It's been a while since you could get explosive turbo power and a manual gearbox in an affordable rear-wheel drive sports car, but trust Nissan to be the one to finally bring it back.

The sports car might be an endangered species, but cars like the 2023 Nissan Z make it clear that the love for them is far from dead. One of the most hotly-anticipated new car releases this year, if anything, this retro-chic beauty ought serve as a reminder of just why we love sports cars so much.

It might’ve split opinions when it was first revealed, but I’m proud to say I’ve been completely on board with the new Z’s styling since the start. If you don’t want to take my word for it, though, just take the opinions of those I encountered in traffic. Truly, I have never seen so many phones being whipped out, nor so many people driving like lunatics to catch a glimpse, and not by such a range of drivers in such a range of other cars either. Enthusiasts, I get, but everyone’s neck was swivelling for this.

Yet this is no supercar with a six or seven-figure price tag – it’s a Nissan that’s yours from $73,300 before on-road costs. That’s the power of a design as good as this merely passing by in traffic. It speaks to those that know and those that don’t in equal measure. It makes you daydream of the emotive act that is driving. I don’t care who you are – this will bring out the teenage racer inside you.

This design is in equal parts modern and retrospective, with the incorporation of the 240Z’s rectangular grille and distinct headlight profile at the front and the 300ZX’s unmistakeable taillights at the back making for a ‘greatest hits’ album that’s so cohesive it might as well be an all-new LP. So stunning is the design, you’ll quickly forget that it’s still based on the platform of its predecessor, the 370Z. There’s even a rather smart new Nissan emblem design as well to signify a new, modern era for the brand, while the classic Z logo is the perfect representation of this car’s contrast between retro elements and modern design.

Of course, being a Japanese sports car, items such as the 19-inch Rays wheels and unmissable gauge pods atop the dash have been fitted to conjure up the sentiment of the tuner scene as well, and I’ve got to say they do so perfectly – especially with how they look when illuminated at night. The only thing I’m not sure of is the gauges themselves – a boost gauge is a must-have, and turbo impeller speed is certainly interesting, but a volt meter that size? Surely oil pressure or temperature would’ve been a bit more useful.

Regardless, you’re well catered to as a driver in this cockpit, with the low-slung seating position really giving you that feeling of being immersed inside – and one with – the car. As a driver, you’re also afforded a great deal of seat adjustment to get in just the right spot with powered tilt and slide, manual thigh support and lifter adjusters for the seat base, and manual lumbar support. The passenger, however, misses out and only has tilt and slide adjustment.

What does carry throughout both sides of the cabin is a high-quality blend of red leather and black suede upholstery that really sets this cabin off and compliments the black paint and red brake calipers of my tester perfectly. Of course, there’s still a fair amount of textured plastic on the top of the dash, transmission tunnel, and door cards, but nothing in here feels offensive.

However, there are a few things that do seem like odd omissions, particularly given how well specified this car initially appears to be. Heated seats and a Bose audio system, for instance, are great inclusions, but why is there no satellite navigation? There’s no wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to make up for it either, so you’ll need to remember to bring a cord to use maps off your phone.

The big 12.3-inch screen ahead of the driver is a fantastic re-skin of what you’ll find in the Mitsubishi Outlander, but why Nissan didn’t nab the indicator stalks from the Outlander to match? Instead of those newer, classier items, you get the stalks from a Navara in here. Oh yeah, and while it has automatic headlights, it lacks automatic wipers. See what I mean?

At least storage is no issue – which is unsurprising given Nissan’s Z cars have always been as much Grand Tourers as they are sports cars. The boot may be shallow, but the space is absolutely massive, and there are sizeable trays behind each of the seats for odds and ends. Sliding back the centre console lid reveals a hidden cupholder too – a necessity since the bottle holders in the doors are on the small side.

While the interior omissions may be disappointing in a car of this price, at least no expense has been spared under the skin. Packing a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 that previously saw use in Infiniti models no longer sold Down Under, the 2023 Nissan Z packs a real punch with 298kW at 6400rpm and 475Nm at 1800rpm.

Two transmissions are offered, with the six-speed manual being the one fitted to my tester. This close-ratio box comes paired with an Exedy high-performance clutch and a carbon-fibre driveshaft – part of why it saves 33kg over the automatic, keeping the manual’s kerb weight to an even 1600kg. It also has automatic rev-matching just to make life that little bit easier as well. Opt for the automatic, and you get a nine-speed unit of Mercedes-Benz origin; you’ll lose the carbon-fibre driveshaft but gain Standard and Sport drive mode settings.

