When I first heard that Nissan was reviving the Z, I thought it was a good move. Nissan really needs to revive its brand image and its lineup of vehicles. And a sports car is a great way to get car enthusiasts really excited.
But when I saw pictures of the car and read the specs, I wasn’t impressed. Styling-wise, it’s a retro car. Technology-wise, there’s nothing new.
A short, 10-minute drive confirmed my prejudices. Just another sports car, I thought, too bad they didn’t do something more innovative.
But then I got to do a week-long test drive of the Z, and it took less than an hour to throw all my preconceived notions out the window. That’s because this car is a blast to drive. Not only is it a true sports car, it’s one of the most authentic successors to the original 240 Z that came out over half a century ago, which is saying something. This is the 7th generation of the car, but the others just weren’t as good as this one.
What makes the new Z so appealing is its simplicity and balance. Sure, it’s got a modern touch screen, and all the latest electronic safety systems, and digital connectivity, but that’s not what’s going to put butts in seats. What’s going to get enthusiasts to go for this car is its visceral feedback.
First off, the Z is totally driver-centric. Slide down behind the steering wheel, close the door, buckle up and the car is completely about you. You’re in a cockpit cocoon, with all the controls you need arrayed around you.
No need to consult the owner’s manual to figure out how to get this car going. Just push the Start button and you’re ready to go.
The 400 hp, twin turbo 3-liter V6 blinks snaps instantly awake and is responsive to all your inputs—high speed, low speed, it doesn’t matter. It’s ready to do what you want whenever you want to do it.
While there is a 9-speed automatic available, I was fortunate to drive the 6-speed manual—which is what true enthusiasts appreciate. It gives any sports car instant street cred.
There’s a button next to the gear shift lever that you can push which automatically rev-matches your downshifts. That makes even novice stick-drivers come off as polished professionals. But for those who already know how to heel-and-toe for rev-matching, the pedal positions on the Z are very well positioned. They make it easy.
But I didn’t like the long travel distance or the take-up of the clutch pedal. Even after a week of driving I never seemed to really get it right. It sure would be cool if there was a way to adjust the take-up to tailor it to an individual’s taste.
Driving the Z will put a smile on your face. It urges you to brake later, corner harder, and push it every chance you get. You’ll search for the perfect apex at every curve, even if you’re just driving at mundane speeds while tootling through a neighborhood. It brings out the enthusiast in everyone, every time.
Rarely do I form a strong negative opinion of a car, only to later change my mind. But the new Nissan Z sure changed mine.
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John McElroy is an influential thought leader in the automotive industry. He is a journalist, lecturer, commentator and entrepreneur. He created “Autoline Daily,” the first industry webcast of industry news and analysis.