Considering the dire straits Nissan currently finds itself in, I don’t think anybody felt ultra-confident that its next Z-badged performance coupe was automatically going to be a home run. I certainly did not. But then I watched Nissan CEO Makoto Uchida climb out of the prototype as he reminisced about how his first car was a Fairlady Z, noting that it was a “love at first sight” kind of deal.
It was fitting, not just because the Proto Z that debuted on Tuesday is clearly inspired by that iconic model but also because he just unveiled a car that will probably leave a lot of other young drivers feeling the exact same way.
Nissan spent a lot of time parading around Z models ahead of the debut, suggesting that the prototype would be influenced by them all. But it has become clear that the earliest models are the ones doing the heavy lifting. While the squared tail lamps floating on a black canvas covers everything up to the 300ZX, the Proto Z’s overall shape is commensurate with the original 240Z. It also happens to be quite handsome and uncluttered by a lot of the busyness found on modern-day sporting cars.
Where are the phony air inlets we’ve been forced to live with? Where are my 24-inch double digital display and floating tablet screen? Nowhere, apparently. It’s almost like the folks at Nissan tried to design an honest to God automobile and said to hell with everything else. There is even a trio of gauge pods sitting atop the center console and angled toward the driver to help reinforce everything the Z supposed to be about. Sure, the interior would have been fine without them. But it’s touches like this that really stand out and make you want to own one.
While the industry and those writing about it constantly get caught in the trap of discussing a vehicle’s “purity,” nobody will gripe in this instance. Uchida mentioned the entire point of the Proto Z was to deliver an absolutely pure sports car and it looks like that’s exactly what we’ve been given and it isn’t supposed to be altered much on its way to the factory. Nissan said what you’re looking at is as close to production-ready as a prototype can get.
Sadly, this means the manufacturer is keeping some aspects of the model to itself. We still don’t have an official name, though 400Z seems all but assured, and we don’t have a lot of specifics about the powertrain. But we know for sure it will be a twin-turbocharged V6 mated to a six-speed manual transmission. It even has a regular, lever-style parking brake for “parking” the shit out of that thing through a corner as you light up the rear tires. This feature should also work to help keep the car stationary when not in use.
An automatic version is allegedly in development but Nissan didn’t make it seem like it was a huge priority. Uchida said the car was designed to appeal to Z fanatics and they prefer to shift for themselves. Expect the automatic to show up sometime after launch.
Compared to the current 370Z, the prototype coupe is 5 inches longer and while being just a smidgen wider and lower. That’s 172.5 inches long, 72.8 inches wide, and 51.6 inches tall. We anticipate those dimensions remaining largely the same come production time. But the 19-inch bronze wheels will probably be reserved for higher trims and special editions. Currently, they’re wrapped in SP Sport Maxx rubber and measure 255 mm wide (front) and 285 mm (rear) with “Nissan Z” painted on the side.
Nissan was extremely clear that it did not want to tamper with the car more than necessary ahead of production. The company has already tested the aerodynamics of the Proto Z and decided it was working just fine. Any future changes should be in service of improving the vehicle’s overall performance and without upsetting the design.
Frankly, I’m more excited to see what will happen after its been on the market for a while. While gorgeous in its own right, the Z is kind of a blank canvas just waiting to be modded into the stratosphere. Maybe that’s why they left the grille looking kind of big. Should make a neat spot for an intercooler and those haunches are just begging for some widebody fender flares.
But I’m getting ahead of everything, as we don’t even know when this thing is supposed to enter into production. Odds are good there will be another debut in 2022 with the car hopefully making it onto the road before 2023. The manufacturer said to expect a lot of bold color options and a vehicle that prioritizes driver engagement, something it seemed worried the industry has forgotten about.