The Z factor lives on....

Make no mistake—this latest Z is not a new car from the ground up. It shares much of its underpinnings with its predecessor, and that’s not a bad thing, Nor is it dismissive of this vehicle’s importance. Rather, this is the impressive result of combining the best aesthetic design elements and engineering success that spans the Z’s rich and colourful 50-year history. It has provided loyal Z fans a means to recapture their childhood longing to own an original Z and be a part of the iconic experience.

I would have called it the “ZR” for its modern interpretation of a classic Retro style. Or perhaps the final Z Remaining as this may be the last internal combustion front engine rear wheel drive sports car. Vehicles that are in danger of being consigned to the pages of history, as the emerging generation of EVs redefine our perception of the term “performance”.

It’s fair to say the Z is probably not the perfect car for a dedicated introvert.

Our sassy two door test vehicle is no shrinking violet—it’s bright, sexy and will happily draw attention and turn heads wherever it goes.

With a strong established fanbase, the “Z” factor drew eager questions from strangers in carparks or from retailers who could see her attention-grabbing curves outside their shopfront.

Let’s be honest; you don’t buy a Z if you want to stay under the radar and blend in.

GBTW’s test vehicle was finished in gorgeous Seiran Blue with the complementary Super Black Roof, race-worthy graphite finished rims and large, bold red callipers. The Z held a striking pose.

The front end draws inspiration from the 240 and 260 with its extended tapered hood and shark like frontal nose cone.

Love it or hate it, that deep and prominent black grill enhances and defines this new Z’s identity, whilst firmly anchoring it directly to the Z’s historical lineage.

Elegant body lines run down the length of the hood and are echoed through the roof, accentuating the classic centre bonnet bulge, signifying the Z’s muscular DNA as a front engine rear wheel drive sports car.

The side profile is the strongest connection to the early Z’s alluring silhouette. A long bonnet and short rear tail. Plus, a fast-swooping roof line separated and highlighted by a rakish sliver blade cutting a distinctive edge along the tapered side glass down to the rear hatch outer borders. The signature triangular rear quarter window and the way the LED headlamps, bordered by bright crescent shaped DRLs, mimic the archetypal deep scooped out recesses of the 240, pay homage to the masterful body contours of the original.

But it’s the attention grabbing back end which takes inspiration from the fourth generation 300ZX, with those dazzling capsule LED taillights that glow with evil intent at night. Blown out guards, dove tail spoiler, large dual exhausts tips and a highly visible satin chrome body brace on display through the rear glass panel, leave no doubt to the passing admirer that this machine is built to hug the road and squeeze exhilaration out of every bend.

Look closer at the rear glass and you find a subtle hidden Easter egg! In the accepted practice of the Jeep Wrangler mastery of tradition, Nissan has also taken the opportunity to pay homage to the Z’s illustrious history.

Inspecting the bottom section of the Z’s rear glass will reveal an etched hidden message.

 “Since 1969 -”, when the first Z was launched.

Given the petite internal form factor, Nissan wisely made no attempt to force fit a pointless rear seat to accommodate elves behind the cockpit. At the rear of the seats are a couple of small flat tub like storage shelves that could accept a handbag, jumper or store your favourite peak cap. There’s also a small flap door exposing a storage pocket for your driving gloves, but not much else.

Large family practicality is unlikely to be a topic of discussion.

However, lift the rear hatch and, despite the subwoofer consuming any usable depth in the back, the Z is not completely impractical. The weekly grocery shop will fit under that long tail hatch—or overflow onto the front seat.

Or you could go shopping twice a week, after all the Z is fun to drive so why not make a preference for the freshest fruit and vegetables an excuse to take the long way to the shopping centre, again.

You could easily slide in a flat line suitcase into the rear compartment and still have perfect rear vision, maybe a couple of overnight bags for the weekend, or a stack of pizza boxes if it’s your turn to play Uber Eats.

This is a sports car first and foremost, so wondering if you could pick up that new coffee table from IKEA is pointless.

Take care as you slide your hand under the flush door paddle. It’s not really a handle, and any prominent finger jewellery will leave annoying marks on the glossy duco. Swing open the door, crouch down, place one foot between the pedals, and a hand on the steering wheel to steady yourself, then shoehorn yourself back into the heated, leather-accented driver’s saddle. Hoick your other leg up and over the low sill panel as you wiggle and twist your shoulders and keister into the superbly bolstered seats.

Finding a comfortable driving position isn’t hard, with good tilt and reach adjustment on the steering wheel.

