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.