dimensional nipping and tucking with a front overhang that’s around 100mm longer, the new Z’s 2550mm wheelbase is the same as the 370Zs, as is its 1845mm width and 1315mm height. But put it next to a 370Z and it looks like a wholly different machine… despite it sharing the same roof sheetmetal, windscreen and door glass.
The doorhandles are in the same position too – not necessarily because that position made ergonomic or aerodynamic sense, but because changing the mechanism underneath would have been too costly. That said, its evolution from the vertical handle of the 370Z to a flush-mounted flap makes it not only nicer to look at, but larger and easier to use for those with bigger hands.
Inside, the changes are largely confined to the zone ahead of the B-pillar. The dash might look all-new but it hooks onto existing hardpoints – those demister vents in the corners are a 370Z hangover, and hint at just how much larger this dashboard is given how far they’re recessed.
But most won’t notice or care, because there’s now a bright and reconfigurable all-electronic screen in place of a traditional instrument panel, a smartphone-ready 8.0-inch touchscreen in the centre (which annoyingly doesn’t come with a baked-in sat-nav for our market) and the trio of dash-mounted gauges that have been a Z hallmark for generations, with a voltmeter, turbo speed readout and boost gauge as the centerpiece of the new Z’s dash.
But spy the carryover cabin door handles, vents, window switch blocks, indicator stalks and pretty much all of the boot plastics, and the links to the 370Z are obvious. It’s no surprise then than the new Z and its predecessor share the same model code – Z34. The new Z is in essence a very thorough facelift, rather than a clean-slate design.
But they diverge once you peek under the bonnet. The 2023 Nissan Z cranks out a healthy 298kW and 475Nm from its 3.0-litre VR30DDTT twin-turbo V6, which is a massive step up on the 245kW and 363Nm generated by the 370Z’s naturally-aspirated VQ37VHR six.
It’s an engine that’s familiar though, last being seen in the Infiniti Q50 and Q60 Red Sport. The peak power and torque numbers are the same as well, and while the Z gets a bit more response and a fatter torque curve (it produces its maximum torque from just 1600rpm all the way up to 5600rpm) thanks to higher-flow recirculation valves, the engine is largely the same unit that we saw in Infiniti’s performance sedan and coupe.
But is there anything wrong with that? Not really – those performance stats are strong, and Z fans have been crying out for a return to forced induction for the better part of a decade. That engine puts it on an even keel with the 285kW/500Nm Toyota Supra, and while the rest of the car might be a clever re-work of old bones, the single act of putting this engine in the Z34 chassis means the 2023 Z might as well be an entirely new vehicle. We’ll get to the reasons why in a sec.
Accompanying that engine is another quantum shift – a move from traditional hydraulic power steering to an electrically-assisted rack. The 370Z was the last sports car to offer hydraulic rather than electric boost – does this change mean the rich tactility of hydro has been replaced by a more inert mechanism?
Thankfully the Z retains the engagement factor of a manual gearbox, with the six-speed manual of the 370Z being put back into service with the same ratios but actuated via a new linkage and feeding into a limited-slip differential with a taller ratio.
The other big mechanical step-change is reserved for those who want just two pedals in their Z’s footwell. The venerable seven-speed auto of the 370Z has been put out the pasture and replaced by Nissan’s much fresher nine-speed, sourced via JATCO and also found in the US market Frontier and Titan.
The Z’s version of the nine-speed shares its gear ratios with those US-market trucks but has a more sports car-appropriate final drive ratio, as well as a pair of GT-R style shift paddles mounted behind the steering wheel and a Sport mode transmission calibration for when the road gets twisty.
Lastly, the suspension and brakes. The subframes and general geometry are the same as the 370Z, but the new Z gets more castor on its front wheels to bring a stronger self-centering feel and greater weight to the steering.
Dampers are wholly different, eschewing the 370Z’s twin-tube construction in favour of more responsive mono-tube units, with new spring rates to match. Meanwhile the braking hardware looks identical to the 370Z, with fixed four-piston Akebono calipers up front, twin-piston calipers at the rear and the same rotor dimensions, but performance has been upgraded through new pad compounds.
The brake master cylinder and booster have also been fiddled with to give the 2023 Z a more GT-R-like feel to its pedal.
There are many familiar aspects to this ostensibly ‘new’ Z, but there’s one attribute that’s very much out of character: this thing is powerful. The new Z is a proper muscle car, and maybe – just maybe – a smidge too brawny for its own good.
By the end of its 12-year lifespan in this country, the old 370Z was feeling a little behind the times. Though its V6 had 245kW to offer, it felt limp and lifeless versus pretty much every hot hatch, and thoroughly outclassed by Toyota’s reborn Supra and even Ford’s V8 Mustang.
Things have changed, however. The Z is back to being turbocharged, with its engine downsized to three litres but augmented by a pair of turbos. The benefit that brings should be obvious the second you flatten the accelerator – after a brief pause as the inlet fills with positive pressure, the Z flings itself down the road with an urgency that it’s never had before.
