Mont-Tremblant, Québec – Two years ago Nissan set the Internet ablaze with the online reveal of the Nissan Proto, a concept that has now become the seventh generation “Z” (that’s “Zee” not “Zed”) car. Having dropped the numerical surname for the first time ever, the new car is simply known as the 2023 Nissan Z available in Sport, Performance and the super limited quantity Proto Spec. Nissan invited us out to experience the new car against a picturesque backdrop of autumn colors north of Montreal.
Our journey began by picking up our car at the airport where we were greeted by a fleet of Z cars. Bright colors like Passion Red TriCoat, Ikazuchi Yellow and our favorite, Seiren Blue, immediately grabbed our attention.
Upon first glance the callbacks to previous Z cars are impossible to miss; from the modern interpretations of the 240ZX headlights, the taillights of the 300ZX, and the classic Z car silhouette it all comes together in a cohesive whole that successfully updates the Z for modern times. Nissan has even brought back the original strike through “Z” emblem proudly adorning the rear quarter panels like a badge of honor.
Exterior styling isn’t only about heritage but functional improvements as well. Door handles are now flush with the body to smooth airflow and the large opening in the front bumper feeds all the new heat exchangers under the hood. The blue interior on our unit looks spectacular in person giving the interior space a real sense of occasion. Suede door inserts and color matched stitching really does a lot to make the interior feel special. Graphite, Red and Yellow are also available options depending on exterior paint and trim level.
Nissan designed the seats adopting geometry and material from Nismo models and it shows. We found them comfortable and supportive with deep side bolsters and adjustable lumbar support – perfect for long drives and hard cornering.
Outward visibility is excellent, and there is plenty of headroom though curiously we found slightly more in the automatic compared to the manual. The addition of a telescoping steering wheel allows for a wider range of people to find that perfect driving position now accommodating humans well into the six-footer range. The steering wheel is built with the same thickness as the R35 GT-R with contours from the R32 GT-R for great feel.
Nissan’s 12.3-inch TFT gauge cluster has three different modes with Sport mode being exclusive to the Z. Designed with the help of factory Nissan racing drivers the layout is ideal for performance driving bringing all the most important metrics into full view. You know you are in a serious driving machine when the tachometer is dead center with a 7,000RPM redline facing straight up.
Though the new interior does feel modern with push button starter, USB-C outlets and blind spot monitor, the infotainment is a bit of a letdown. The eight-inch display has graphics and responsiveness that feel outdated including the somewhat low resolution rear view camera. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are supported, though not wirelessly. Even the eight-speaker Bose system was a bit lackluster though this proved to be a non-issue when we fired up the car.
The engine roars to life with a cold start that can’t be ignored. As we would later find out the automatic has a smaller resonator than the manual due to noise regulations. The exhaust in the auto is impressively loud for a factory system which manual buyers will surely envy. At the heart of that wonderful noise is the Infiniti Q50/Q60 engine, retuned for Z resulting in a 60 horsepower and 80 lb-ft. increase over the previous car – a total 400 horsepower at 6,400RPM and 350 lb-ft. at 1,600 PM propelling the Z to 100km/h in 4.6 seconds.
As we pull out onto the highway we find the throttle quite responsive to our inputs due in part to a trick recirculation valve. When lifting off throttle the compressed air isn’t vented into atmosphere or back into the intake like other systems; rather it is redirected to keep the turbine spinning.
We also took some time to play with the new nine-speed automatic. Though it does have launch control like the manual, a first for an automatic RWD, we find the shifting to be inconsistent – some happening immediately after flicking the paddle while other times taking a second or two to respond. Driving the automatic without paddle shifting works well which is probably all that matters for those that don’t opt for the manual; the loud exhaust being the consolation prize for slightly less driver engagement.
Later we found the six-speed manual transmission to be a joy to use, now with S-Mode which allows for flat footted power shifting and auto rev-matching when downshifting. The shifter has a great mechanical feel with new synchros for first and second that literally draw the lever into position when selecting those gears. Both transmissions feature a new mechanical limited slip differential in Performance trim for quicker engagement than the previous models viscous LSD.
As we found our way to the backroads leading to Mont Tremblant, roads became narrow and twisty with blind crests and off camber corners to really put the car through its paces. Nissan fitted electronic power steering to the new Z, but rather than lightening the steering feel they have made it heavier and smoother feeling. More positive caster in the suspension geometry increases steering feel and stability which makes the new Z feel nimble in spite of its weight making it easy to place on the road allowing us to really enjoy the drive.
New monotube shock absorbers give the Z great road manners, allowing the car to maintain its composure and soak up some seriously rough pavement. We puckered more than a few times expecting the car to bottom out but it just seemed to glide over ruts and potholes with ease. The Z is perfectly setup for these winding backroads.
The chassis feels rigid and stable, brakes have good feel and strong initial bite. The car is fun to drive with neutral handling. Power on oversteer was communicated well and easy to catch with counter steer. Though we can’t yet comment on how the brakes and suspension would handle longer and faster stints, the bones are there for a car you can have fun with at the track.
For sports car buyers who like to tinker the base Sport model Z is an absolute bargain at $46,498. Out of the box it may not be the ultimate track weapon but it gives you a good $20,000 head start over the GR Supra 3.0 for you to make it your own. The Performance trim is for those that would rather let Nissan handle the upgrades. For $12,000 over the Sport you get beautiful bespoke 19” Forged wheels by Rays, the mechanical LSD, bigger brakes, front and rear spoilers, and more interior comforts for those Sunday drives to Cars and Coffee.
For the hardcore Z car fans there is the limited Proto Spec in Ikazushi yellow. An additional $5,750 over the Performance trim gets you exclusive bronze wheels, yellow accented interior, yellow brake calipers and engine cover, a limited edition badge, and for ultimate bragging rights – a Canadian exclusive letterman jacket made by Roots. Seeing a pre-production sample of the jacket had us convinced, Z fans will absolutely love it.
The 2023 Nissan Z is a true worthy successor to the Z line, not just a marketing exercise reviving an old beloved name. With 1.8 million Z cars sold worldwide and over 53,000 sold in Canada over the past 53 years we know that Z never goes out of style and with this new one the legacy continues. As car enthusiasts we’ll keep our fingers crossed for a Nismo model but in the meantime buyers should be thrilled with whichever trim they decide on. Long live the Z!