Right up until Nissan unveiled the Z Proto “concept” in September 2020, there was a great deal of uncertainty among enthusiasts and fans of the Z about whether a new model would ever arrive. Nissan has been suffering financially for several years with falling sales and a variety of corporate political issues. Despite a 50 year heritage, a new Z was not a lock for approval. Despite all that, we have now driven the new 7th-generation Z and we can proclaim that it is excellent.
Unlike all the prior generations of Z sold outside of Japan, this edition has no numbers associated with the name, it’s simply Z. Japanese customers will of course still get the Fairlady Z badge on their cars. Like the last couple of generations, this Z continues to be offered with only two seats, no nonsense with tiny, completely unusable back seats.
While the new Z retains the same basic architecture used for the 370Z since 2008, it has been thoroughly refined. There’s a double-wishbone suspension setup at the front corners and a multi-link layout at the rear and of course drive torque only goes to the rear wheels as should be the case in all proper sports cars. The brake sizes are also essentially the same as before as is the 100.4-inch wheelbase.
The biggest change is the design which now harkens back to the first generation 1970s Z more than any other variant in the past four decades. This isn’t a retro design by any means and looks thoroughly fresh. But the proportions have the classic long-hood, cab-rearward look. Compared to the 370Z, the effect is enhanced by a longer nose that is part of a five-inch longer body.
The LED headlights have a pair of arced signature lights that echo the look of the refraction in the light covers of the 1970s era Japan-market 240ZG and give this new Z countenance distinct from anything else currently available. At the rear, the taillamps subtly incorporate the oval look of the lamps on the 1990s-era 300ZX. For those that know the history of the Z, these cues are a nice touch without beating you over the head with retro. Compared to its most direct competitor, the Toyota Supra, the Z has a cleaner, more refined look, devoid of any extraneous details like fake vents.
The cockpit of the Z is a huge step up from the 370Z. The materials feel significantly more premium than before. The example I drove had a two-tone interior with black and a blue that matches the gorgeous Serian Blue exterior. The cabin is also offered with red/black or all black. The limited edition Z Proto Speck gets yellow interior accents to go with the yellow exterior first seen on the Z Proto concept in 2020.
Directly in front of the driver is a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster display with bright colors and lots of contrast. Off to the left is an eight-inch infotainment touchscreen that like other recent Nissans is a much better quality display than dim, low contrast screens that Nissan has used for years. The infotainment interface is however, the same one that Nissan has been using for the better part of a decade and it certainly looks dated compared to most other recent systems. It’s past time for a redesign and Nissan is expected to follow alliance partner Renault in adopting Android Automotive although no timing has been given.
However, the Z isn’t about staring at the center screen, it’s all about driving as it always has been. In this regard, the Z shines. Like all Zs since the 300ZX debuted in 1984, this one is powered by a V6 engine, in this case downsized from 3.7 to 3.0-liters. This is the same twin-turbocharged unit found in the Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400. With 400-hp and 350 lb-ft of torque, this is a substantial improvement over the 332-hp and 270 lb-ft of the old engine. In particular, the twin-turbo hits its torque peak at 1,600 rpm while the naturally aspirated unit had to spin to 5,200 for maximum torque. The Z has slightly more power and slightly less torque than the Supra.
In a very pleasant surprise, Nissan is offering the Z with a choice of either a six-speed manual or a nine-speed automatic transmission. I got to spend my drive time with the manual gearbox and while the automatic transmission is probably slightly quicker to accelerate, the stick remains remarkably engaging. It’s not necessarily the slickest shifting gearbox in the world, but at least Nissan is offering it from day one, rather than forcing three-pedal enthusiasts to wait as Toyota has done.
Despite sharing the same basic architecture as the 370Z, this new Z is noticeably more composed on the road. Ride quality was surprisingly good on Michigan roads and once I got off the highway onto some more rural pavement, it really proved its mettle.
The twin-turbo V6 proved to be very responsive, especially when I was stuck behind someone pulling a pontoon boat to one of the local lakes now that the weather has warmed up. Dropping from sixth to fifth and flooring the right pedal, the Z quickly accelerated from just another 50 mph to a significantly higher (but undisclosed) speed to execute the pass.
On a couple of laps around my favorite section of curving roads, the steering was precise and brakes were very easy to modulate. Slicing through a twisting road that snakes between two wetlands, the Z felt perfectly balanced and never got twitchy. The thrust coming out of each curve just poured out progressively.
The instrument cluster display has a large tachometer in the center flanked by smaller analog gauges on either side. Above the tach is a horizontal bar graph that goes from green to yellow to red as you approach the 7,000 rpm redline.
Since the snow and ice have melted in Michigan that means it’s officially road construction season and stop and go traffic can be a fact of life at any time on any road. For those situations where precisely blipping the throttle becomes a bit much for a basic commute, the Z retains the SynchroRev match system that debuted on the 370Z. When the button ahead of and to the right of the shifter is pressed, every time the shift lever is moved toward a lower gear, the engine revs magically adjust to the right speed for smooth engagement. I prefer not to use it when running through the curves but I can definitely see the benefit in traffic.
The new Z is a wonderfully engaging sports car to drive with no pretensions about being something its not. Strictly two seats, limited cargo, and stunning looks. The 2023 Z Sport with 18-inch wheels starts at just $41,015 including delivery. The Z Performance that I drove with larger brakes, 19-inch forged alloy wheels with Bridgestone Potenza S007 tires and some other additional features goes for $51,015. The two-tone paint on the model I drove adds another $1,295. There’s also a limited edition Proto Spec for launch that costs $54,015. Nissan may have had some struggles in recent years, but they have nailed it with this new Z.