Nissan is making a comeback. This is what it’s like to travel down the road in the latest sports car

Nissan has been through hard times over the last four or five years. Former Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn was arrested in 2018. His business suffered from an aging product line, in large part due to Ghosn’s focus on fleet sales rather than consumer excitement. The company’s chief designer, Alfonso Albaisa, said last year that he was disgusted. Even then-Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa was forced to admit in 2019 that the company had dealt a blow.the very bottom.”

But Nissan is back with fresh cars like the new Pathfinder and Rogue SUVs. Z, with its emphasis on style and excitement, promises to be the spiritual center of this renaissance of sorts. Creating this new car, whose lines are reminiscent of Nissan’s sports cars of the past, helped bring the company together, Albaisa told me at the launch of the new Z last year.

I recently sat in his driver’s seat for hundreds of miles of highways and winding back roads. The new Z proved to be a surprisingly likable companion for years to come, providing genuine comfort on long and dreary stretches of road, but bringing joy when the road called for it.

Once a year, four of my brothers, three of whom own classic cars, are going somewhere a few days drive. I join them whenever possible. I had planned for months to meet them this year in a small town in northwest Maryland. Just a week before the Airbnb booking was due to start, I received an email from Nissan that the Z, one of the pre-production cars, would be available for a test drive, but it was only available for one weekend. This weekend.

Sometimes everything just fits together perfectly.

Soon I was on I-95 towards Baltimore, where I was supposed to turn west into the Blue Ridge Mountains. Z was a comfortable cruiser with a spacious cabin for two people and ample cargo space. However, perhaps the first thing I noticed was that the steering wheel seemed oddly large in diameter for a sports car. Also, it didn’t give the road feel while driving on the freeway that I would expect from a sports car.

Although there was plenty of power. The 400-horsepower turbocharged V6 Z likes to go fast and feels better the more revs. I had to work hard to keep it from hitting the 7000rpm limit in first gear because it felt so good to let the engine pull the car faster. My car had a six-speed manual with a nice short shifter. A 9-speed automatic is also available.

When I pulled up to our Airbnb in western Maryland, my brothers came out to see Z (and hopefully me too, but the car got most attention.) We agreed that it was a superb design, conveying a sense of classic in a modern form. The pointed nose and rectangular grille front is clearly reminiscent of the forefather of the 240Z line from the early 70s. The taillights are reminiscent of the block taillights of the much later 280ZX and 300ZX.

On the road

We spent Saturday watching vintage cars race at Summit Point Motorsports across the river in West Virginia. On Sunday we drove to the Shenandoah National Park to drive along the famous Skyline Drive that meanders along the mountains.

LR: Peter Valdes-Dapena with a 2023 Nissan Z;  Marc Valdes-Dapena with his 1964 Triumph TR4;  Jonathan Valdes-Dapena;  Andres Valdes-Dapena with his 1964 Jaguar Mark 2;  Dan Valdes-Dapena;  Carlos Valdes-Dapena with his 1970 Triumph TR6.

The Z felt right at home, steering better in corners than I expected. The short shifter made shifting gears in the manual transmission quick and easy. Pressing a button next to the shifter turned on rev-matching technology that automatically matched engine speed to the selected gear, providing smoother shifting. I chose to leave it.

The Z streaked through the corners and into the straights. At road speeds, the car’s weight was well balanced, and the driver’s seat felt like I was riding slightly behind the car’s center of gravity. The V6 made a fantastic sound whenever I had a chance to let it run at full power, the whirring of the turbocharger being drowned out by the roar of the internal combustion as the power increased.

The Nissan Z Performance I drove cost about $50,000. The cheapest version of the Z, the Z Sport, costs about $10,000 less, but the engine and transmission choices are the same as the car I’ve driven. (These prices do not include mark-ups, which dealers will almost certainly add.) As I parked at the Ferris, someone who told me she had just ordered a Toyota Supra asked me what I liked better. Since I last drove the Supra a long time ago, it’s hard to say. Plus, Toyota recently added a manual transmission as an option on the Supra, which further balances things out. At least in terms of style, the Z easily wins in my opinion.

The taillight design of the 2023 Nissan Z was also inspired by earlier models.
A couple of years ago I did a similar ride in a Chevrolet Corvette that has more horsepower and the engine is located behind the seats like a supercar. It also costs over $10,000 more. While the Corvette offers amazing performance, the Z, with its simpler handling, was a more enjoyable companion in the long run and easier to imagine in everyday life.

While Nissan is gearing up to take the next big step with the release of its first electric SUV, the Ariya, the Model Z represents a welcome look back. With its internal combustion power, polished handling and relatively affordable price, it gives Nissan and the rest of us a kind of excitement that may be about to disappear over the horizon.

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