2023 Nissan Z First Drive Review: Shall We Dance?

Several years ago, Nissan’s chief product specialist for the GT-R and Z, Hiroshi Tamura, bought an R32 Skyline GT-R that had been souped up to about 1,000 horsepower. He made it his own by detuning it to 600 because sending more than 150 hp to each driven wheel simply overwhelmed the tire technology of the time and made the car completely unruly. As he did with his R32, Tamura aims to make the new 2023 Nissan Z more of a willing dance partner to contrast with the GT-R’s Godzilla persona. This overarching philosophy drove many decisions that now promise to draw distinctions between the significantly revised Z34 and its archrival, the J29 Toyota GR Supra.

Tailored and Tuned Twin-Turbo

With the 2023 Nissan Z using but two wheels to deliver power to the road, the 400 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque generated by the VR30DDTT engine also in use by the Infiniti Q50 and Q60 Red Sport models should fully “whelm” the traction capabilities of the Yokohama ADVAN or Bridgestone Potenza S007 rear tires. And although the engine’s peak output numbers are unchanged, this was no simple engine swap. Z cars will likely do more track days than their Infiniti stablemates, so the intake receives a boost-recirculation circuit that holds pressure during a brief throttle lift for corner entry. It feels worlds smoother, more refined, and more powerful when driven back to back with a 370Z. Engaging Sport mode adds some electronic engine roar, which struggles to drown out the new Z’s angry-vacuum-cleaner exhaust note at high rpm.

Clutch-Type Limited-Slip Differential

Speaking of power and corners, for 2023 Nissan tossed away the 370Z’s viscous limited-slip differential in favor of a mechanical unit, standard on Performance models, that uses clutch packs to quickly lock when either tire slips. This provides a much more natural feel when powering out of corners, and it also enhances traction when launching the car in a straight line.

Stronger Launches

Speaking of standing starts, launch control comes standard on all automatic-transmission Z’s, and on Performance-grade manuals. On the automatic, simply hold both shift paddles, firmly depress the brake, floor the throttle, and release the paddles and brake when “launch control” appears on the dash for a traction-managed getaway. With manuals, it mostly holds a programmable engine speed while you wait to release the clutch. The system managed wheelspin well on the automatic, but it’s less helpful on the manual. Another welcome change likely attributable to the new LSD is elimination of the axle hop we’ve complained about on 370Zs.

No-Lift Shifting

The no-lift-shift system worked great on a long, straight road, where we pinned our foot to the floor from first to fifth gear and observed barely a dip in boost or turbo revolutions (which the VR30DDTT directly measures so it can fully exploit the turbos’ safe operating limits). The car can also bark its tires in up to third gear, unlike the 370Z. The manual gear-rowing is more pleasurable thanks to a completely new shift linkage and conical synchronizers on the first two gears. The pedal arrangement, which we’ve faulted for impeding heel-toe rev-matching, is unchanged, but S-Mode is happy to match revs for you.

Stiffened Chassis Feels Supple

Yes, there’s mechanical history in this Nissan Z that stretches back two decades to the Z33 350Z, but reinforcements around the engine compartment and hatch boost the 2023 model’s torsional and bending stiffness relative to the 370Z by 10.8 and 23.9 percent, respectively. The architecture certainly doesn’t feel 10 or 20 years old, and it’s stiff enough to absorb one-wheel bumps without reverberation. Switching to lower-friction monotube dampers enabled slight increases in damping, spring, and anti-roll-bar stiffness rates without compromising ride. Bend the car through a series of esses, and you may feel a tiny bit of roll, pitch, and dive—probably more than you will in a GR Supra. But it’s just your dance partner sharing information with you while keeping things comfy. She’s not saying much through the steering wheel, however, which swaps hydraulic for electric assist.

Improved Grip

New front tires on all 2023 Nissan Zs widen the contact patch. Increasing caster angle changes the way the body weight rests on the tire and lengthens the contact patch, making it 20 percent larger than before. We didn’t get a chance to chuck the 18-inch Yokohama Advans into any corners, but the 19-inch Bridgestone Potenza S007s exhibited strong stick while squealing softly as they approached their limit. In a car that’s also leaning and pitching just a bit, we chalk it up to, “She’s a talker.”

Does This Z34 Z Drive Like a “New” Car?

Mostly, yes. We were impressed with the body’s rigidity, the low level of wind noise even at high speeds, and the general powertrain refinement. The twin-turbo engine more than compensates for the 150 pounds or so it adds to the Z’s curb weight, all of which the supple suspension copes with admirably, absorbing bumps with no gut jiggle. An HGTV-worthy interior renovation impresses with modern conveniences such as big high-res programmable screens (with a GT race-car-inspired Sport mode design), wireless charging, some voice controls, a telescoping steering wheel, two cupholders (one hides under the sliding armrest), and color options like black-and-blue ($1,295) that really dress up things. The automatic’s electronic shifter is one of those push forward for R, pull back for N or D setups that can cause mild panic in car washes, though its detents are more noticeable than some. Nissan significantly upped the Z’s advanced driver assistance game, adding automatic emergency braking, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision warning, and adaptive cruise, but it’s an old-school system without stop-and-go functionality, and there’s no lane keep assist.

When Is It Coming, and How Much Will the Nissan Z Cost?

As we’ve reported, the new 2023 Nissan Z’s arrival into the marketplace has slipped to summer 2022 due to supply shortages, and the price will start at $41,015 for the base “Sport” variant on 18-inch wheels. (There’s no price difference for manual or automatic.) That’s up almost 10 grand from the base 2020 model, but more significantly it undercuts the price of the four-cylinder Toyota GR Supra by $3,300. Stepping up to the Performance grade (limited-slip diff, 19-inch RAYS wheels, leather) adds $10,000 yet still undercuts the GR Supra 3.0 by $1,650. If you can snag one of the 240 limited-edition Z Proto models, you’ll spend $54,015 and save $10,290 relative to one of the 600 Toyota GR Supra A91-CFs. We look forward to comparing these two archrivals, especially now that the Supra is getting a manual option. Our sense is the Supra will feel lighter, lither, harder-edged, and more intense, while the Z makes a better all-arounder/daily driver. For now, the 2023 Nissan Z certainly looks like a relatively cheap dance date.

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