2023 Nissan Z Review: A Thoroughly Charming Beast I Can’t Help but Love

This is *easily* the best car Nissan currently makes — it's not even close

(Images: TFL Studios)
Feral power delivery Still plenty of leftovers from the 370Z’s interior
(this is a heavy refresh, after all)
Fantastic handling Notchy shifter (you really have to commit to every shift)
Head-turning design Fairly quiet exhaust
Fairly practical for what it is Good luck finding a $40,000-ish Z…
Remarkably comfortable, especially for a sports car

Overview: The 2023 Nissan Z is fantastic, even if it’s not entirely new.

I’ll be completely honest with you guys — reviewing Nissan cars can get a bit frustrating sometimes. The automaker has made a concerted effort over the past few years to revamp its lineup, from the diminutive entry-level Versa to the Rogue crossover, from the Frontier pickup (finally) to the Pathfinder and Armada SUVs. And in every case, there’s always something that really bothers me. There’s something that makes me say, “this is just one or two steps from being a seriously good car”. Let me say, right now, that is not the case with the 2023 Nissan Z.

It’s freaking fantastic. This car is easily the best offering in Nissan’s current lineup, and if you’re in the market for a two-seater coupe then it is absolutely, 100% worth your time.

What is this new Z, exactly?

I was a bit worried coming into this car, especially as we’re not talking about a complete, ground-up redesign here. In fact, this new Z (and it is just “Z” now, rather than 400Z or something else) is a heavy refresh of the old 370Z. The platform largely carries over, with a stunningly good looking exterior design. Designers pored over every facet of the Z car’s history, incorporating elements into this new “RZ34” model. So, you’ll see a bit of 240/260/280Z in the grille, headlights, the hood and the roofline. The rear light cluster? A clear homage to the 300ZX.

Like the classic Zs, the 2023 Nissan Z gets its iconic badge back on the C-pillar, where it belongs. While there is plenty of history on display here, Nissan’s design team incorporated modern touches like the LED clusters, the updated infotainment system and digital gauge cluster to make this feel like a thoroughly modern car. If you’re going to do a neo-retro look, this car (at least on the outside) is how you should do it.

As far as propulsion goes, you get a new-to-the-Z, 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 with 400 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque. Yes, it does come from the Infiniti Q50/Q60 Red Sport, but that’s just fine with me. It’s a great engine, and it pairs up beautifully to the 6-speed manual transmission we have here. If you want, you can get it with a 9-speed Jatco automatic instead, but I strongly suspect most folks who actually buy this car with their own money are enthusiasts. They’ll buy the manual, then go berserk fitting their Z with the next generation of aftermarket mods.

Godspeed to you folks — I look forward to seeing your efforts at our local Cars & Coffee.

Performance: Supra, what Supra?

Get into the surprisingly comfortable driver’s seat, fire the new Z up and let her rip on the first straightaway: You’ll immediately see where this car shines. It’s seriously quick, and those turbos immediately get your heart racing a bit — the first sign of a great sports car. Official figures peg the 2023 Nissan Z in the low-to-mid 4 second range, and even at altitude that feels right on the money.

There’s more to it than the sheer numbers, though. Despite having a fairly quiet — some on the TFL team say “disappointing” — exhaust note, this new Z is feral in its power delivery. It may be the same VR30DDTT engine as you get with Infiniti’s Red Sport models, but it feels like a completely different animal here, at least with the manual transmission.

Now, you do have a performance consideration should you decide to buy a 2023 Nissan Z. The $51,015 Performance model adds noteworthy features over the base, $41,015 Sport. Not only do you get 19-inch forged alloy wheels, but you get painted four-piston Akebono brake calipers (two-piston in the rear), larger brake rotors, a 1.5-way limited-slip differential and both front and rear spoilers.

Granted, I have not yet driven the Sport model without those features, but after some canyon carving and hurling the new Z on the back roads leading into the Rockies, it certainly feels like it’s worth the extra $10,000.

From the side, you get a clear look at most of the upgrades you’ll get stepping up to the “Performance” model.

The Z’s handling is nothing short of sublime

So, the 2023 Nissan Z feels good in a straight line. Great. But it’s in the twisties where this car really came alive for me.

It took me a moment to really find that out, however. Word to the wise — you need to bring a certain mindset if you want to get the most out of this new Z. I hopped into it thinking, “Okay, I’m in a Japanese sports car”, so I need to be thoughtful and precise with the controls. In other words, I started off trying to drive this like a powerful Mazda MX-5 Miata. Yeah, no…you absolutely should not do that.

If you want the most fun, you need to take this car and grab it by the scruff of its neck. Don’t worry about being too tough with the controls, as this chassis can absolutely handle the power. For what it’s worth, the manual transmission models have a carbon fiber composite driveshaft, as well as an Exedy high-performance clutch.

Couple that to the Bridgestone Potenza S007 tires I had with this Performance model, and the grip is nearly endless. It may not corner quite as flat as the Supra, but there’s so much power on tap that you can quickly cure any understeer with a quick stab on the gas pedal. The car’s steering is well-weighted to counter any liveliness you call up from the rear end, and when you hit a corner with the right balance of entry speed, throttle input and steering angle, the Nissan Z’s handling feels absolutely phenomenal.

Like the acceleration, braking is another area where you might be surprised. The upgraded “sport brakes” do feel a bit touchy at first, though you will appreciate having them when you need to slow down in a big hurry. They work great for that, as they obviously should.

