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As the global car industry moves closer toward a future of electrification, Japan’s major automakers are fighting the good fight for customers who still want to drive an old-school sports car. And I mean drive.
Toyota has rebooted the Supra, Acura the Integra, and they’re both available with manual transmissions. The Mazda Miata has never wavered from this course.
The shift-it-yourself category also includes the Toyota GR86 and GR Corolla, Subaru WRX and Honda’s Civic Si and Civic Type-R, but the new Nissan Z may be the most retro of the bunch.
The 2023 Nissan Z is a fully updated version of the 370Z that it replaces and is styled as a tribute to the history of the model line, which began with the 1970 240Z.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard, of course, but you can order it with an optional nine-speed automatic, if you must.
The Z’s long hood/short deck profile, rectangular grille and flower petal-shaped headlights are all direct callbacks to the 240Z, while its oval taillights are borrowed from the rad 1990s 300ZX.
Nissan even added a turn of the century touch – so to speak – by modeling the shape of the steering wheel off of the one in the 1999 Skyline featured in the film “2 Fast 2 Furious,” because many enthusiasts think it is the most perfect user interface ever created.
The entry-level Z Sport comes with a 400 hp turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 that Nissan borrows from Infiniti, but tweaks for duty in a dedicated high performance car. At a starting price of $41,015, the Z is among the lowest-priced 400 hp sports cars available today and about 10 grand less than the most powerful version of its archrival, the Supra, which tops out at 382 hp.
For $10,000, you can also upgrade to the Z Performance trim that adds stronger brakes, a limited-slip differential for improved traction under acceleration, 19-inch “super lightweight aluminum alloy wheels,” a Bose audio system and additional trim.
A limited run of 240 Z Proto Spec cars are also being offered at $54,015 to celebrate the launch. They’re painted bright yellow with black roofs like the Z show car was and have gold wheels, yellow brake calipers and yellow interior accents. This is the model I tested, but good luck finding one at list price when the Z goes on sale this summer.
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The Z’s chassis is an evolution of the 370Z’s, as evidenced by an identical wheelbase, but has been stiffened up and equipped with a re-engineered suspension aimed at improving both the handling and ride comfort.
The cabin has a digital instrument cluster and two power seats that Nissan says were designed to accommodate drivers up to 6-feet, 3-inches tall perfectly. At two inches shy of that height, I found the exact position I wanted for attacking a track or mountain road, but could’ve used a little more legroom to stretch out on long trips. A package of electronic driver aids with automatic emergency brakes, a blind spot monitoring system and adaptive cruise control is included, even on stick-shift cars.
Nissan hasn’t released an official 0-60 mph acceleration time because it wants you to think about the Z’s performance in a more holistic way, but it’s easily under five seconds according to my Mississippis.
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The turbocharged engine delivers power like a steamroller compared to the 370Z’s naturally aspirated V6 and its smooth, deep voice is almost too refined for a Z. Don’t worry, I’m sure the Dom Torettos of the real world will find a way to crank it up.
Curves are where the Z really finds its groove and proves it is one of the most responsive cars at any price. You can take it from cornering on the proverbial rails to drifting with just a jab at the throttle and hang the tail out all day long with relative ease.
Doing that isn’t the fastest way to get from point A to point B, but that’s the point of a car like this. Making the trip as much fun as possible, whether you’re in the moment or nostalgic for the past.
2023 Nissan Z
Base price: $41,015
As tested: $54,015
Type: 2-passenger, 2-door rear-wheel-drive hatchback
Engine: 3.0L turbocharged V6
Power: 400 hp, 350 lb-ft
Transmission: 6-speed manual