~ A DriveWays Review ~
by Matthew P. Aukofer

Nissan has had a lock on the last letter of the automotive alphabet ever since it launched its first Z car in 1969, when it sold cars under the Datsun brand. The first generation 240Z, also known as the Fairlady overseas, was a fabulous hit and won a hard-core fan base worldwide.

Fast forward to today and Nissan has released the seventh-generation Z for the 2022-23 model year. The new Z makes so many nods its predecessors that it might win a national bobblehead award. But it adds more power, an upgraded chassis and modern safety systems and conveniences, as you would expect from a new design.

For auto enthusiasts, the new Z still checks all the boxes that define what a true sports car should be. It remains a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive two-seater with good power and handling.

Through the years, Nissan married the Z designation to a number—e.g., 240Z, 300ZX, 370Z. But the company is dropping the numerical prefix in the U.S. for the first time. It is known simply as the Z, or Z Coupe in some corporate literature. Maybe that hints at a future convertible. But for now, it is only available as a hardtop.

The new Z proves that you don’t need a number to pay homage to your past. Its design combines stylistic references from across its lineage, from the earliest generations to its most recent. Harvesting a mishmash of design cues from six generations of vehicles over a span of more than 50 years could be a recipe for disaster. But in the new Z, it works.

From the 240Z you get the rectangular grill, long-ish hood and arguably the overall silhouette, which flows in a similar way from the nose to the squared-off rear. It follows the distinctive profile of the first-generation Z, which some say was “borrowed” from the Jaguar XKE and Ferrari Daytona, but we quibble.

A triple-pod cluster of analog gauges sits atop the center dash, just as they did in the early Zs. The steering wheel has a retro aesthetic. The small round Z badges on the C pillars could have been pulled from a parts bin for the earliest cars.

The most obvious historical reference is around back. The rear end is straight from the 1990-1996 fourth generation 300ZX, only upgraded with modern LEDs for the taillights and a sleeker look.

Speaking of LEDs, the front daytime driving lights stand out as silver arcs situated over and under one another in a yin-yang style pose. They look completely modern with no historical reference at first blush. But Google “1970 Datsun 240ZG” and you’ll get the picture. That model featured the familiar 240Z headlight shape but with a chrome bezel, which reflected light. That shape is mirrored in the front LEDs of the new Z.

Another carry-over is the chassis. The new Z is being built on essentially the same chassis as the 370Z (2009-2020) it replaces, with minor updates. This design choice has ruffled more than a few feathers among the automotive intelligentsia, who are always looking for improvements in weight, rigidity, ride and handling.

Nevertheless, the car feels solid and handles great. The all-aluminum front and rear suspension—double wishbone up front and independent multi-link in the rear—is tuned to offer a nice balance for both weekday commuters and weekend racers. It can hold corners tight at high speeds—if you are looking for thrills—or putter around town without beating you up. It is not a supple suspension, but it’s not obnoxiously stiff either.

With 400 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque from its twin-turbocharged, longitudinally mounted V6 engine, the new Z is the most powerful version yet. A nine-speed automatic with paddle shifters and various drive modes is optional, as is launch control for even quicker starts off the line.

The same engine is offered in all three trim levels: Sport (starting at $39,990); Performance ($49,990); and Proto Spec ($52,990).

By contrast, the base Toyota GR Supra 2.0 sports a 255-horsepower four-cylinder engine and has a starting price of $43,985, including the destination charge, so the entry-level Z beats the base Supra in a price-to-performance ratio comparison.

The higher-end Supra is the 3.0, which features a 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder engine rated at 382 horsepower, so it is more of a direct competitor to the new Z. But the Supra 3.0 starts at $52,500, a significant jump over the Z’s base price.

Toyota says the Supra 2.0 can nail a 0-60 mph acceleration time of 5.0 seconds while the 3.0 will do it in under four seconds. That beats the Z’s estimated 4.5-second 0-60 mph time.

