Reborn Z-car uses some components from its 370Z predecessor, but a finessed chassis and potent engine give the Z terrific bang-for-buck
- How does the Z drive?
- Drivability scorecard
- How is the Z’s interior?
- Interior scorecard
- What are the Z’s running costs?
- Running costs scorecard
- The final verdict
- Overall rating
- Strong value at $73K
- Retro-modernist styling
- Fairly compliant ride
- Engaging, chatty chassis
- Big on power
- The fact they did it!
- Lots of road noise
- ESC tune lacks polish
- Overly heavy manual shift
- Dated carryover switchgear
- Tiny boot
- Proto grade is sold out
Nissan engineering legend and Z-car program manager Hiroshi Tamura says that the company’s reborn Z basically didn’t make financial sense, but that he felt a duty to build the car for its legion of fans regardless.
More than 20,500 Australians have purchased a Z-car since the introduction of the 240Z model in 1974. Four or five thousand examples of each generation have found homes locally, including 5244 units of the 370Z that launched in Australia in 2008 and departed in 2022.
Sports cars were once big business for Nissan, but these days they are essentially vanity projects that are occasionally funded from the profits of SUV sales, bringing an important halo to a range of largely pragmatic product. It’s not a recipe exclusive to Nissan: Porsche’s SUVs fund much of the company’s sports car development.
So it was hardly surprising that the Australian launch of the 2023 Z – no longer accompanied by a numerical displacement indicator within its badge – felt like a “one for the fans” moment. The first local drive even coincided with the annual Z-club love-in on Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula.
But while the vast majority of the 1200 deposits Nissan Australia has received for the new Z are held by hardcore fans – owners of 350Z and 370Z models, or the nineties 300ZX the new model borrows its rear-end lines from – it is still a vehicle that the brand would like to make a success of.
And there’s no reason it shouldn’t. While the platform and much of the chassis carries over from the 370Z, it has been extensively retuned, upgraded and finessed, and a JDM Skyline-sourced engine massively increases the car’s potency.
Z is handily cheaper than its key rival – the BMW-based ‘A90’ Toyota Supra, and the BMW-badged M240i coupe. At $73,300 before on-road costs, it is a considerable step up from something like a Toyota GR86 or Subaru BRZ ($40,290), instead playing the same space as a Volkswagen Golf R ($65,990) or Audi S3 ($69,900).
How does the Z drive?
Nissan has done the right thing with the new Z’s driving dynamics. It has kept the good bits of the outgoing 370Z – much of its platform and basic suspension design. Nissan’s engineers finessed its steering. And they ditched its gravelly, outpaced, heavy 3.7-litre engine.
While there was a sort of coolness to the agricultural brawn of the old Z’s big-block motor, it was simply outgunned by smaller-displacement turbo stuff – meaning the new Z’s twin-turbo V6 petrol engine is the best of both worlds.
Sourced from the Japan-market Nissan Skyline and US-market Infiniti Red Sport models, the 3.0-litre six-cylinder makes 298kW of power (400 hp) and 475Nm of torque – increases of 53kW/112Nm over the 370Z despite the 20 percent reduction in swept capacity.
Tamura tells us that the ideal horsepower figure per driven wheel is 150hp – or 300hp total in the case of the rear-wheel-drive Z. So why does the car have 400hp? To make it go sideways at will – in the hands of a “mature driver”. In fact, the car was rumoured to be badged 400Z until its public unveiling in August 2021.
Aiding that mission is a clutch-type mechanical limited-slip differential. The LSD is standard-fit in Australia, where we receive just one high-specification grade, exempting the sold-out Proto launch special. The Americans get a cheaper Z with the same engine but an open diff.
There was discussion at Nissan HQ of not providing a manual transmission – which slipped to just 25 percent of sales for the 370Z in Australia by the end of that car’s run – but the board was convinced to retain a manual for Z after the 370Z Nismo variant managed a 40 percent stick-shift share.
A new nine-speed torque converter automatic is available, but it was the largely carryover manual transmission that was fitted to our test car, replete with standard Exedy high-performance clutch.
The throw is short but unabashedly heavy and muscular – it won’t be for everyone – but the clutch feel is mid-weighted, precise and a joy to use. Automatic downshift rev-matching is available at the touch of a button and makes the manual-Z easier to use in traffic.
Mercifully, the gearing is fairly short, meaning that despite the gobs of torque from the twin-turbo six, you’re actually able to use the first three or four gears in dynamic driving – unlike other manual specials like the long-geared Porsche 718 Cayman GT4.
As for the engine, it’s much smoother than the 370Z’s unit, if a bit less characterful. It delivers consistent, linear torque in the low to mid RPMs and piling on the pace is a doddle. There’s plenty of engine noise, but despite this, and the low seating position, there is a bit of a mismatch in the perception of speed – you’re going faster than you think.
The multi-link rear suspension and double-wishbone front suspension have received considerable attention and the ride of the new Z was a real surprise. It’s understandably firm at low speeds, riding on low-profile tyres and (attractive) 19-inch wheels, but the high-speed compliance is excellent.
Mid-corner bumps are dispatched without issue and there is a balance, suppleness and fluency to the chassis that makes it easy to press on. Good communication from the quick steering rack, solid feel from the tyres and an inherent adjustability in the rear-end means that even when you’re carrying a bit too much speed on corner entry, you’ve got options.
That’s if you’re really quite smooth, though. Be abrupt with your steering and you’ll find the ESC having its say often and loudly – the stability control tune is a grabby one, lacking the polish and finesse of the Toyota Supra’s VSC, which bleeds in slowly and complements the driver to a greater degree.
