The 2023 Nissan Z is the start of a new era for Nissan's famous "Z" sports car.
The Z starts at $39,990, and we drove a $53,655 model with a blue exterior and interior for a week.
Our car had flaws, but it was impossible not to like.
The 2023 Nissan Z has a lot to live up to. It's the start of a new generation of "Z" sports cars, which — whether they become pristine restomods or cheap drift cars — are a staple of car and tuner culture. To usher the Z into the modern era means reimagining that deep, decades-long heritage without completely losing it.
The good news is, Nissan did just that.
The Z has always been special. Its lineage began with the Datsun 240Z in the 1960s and '70s — a timeless two-door with conical headlights and side mirrors mounted halfway down the hood.
As the years and new Z models went by, the numbers in their names got bigger: Nissan subsequently introduced the 260Z, 280Z, 280ZX, 300ZX, 350Z, and 370Z, the oldest of which are now high-priced collectibles.
When the newest Z debuted in 2021, it did so with no numbers. It was simply the "Z," bringing with it a 400-horsepower, twin-turbocharged V6 engine and the choice of a six-speed manual or nine-speed automatic transmission.
Its styling is evolutionary, combining iconic features of past Z cars — rooflines, logo placements, taillights, wheels, and the like — with sleek, retro-modern styling inside and out. It isn't just new and exclusive; it shares a bond with Z cars of years past, drawing everyone's eyes on the road.
The Z's arrival was a big deal — not just because of its heritage, but also because its outgoing generation, the 370Z, debuted in 2008. New cars, like any technology, aren't supposed to be teenagers.
For 2023, the Z starts at $39,990. It comes in three trims:
Nissan Z Sport ($39,990): This is the basic version of the car, with 18-inch wheels, cloth seats, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, an eight-inch touchscreen, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and driver-assistance features like pedestrian detection and blind-spot warning.
Nissan Z Performance ($49,990): This trim adds 19-inch wheels, leather and synthetic-suede seats, launch control, an upgraded Bose audio system, a nine-inch touchscreen, heated and power-adjustable front seats, and noise cancellation.
Nissan Z Proto Spec ($52,990): The Proto Spec is a special trim with highlighter-yellow accents, 19-inch bronze wheels, and yellow brake calipers. Nissan is limiting the Proto Spec to 240 units in the US.
My loaner car was a Z Performance with a nine-speed automatic. With added two-tone paint ($1,295), fancy floor mats ($400), other optional appearance features, and fees, it came to $53,655.
What the Z does right: aesthetics and space
To step into the Z is to step into a shrine of itself, with the car's iconic letter slashed into everything: the steering wheel, floor mats, trunk, door sills, and more. Even the driver's digital instrument cluster erupts into a supernova of white light with a Z at the center, like a modern ad for "The Mask of Zorro."
My loaner Z was stunning. Its "Seiran Blue" paint and sloping black roof cloaked an equally beautiful interior, with bright blue seats and black accents flowing through the cabin. Three gauges showing turbo speed, battery voltage, and boost sank into the top of the black dashboard, facing the driver's seat as their red needles bobbled.
The Z's grille and taillights are made up of rounded rectangles, making the car one cohesive piece. Its color options from the factory — including my car's blue interior and a highlighter-yellow paint option — won't mean anything to most people, but they'll mean everything to the audience they're for.
The whole car feels intentional. The door handles are flush to the Z instead of jutting out from it — an aerodynamic and aesthetic advantage most people will recognize from Teslas. But unlike Tesla's flush handles, which froze over for years because there wasn't anything to grab onto, the Z has hand-sized crevices you can use to pull the handles open. It's all the utility of a normal handle with all the style of a flush one.
But the Z isn't just pretty — it's usable, especially for a two-door sports car. Its shiny infotainment touchscreen is easy to work, and multiple people I showed the car to agreed on how crisp the display was.
—Alanis King (@alanisnking) January 4, 2023
Plus, the Z makes storage easy. Each of its two seats has a sunken shelf behind it for your purse, water bottle, and other items, and the car has a hatchback in place of a traditional trunk. In a hatchback, a huge back panel (including the rear window) lifts up, creating tons of vertical and horizontal space. The Z's hatch was big enough for me to sit and roll around in during photoshoots.
How the Z drives
Driving the Z left me curious and a little confused. It felt like it didn't perfectly fit in any mental category I've established for sports cars, and I think a lot of that traces back to its $53,000 price.
My Z produced a deep but polite rumble that made itself known as a sports car without disturbing the neighbors. The steering was responsive but not heavy, and the shifts were slower than I would've liked. The turbo lag was harsh but didn't last long, and 400 horses was enough power to have a little fun.
But the Z's ride quality was in limbo. It wasn't soft and insulated from the road like a more luxurious car, nor did it have the visceral connection to it like a fancy sports car. The road noise was just a loud hum that got louder on the highway.
—Alanis King (@alanisnking) January 5, 2023
I took the Z out to my local "good roads" — you know, the curvy ones without a lot of traffic — and enjoyed it but wasn't blown away. It felt more like I was tossing the car into turns than gliding through them, and I wasn't glued into the seat when I did. I leaned in, through, and out of each corner, with my butt always diagonal to my shoulders.
What the Z lacks: refined interior details
Much like the driving experience, the Z's other flaws trace back to its price. The black interior panels changed from soft to hard material in certain spots, and like hair extensions in the wrong shade, you could tell they weren't the same.
These material changes are a normal thing in cars; softer materials look pretty, while harder ones help with cleanup and wear in more vulnerable, high-use areas. But it would have looked so much better if the soft and hard panels had something in between them — a slice of color, for example — to make their inconsistencies less obvious.
The interior had yellow lighting on the ceiling and in the visor mirrors instead of modern white LEDs, and the bottom two corners of the infotainment screen in my Z glowed like backlight bleed on an old television. That conveys age, whether it's by design or not.
Many of the physical controls in the car were also thick and plasticky, and the switches that turned on the heated seats looked just like the ones in the 370Z from 10 years ago. Again, aging!
All of this would have been fine at a lower cost. Even as the average price of a new car nears $50,000, I look at all the affordable sports cars out there — the Subaru BRZ, Mazda Miata, Ford Mustang, and others, whether they're direct competitors to the Z or not — and recognize that the Z is a big investment.
Our impressions: a great car, with sacrifices
The new Z isn't perfect, but it's not supposed to be. The beauty of a Z isn't that it's flawless from the factory; it's what the car can become, through modifications, drift builds, or just getting used to its quirks.
I think the Z is the right car for a lot of people. It's stunning, it has heritage, and it captivates both car enthusiasts and regular people.
In spite of the Z's flaws, it's impossible not to like. All the best cars are.
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