2023 Nissan Z Performance Is What the Ford Mustang GT Wishes It Was

2023 Nissan Z Performance street drive review highlights:

  • I recently drove a manual 2023 Nissan Z Performance on the streets around Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
  • While not the sharpest sports car, the Z Performance is fun and more than fast enough to break traction on a rainy road
  • The Z feels like the type of car many people think a stock Ford Mustang GT is, i.e., a stylish sports car that’s satisfying to drive outside of straight-line scenarios

Cars & Coffee crash memes notwithstanding, the Ford Mustang is a decently sporty car. However, high-priced Shelby GT500 and maybe the Mach 1 aside, it’s not really a sports car. Sure, some people just want it to make sick V8 noises and go fast in a straight line while looking cool, which it’s rather good at. Yet without some chassis and suspension upgrades, the Mustang isn’t the best choice for twisty-road explorers. But there is a better one: the 2023 Nissan Z Performance.

The 2023 Nissan Z has improved 370Z energy and retro sports car vibes

A red 2023 Nissan Z Performance by the side of a rainy forest road
2023 Nissan Z Performance | Matthew Skwarczek, MotorBiscuit
2023 Nissan Z Performance
Engine3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6
Horsepower400 hp
Torque350 lb-ft
TransmissionSix-speed manual
Curb weight3536 lbs
0-60 mph time4.5 seconds
Price$49,990 (MSRP)
$53,610 (As tested)

Like the Ford Mustang, the 2023 Nissan Z bears numerous references to Z cars past. One, though, is hidden under the skin. Technically, the 2023 Z shares a platform with the outgoing 370Z. However, don’t take that statement out of context or mistake the sentiment.

For one, Nissan revised or replaced roughly 80% of the 370Z’s parts for the 2023 Z. Secondly, the Z is more rigid than the 370Z and rides on wider front tires as well as stiffer springs, sway bars, and shocks. Furthermore, those shocks are monotube designs rather than twin-tube ones. And while the Nissan Z Performance has a limited-slip differential like the 370Z, it’s mechanical rather than viscous. So, it’s more consistent and more communicative, not to mention less sensitive to differential fluid choice.

Some might be sad to see the 370Z’s naturally-aspirated VQ V6 go. However, the 2023 Nissan Z’s twin-turbo V6 makes more power and torque. In addition, while there’s a new optional nine-speed automatic, the six-speed stick is sticking around with some internal upgrades. Plus, the V6 has a Ferrari-like turbine speed sensor with a matching interior gauge.

The 2023 Nissan Z Performance’s interior has some 370Z-like elements in a good way

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Speaking of the interior, it’s almost as retro as the exterior. Yes, the 2023 Nissan Z has a 12.3” digital gauge cluster and an 8.0” touchscreen while Performance models get a 9.0” one with navigation. But the rest of the cabin is beautiful in its purposeful simplicity and analog nature. The HVAC controls, for example, are physical dials that feel satisfying to turn. And the turbine speed gauge is one of three physical gauges that remain firmly mounted to the dashboard. Plus, the Z’s interior is way more open and airy than the Supra’s interior.

It’s this old-school feeling that made the 370Z appealing despite or perhaps because of its age. And it’s not at all a bad thing that the 2023 Z brings these vibes, too. You can even spec a base Z Sport without any ADAS features. That might sound like a deal-breaker to some, but it’s also a key part of this sports car’s appeal.

And it only gets more appealing once you hit the road.

2023 Nissan Z Performance: Hide your Ford Mustang GT

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Full disclosure, it was raining when I recently drove the 2023 Nissan Z Performance around Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin’s winding forest-hill roads. Also, I found out later that the manual car I drove had very little rear tread left. At which point, I put two and two together about the rear-end squirminess I noticed during enthusiastic 1-2 shifts. Credit to the Z, though, the squirminess was fun rather than terrifying.

Funnily enough, the Ford Mustang Mach 1 I drove last year at the Road America track didn’t have a squirrely rear end. However, it also had the optional Handling Package, complete with chassis tweaks, lighter wheels, additional aero features, and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires. The latter, as was recently established, are grippier than the Z Performance’s Bridgestone tires. And keep in mind, I drove the Mach 1 at track speeds.

But while the Mach 1 is the better track car and hits 60 mph faster, it also has even more chassis bracing than the Z, not to mention MagneRide shocks and Brembo brakes. Furthermore, even with all these upgrades, the Mach 1 couldn’t hide that it was based on a Ford Mustang GT. It’s capable for sure, but it’s also a bit too heavy and numb—in terms of response and steering feel—to be truly fun. Oh, and it costs over $10,000 more than the Z Performance.

You know that Invincible meme, the one where Omni-Man is telling Invincible, “Look at what they need to mimic a fraction of our power”? That’s kind of what it felt like when I was driving the 2023 Nissan Z and remembering my Mustang drive. The Mach 1 generates better numbers, but the Z inspires better feelings.

This throwback sports car is worth driving even without rose-tinted glasses

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That’s not to say that the 2023 Nissan Z Performance is perfect. Ignoring the worn tires, the Z isn’t as light, sharp, or fast as the Toyota Supra. Also, while the automatic model is louder, it’s not nearly as fun to drive. Mainly, Road & Track says, that’s because it’s slow even if you use the paddles. And the Performance trim’s price might intimidate some potential buyers, especially compared to used 370Z prices.

But something happened at Elkhart Lake when I got into the 2023 Nissan Z Performance: I stopped caring about numbers. Yes, the Supra is nimbler at the limit. But how can you explore the limits of grip in a crowded city with straight streets? That’s a scenario where the Ford Mustang makes a lot of sense. And it’s where the Z makes even more sense.

In the real world, the manual Z is just as fast as the manual Mustang GT. Yet while it’s not the ultimate word in feedback, the Z’s steering is far more communicative, not to mention weighted better. It also offers more feedback than the Supra 3.0 I drove on the track earlier that day. And while the lighter Supra feels more agile, the Z in turn turns and changes direction faster than the Ford. Furthermore, the Supra out-brakes the Z, but on the rain-soaked streets, the Z Performance’s brakes were more than strong enough.

Nissan wanted the 2023 Z to be a dance partner for the street. Mission accomplished, I say. In addition to the steering, the chassis and suspension limit body roll but not so much that you can’t sense weight transfer. And speaking of the suspension, it’s surprisingly compliant for a sports car. Plus, while not as satisfyingly weighty as the Mach 1’s cue-ball shifter, the Z’s manual feels like a grown-up version of the Miata’s shifter in the best possible way.

As I said earlier, people often buy Ford Mustangs for the sensations of performance, not the performance itself. And there’s nothing wrong with buying a Mustang because you want retro sports car vibes. But why feel like you’re driving a retro sports car when you can buy the real thing?

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