The electrically adjustable forward and aft position for leg room and backrest positioning wasn’t intuitive and it might take first time Z owners a minute to locate the oddly mounted switches sandwiched between the seat and the console. Whilst the base seat height adjustment and leg support are manual knobs on the right side of the seat. Nope, I couldn’t see the logic—perhaps the engineering team ran out of time to deliver the full, funky design vision to keep everything together.

The first thing that hits you is how snug you feel. It’s not cramped, just exquisitely cocooning, exactly how a proper sports car should be. Sometimes it’s the little details which make the biggest impression. Nissan even plumbed the side dash air vents through the interior door panels to squeeze everything in—a funky design touch that worked.

A few hard plastic surfaces remain throughout the cabin for durability, but nothing that distracts your attention from this interior’s gratifying presentation. I loved the tactile feel of the steering wheel, leveraging its design from Nissan’s GTR performance monster. The wheel has just the right balance of size and thickness, making it comfortable to grip and easy to rotate through the bends.

Ergonomically speaking, this Z’s cockpit presents everything to the driver in an uncluttered, logical, user-friendly layout. From the placement of switches, controls and gauges, everything is within easy reach. You just get in, buckle up, point and go… everything else is intuitive.

This is what makes the Z so good—you enjoy the experience, rather than analyse and study its operation.

The assumption is clear; if you buy a Z, it’s because you’re a driving enthusiast, perhaps with a subconscious yearning to be a top gun pilot.

As you take in your jet fighters’ cockpit; the soft touch surfaces and sporty accented stitching all add to the rewarding self-indulgent experience of ownership.

Those quintessential triple pod style gauges bulging out the top of the dashboard silently encourage you to “Bring it on”

with easy updates on boost pressure, voltage, and new tech mastery that shows the turbo’s rotational speed!

The Z clearly provides all the prompts you could possibly want about the state of driving performance. 

The large 12.3-inch TFT instrument panel is excellent, bright and crisp with no less than three display options, Standard, Enhanced and Sport to suit your individual tastes.

I set it to Sport and didn’t touch it again. It’s nicely laid out showing important driveline component temperatures and oil pressures to the right, with a prominent tacho front and centre, and either a G-Force meter or boost gauge on the left. The option is yours. There’s also a range of easy to navigate menus for vehicle settings and driver customisation. Just scroll through the pictograms from the steering wheel menu button and select what you want to change.

Incidentally. when using Sports display, you get green-amber-red shift warning lights across the top of the instrument cluster, which coincide with the tacho needle standing perfectly vertical at 12 o’clock bang on the 7000rpm red line. It provides excellent peripheral recognition allowing your eyes to stay firmly fixed on the road ahead and that rapidly approaching horizon line.

However, for an $80,000 dollar vehicle, what seemed at odds with the rest of the interior’s high standards was the OK, eight-speaker BOSE sound system and the smaller Nissan 8.0-inch infotainment screen to which we get relegated here in Oz. I’m not referring to definition, but more the lacklustre colour themes and graphics. Nissan could have done something special and uniquely rewarding for Z fans, but missed the opportunity. You get the standard connectivity available in most vehicles these days, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay via cable only, with Bluetooth streaming. Sorry, no wireless charging or connectivity here!

And no GPS functionality! It’s via your phone only. Good thing there’s USB ports to keep the battery charged. Just don’t lose your cable or you might lose your way.

Having been spoilt by advanced HMI systems in other vehicles of lesser value, the absence of integration with the HVAC controls was a surprise, given the Z’s cosy ergonomic layout and the importance of minimising driver distraction. The convenience of a shortcut button on the dash to negate menu searching and provided a quick visual reference to adjust cabin temperature, fan speed, or vent position via the infotainment screen, with just a simple tap, seemed logical. It’s especially handy when you’re driving at night, there’s a sudden torrential down pour and all the windows fog up fast.

Granted, once you’re familiar with the general interior layout, muscle memory kicks in, and the positioning of the rotary dials for AC and heating recessed down at the bottom of the dash work just fine. I might be fussy, but I like the fact others provide the flexibility and practicality of both options

Speaking of poor visibility, my first impression of the reversing camera was that there must still be protective transport tape over the lensnope; it actually was grainy with poor contrast in the shade and fiddling with the settings made little improvement. It had all the visual appeal of a kid’s toy spy camera from the 80s. My point of comparison is the excellent quality available in other current Nissan modelsmaking the Z’s bad eyesight a disappointment.

The fact there is no surround camera bird’s-eye view functionality in this style of vehicle left me dumbfounded! For a vehicle which effectively has ‘peripheral vision block out’ B Pillars making blind spot monitoring imperative as over the shoulder rearward visibility is near impossible to check for cross traffic when reversing.

