The 2023 Nissan Z isn’t just a new sports car, it’s the result of an introspective journey the automaker has been on since former CEO Carlos Ghosn was arrested on allegations of misconduct three years ago.
The incident threw the company into disarray right around the time design work on the coupe was kicking off, and helped lead to its retro-modern look inspired by the 1970 Datsun 240Z.
“We had a few issues at that time, and you think ‘why is the company going to put so much investment, so much of our manpower [into a sports car] when we’re transitioning to a new portfolio?’ It’s because somehow, we needed to find our soul as a company and, on the journey of finding yourself, the 240 is our soul,” Alfonso Albaisa, Nissan‘s senior vice president of global design, said during an appearance on “The Fox Garage.”
The 370Z it’s based on and replaces is far from Nissan’s most popular car, with fewer than 10,000 sold annually in the U.S. since 2011, but like Mazda’s Miata or Ford’s Mustang, it is one of the brand’s icons.
“I don’t think you can be alive without your heart, so that’s how it fits, it’s our soul, it’s our heart,” he said.
The car’s long “ironing board” hood and roofline strongly resemble the 240Z’s, while the rectangular grille and silver, faux rain gutters also call back to the seminal sports car.
Its rounded rectangular taillights are cribbed from the 1990-2000 300ZX, however, which is one of Albaisa’s favorite Z-car generations.
Its not an all-new car, however, and uses an evolution of the platform the 370Z is built on, but Albaisa said the engineers “were in love with the project” and put in the effort to bring his vision to fruition, including lengthening the vehicle by five inches.
Getting it done “was surprisingly easy, no resistance,” he said.
One major upgrade is the switch from a naturally-aspirated V6 to a 400 hp turbocharged V6 that drives the rear wheels through either a six-speed manual transmission or 9-speed automatic, making it nothing like the electric cars Nissan is starting to transitioning to.
Albaisa thinks the spirit of the Z as an affordable alternative to high-end sports cars will live on even if it switches to battery-power someday.
“I don’t think the drivetrain defines the Z, before this one starts selling there’s already 1.5 million Zs out there,” he said.
“The Z represents a different thing. It’s the democratization of greatness.”