By on September 15, 2020

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 bit. 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.

[Images: Nissan]

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48 Comments on “Sex Machine: Nissan Reveals Proto Z...”


  • avatar
    ajla

    Today is September 15, 2020.

    “with the car hopefully making it onto the road before 2023.”

    Whew, so we’re doing this thing again?

    • 0 avatar
      Tony P

      Both Car And Driver as well as Motortrend are reporting a 2021 production release. Not sure if that’s an official reveal in 2021 or delivery in 2021. However “The production version will likely take the name 400Z and should arrive sometime next year.” sounds like delivery in 2021.

  • avatar
    Varezhka

    Looks fine, but it’s basically a reskin of the existing 370z with a new engine borrowed from Q50.

    The upgrades are welcome, no doubt, and it does wear the design well.
    It’s just that given how much of the components look carried over, the car should’ve came out couple years ago and not 2-3 years from now.

  • avatar
    tylanner

    That color…sign me up.

  • avatar
    Ol Shel

    I’d be surprised if it gets to production. If it does, and it doesn’t go a lot bolder with styling, I don’t see it selling well. Few people want mid-level sports cars, and it’ll need something amazing to make it stand out.

    (I’ve owned 2 S30s and want fun cars like this, but I’m also a realist)

    • 0 avatar
      nrd515

      It stands out because it doesn’t look like an angry bug. I like this car, a lot. Best looking Nissan, ever. Is it perfect? No, but a small ducktail on the back end, and a mod to the grill and it will be.

  • avatar
    thegamper

    Looks pretty good, I especially like the very rectangular grill. But that is really where the distinctiveness ends. Seems like this iteration will not move the needle enough to spike interest in a vehicle that is already an afterthought.

    I feel like like it needs more …. “something”…..especially if we have to wait 3 more years.

  • avatar
    KOKing

    I like the overall shapes. The profile feels very F-type, which also means it could be more cab-rearward. And it’s not overstyled like the Supra. But the grille opening is just plain square, the headlights, especially the DRL brows, look cribbed from the Fiat 124, and the taillight panel might have worked better if it extended down instead of the filler panel, reminding me more of the MID4 than the Z32.
    I think it could fill a space between the Supra and the next 86, though I guess we’ll have to see if that space even exists anymore.

  • avatar
    craiger

    It’s vaguely similar to the Jaguar F, but not enough to be pretty, imo. Of course, I’m over the moon that they’re trying to make a legitimate sports car. If it drives nicely, I’ll be even happier.

    I do get the feeling that it’s based on the current platform. I put a couple of hundred quality miles on a friend’s 350Z, and I really wasn’t impressed. Then again my DD was a 987 Cayman S, so the bar was pretty high.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “young drivers”

    “the car was designed to appeal to Z fanatics”

    Sorry – I don’t think these are the same people. The first Z came out 50+ years ago, and subsequent Zs have been priced and bloated for the very same people who bought Zs decades ago.

    This Z will be too expensive for young drivers – think Corvette crowd – men over 60 with disposable income who no longer care about practicality for the 3rd car in their garage.

    But it looks great and I wish Nissan well with it.

    • 0 avatar
      jack4x

      “This Z will be too expensive for young drivers-”

      The 370Z starts at $30K, and I’m not seeing much here that would add significant cost.

      You can rip the Z car for a lot of things, but being priced for the Corvette crowd isn’t one of them.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I agree, jack…if you can deal with the old, low-tech interior, the current model is actually a pretty decent deal in its’ more basic trims, and it’s pretty quick. The availability of a manual is also a plus.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      Keep in mind, the 350Z has been around for close to 20 years, and there’s a pretty healthy supply of cheaper ones, so it’s on the roster of My First Sports Car for young enthusiasts. I don’t know if enough of them can be converted to new car buyers, but it’s absolutely got cred with people who weren’t alive when the Z32 went out of production.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I don’t know if the wait got me pessimistic before I even saw it, but I’m going to rain on the parade a bit.

    All I saw when I first laid eyes on it was a 370z with new bumpers. Ultimately there are other changes for sure, but it really does look like a 370z in the middle. Especially the belt line.

