I drove the new $55,000 Nissan Z, and it lives up to its reputation as an iconic sports car

A gray 2024 Nissan Z Performance with black wheels and red brake calipers is parked in front of homes.
The 2024 Nissan Z PerformanceBenjamin Zhang/Business Insider
  • The Nissan Z is the latest in a long line of iconic sports cars that date back more than 50 years.

  • I enjoyed the 2024 Nissan Z's twin-turbocharged V6, 6-speed manual gearbox, and retro looks.

  • I was let down by the Z's unsatisfying engine sound and poor backup camera.

Every brand needs a halo product—a car that reminds customers and employees of their origins, values, and goals.

It embodies the soul of that company.

Ford has the Mustang, Mercedes the S-Class, and Porsche the 911.

For Nissan, with the GT-R supercar headed for retirement after a 17-year run, that job will be left to the Fairlady Z, known in America simply as the Z.

The current Nissan Z launched in 2023 with more power and tech than the 370Z it succeeded.

I recently spent a week driving a 2024 Nissan Z Performance around the streets of Atlanta and the winding roads of the Appalachian foothills.

The right side rear end of a 2024 Nissan Z sports car.
The 2024 Nissan Z.Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

I loved its potent 3.0 liter, twin-turbocharged V6 and the 6-speed manual transmission. I was also impressed by its level of tech content and overall fit and finish.

There wasn't much to complain about, but I did feel somewhat let down by the unsatisfying engine noise and one of the poorest-quality backup cameras I've ever encountered.

My Nissan Z Performance test car costs $55,110.

The driver's side front end of a gray 2024 Nissan Z Performance sports car.
The 2024 Nissan Z Performance.Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The base Nissan Z Sport starts at $42,970, while the top-of-the-line and more powerful Z NISMO starts at $65,750.

My mid-grade Performance trim with a manual transmission starts at $52,210. Freight fees and optional extras pushed the as-tested price past $55,000.

The Z's history in the US dates back to 1970 when the S30 Fairlady Z went on sale as the Datsun 240Z.

An orange 1970 Datsun 240Z sports car parked in front of a building.
A 1970 Datsun 240Z.Nissan

The iconic 240Z became the byword for stylish performance at an affordable price. Over the years, there have been a series of memorable Nissan Z-Cars, including the all-conquering Z32 300ZX Twin-Turbo, which hunted supercars for sport in the early 1990s, and the more recent 370Z NISMO Tech.

The Z's long hood and sloping rear in signature elements of the classic Z-Car look.

The driver's side of a gray 2024 Nissan Z Performance sports car.
The 2024 Nissan Z Performance.Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Nissan's design team, led by Cuban-American designer chief Alfonso Albaisa, left no doubts as to this car's lineage. Take one look at its silhouette, and you know it's a Z.

The Z's angular front facia, and slightly recessed LED headlights also harken back to the 240Z.

The Nissan Z's front grille.
The 2024 Nissan Z.Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

It's a look that debuted on the Z Proto concept car in the fall of 2020.

Out back, the sloping roofline merges into the decklid spoiler.

The right rear end of a 2024 Nissan Z sports car.
The 2024 Nissan Z.Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Aesthetically, the Nissan Z is a perfect blend of modernity and retro Z-car cool.

The styling might be fresh, but the new Z is built on an updated version of Nissan's venerable FM platform, which also underpins the 370Z and Infiniti's Q50 sedan and Q60 Coupe.

My test car came with these dark gray RAYS 19-inch lightweight forged aluminum alloy wheels.

The black 19-inch alloy wheels on a 2024 Nissan Z sports car.
The Z's 19-inch alloys.Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Behind alloy wheels, Performance trim Nissan Z's get 14-inch, four-piston vented disc brakes up front and 2-piston discs out back.

One of the Z's standout features is a 6-speed manual transmission.

The 6-speed manual shifter in a 2024 Nissan Z sports car.
The 6-speed manual.Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The manual is carried over from the 370Z, but the 6-speed has been updated with beefier synchros to facilitate better shifts. And that's exactly what I found. The shifts were crisp and quick.

The manual comes standard on the Sport and Performance trims with the automatic also available as a no-cost option.

Unlike past iterations, this Z has an electric power steering instead of the traditional hydraulic system.

The Nissan Z's steering wheel.
The Z's steering wheel.Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The transition to electronic power steering, which usually dulls steering feel and feedback from the wheels, has not diminished the Z's handling prowess. I found the steering to be smoother than the last 370Z I drove.

The shift also allows Nissan to incorporate semi-autonomous driving and driver assistance features.

The Nissan Z has intelligent cruise control, automatic emergency braking, predictive forward collision warning, blind spot warning, land departure warning, and rear cross-traffic alert.

The Z is powered by a twin-turbocharged V6 engine.

The engine compartment of a 2024 Nissan Z sports car with a 3.0 liter, twin-turbocharged V6 engine.
The Z's twin-turbo V6.Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

All variants of the Nissan Z are powered by a 3.0 liter twin-turbocharged VR30DDTT V6 engine, which sends power to the rear wheels through either a 6-speed manual or a 9-speed automatic transmission.

The VR30 produces a stout 400 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque in the Sport and Performance trims. The NISMO edition gets an extra 20 horsepower and 34 lb-ft of torque.