Even without these drive modes in the manual, the engine itself does a fine job of being right for every occasion. As the numbers suggest, it’s smooth and torquey low down, but step on it and the power delivery is explosive. There’s just the right amount of turbo lag to make the boost ‘hit different’, with it surging forward with ferocity as you hear the turbos spool and see the boost gauge come alive. If only the exhaust sound was there to match – the active sound enhancement inside the cabin sounds good, but the exhaust note is utterly anonymous.

Nissan doesn’t claim a 0-100km/h time for the 2023 Z, but US testing seems to indicate it’ll do the dash in around 4.5 seconds depending on how quickly you can change gears. On that topic, the Exedy clutch feels absolutely fantastic with the ideal weight and take-up point, but it’s a shame the shifter feel doesn’t match. I like the length of the throws on it, but engagement – particularly to second gear – feels a bit too notchy. From what I’ve heard, though, the issue is something Nissan is looking to address.

I’ve no complaints in the handling department, however, as again, no expense has been spared here. Riding on double wishbone suspension at the front and a multi-link setup at the rear, the ride quality is quite frankly superb over potholes for a sports car like this, yet still taut enough to remain composed and dynamic through the bends.

The mechanical limited-slip differential is a must-have in a rear-wheel drive sports car as well, with it allowing you to get just the right amount of oversteer on the exit from tight corners. Of course, the big brakes – 355mm with four-piston calipers up front, 350mm with two-piston calipers in the rear – only add to its dynamic prowess as well, with enough confidence from them to really drive it hard on tighter backroads. Perhaps some higher-performance rubber than the standard Bridgestone Potenza S007 treads is all that’s needed to really round out the package here.

In a sense, the way the 2023 Nissan Z drives draws upon all the best elements a Japanese sports car can offer – that thrilling turbocharged feel, the ability to row your own gears with a proper manual ‘box, GT comfort, and a real sense of rationality given the relative practicality and the price point.

I’ll admit, costing over $20,000 more than the old base 370Z is one hell of a jump, but then the new Z marks a big jump in performance, refinement, and design as well. You also have to look at where the market currently sits, and that gives it only one real rival – the Toyota Supra. Yes, that’s right, that rivalry is back for the first time since the Mk4 Supra and 300ZX were competing in the 1990s.

As good as the new BMW Z4-derived Supra is, there are a few numbers that don’t work in its favour – the Z is the more powerful with an extra 13kW, and it’s also cheaper to the tune of $13,700 compared with the base Supra GT (even the sold-out Z Proto edition is cheaper than that) or $23,700 compared with the Supra GTS.

I also think the Z is the better car to live with in the real world given the more supple ride and the increased storage space. For what it’s worth, though, the Supra is 25Nm torquier, better equipped and upholstered, and will also offer a six-speed manual for 2023.

While the Supra may be great, the 2023 Nissan Z, for me, hits the mark for what a Japanese sports car needs to be. Cheap performance is what brought such cars to the popularity in the 20th Century, and while $73,300 isn’t exactly cheap, it is compared with what else is out there.

To get a rear-wheel drive sports car that’s this fast and refined to drive for that amount of money these days is special. To have it look this good is even more special. There might be some kinks around the edges, but then that’s why people took to modifying Japanese sports cars en masse in the 1990s and 2000s, and I don’t doubt the same will happen with these today. Plus, it leaves room for future model-year updates as well.

Nissan – hats off. This is one sensational sports car, and already the next great entry in the 50-plus-year history of the Z.

2023 Nissan Z Coupe Manual List Price: $73,300
  • 9/10
    Performance - 9/10
  • 8.5/10
    Ride & Handling - 8.5/10
  • 7.5/10
    Tech & Features - 7.5/10
  • 8/10
    Practicality - 8/10
  • 9/10
    Value for Money - 9/10

Pros: Explosive power and a manual ‘box is a clear recipe for fun, ride finds a beautiful balance between handling and comfort, stunning design is a fitting tribute to Z models past
Cons: Second gear doesn’t engage that smoothly, no sat nav or wireless smartphone mirroring, unusably tiny bottle holders in doors

In a nutshell: Japanese sports cars have always been about cheap performance, and in that regard, the 2023 Nissan Z hits the nail on the head. Considerably cheaper than the BMW-derived Toyota Supra but just as fast and thrilling, the new Z could just be an instant classic.

Photography by Marcus Cardone and Tom Stuart.

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Nissan Australia for a week with a full tank of fuel. All additional fuel costs were covered by the author. Our thanks also to Ashton Co-op for allowing us to photograph it at its facilities.

Patrick Jackson
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