    I hope the gauge pods in the center of the dash have something other than a voltmeter, water temp gauge, and a clock like the current version.

    With the VR30 TT engine, you won’t see these for less than $40k. Young enthusiasts will like it but be priced out.

    With the vagueness of it all, I suspect it might disappear the minute Nissan reports a finance issue.
    Granted this is farther along, but I’m still burned about the IDX.

    Overall, I’d be more likely to try to get a good deal on a leftover 370z NISMO than get this. It’s just not moving my needle.

  • avatar
    RangerM

    I really like the car, but I’m skeptical they’d sell it at a price I’d be willing to pay. But, I’d trade the turbo motor for something a little simpler and lighter weight, so I’m probably in the minority.

  • avatar
    crtfour

    Say what you will about Nissan, but kudos to them for continuing a sports car and with a manual to boot. Although I don’t love the styling of this or the current car, I would give it a good look since I may be in the market for a car like this and really want a manual.

  • avatar
    Imagefont

    This is a work in progress, front and rear ends look unfinished. This is just a prototype and not a finished design. Back end looks nice and clean, way too subdued for typical horrific Nissan styling (ie not over styled). Front end just looks like an unfinished styling exercise. But it looks good! Which means, Nissan will screw it up.

  • avatar
    JMII

    BAD:
    Parts carried over from the 370Z interior
    Front end has zero style, just a big square grille
    Late to the party by about 3 years, more like 4 by time this reaches driveways
    Bigger means heavier and this platform is already carrying a beer belly

    GOOD:
    Sleek looking, no useless creases or body cut lines
    Manual transmission
    Real parking brake
    3 gauge pod still there
    Engine
    Seems Nissan understands what this should be

    I want this car to succeed but doubt it will. As I’ve stated before the Z occupies this odd middle ground: not powerful enough to play with the pony cars yet too heavy to be tossable like a Miata or GT86/BRZ. Its basically Nissan’s version of the Supra… but at least the Z looks great and is made in Japan. The internet screams for cars like this but nobody actually buys them. I daily drove a 350Z for 7 years and other then needing to jump into someone else vehicle for a team lunch run it worked fine. Hatch space was limited due to the strut tower brace but my luggage for weekly business trips fit fine. The downside was the brutally stiff ride and loud interior. In comparison my C7 ‘Vette is a Caddy. The Z was fun on the street but its weight showed on the track. It was well balanced, just a touch twitchy in the rear. It needed more levels of traction control instead of just on or off to cure that. The thing I loved most about my Z was its size: not too big, not too small… just right. Power delivery was good but clearly lacking shove, having a turbo would easily fix that. If its longer that’s a bummer as I was hoping for a smaller Z since this is a retro design that Nissan billed as a throwback.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      You have a lot more track and Nissan experience than I do but I do think this will have a steep road. The SS 1LE and Mustang PP2 are available for low 40s, and appear quite track-capable. For just normal street driving the regular SS and GT can be had for even less and still aren’t slouches. The Supra’s BMW roots theoretically should give it an initial feel closer to the Q60 and I expect the 3.0 will still be a few clicks faster.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      Are they going to offer a Pete Brock /Bob Sharp / Paul Newman C production commemorative version?

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I’m actually a quasi-fan of the current model – yes, it’s old, and it doesn’t have any of the infotainment options you expect these days, but tell me where else you get a powerful NA engine, RWD chassis, and a manual for thirty grand. It has all the stuff you need to go fast, and nothing else. I think that formula has some appeal.

    Would I be happier if they put this on a new platform? Sure. Would I get a Mustang instead? Probably. But if you’re into J-VIN performance, this looks to be a deal. It’s sexy, and I’m gathering this will have high-300s HP and a low-40s price point, so we’d be talking Supra-esque performance for quite a bit less, and without the Toyota’s over-the-top styling.

    I’m just glad there ARE choices like this in this market, old platform or not.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “but tell me where else you get a powerful NA engine, RWD chassis, and a manual for thirty grand.”
      The Camaro offers it. V6 1LE is a tenth or two slower than the 370Z but its braking and grip exceed it. The LT1 trim loses the track stuff but you gain the V8. Both are available for $31K-$33K. The Camaro has ergonomic issues but I think they get easier to accept when compared to a 2-seater.

