When driving the 2023 Nissan Z at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and through the surrounding mountains, we’re called back to the era when the 240Z and later the 280Z were all the rage in the US. It’s been a long time since then and the entire landscape of car-making has changed considerably, yet there’s a prevalent nostalgia for the 1980s and ’90s. It makes sense then that the new Z, with its homage design, is decidedly celebratory rather than a vintage pastiche.
This tone begins from the inside out. While some drivers might mourn the loss of purely analog gauges, there are plenty who are too young to even remember life before displays. At the wheel of the Z, the haptic merges seamlessly with the digital. The central instrument cluster can be reconfigured to show you a bevy of sports-car metrics (RPM, gear, boost pressure, engine temperature, coolant temp, etc) or switched up to prioritize what track you’re listening to on Apple Music.
The default tech in this car, such as a mod-able IP, is modern and on par with the competition and bakes in Android Auto and Apple CarPlay at the base, $39,990 Sport level. The $49,990 Performance model upgrade means a nine-inch rather than eight-inch central touchscreen display; larger, 19-inch wheels rather than the 18-inch wheels that come standard; as well as a launch control function to either the nine-speed paddle shift gearbox or with the six-speed manual.
For those yearning for the good old days, the Z features plenty of appealing details. On the interior, a trio of actual (not digital) instruments crown the dash in the bobblehead position, just above the TFT screen, displaying turbo boost, turbine speed and voltage. A short-stalked gearshift lever, tri-spoke steering wheel that seems relatively throwback (despite also housing smart cruise control and audio switchgear) and suede insert seats are all callbacks to the original Z cars without becoming cartoonish.
On the exterior, the tailored and tucked hourglass shape of the Z charms more than the bulky 370Z, but some drivers will want the more expensive Performance Z because its form certainly offers function. A front chin spoiler and rear hatch spoiler make the Performance edition of the new Z a lot more stable at high speeds. The front piece is said to reduce lift by 63% versus the Sport, and the rear spoiler reduces rear lift by 70%. Interestingly, thanks to the LED tail-lamp array (that’s perhaps the most direct link to the 1990s 300ZX), Zs without the wing integrate those lights more directly for a look that’s more street than track.
The Z is a pleasure to drive, especially on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The stability control is calibrated to allow a bit of walking out from the rear end if you decide to dial in too much steering and throttle simultaneously, but it slips progressively, so you can feel the break-free point and counter steer instinctually. While the 400hp twin-turbo V6 won’t win any awards for sonic purity, with maximum 350ft-lbs of torque in a very broad range from 1,500 RPM to 5,200 RPM, drivers probably won’t care about how the engine sounds because the Z feels ready to fly even if you forget to downshift. In the automatic, drivers get rev-matched downshifts from the paddle-enabled gearbox, but you have to get the Performance version of the Z to have that function in the manual six-speed. Both gearboxes are excellent. It would be hard to choose the automatic, but then again, the auto downshifts quickly and seldom overrides grabbing a gear, even within about 1,000 RPM of redline.
We may never get a competitive sports car landscape like that of the 1990s—let alone the 1970s when the original Z became an icon of Japanese creativity, reliability and innovation—but this new car is attractive, flexible, an approachable in price. It’s a celebration of the fun, tantalizing pleasure that sports cars have embodied since 1969, when the 240Z first debuted.
Hero image courtesy of Nissan