Meet R/T Tuning’s Newest Project Car: The 2023 Nissan Z

Photography: Mike Maravilla

  • After sizable pandemic-related delays, the 2023 Z is finally here to compete with its European and JDM rivals.
  • Largely based on the previous generation’s FM platform, the 2023 Z reinterprets the formula with more power, retro-looks, and a competitive price tag.
  • R/T Tuning, of Montgomeryville, PA, chose the Z as its latest project car to showcase its range as a multi-faceted speed shop and tuning facility.

R/T Tuning’s latest project car has arrived just in time for spring. Call it what you want, the Z, 400Z, or Z34 is the latest and greatest version of the coveted alphabet-ending enthusiast car.

As you might have guessed, we are big fans of R/T Tuning. Since our inception, it has been a dependable multi-marque destination for our technical articles. We’ve thrown R/T Tuning several cars (BMWs, Porsches, Fords, Hondas, etc.) and have only positive things to say about its capabilities and care. Its range as both a retail speed shop and a trusted, full-service facility makes them truly unique.

WORTH THE WAIT

For as long as we’ve been waiting for this car to officially come to fruition, its arrival was met with eager anticipation. On paper, the 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 (borrowed from its Infiniti brethren) shoves 400 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque through the rear wheels. Three pedal options are six-speed boxes, while the automatic alternative opts for a mind-boggling nine.

Amongst its rivals, the manual transmission is a much-welcomed, no-cost option. So too, is the price: the base Sport version starts at $41,015, whereas the Performance model, like the R/T Tuning car, adds a cool $10k to the tag — both aimed to undercut its nearest rival, the A91 Supra. Not too bad. It has received mixed impressions from the press so far — in large part because of a rather lazy attempt at freshening the interior (more on this later) — but as with most modern cars in this segment, it’s all about what you can do to them, not what they are at face value.

A SOLID FOUNDATION

R/T Tuning parting ways with their A91 Supra project was a surprise, but its shift toward the Z certainly wasn’t. Its track record for extracting maximum performance from both 350Z and 370Z platforms is well documented and will be valuable to uncover the most from the new car. As you’d expect, R/T Tuning was quick to put the new Z on the dyno to grab some initial figures.

R/T Tuning Dyno Graph: Stock New Z vs Tuned New Z VR30DDTT

Left: 370z Stock VQ37VHR vs Stock New Z VR30DDTT, Right: 370z Tuned VQ37VHR vs Tuned New Z VR30DDTT

The results were fairly impressive. The top graph above shows that the 2023 Z’s baseline numbers even exceed tuned, naturally-aspirated examples of the outgoing 370Z.

CLEAR FAMILY TIES

While the rest of the Nissan lineup nowadays is more synonymous with rental car stables than enthusiasts’ garages, the 2023 Z aims to communicate more than its performance figures. Much like Porsche has done for generations of the 911, the new Z seems acutely focused on communicating its lineage. The silhouette is undeniably Z, the front fascia is clearly reminiscent of the Datsun era, the back gives a nod to the Z32 300ZX, and the interior is (maybe by consequence of financial constraint rather than choice) all 370Z. The Z has gotten a lot of flack for the hindmost point, but let’s remember one thing: the Porsche 993, when the brand was on the verge of bankruptcy, was criticized for a largely similar cabin to the outgoing 964. Twenty years on, I think people have forgotten that complaint altogether.

To put it plainly, enthusiasts are hard to please. I’m in this camp, too. I’ll always have something to say about new cars — to my chagrin, mostly bad — but over time, the car in front of us today will almost certainly be more analog and more focused than the one to follow (if there is one at all).

MY FIRST IMPRESSIONS

That point leads me to say we are lucky to have the Z as an enthusiast option in 2023. Over the years, we’ve lamented the loss of several great drivers’ cars. For Nissan to count enough beans to push this car through to production (with a manual gearbox option, no less) is a gift.

Indeed, my first impression of the car has very little to do with how it drives and more about its fighting spirit. It exists despite all odds, in spite of the critics, and successfully evokes the original enthusiasm for the moniker.

Visually speaking, I back the 2023 Z’s updates. The sleeker skin makes the 370Z look downright hideous by comparison, especially considering that they both share the same underpinnings. The interior does admittedly recycle parts from the outgoing models, but nobody is complaining that Toyota/Lexus have reused the same window switch panels for over 30 years in the Camry, Cressida, 4Runner, and Corolla. The digital gauge cluster is decidedly modern, and the infotainment follows suit, ditching the console box look for a more integrated aesthetic.

The touch points on the car fall short, however. The steering wheel’s clash of old-school aesthetic with its copious modern buttons looks like it’s waging generational warfare with itself. The seats are uninspired, and I’m confused by the combination of electric switches (near the trans tunnel) and giant, Tonka-inspired knobs on the opposite side near the door panel. There’s more feedback from the plastic climate control knobs than the clutch. But thankfully, these are all items that any good project car will swap out. And R/T Tuning knows how to modify a good project car.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE

The plans for R/T Tuning’s Z project are tight to the chest at the moment. Keen eyes would’ve spotted early additions from Mishimoto in the engine bay, but other than knowing that nearly everything is on the table for replacement, the specifics are yet to be determined. A nice set of coilovers and wheels (RS Watanabes, anyone?) would certainly work wonders to start and complement the vintage vibe.

Perhaps coming directly from an A91 Supra gives R/T Tuning a stout advantage — the team will be able to set goals to meet or exceed the Supra’s modded metrics — and pass along that knowledge to its eager customers. All I know is that we plan to live vicariously through R/T Tuning as this Z evolves into a car worthy of its namesake.


 

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