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As the global auto industry moves closer to an electrified future, major Japanese automakers are battling for customers who still want to drive an old-school sports car. And I mean drive.
Toyota rebooted the Supra, Acura the Integra, and they’re both available with manual transmissions. The Mazda Miata has never deviated from this course.
The shifter category also includes the Toyota GR86 and GR Corolla, the Subaru WRX and Honda’s Civic Si and Civic Type-R, but the new Nissan Z is perhaps the most retro of the bunch.
The 2023 Nissan Z is a completely updated version of the 370Z it replaces and is designed as a tribute to the model line’s history, 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 and short deck profile, rectangular grille and flower-petal headlights are all direct callbacks to the 240Z, while its oval taillights are borrowed from the rad 300ZX of the 1990s.
Nissan even added a turn of the century touch – so to speak – by modeling the shape of the steering wheel from that of the 1999 Skyline featured in the movie ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’, as many enthusiasts believe it’s 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 tweaked for duty in a dedicated high-performance car. At a starting price of $41,015, the Z is among the cheapest 400hp sports cars available today and about $10,000 less than the most powerful version of its rival, the Supra, which peaks at 382 hp.
For $10,000 you can also upgrade to the Z Performance trim which adds more powerful brakes, a limited-slip differential for better traction under acceleration, 19-inch “super lightweight aluminum alloy wheels”, a system Bose audio and additional trim.
A limited run of 240 Z Proto Spec cars is also being offered for $54,015 to celebrate the launch. They are 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, as evidenced by an identical wheelbase, but has been stiffened and fitted with a redesigned suspension aimed at improving both handling and ride comfort.
The cabin has a digital instrument panel and two power seats that Nissan says have been designed to perfectly accommodate drivers up to 6 feet 3 inches tall. At two inches that height, I found the exact position I wanted for attacking a trail or mountain road, but I could have used a little more leg room to stretch out on long rides. . A set of electronic driver aids with automatic emergency brakes, blind-spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control are included, even on cars with stick shifts.
Nissan hasn’t released an official 0-60 mph acceleration time because it wants you to think about the Z’s performance more holistically, 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 naturally aspirated V6 of the 370Z and its smooth, deep voice is almost too refined for a Z. Don’t worry, I’m sure real-world Dom Torettos will find a way to mount it.
The curves are where the Z really finds its stride and proves that it’s one of the most responsive cars at any cost. You can go from corners on the proverbial rails to drifting with just a flick of the throttle and hang tail all day with relative ease.
Doing that isn’t the fastest way to get from point A to point B, but that’s what a car like this is all about. Make the trip as fun as possible, whether you’re in the moment or nostalgic for the past.
2023 Nissan Z
Base price: $41,015
Type: 2-seater, 2-door hatchback RWD
Engine: 3.0L Turbocharged V6
Power: 400 hp, 350 lb-ft
Transmission: 6-speed manual
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