Revealed: Nissan Z Proto concept

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Nissan/Hiromitsu Yasui

Nissan finally pulled the silk off its Z Proto this evening, offering a long-anticipated preview of what the production version (expected to be called the 400Z) will look like. After a steady trickle of teasers and invitations for speculation, we’re happy to see it in full.

Nissan calls this prototype “a thoroughly modern sports car that pays respect to 50 years of Z heritage.” The 240Z arrived to America for 1970, so this concept enters the fray just in time to avoid hinging an important anniversary on an 11-year old design and a graphics package. We shouldn’t have to wait more than a couple of years or so for the real thing, either; the Z Proto looks nearly production-ready.

Leaving aside this funky, pale-ish yellow paint scheme, there are a few key aspects here that bring to mind parallels between the old Z and this glimpse at the Z to come. The first is the hood shape, which boasts a central bulge similar to that found on the 240Z. The second is the shape of teardrop-like headlights, which pays homage to the Japan-only 240ZG of the 1970s.

“The [240]ZG has clear dome lenses over the headlight buckets, which under light give off two circular reflections over each headlight,” explains Alfonso Albaisa, head of design at Nissan.

The side profile is classic 240Z, all ate up with a sloping roofline and wonderfully long hood. One of the 240Z’s staple design features was a rear edge that ended slightly lower than the front fender height, and Nissan managed to retain that styling cue here. The body crease extending rearward from the front wheels gives way to athletic hips at the rear of the vehicle. The Z Proto boasts carbon-fiber ground effects, including the side skirts, front lip, and rear valance. Up front, the dominating feature is the rectangular grille, while out back, horizontal taillights nod to the Corvette-killing 300ZX of the 1990s.

If you squint at the rear three-quarter photo below, you might see shades of the current Ford Mustang, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The prototype sports a snazzy Fairlady Z badge out back—no word on whether or not this will make it to production for the U.S. market, where that moniker wasn’t used. We expect the classic Z logo on the swooping C-pillar to remain.

As for elements that will likely remain with this concept, we expect the front fascia and headlight structure to be massaged to work better for pedestrian crash regulations. The tires with “Nissan Z” lettering are, too, pure Proto fluff.

Relative to the current 370Z, the Proto is longer, lower, and wider—but only by a bit. Overall length grows from 167.5 to 172.5 inches, while width climbs from 72.6 to 72.8 inches. Height slumps just a little, from 51.8 inches to 51.6 inches. The added length is welcome here, because the current-gen car feels a bit too square, especially when parked next to the slim, svelte 240Zs of old.

Although specifics regarding the powertrain are sparse, Nissan does confirm that the Z Proto has a twin-turbo V-6 and a six-speed manual, and it says that there’s an automatic option in development. As we’ve previously speculated, our money is on the 3.0-liter twin-turbo mill found in the current Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400. No power figures are available at present, but Nissan mentioned that each new generation had a more powerful engine than the last; expect that trend to continue here. That means both power figures should ring in well north of the 332 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque offered in the current Nissan 370Z. If it is indeed the Q60’s engine, we know it’s at least good for 400 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque.

Inside, the Z Proto boasts a tasteful mix of modern tech and classic touches. Nissan says it sought advice from professional motorsports legends to ensure that the Z had an ideal sports car cabin suitable for the road and the track. We’re digging the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, as well as the center screen that’s nicely integrated into the dashboard rather than slapped atop like an iPad in pudding. Little details, like the engine’s redline being positioned at the 12-o’clock position, indicate Nissan took pains to sweat the small stuff with this car.

Three neat gauges above the center vents should appeal to enthusiast drivers, likely for performance vitals such as boost pressure, oil pressure, and battery voltage. Be still our beating hearts—that short-throw manual transmission lever looks just about perfect in this interior. Piping and accent patterns on the heavily bolstered seats match the exterior color. The oblong-shaped motifs that make up the front grille are echoed in the center HVAC vents—a nice stroke of subtle continuity.

On the whole, we like what we see, both inside and out. Given that it’s just a prototype, we can’t count on everything that we see here making it across the production finish line, but we’d bet the final version will look very similar. The final product will likely be for the 2022 model year at the absolute earliest. The current 370Z has been around for a whopping 11 years, and while we’d like to tap our watches and say “it’s about damn time we got a new Z,” we’re painfully aware of how difficult it must be to deliver a new sports coupe to market right now. That remains the case, no matter how desirable the classic Zs become. That this car is happening at all is cause for celebration. That it looks this good, this promising, and this close to production—well, here’s hoping those are signs the Z to come is worth the wait.

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