2023 Nissan Z Up Close: Paying Respect to Generations Past

Sports car after sports car has fallen by the wayside amid the seemingly inexorable march toward SUV mediocrity and self-driving tech. The ones left around are the holdouts — cars like the Ford Mustang (the only actual car Ford still sells in the U.S.), Chevrolet Camaro (rumored for discontinuation) and Dodge Challenger (which, we hear, may go electric very soon). So nobody would have batted an eye if Nissan had decided to not spend its limited cash on redoing the iconic Z car for another go-around given that sales of the old one had fallen off dramatically and prospects for its replacement seem rather limited.

But Nissan apparently felt different about that, thinking the presence of the storied nameplate in its showroom was important enough to invest in a new version — and that’s what we have here in the 2022 Nissan Z. No more numbers, no 300ZX or 400Z or 370Z — it’s now just the Z.

Related: Sports Cars Aren’t Dead: Nissan Reveals 2023 Z Coupe

We haven’t been able to drive it yet (that’s coming in 2022), but we did get some personal time in the new Z at a cars-and-coffee event near Nashville, Tenn., in which a horde of cars show up to a parking lot for a weekly car show. Nissan, whose North American headquarters are in nearby Franklin, had a new 2023 Z on display, so we got to see it up close. (Note: The photos above and below are ones we took of a separate Z at the 2021 L.A. Auto Show.) What did we think?

The Styling Homage Works

Retro styling can be a hit-or-miss kind of thing, and sometimes that hit or miss changes over time — it looks amazing at first, pulling on the nostalgic heartstrings of buyers, but grows stale as designers realize that updating a retro look as the car ages is quite, well, difficult (note the 2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser, 2002 Ford Thunderbird and 2006 Chevrolet HHR). But some of them manage to pull it off: Consider the 2005 Ford Mustang, which ditched the fourth generation’s unremarkable shape for the decidedly retro-inspired fifth generation.

The Z manages to pull off a similar feat. Exterior styling carries obvious elements of previous Z cars, from the shape of the headlights and roof (see the original 1970 Datsun 240Z) to the twin-bar taillights (the 1990 Nissan 300ZX). All of it wraps around a chassis that’s an evolution of the outgoing 370Z, so the dimensions inside and out change very little. But that’s just fine; in an era where sports cars are creeping up in size (the Camaro, Challenger and Mustang are all sizable), a tidier footprint is welcome.

A Familiar Feel Inside

As different as the outside looks, the interior hasn’t changed as much from the outgoing 370Z. The retro-inspired gauge pods atop the dash remain, introduced in the original 240Z and reintroduced with the 350Z. They’re a neat touch for the interior, which gains some needed upgrades to areas like the touchscreen and digital instrument cluster to stay up to date. Newness aside, the interior’s tight headroom and narrow width feel very much like the outgoing 370Z, and the door and climate controls don’t look new at all. It’s certainly more spacious than the latest Toyota Supra or related Toyota GR86 and Subaru BRZ, but it’ll still be a tight fit for many.

The best element of the new Z might be the options for interior colors. A blue Z with blue leather and faux suede inside is absolutely dynamite in person; it also signals a welcome return to interiors with brighter colors. The last-generation Z had a couple of interior color options that also looked outstanding (the 350Z Roadster even had a novel seating option with orange and black ventilated mesh). But we’re always fans of a distinctive interior, and what Nissan skipped in unique design, it made up for with available hues.

The rest of the interior feels familiar to anyone who’s been in a Z over the past decade. The roofline is low, but so is the seat, so it felt to me like there’s more headroom inside than in a Supra. Strapping a helmet on will still require you to be of shorter stature, however, so make sure to try that before you plunk down the cash for a Z to use on the racetrack or autocross.

It’s hard to fault any automaker these days that’s still investing in enthusiast driving machines, so Nissan deserves kudos for doing that with the new Z. Hopefully it’s as much fun to drive as it is to look at; stay tuned for our review in the spring, when Nissan launches the new Z for the U.S. market.

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