The Z Evolution: How Nissan Reinvented the Smart, Soulful Sports Car


For over 50 years, the Z has been Nissan’s charming, if slightly under-the-radar, answer to American muscle: a two-seat, V6-powered, rear-wheel-drive sports car with a sticker price targeting the Everyman. It’s a niche, for sure. When the Z is mentioned in a car-shopping scenario it’s often with an “oh yeah,” as in, “Oh yeah, I forgot about the Z.”

Spend some seat time in the heavily revised 2023 model and you won’t have that problem. It’s faster, more daily-drivable and better looking than the outgoing 370Z. Recently, a $53,610 ’23 Performance model showed up on my driveway. Within minutes, I had the Bridgestone tires barking, inadvertently, on a run to pick up a couple pies. Though Nissan designed the Z for track day use, wringing fun out of a mundane pizza run seems a more common-use case.

It turns out Tony C’s was hiring delivery drivers. I briefly considered a career change as I walked back to the parked, two-tone, passion-red-and-super-black Z, admiring its tasteful redesign. Nissan successfully dialed up the retro charm without turning the Z into a cartoon, with smooth moves like lengthening the hood by five inches, and creating a squared-away open grille, both callbacks to Datsun Z’s from the 1970s.

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Those design elements aren’t just artifice. Both serve a new engine with more cooling and intercooling demands. The outgoing Z’s naturally aspirated 3.7-liter V6 engine has been replaced by a twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 shared with a few fast Infinitis. Here it’s tweaked for the high-heat demands of track use. The new powerplant provides more juice: It boosts the Z’s output to 400 horsepower, up 68 from the outgoing Z. More power is available in a lower part of the band—peak torque comes from 1,600 RPM—hence the barking tires. My test model came with a nine-speed automatic. Choose a six-speed manual if you want to roll your own.

Interior of red sports car
Showy seats are derived from Nissan’s top-tier GT-R. Courtesy Image

It must be said that the ’23 Z isn’t a ground-up redesign. Though some of its mechanical underpinnings have been revised going on 20 years, Nissan says 80-plus percent of its parts are new. And while elements like the new engine and additional bracing make the Z weigh in 150 pounds heavier, that additional weight is more than offset by the extra power, and additional bracing lends it more torsional rigidity. You find yourself looking for U-turn opportunities, or any place you can fling the thing around.

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Not all with the Z is retro. It’s thankfully updated with a much-needed suite of safety tech and a touchscreen that’s friendly even to Luddites.

Time may be ticking for the affordable, gas-powered two-seat sports car, but the 2023 Z proves that the party’s not quite over yet. Enjoy it while you can.

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