It also endangers the Z’s paintwork as while forward sensors promptly warn of an impending wall, the low-slung nose is easy to scrape on unmonitored and unseeable high kerbing. And being a fan of handy bird’s-eye camera views to make it easy to park straight in the centre of any parking bay, the lack of any camera assistance when forward parking was frustrating. Sure, after a week or two of parking, getting out and checking and then reversing and re-parking, you develop better judgement of a vehicle’s unique placement. On any short-term test drive, it’s a feature that I particularly notice in absentia.

Having to reverse off a busy main road into a darkened laneway with shrubbery on both sides through a narrow gap between two bollards sitting below bumper height whilst the parking sensors threw a fit—made me wish I was back in the bigger Pathfinder as its surround camera system nailed that challenge easily.

And yes, our test Z actively requires driving—Sacre Blue!

It has three pedals and a gearstick reaching into the nicely spaced ratios of the FS6R31A six-speed manual box. Which rules out the lazy generation with a license restricted to automatic gear changing only. But don’t despair, as Nissan has thought of that too.

Or the Z can be yours with a slick shifting Mercedes derived 9 speed auto for no extra cost. And it became a tempting idea when my initial smile at wielding the old-style stick froze.

I swooped around the nicely radiused freeway on-ramp expecting to grab third and wind the turbos up for assertive straight-line acceleration to 100kph.

Instead, I got the opportunity to play “I spy with my little eye something beginning with Oh, F…!” as I gently rolled into my allocated spot to take up residency in a five-kilometre-long car park. Of all the times and all the places to break down, the Mount Henry Bridge on a busy morning is not the most convenient. I was thankful for the relatively light clutch pedal operation, as my left leg got an hour-long workout as we crawled along at something less than walking pace.

But that particular reinforcement of the pleasure of an automatic gearbox aside; break free of the traffic congestion and the Z was simply great fun to drive. It feels solidly planted on the ground with a reassuring fat, heavy feel about it, which is probably because of its 1,600kg kerb weight. To put that into perspective—the larger supercharged V8 F-Type from JLR is only 1,800kg whilst the former 370Z coupe manual is a tad over 1,400kg.

The aluminium double wishbone front and multi-link rear end work well, providing the Z with confidence during normal suburban driving or moderate brisk sporty bursts along smooth winding country roads.

However, despite the slightly larger mono tube damper at the rear, on the odd occasion during unfavourable, undulating and rather bumpy road conditions, there is potential for it to become a little unsettled and less composed during cornering.

It suggested the Z’s suspension tune, low ride height and available amount of spring travel meant it was nearing, if not occasionally kissing, the bump stops.

Which confirms the Z is more on the comfortable side of GT than an edgy single-minded sports car. And for the most part, that’s where the Z loves to play, and gives the greatest reward. You have the option to glide along looking good, turn heads with admiring glances as you pull up to the valet parking at the theatre, or bust a move as the rear tyre side walls begin to crease in exultation at a 0-100kph sprint in sub 5 seconds.

 Speaking of engine performance, the Z is running a well-respected powerhouse, the VR30DDTT, a twin turbo DOHC 24 valve V6 monster from the previous 2016 Infinity stock. This efficient, lightweight all-aluminium combination of block and heads combines the tuning benefits of direct injection and variable valve timing.

It produces an eye widening acceleration power delivery just shy of 300kW and a tyre smoking 475Nm of driveline twisting torque.

Nissan realises that both present and new Z fans will want to explore the Z’s potent driveline talents on more than one occasion. In the interests of repetitive reliability, they’ve ensured the complementary componentry is up to the challenge. Starting with a high-performance heavy-duty clutch supplied by Japanese motor-racing specialist EXEDY, power is screwed down the driveline by a carbon-fibre composite driveshaft to a limited slip differential. So, you can beat up on the Z for a little fun knowing full well that it’s more than up to the challenge. 

Press the start button with anticipation of a rich auditory reward of burbles and snorts as the twin T bursts into life. Ummmm, nothing but a muted and subdued exhaust note with all the passion and fanfare of a bathroom exhaust fan, DOH!

Dip the lightweight clutch pedal, move the tactile gear lever and there’s a rewarding mechanical exactness to its movement as it engages first. Gently lift the revs, ease the clutch to engage the driveline and the Z slinks away smoothly in a relaxed and docile manner. Cruising through suburbia, the Z is nonchalant, it knows it’s fast, and has no insecurities about needing to prove it.