The VR30 is also a descendant of the handbuilt VR38DETT motors found under the hood of the GT-R supercar.

Fuel economy is probably not top of mind for most sports car buyers but for those interested, Nissan Zs (in Sport and Performance trims) with the 6-speed boast fuel economy figures at 18 mpg city, 24 mpg highway, and 20 mpg combined. Choose the automatic (please don't), and the fuel economy figures improve to 19 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, and 22 mpg in combined driving.

The Nissan Z was an absolute blast to drive.

A 2024 Nissan Z Performance sports car's interior with blue leather and synthetic suede.
The Nissan Z's cabin.Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Nissan really delivered on the driving front.

On a winding road, the Bridgestone Potenza-shod car handled the corners with the surefooted confidence expected of a world-class sports car.

Even though its heavier than its predecessors, the 350Z and 370Z, it felt far lighter on its feet and more balanced.

The Zs I've driven in the past felt more like powerful Japanese muscle cars than true sports cars. They were monsters in a straight line but felt heavy and unsure of themselves in the corners.

They also delivered a surprisingly comfortable ride, easily soaking up rough roads and small potholes, which is uncommon for a car with low-profile tires and a sport-tuned suspension.

Even though it's now more fleet of foot through the corners, it hasn't lost any straight-line performance.

The Z's VR30 engine pulls like an angry draft horse off the line, without any hint of turbo lag, quickly getting 3,500 vehicles to highway speeds.

The twin-turbo V6 boasts a torque curve that reaches its peak 350 lbs-ft at just 1,600 revs and remains on tap all the way up to 5,600 rpms. Paired with a launch control system that allows you to change gears without lifting off the throttle, gunning the throttle on the Z results in smooth, uninterrupted power and acceleration.

According to Motor Trend, the Nissan Z Performance with the manual transmission can go from 0 to 60mph in just 4.9 seconds.

Unfortunately for us sports car purists, that time will likely be a bit faster with the automatic.

My only real gripe with the driving experience was the unsatisfying engine sound, which lacked the high-pitched crescendo of a high-revving four-cylinder or the low-down rumble of a V8. It just sounded like a dull and listless drone.

Inside, the Z's cabin is cozy with room for two.

The blue and black front dash of a 2024 Nissan Z sports car.
The Z's front dash.Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

As a sports car, the front dash and center console are angled to facilitate easier use for the person in the driver's seat. The interior fit and finish were solid, although I didn't care for the bright blue seats and trim pieces.

Sitting atop the dash is a set of three analog gauges.

The instrument gauges atop the front dash of a 2024 Nissan Z sports car.
Analog gauges.Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The gauges, which are a throwback to the original 240Z, show voltage, turbo pressure, and turbo rpms.

In front of the driver is a Z-branded steering wheel and a large 12.3-inch digital instrument display.

The driver's seat of a 2024 Nissan Z sports car.
The driver's seat.Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The display is customizable with three different layouts that cater to various driving situations from everyday use or performance driving.

The Z is equipped with a 9-inch touchscreen infotainment display.

The 9-inch touchscreen on the front dash of a 2024 Nissan Z.
The infotainment screen.Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

It runs Nissan's corporate infotainment interface which was fairly intuitive to use. It's also equipped with Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay.

While the screen quality is excellent, the image quality of the backup camera was not.

The rearview camera is displayed on the Nissan Z's infotainment screen.
The rearview camera.Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The images from the backup camera were blurry and washed out. It's one of the worst cameras I've encountered.

Tucked away under the infotainment screen are the climate control knobs.

The climate controls on the front dash of a 2024 Nissan Z sports car.
The climate controls.Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The dials themselves are easy to use, but their location lower down in the center console, however, made adjusting the temperature while driving more of a chore than necessary.

The ghastly blue leather and artificial suede seats were well-padded and supportive.

The blue leather and synthetic suede seats on a 2024 Nissan Z sports car.
The Nissan's Z's blue seats.Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Power seat controls for the Z are located in an odd spot between the seat and the center console. It's a carryover from the 370Z.

Behind the passenger cabin is large but shallow cargo area.

The cargo area of a 2024 Nissan Z sports car.
The cargo area.Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

There is space under the cargo area for a spare tire, but that area has been taken up by the subwoofer for the Z's 8-speaker Bose stereo.

You access the cargo area by opening the large rear hatch.

A 2024 Nissan Z sports car with its rear hatch open.
The 2024 Nissan Z.Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The button to open the hatch is inside the low part of the Nissan logo.

My Verdict: It's impossible not to like the Nissan Z.

A gray 2024 Nissan Z Performance sports car is parked in front of homes.
A 2024 Nissan Z Performance.Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

With the new Z, Nissan has given us a modern take on the sports car that helped cement the company's place in America more than five decades earlier.

And boy, what a sports car they've given us.

It looks great, is agile and confident in the corners, has one of the finest V6 engines money can buy, and, most importantly, has a smooth-shifting manual transmission.

The Nissan Z is one of the last of a dying breed.

In an age of 1,000 horsepower EVs and semi-autonomous driving, the market for gas-powered, manual-transmission sports cars is growing ever smaller.

If you have the chance, buy it while it's still here. Or you may regret it later.

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