It’s relatively easy to make an impressive sports car when money is no object, but in the year 2021, what makes a truly great affordable sports car?
Is it the bargain price paired with the consistency of a Mazda MX-5 Miata? That might be too pedestrian. Is it a heritage nameplate paired with undeniable panache a la the new Toyota Supra? We were a little underwhelmed. Or does the American combo of power and value, found in the Ford Mustang, always win out? According to sales, that’s been the winning formula for a while.
If none of these inspire you to open up your wallet, and potentially have you turning to Bring a Trailer for a street racer from yesteryear, there’s a new contender you should know about: the new Nissan Z, which was officially unveiled this week. The Japanese automaker slashed the numerical designation for the latest iteration of its Z lineup (which started with the 240Z and worked its way up to the 370Z), and along with that nomenclative reimagination, it’s also attempting to sell a new experience.
At the moment, pretty much all new cars are taking a beeline straight into the digital realm: iPad-like displays, digital rearview mirrors, hands-free driving, you name it. But drivers aren’t always happy about the changes. In fact, whenever automakers keep tactile controls — even a simple volume knob — there’s often a generous round of applause. If you’re looking for an all-around old-school, analog driving experience that adds in some of the better aspects of our digital future, the Nissan Z makes a compelling best-of-both-worlds case.
Most importantly, the 2023 Nissan Z, which isn’t slated to arrive at dealerships until spring 2022, comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission. If that isn’t important to you, there’s also a new nine-speed automatic that comes with a launch control system, but my guess is the Venn diagram of people who will consider the Z and those interested in driving stick line up quite nicely. As for the engine it’s mated to, Nissan is letting go of the past; as Carscoops writes, the previous 370Z was “the last budget-friendly, rear-wheel-drive coupe with a high-revving, naturally aspirated V6,” but the new model will skip the last qualifier in favor of a twin turbo 3.0-liter V6. Picky drivers may not be happy, but you’re getting significantly more power, with up to 400 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque.
In the interior, we’ve got the same juxtaposition: front and center on the dash are three analog pod gauges (showing boost, turbo speed and voltage), but in front of the driver there is an upgraded 12.3-inch digital display, which can be toggled between three different configurations depending on what info you want to prioritize. The 8.0-inch display in the console, meanwhile, has both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. But look down from that screen and you’ll find another analog surprise: a physical handbrake. Pair that with a manual transmission, and this may just be the modern driving experience nostalgic motorists have been waiting for.
The biggest determining factor in whether prospective buyers go for this new Z, or instead pick up the Supra or even the Toyota 86, Honda Civic Type R or Subaru BRZ, may not be the price (which hasn’t officially been announced, but will start somewhere around $40,000 for the base Sport model) — it may be the looks. When Nissan was trotting out a prototype, the Z Proto, it seemed like the response was overwhelmingly positive. Now that the model is set in stone, with a few design changes you may not even notice, people aren’t so sure. In an informal Jalopnik poll, it seemed more people were against the retro-meets-futuristic design than for it.
I for one am adamantly on the fence. I do love the look in the Ikazuchi Yellow colorway, especially as it exists on the limited launch edition called the Z Proto Spec, though many seem to be smitten with the Seiran Blue. But this seems like wait-and-see sports car, especially since we’ve still got a long ways to go before normal buyers can get their hands on it.
Once we get the final price nailed down and you, the sports car shopper, get in a test drive, then we’ll be able to truly see where the Nissan Z fits in the pantheon. But as it stands right now, it sure looks like a dream come true for more than just the Japanese diehards.
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