Curb weight could explain the reason why the more powerful Z, on paper at least, is slower than the Supra 3.0. At over 3,500 lbs., the new Z is heavier than the Supra by more than 100 lbs. and is also heavier than the 370Z it replaces. If NISMO, Nissan’s performance division, gets a crack at boosting its performance, expect power to go up and weight to go down.

Another reason why the Z isn’t as quick as the Supra is it hits its peak 400 horsepower late in the power band at 6,400 rpm, just shy of the 6,800 rpm redline. You will reach 60 miles an hour in second gear at roughly 6500 rpm. You get the full grunt of its 350 pound-feet of torque between 1,600 rpm and 5,200 rpm. Torque is the low-end pulling force you can feel in your chest. Unless you’re a race car driver or track rat, you probably won’t notice a big difference in speed between the Z and the Supra.

On downshifts, Nissan’s SynchroRev Match system works extremely well. Whenever you let off the throttle and dump the clutch, the system automatically blips the throttle to match engine rpms with transmission rpms, thus achieving the same effect as the ”heel-and-toe” downshift technique. The system takes out the guesswork–and the ankle contortions of the heel-and-toe technique–and easily makes your downshifts smooth and precise.

The four-wheel, ventilated disc brakes do an excellent job of bringing the car to a halt. There’s barely any nose-dive on when braking hard. The Performance and Proto Spec trim levels come with larger discs than the base Sport as well as custom painted brake calipers.

On the highway, the short wheelbase—the distance between the axles—and stiff suspension combine to make for a rather jostling ride. It is tolerable for short to medium trips but you might think twice about taking it on long trips.

The cabin is quiet, too—almost too quiet. There’s barely any wind noise, which is good, and the exhaust note is relatively muted, which is bad if you like your sports cars raucous. Most of what you hear in the cabin is the thrum of the tires over the road surface. It left me wanting to hear more of the throaty exhaust and less of the drone from the tires.

Passenger/cargo volume figures were not available at press time, but you don’t need federal government statistics to tell you you’re sitting in a confined space. Ingress egress is a little tight and some folks may find it challenging. But it is a small two-seat sports car by design, and you cannot fault it for that.

The snug-fitting seats are comfortable and well bolstered. Larger drivers might feel constrained, but again that is the nature of the beast. The driver seat has a total of five adjustments, two electronic and three manual. The forward/aft controls along with seat back rake are electronic, while manual jog wheels on the lower left side of the seat control the forward and aft height of the bottom seat cushion. A lever on the right side of the seat back adjusts the lumbar support.

I must confess I am a sucker for small, high-performance sports cars like the Z. I eagerly anticipated driving it every single trip.

As long as confessions are in order, I admit I did not test the infotainment system. I never got past the home screen. In fact, I never even turned up the radio volume. It never occurred to me until after the car was returned to the press fleet. The car itself provided enough exhilaration and entertainment.

Good sports cars find a way to bond with their drivers and vice versa, and I have to admit I bonded with this car.

Specifications

  • Model: 2022 Nissan Z Proto Spec
  • Engine: 3.0-liter twin turbo V6 (model VR30DDTT), 400 hp @6,400 rpm, 350 lb-ft torque from 1,600-5,200 rpm
  • Transmission: 6-speed close-ratio manual with high-performance clutch; optional 9-speed automatic with paddle shifters, various drive modes. Launch control is also optional.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 4 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: N/A
  • Weight: Sport (manual): 3,486 lbs.; Sport (auto): 3,549 lbs.; Performance (manual): 3,536 lbs.; Performance (auto): 3,602 lbs.
  • City/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18 mpg (manual), 19 mpg (auto)/24 mpg (manual), 28 mpg (auto)/20 mpg (manual), 22 mpg (auto). Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, less destination charge: $39,990 (Sport trim); $49,990 (Performance trim); $52,990 (Proto Spec Trim).
  • Price as tested, including $1,025 destination charge: $56,210..

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review. Photos © Nissan and Matt Aukofer