I recall reading reviews of the Nissan GT-R back in 2008 when it debuted – holy crap, that car is STILL being built! – where it was labeled a digital car for the PlayStation generation. This was often ascribed to the big screen in the center console which allowed for the tweaking of various settings. Reviewers often lamented these changes as a drift away from a traditional enthusiast vibe. It’s funny to see that nearly every sporty car on the road has followed this path of high-tech performance.
And, indeed, there remains a big screen atop the dash in the 2023 Nissan Z. Yet I feel this is perhaps one of the last genuinely analog sports cars around. In a world dominated by ones and zeroes, there are still those who prefer to indulge in film cameras and vinyl records. The Z is a trip to a time when holding something tangible was worth something, and embracing imperfections was better than chasing theoretical perfection.
The newest Z has been a relatively rare sight on our roads, even though it’s technically been available since the spring of 2022. Production issues have apparently been to blame, though the double-headed monster of inflation and dealer markups have certainly made the Z a much less justifiable purchase than in years past. It’s not cheap, that’s for certain. But these days, nothing is cheap, and those with the means have fewer choices for a genuinely fun toy car at something approaching a reasonable price.
This is the first Z for the US since 1996 with a turbocharger from the factory – and, indeed, for the first time ever, a model of Z where turbocharging is the only option. That explains the nomenclature, whereas every model of Z in the past has been prefixed with a number signifying the engine’s displacement (370Z was 3.7 liters, for example) this three-liter turbo V6 might have sounded like a downgrade in the eyes of the unaware if it had been “properly” labeled a 300Z. But 400 horsepower is certainly an upgrade, as is the engine noise as the old naturally-aspirated V6 wasn’t the most pleasant-sounding mill out there. Sticking a couple of snails on the back end quiets the most objectionable sounds while making more antisocial power.
No, it’s not a new platform. It’s still a Z34 chassis beneath, revised a bit since the old car basically dates to 2008. But it’s more stiff and quieter than the old Z, giving a bit more refinement in day-to-day driving. The Z, even with what has been dubbed as the “millennial anti-theft device” known as a manual transmission, is perfectly competent in daily driving. It’s plenty comfortable in a commute – who needs a three-row crossover when it’s just you driving to work?
But God, does the Z shine when the roads lead somewhere other than the office. I’m blessed with Appalachian foothills less than an hour (if I’m a bit liberal with adherence to posted limits) from my front door. Here, where the data coverage is as sparse as the traffic, the Z shines. While safety features like traction and stability control remain watchful, the rear wheels can dance if you wish. As the mythical British mags liked to say, a dab of opposite lock made for a tingle in the spine when midcorner gravel appeared around an apex obscured by elm branches. The effortless torque from the turbo six gave all the confidence in the world no matter which cog was selected – I’d often find myself absentmindedly in fourth rather than second, pulling away with minimal effort even when I was in the wrong gear.
There remain two real competitors in this price range – the Supra and the Mustang. On paper, both are probably superior sports cars. On track, lap times probably give the edge to the latest Mustang, and the Z seems to lag a tenth behind the Supra, give or take, in every timed test I see. I’ve yet to sample the ‘24 Mustang, but the guttural thrill of a wide-open V8 is still hard to resist. But my experience with Mustangs reminds me that they generally feel just a bit bigger and more ponderous than a Z or a Supra.
The Toyota, however, sadly feels a bit numb compared to the Z. Perhaps that’s down to the German roots of the Supra, but I feel less connected to the road when I’m piloting the Toyota. The Z, on the other hand, feels one with the twisties. Life isn’t a racetrack, after all, and chasing lap times isn’t everything.
Do sports cars matter to younger people in these days where electrification is the rage and nobody can afford to buy new anyhow? I’m not sure. Anecdotally, however, I got plenty of comments and thumbs-up as I drove the 2023 Nissan Z around town. I even encountered a young man – not much more than twenty, I’d wager – who chatted with me excitedly while I pumped the Z full of fuel. Enthusiasts remain out there who are aware of sports cars and aspire to own one someday. They too feel the impending doom of numb, soulless people movers and want to feel something tangible when they go for a drive. They crave the spark of excitement when they drop the needle on an LP, and they crave the adrenaline rush when they drop the hammer in something that moves them.
[Images: © 2023 Chris Tonn/TTAC.com]
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