How quickly? Nissan won’t give us an exact number, and a launch control exercise at the launch was conducted in miserable Melbourne rain so the results were as soggy as the runway we did it on, but by the seat of the pants it’s clear that the new Z is a rapid thing. A sub-five-second run to 100km/h should be achievable by pretty much anyone, but there’s one thing that appears to be holding the Z back from its full potential – its tyres.
Shod with Bridgestone Potenza S007s, the Z is under-tyred. There’s some logic behind why this is so – Hiroshi Tamura, the Z’s chief product planner, wanted to infuse Nissan’s iconic sportscar with a more playful feeling, to give it a sense of adjustability that a driver can engage with and enjoy. A “dance partner” for keen drivers, in Tamura’s own words.
An easy way of doing that is to deliberately limit grip, so those behind the wheel don’t have to drive too hard to encounter the kind of wheel slip that allows a car’s character to shine through.
And while that’s a great and noble theory, it’s not so much fun when you’re trying to contain 475Nm on a wet mountain road with tyres that are better suited to a RWD sedan with more ponderous dynamics, not a high-performance coupe that begs to be driven hard. It’s compounded further by a stability control program that by default is much looser than other modern sports cars.
The amount of wheel-slip the system permits is… generous to say the least, and while it’s great fun to ‘dance’ with when the roads permit it, it would also be nice to have a more buttoned-down stability control calibration for when you just want to get home in one piece.
It’s not like Nissan isn’t capable of programming it properly either – the car controls wheelspin far more effectively when using launch control (which is standard-issue on both manual and autos) but will easily break traction in first and second if you simply stomp on the throttle pedal, even in the dry.
That said, the standard calibration would do well as an ‘intermediate’ setting between fully-on and fully-off.
Drive more sedately though, and the engine’s exceptional flexibility gives it a far more relaxed character for commuter duty. While the old naturally-aspirated car needed revs to stay on the boil, the new twin-turbo V6 has thick reserves of torque down low to help tug it along from stop light to stop light, meaning manual owners can get away with fewer shifts and taller gears when there’s no impetus to go fast.
Life with the manual is also made easier thanks to a rejigged shift mechanism that retains the strong mechanical shift action of the six-speed but smooths off the edges of the gate to make it smoother to row.
Driven hard it’s a little under-tyred or over-engined, depending on how you want to look at it, but the remedy would be a simple visit to your local tyre emporium. The suspension, however, needs no rectification.
In fact, the suspension is something of a pleasant surprise. There’s a layer of firmness to how it deals with sharper bumps and impacts like catseyes and corrugations, but a satisfying chewiness to how it rides over longer-amplitude stuff.
It makes for good comfort on Aussie roads, and while that high-speed damping can sometimes see the front tyres skip over a mid-corner bump or ripple, the suspension makes it easy to enjoy the Z for long periods of time. Sure, there’s plenty of pitch and roll, but it’s far from boaty.
The steering also hits the mark. Though it doesn’t have the accuracy and directness of the 370Z’s hardware, the new electronic power steering also doesn’t have the vague ponderousness of the Q50 Red Sport – the last car we got that used this engine.
Credit that to Tamura and his team purposely dumping the Q50’s variable-ratio steer-by-wire setup and going with a more conventional electrically boosted rack instead. It’s nice and light at garage speeds but adds heft linearly as speeds rise, and it’s a good interface for keen drivers – particularly thanks to the all-new steering wheel whose rim has the same cross-section as an R32 Skyline GT-R.
It’s just a shame that it sounds so uninspiring from the inside. ADR drive-by noise regulations mean Aussie Zs are fitted with heavily-baffled mufflers to quell the decibels, and the engine sounds like a GT-R with the volume turned way down as a result. Add to that some fake sonics piped through the sound system, and the Z’s augmented exhaust note isn’t just strangled, but unappealingly synthetic too.
Other things to complain about? Well, besides the increase in entry price from the 370Z’s $50K sticker to the new Z’s $73,300 (the auto is a no-cost option), there’s also a fairly high hip-point on the driver’s seat, the aforementioned lack of standard sat-nav, and the fact that the Z still doesn’t have something as fundamental as rain-sensing wipers despite it gaining active cruise control, AEB, front and rear parking sensors and an extra cupholder.
It’s been a long time coming, but the reward for patient Z fans is a car that is without doubt the fastest and most well-rounded Z-car ever. Few will be disappointed by its muscular engine, and there’s much joy to be had in steering this coupe along a windy (though preferably dry) road.
The 2023 Nissan Z marks a return to form for the nameplate, and grants it a new level of relevancy and desirability in the high-performance sports car stakes. It’s not perfect, but it possesses a character that’s all its own that owners will likely enjoy exploring.
In an era where cars like this appear to be evaporating from showrooms, it’s comforting to know that Nissan still sees a place for a fun, fast and endearingly flawed coupe in its lineup.
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