It will happily tootle around as you enjoy a scenic Sunday morning drive along the picturesque coast road. The steering feels direct, and responsive to any minor directional changes you make, its progressive and nicely proportional to driver input through bends and corners, allowing you to guide the Z rather than lead it. Although when riding over coarse road surfaces, those sticky Potenza’s grumble and moan, making their audible disapproval rather intrusive into another wise pleasant cabin.

But this is a Z. It’s allowed to be flirtatious cheeky with just a dash of naughtiness.

It’s away from stop-start traffic and cramped city streets that you really begin to appreciate the Z’s chameleon personality and virtuosity that will broaden smiles, widen eyes and rapidly increase pulse rates.

Pop the clutch, quick shift to second and snap the throttle, and the Z responds in kind. Push the throttle deep into the 475Nm impregnable surge of torque to peel back the available layers and unleash 300kW of force through the drive train. The turbos spool up expeditiously, sending the rotational speed and boost pressure gauge needles slamming into their maximum output limits.

The 255/40R19 Potenzas up front follow your directional lead, whilst the squat 275/35’s at the back brace for acceleration. As you get pressed firmly into the seat, your arms and legs feel heavier in synchronicity with the tacho as it rises hurriedly to reach its vertical 12 o’clock position, accompanied by shift lights blinking their transition from green, to yellow and finally fire red, signifying the force fed V6 has reached it bestial 7,000rpm marker.  

With one hand firmly on the gear shift, focused determination and eyes fixed on the horizon, slice the gear lever over and into third, peg the throttle and the Z’s relentless and intoxicating surge of power and acceleration will elate the senses as you reach the 110kph posted speed limit with imperious tenacity.

Selecting S mode enhances steering response, activates the in-cabin vehicle sound enhancement, and will have the engine proactively rev match on downshifts for silky smooth changes. Like I said, not for introverts, as those sassy little growls and rumbles are head turning as you zip through suburban roundabouts even when complying with gazetted and sensible road speeds. S mode will also enable launch control and facilitate flat shifting. Meaning you don’t have to lift your foot off the accelerator during a rapid gear change. Which isn’t going to keep you very close to Nissan’s indicated drinking habits of only 10.8L/100km.

As much fun as all this expeditious forward motion and cornering prowess is, being able rein in the Z’s momentum was the handy work of those big bold red callipers, made up of arresting 4-piston units up front and dual piston clamps on the rear. They wash off speed with alacrity in proportion to pedal pressure before the next series of bends to provide all the confidence you need.

Married to Nissan’s Intelligent Mobility features, the Z included intelligent emergency braking with pedestrian detection, forward collision and blind spot warning, along with cross traffic alert, land departure and traffic sign recognition.

Having spent several weeks in the new Z, I grew increasing fond of what this vehicle has successfully delivered and, more importantly, what this little icon represents to motoring enthusiasts.

At the judgemental coal face, the Z is far from perfect, but it does provide exhilarating performance and a rewarding GT style drive. There are idiosyncrasies and oddities in its features and functions where Nissan could do better.

But at the end of the day, I just wanted to drive it some more. Which, to me, makes this latest bearer of the Z badge a worthy successor to the throne.

Fun, fast and affordable, the new Z has the looks and charisma to capture the nostalgia from a previous time. Yet it delivers a focused modern driving experience to capture the imagination of a whole new generation of Z fans, whilst respectfully rewarding the memories of those who already appreciate the Z phenomenon.

Model as tested: Nissan Z

  • Price: $80,116
  • Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbo petrol V6 
  • Output: 298kW/475Nm
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual rear wheel drive.
  • Fuel: 10.8L/100km
  • Warranty: 5 year unlimited kms, with 24 Hour Roadside Assistance
  • Safety rating: Not tested—because it’s a niche model sold in relatively low volume, it is unlikely to be tested by ANCAP
Drive Editor - Ray Cully
Drive Editor – Ray Cully

About our Motoring Editor: Ray has been passionate about all things automotive since he first started collecting Matchbox and Hot Wheels models when he was five. Since leaving his executive role at General Motors (GM), he’s been sharing his driving experiences with Australian audiences for nearly 20 years, commencing his automotive journalist career with a popular WA-based magazine and was writing his own column in The West Australian for 8 years.

Ray’s strong love of automotive engineering and clever design has seen his articles and photography featured in prominent national magazines in Australia and the UK. He loves sharing his passion with other drivers, including via a long running stint as Senior Instructor for Land Rover Experience, providing training and education for new vehicle owners.

Recently Ray has been presenting on TV shows including Ready for Adventure and the very popular Caravan and Camping WA, to showcase some of the great products, vehicles and companies that make getting out and exploring Western Australia that much more enjoyable.