- the nissan z proto is a lightly disguised concept-car preview of the next-generation nissan z.
- a twin-turbocharged v-6 engine coupled to a six-speed manual transmission powers the z proto; that powertrain has been confirmed for the production z.
- when the production z arrives in 2021, it is likely to be called the 400z.
the z has always been an indicator of nissan's well-being. the 1970 240z set the stage for the brand's success throughout the decade, the 1990 300zx showed the impressive engineering acumen nissan would be known for in the '90s, and the 2003 350z ushered in a renaissance as carlos ghosn and his renault-nissan alliance brought the company back from the brink. the current 370z has withered, along with its parent company, over the past decade, leaving many to wonder if the z had a future at all in the wake of ghosn's scandalous departure and the company's financial struggles. the z proto, a production-intent preview for the upcoming z35-generation 400z, appears to answer that question with a resounding yes.
five inches longer than the 370z, the new car has an elegant shape. we see hints of jaguar and aston martin in its proportions, but nissan head of design alfonso albaisa is focused on how it evokes prior iterations of the z. "we don't use the word retro, it's more of an homage," said albaisa.
the new car's detailing is somewhat of a grab bag of the best of past z-cars, with 240z-inspired headlights, 300zx-esque taillights, and a few other historical touches. the only real nod to the past inside, though, is the three-gauge binnacle atop the dash; it's otherwise a fully modernized two-seat cockpit with large display screens for the gauge cluster and infotainment system and an attractive new steering-wheel design.
under the long hood is a twin-turbo 3.0-liter v-6, which gt-r guru and chief product specialist hiroshi tamura says is a modified version of the vr30ddtt unit available in both 300- and 400-hp states of tune in the infiniti q50 and q60. the 400z should hew closer to the high end of that scale, although nissan might leave room for a nismo version. a six-speed manual is standard, and an automatic will be optional, likely the seven-speed torque-converter unit found in the infinitis.
nissan isn't discussing the chassis, leaving us to assume that it rides on the same rear-wheel-drive fm platform as before. it'll likely share suspension and brake components with the infiniti red sport performance models. "the z must have a strong connection between human and machine, like a dance partner," tamura said, noting how the emotional aspects—driving feel, sound, and styling—are more important than objective performance here. we hope that's not an excuse for uncompetitive numbers, but nissan is well aware of the other turbocharged 3.0-liter sports car coming out of japan these days (well, by way of a bmw factory in austria), the toyota supra.
as they were in the 1990s, the z and supra will be close rivals. the nissan's manual transmission is an advantage over the automatic-only toyota (for now), but the z will have its work cut out for it matching the 382-hp supra's zero-to-60-mph time of 3.8 seconds. nissan hasn't made any performance claims yet, other than hinting that the automatic will be quicker than the manual.
given its new engine and revamped design, we think the new z will leap in price over the current car, which starts at $31,085. when the 400z production car arrives sometime in 2021, we expect it will start in the mid-$40,000 range, neatly bisecting the four- and six-cylinder supra models. and we hope it will be worth the wait.