It’s not perfect, however…

For all that praise, though, the experience is not entirely perfect. My largest gripe with the 2023 Nissan Z is the shifter. Again, this car responds well to heavier-handed inputs, which suits me to a tee. But the throws aren’t as short as they should be, and it’s awfully notchy rowing through the gears. If I had a dollar for every time I committed to wringing the Z out and missed my second-to-third shift because I can’t feel where third gear’s gate is at, I could afford to actually buy this car. It’s a terrible feeling when the rest of the experience is so blissful. Even the rev-match system is remarkably good (and yes, you can turn it off through the “S-Mode” button if you don’t want to use it), but I cursed out loud every time I missed that damn gear.

Fortunately, it isn’t enough to ruin the driving experience — not by a long shot. The aftermarket is likely already at work fixing that issue and amping up the exhaust, and who knows? Perhaps there will be a Nismo version along in time that will blow the doors off this Performance spec.

Nissan did just enough with the interior to make the new Z feel, well, new.

One car I neglected to mention in the new model’s styling as it tours through Z car history is the 370Z (and, by extension, the old 350Z). You’ll see that theme emerge when you get inside, because a fair few bits carry over from the Z34 generation. The general dashboard shape, the door handles, the three-wide gauge pod atop the center stack, the heated seat controls as well as the traction control and S-Mode buttons all come straight from the 370Z.

That’s not necessarily bad, but you do get the strongest sense that the interior’s where Nissan tried to stick to a budget. It’s all put together well enough, though, and Nissan did concentrate on new parts where it counts for the new Z. The 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster is a great upgrade, and it ties in well with the analog gauge pod showing boost pressure, turbocharger speed and battery voltage. It’s also configurable between three display modes (Normal, Sport and “Enhanced”, which moves the speedometer and tachometer out to the sides to show driver assistance features) and a fair bit of useful information.

The Performance’s 9-inch infotainment touchscreen, while standard Nissan fare these days, is also a welcome update. It’s a long overdue departure from the old car’s five-million button layout, awkward center dial and tiny display. The 2023 Nissan Z still has manual climate controls, but it’s incorporated in such a way that it just works, and at least it’s far less fussy to control on the move than some frustratingly over-complicated approaches out there. Even better, the digital gauge cluster comes standard, even on the base Sport.

If you’re still wondering where the extra ten grand for the Performance goes, you’ll get some noteworthy interior upgrades too. The higher-spec trim brings four-way adjustable seats for both driver and passenger, though the driver also gets manual lifter, lumbar and thigh support controls through two knobs and a lever on the right-hand side of the seat.

Performance models further add that 9-inch infotainment screen (Sports get an 8-inch unit instead). The trim adds heated seats, an 8-speaker Bose premium audio system that works with active noise cancellation and active sound enhancement systems. So, you’ll experience a more sonorous exhaust note of sorts, though this model already gets the “louder” sport grade muffler already. Finally, the Performance gets the side sill extensions, front and rear spoilers, aluminum-trimmed pedals, heated seats, a Homelink universal tranceiver and leather seats with synthetic suede inserts.

Verdict: Nissan brings value and performance with a huge exclamation point

Even for its flaws, I absolutely adore the 2023 Nissan Z. It’s one of my favorite cars of the year, and it’s a sports car that deserves your consideration and dollars.

Better yet, it’s a Nissan with character, and I’m so glad this car exists. Not just for its own sake, but for its creator’s sake too. This is a car the designers and engineers can point to and be proud of unequivocally, and I can’t wait to see what owners and tuners do with this car over the next few years.

Wrapping up a few other points: The new Z comes well-equipped with driver assistance tech all the way down. Front and rear parking sensors, full speed range adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, SiriusXM satellite radio — you get a lot even for your $41,015 on the Sport.

The main options you’ll have to consider mainly boil down to accessories and the exterior colors. Frankly, it can get a painful if you want any two-tone paint scheme, like what’s on display with this Seiran Blue TriCoat example. That blue/black combination will set you back an extra $1,295, but that’s not as bad as it gets. Go for Two-tone Passion Red and black, and Nissan will see you clear of an extra $1,695. Ouch. Other paint colors beyond the no-cost Rosewood Metallic, Black Diamond Pearl and Gun Metallic (the only non-two-tone colors) will set you back anywhere from $895 to $1,295.

On the Performance, you can get more fun interior colors beyond the Graphite Leather I had, which is a bit boring. Red and black is one option, while the other one leans heavily on blue accents. You’ll probably want to go for whichever option complements your chosen exterior color, but to each their own.

Fuel economy for the 2023 Nissan Z, per the EPA, ranges between 18 City / 24 Highway / 20 Combined mpg. I landed right smack on that 20 mpg figure, though I admittedly drove with a granite foot the entire week I had the car. Why would you not? That’s more or less the middle of the pack against its competition, namely the Chevy Camaro, Ford Mustang and, of course, the Toyota Supra. Toyota’s turbocharged coupe handily wins the mpg race, though it’s also substantially more expensive to buy.

Good luck trying to find one for MSRP right now…

Punch for punch, the Nissan Z I tested stops where the 3.0-liter Supra pricing starts — right around $53,500. Spec out a 3.0 Premium MT model to the same level as Nissan’s offering, and the Toyota will cost you about $5,000 more. Of course, that’s assuming dealers don’t mark up either car far beyond the MSRP…which they will. Some dealers are charging at least $20,000 over MSRP for the rare, 240-unit Proto Spec version, with one dealer asking double the sticker price (before summarily getting shamed into oblivion).

Don’t think some dealers aren’t still trying to pull that crap, though.

Bottom line: Find a Nissan Z at a reasonable price, and it will almost certainly charm you for years to come.