      “But if you’re into J-VIN performance”
      That’s really the target market I think. People that don’t want American, don’t trust German, and can’t afford something $70K+. The 2nd gen 86/BRZ will be the main competition there.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I didn’t know Chevy still made the V-6 Camaro. Learn something new every day!

        I think I’d still take the current Z – it’s far better looking and the Camaro’s interior is just awful in so many ways.

        Agreed, BRZ and the Miata will the main competition here, but I bet a fair number of Supra buyers will also take a look. I also suspect some pony car / used ‘Vette buyers might sniff around as well.

        In any case, I’m just glad someone keeps making this kind of car.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          I actually quite like the Camaro V6 in a bubble and would prefer it over the 370Z. I just really don’t want a manual transmission and knowing that the V8 is just a little more is big mental block.

          The Camaro’s rear seat is nearly useless, but the Z doesn’t offer one at all so I consider it kind of a wash.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        The Camaro isn’t going to offer it for much longer and while there is a seat in the back technically, it really isn’t a viable 4-seater unless you have legless passengers.

  • avatar
    W.Minter

    Is this the new Z-Type, darling? Lovely.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    I like the shape, but can we ditch the black alloy wheels already? And, the rear styling looks too much like the last RWD 240SX. It should look more like the original 240Z.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Disagree…If we are going to do a retro Z, a retro based on th Z32 would have me attempting to dump my Challenger’s lease if they managed to make it look like the Z32. Basic ally shut up and take my money territory.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    If Nissan is going for nostalgia, the styling needs help. This is nice, but the front reminds me of a Fiat 124 – a car I like, but it looks nothing like a Z. Interior is nice, but other than the seat piping, it’s modern bland.

    Supra, Cayman, Mustang, Camaro… what makes the Z stand out?

    • 0 avatar
      nrd515

      It’s not ugly as hell like the others?

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      I can see the 124 headlights – a mistake, IMHO. They should be closer to the originals. The front end also reminds of how some owners of the OG models would take the front bumper off, and run that way. Others would add an accessory (IIRC, sold by MG Mitten) that added little bumper guards and a chrome tube that ran between the guards, above the bumper. They also sold a similar accessory for the rear, with bumper guards, and a tube above the bumper that wrapped around the corners and turned down into the bumper.

      Slot mags, and a power steering conversion kit were other popular add-ons, along with the rear window louvers.

  • avatar
    statikboy

    “expect… a vehicle that prioritizes driver engagement, something it seemed worried the industry has forgotten about.”

    Seems Nissan were one of the earliest and strongest proponents of automated driving technology. Now they are dissing it.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Ironic huh? They are just admitting to what we already know… drivers are split into two main groups: those that enjoy the driving experience, want zero automation, enjoy shifting, etc and those who just need to get from point A to point B with minimal effort or drama. The later group has won the war, they all drive slushbox CUVs, but that doesn’t mean the market for former is totally gone.

      The million dollar question is this market still big enough for the Z when the Mustang, Camaro, Supra, BRZ, Miata, etc already exist. Based on sales of the Z the assumed answer is no.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I don’t think they’re going to sell a ton of these, but do they really need to? It’s basically a heavily-refreshed model on an older platform, and there’s a lot of off-the-shelf parts being used here (particularly the powertrain).

        Meanwhile, they get some sexy eye candy in their showrooms, and some buzz among car folks, and right now they need both.

        Seems like a scrappy, low-risk deal no matter how you slice it to me.

  • avatar
    Jimf

    Looks really great!

  • avatar
    slavuta

    I hope they change grill before production

  • avatar
    Verbal

    “It also happens to be quite handsome and uncluttered by a lot of the busyness found on modern-day sporting cars.”

    Looking at you, Toyota Supra.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    I think I dig this thing.

    With that said if I ever buy a true sports car, pretty sure its gonna be the Miata.

  • avatar
    monkeydelmagico

    Dear Nissan,

    Thank you for making it available with a stick. Please make the steering hydraulic not electric. 4 corner double wishbone suspension with adjustable shocks. Fully defeat-able drivers aids. With a price starting in the mid 30’s I would be looking closely.

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