2023 Nissan Z Design Evolution & Drive Experience

Experienced by Kimatni D. Rawlins

To understand the meteoric rise of a brand or product, you must first delve into its storied history and foundation for cultural relevance, philosophies, or architecture that defines its journey. Since 1969,  the Nissan Z has cultivated enduring influence and automotive fandom, which continues to reach global zeniths with no apparent decrease in momentum within the near future. Enter the 2023 Z which marks a confluence of traits that pay homage to the venerable sports car’s heritage, such as design interpretations from the 240Z and Z32 and updated performance capabilities to manifest scintillating euphoria for the controller of the wheel.

Welcome to Las Vegas

For a day of immersion with the letter Z, Nissan Diversity invited Automotive Rhythms to Las Vegas to be entertained by the attributes of the seventh-generation iteration. Of course, Sin City is full of excitement, so what better place to launch a vehicle that equally represents. Basecamp was set up at the Aria Resort where I learned a bit more about the strategy behind the development of the new car and added historical data. Within its 53-year history, almost 2 million Zs have been sold globally with 75% of purchases stemming from aficionados in the United States. Out front in the massive driveway of the hotel, a collection of colorful Zs enthused the Vegas crowds, who were ecstatic to witness the Japanese coupes in person.

The Z on Screen

You don’t need me to tell you how much of a star the Z is on the big screen from past to present. Of course, you will catch the 2023 Z in Fast X, the sequel to F9 of the Fast & Furious franchise. This is no surprise since the Fast Five Nissan 370Z that Paul Walker previously owned was featured in the film series and eventually sold for a record $105,600 at the 2020 Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction.

Did you happen to catch the new HBO Max series “Tokyo Vice” starring famed Japanese actor Ken Watanabe? It depicts a late 1990s Tokyo where yakuza mob dealings, corrupt police, and national media headlines intersect. Watanabe plays the no-nonsense detective Hiroto Katagiri who intimately drives a reddish/orangish Nissan Fairlady Z. You can say the coupe is another character in the show since it’s intentionally placed in critical scenes of almost every episode. The Fairlady Z (the original Z aka S30) became an international hit when introduced in 1969. Outside of Japan it was sold as the Datsun 240Z, later evolving into the 280ZX, 300ZX, and so on. The 2-seater, 6-cylinder Fairlady Z coupe was produced for 9 years and sold more than 520,000 units, a record for sports cars within a single model.

Z Design Philosophy

Nissan held a global design competition for its studios from Japan, China, the U.S., and the U.K. to conceive and submit sketches of the all-new Z. Full-size clay models were built from the three finalists selected. The winner happened to be the team from the Land of the Rising Sun. Their vision now represents the 2023 Z with both a retro and modern interpretation of the icon. The elongated hood and short deck from the original were the key elements. Interior Designer Takuya Yamashita said that the utmost respect for the car’s history and to those who helped build the Z into what it is today was important. Exterior Designer Naoyuki Ohkoshi iterated that it was essential to convey the original Z’s silhouette with this car – with classic lines flowing from the roofline and dropping over the rear glass hatch – to give people a feeling that it’s a Z without even seeing the emblem. Ironically, both designers were enamored with the original S30’s styling as children, animatedly fueling their passion for drawing vehicles.

Aria Hotel Ride & Drive to Callville Bay Marina

 After a few lifestyle activities the night prior, it was time to blast off like pilots in the group of Zs patiently awaiting. The route gave us time to drive on the streets, highways, and the curvy, fast-paced canyon roads near Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area. The RWD, 400-horsepower, and 350 lb-ft of torque (1,600 to 5,200 rpm) coupe is light on its feet and well-balanced. I became immediately aware of its performance attributes after a few shifts from my 6-speed manual. Nissan borrowed the 3-liter Twin Turbo V6 from INFINITI’s Red Sport and the 9-speed automatic from the Titan pickup since it can handle higher torque thresholds. As a result, horsepower is up 20%, and torque increases 30% from the prior generation.

Launch Control is featured on both transmissions and a Limited Slip Differential is available on the Z Performance grades. Sport mode can be engaged, but I didn’t feel too much difference in the settings. My ride was outfitted with staggered 275/35 R19 rear and 255/40/R19 front Bridgestone Potenza tires with confident grip. At higher speeds I was hugging the extended bends with ease while deacceleration from the grabby Nissan Sport Brakes was equally impressive. However, when you turn off traction control, accelerate, and steer to your liking as we did in an open lot, the Z will power slide or drift away in a cloud of smoke until your thrills have been met. After a few photos shoots with the epic backdrop, it was time to return while listening to the notes of the dual exhaust and performance muffler. So satisfactory!

Race-Inspired Cockpit

The performance-focused cockpit is comfortable and not tight for someone 6′ tall and 205 pounds like myself. As well, the Z offers far better rear visibility and headroom than expected. The formula includes leather-appointed power seats, aluminum sport pedals, a handbrake with the manual, a triple gauge cluster atop the dash similar to prior models, an 8-speaker Bose audio system, 9” touchscreen with navigation, NissanConnect Services with Wi-Fi hotspot, and wireless Apple CarPlay. The leather interior may match the exterior hue depending on your model and color choice.

Z Proto Spec Special Edition

Featured in an Ikazuchi Yellow Pearl hue, the special edition Z Proto Spec model, of which 240 will be produced, was my ichiban choice. Of course, the figure pays homage to the revered 240Z and the original yellow pays respect to past Zs. This vibrant hue was chosen by Yutaka Katayama (Mr. K) to contrast with Mother Earth’s blue skies. Respectively known as the father of the Datsun Z, Katayama was the brain behind Nissan’s U.S. operations in the 70s. The Z Proto Spec highlights bronze 19” RAYS super-lightweight forged aluminum-alloy rims with spokes reminiscent of the Japanese katana (samurai sword), yellow-colored brake calipers with Z logo, exclusive shift lever knob, exclusive Proto Spec leather-appointed seats with yellow accents, and exclusive Proto Spec suede + cloth door trim with yellow stitching.

Past to Present

Here are a few notable design pieces to pay attention to when analyzing the new Z. The shape and tone of the silver roof strip was inspired by the katana blade. The coupe’s triangular quarter glass, rectangular grille, ducktail-style rear spoiler, and Z Bulge hood all took a design page out of the originals. The 1st-generation S30 Z showcased a “Z” badge alongside the rear quarter glass. The new Z features the same. Lastly, the taillamps of the 2023 Z hark back to the 300ZX (Z32) days with dual horizontal graphic lights.

“Simply put, our goal is to make this the best Z yet, period. With each generation, we raise the bar, pushing the limits of Z and continuing to tap into the human instinct for that next thrilling journey,” said Hiroshi Tamura, chief product specialist of the new Z. “More than just powerful and agile, the 2023 Z is designed to be one with the driver for all kinds of on-road adventures.”

Pricing & Hues

Z colors include three monotones dubbed Black Diamond Metallic, Gun Metallic, and Rosewood Metallic. Two-tone exteriors include Brilliant Silver, Boulder Gray, Seiran Blue, Ikazuchi Yellow, Passion Red TriCoat, and Everest White Pearl TriCoat, which are paired with the Super Black roof. Pricing starts at $39,990 (excluding $1,025 destination) for a Z Coupe, $49,990 for the Z Coupe Performance, and $52,990 for the Z Coupe Proto Spec. So are you ready for the return of the Fairlady?

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