Most owners won’t care, but the Z is a noisy brute in terms of road noise, particularly on coarse chip B-roads at 100km/h – pretty common in regional Australia where the Z is at its best. It’s a din in here.
The old Z had next to no adaptive safety tech. The new Z has some. The adaptive cruise control works well, as does the blind spot monitoring – but there is no modern lane-keeping assist – just a passive lane departure warning like the old days.
The effect is that highway cruising is more fatiguing than it needs to be as the steering is pretty twitchy, and it’s all on you for these stretches. The Volkswagen Golf R, for instance, will hold its lane perfectly on the highway with minimal input, with the ability to totally disable lane-keep when you find a great backroad. That’s the right balance.
Power & performance 8.5
Ride & refinement 7.0
How is the Z’s interior?
Climb down (quite a way) into the cabin of the new Z and look dead ahead, and you might almost think you’re in a new car.
Bar carryover indicator and wiper stalks, everything on the dashboard and steering column of the Z is new and feels quite fresh.
There is a crisp and intuitive 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster with traditional and racier display modes, a decent touchscreen with smartphone mirroring (albeit no factory navigation), and a chic, thin steering wheel modelled on that of the R32 GT-R (80 percent of that car’s owners kept the OEM tiller, Tamura-san tells us).
But cast some side-eye to the door cards and there’s no doubt about where Nissan ran out of money. The door skins carry over from the 370Z and are betrayed by their noughties-tastic, oval latches with integrated air vents – a visual motif that made sense in the 370Z, but it is not echoed anywhere else in the Z’s cabin. Odd.
Yes, we felt your eyes roll – what matters is that Nissan spent the available budget for the car on what matters: the ride, handling and engine, all of which we’ve already said we like quite a lot. And of course, we’re glad they had their priorities straight.
The seats, too, are similar to the pews from the 370Z and they won’t suit everyone. They’re really comfortable on the back, but be aware the squabs are short and the thigh bolstering is incredibly tall – your tester is fairly slender but it felt more like sitting on the bolsters than in the seat.
That all said, the part-electric, part-manual seats still let you achieve a decent driving position (though notably, our passenger was uncomfortable due to that seat’s lack of under-thigh angle adjustment). The view out of the letterbox-style windscreen is a cool one, with plenty of bonnet visible – so go for a colour! Blue has shaped up to be the most popular with pre-orders…followed by white, then grey.
Inside, there are two main colour-ways: black, and black/red two-tone. The latter was fitted to our white-body tester and the combination was tasteful. Proto models, all sold out locally, pair their yellow paint/bronze wheels with black/yellow seats inside. Loud.
Speaking of loud, you get a Bose stereo which is pretty good quality and goes some way to drowning out the intense road noise on the highway.
Material quality is impressive, with soft plastics or leather covering virtually every surface. Carryover is a good thing here: there’s still the hewn-from-granite feel of early 21st-century Japanese cars imbued in the bones of the Z. No cost cutting here.
And while the eight-inch touchscreen feels artificially narrow despite the width of its bezel (reserving space for a 12.3-incher at facelift time?), drivers will appreciate that the Z retains physical buttons, knobs and dials for many key functions including volume, tuning, temperature, and fan speed.
Back seats? Forget it, this is a two-seater. Boot? Laughably small. Two carry-on suitcases do fit, but you’ll prefer to bring leather or canvas luggage. And don’t park the car full of stuff on city streets – there’s no luggage cover. Everything is on display.
Layout & materials 8.0
Cabin technology 7.5
Driver comfort 7.0
Passenger space 6.0
What are the Z’s running costs?
The running costs story is probably as you’d expect. Being a Nissan, the warranty and servicing arrangements are pretty fair, but being a twin-turbocharged 298kW petrol-fed sports car, fuel consumption is high.
Nissan claims 10.8L/100km for the manual-gearbox Z on the ADR combined cycle. Across a weekend of testing – and tapping into the performance here and there – we managed 11L/100km. Drive 15,000km a year and it’ll cost you about $3500 annually to run on premium fuel at current prices.
Like the brand’s other new cars, the Z has a five year, unlimited kilometre warranty. A similar arrangement is shared by all key rivals other than the BMWs, which still labour under a poxy three-year arrangement.
Servicing is required every 10,000km or 12 months. The first six services over 60,000km for the manual Nissan Z cost an average of $494 each, while for the auto it’s $497.
Running costs scorecard
The final verdict
Like we’d complain about the Z’s existence for 2023! Small, relatively light, rear-wheel-drive coupes are disappearing at a rate of knots. While there isn’t true competition pushing the segment to new highs like we wish there was, the mere availability of a car like the new Z is a cause for celebration in itself.
Not that cars get off scot-free simply by way of existing. While we think Nissan has priced the Z very fairly in the current market – being most of the way to a Supra’s goodness for only three-quarters of its price – the car is far from perfect.
Compared to the similarly-priced hot hatches that have supplanted much of the traditional coupe’s performance-car audience, the Z is totally impractical. And untouched, dated stuff like the door cards and flimsy stalks remind you of the relatively shoe-string budget to get a car like Z over the line.
But then you dig into the more-than-ample power, lose a gear, and disappear – slippy-diff engaging and rear-end twitching as you go. That’s what the Z is about: it delivers pure driving enjoyment with no concession to practicality.
It also looks really good, and curb appeal is crucial to a car like this. The designers have nailed it. And what’s new inside, and what’s polished under the skin, comes together in a remarkably cohesive sports car package.
Overall rating 7.5
Running costs Good