Seeing it in the metal amped up our anticipation.
It's felt like an eternity since Nissan last launched a new Z sports car, and for a long time there was no word on a successor. That all changed when Nissan revealed the Z Proto last year, a concept car previewing the next-generation Z. Nissan provided some basic specifications at the reveal, but since then the rumor mill has been churning fast with guesses of what the production version will be like, including what it will be called.
CarBuzz had the opportunity to get up close and personal with the Z Proto, still very much in pre-production guise. Not every detail seen here on this car will transfer to the production car, but based on leaked photos taken at the factory, the Z Proto's design isn't far off from the one customers will actually buy. After sitting in the car and absorbing its design first hand, we think it's time to get feverishly excited for the new Nissan Z.
Perhaps the bright yellow paint job played a factor, but the Z Proto instantly caught our eyes when we walked into the room. Nissan managed to keep the iconic Z shape while modernizing the front, side, and rear profiles to suit a new era. We must admit, the square-shaped grille comes off looking funky in pictures, but it looks far more suited to the car in person. The special lettering on the tires won't be present on the production car, but we hope those bronze wheels or yellow brake calipers are offered. Leaked photos show a broadly similar wheel design, albeit in dark grey instead of bronze.
While the front end is quite striking, the rear end is even more distinctive. The taillights remind us of the 300ZX, one of the coolest cars available in the 1990s. We doubt the Fairlady Z badge on the decklid will see production, but the Z emblems should stick around, as should the two-tone black roof with silver side rails.
Nissan has confirmed that the next-generation Z will use a twin-turbocharged V6 engine, but nothing else is official. Rumors point to the V6 being the same 3.0-liter mill found in the Infiniti Q50 and Q60, making perfect sense, as developing an all-new engine would be costly for Nissan. The VR30DDTT engine produces up to 400 horsepower in the Infiniti models, but the production Z could offer an even higher output. If these output figures turn out to be true, the Z could easily outmatch the Toyota Supra's performance.
Power will go to the rear wheels through either a six-speed manual (as shown in the Z Proto) or nine-speed automatic transmission. Instead of a traditional transmission lever, automatic Z models will have a push-button shifter. We won't put too much stake on the Z Proto's shifter since it wasn't designed to be driveable, but it felt similar to a 370Z.
Though the exterior looks like a radical upgrade, some of the 370Z's old bones shine through in the cabin. Close inspection of the car reveals a similar seat design, door-mounted air vents, and other assorted pieces from the more than a decade-old 370Z. Nissan has seemed hesitant to say this will ride on an all-new platform, so we expect some elements to be shared with the previous-generation car.
That being said, the Z Proto improves on the 370Z's most glaring weak points, creating an interior that looks worthy of existing in 2021. Since this was a prototype, we didn't get to turn on the digital instrument cluster or infotainment screen, but both look large and should offer a more modern aesthetic than the all-analog 370Z. We do love how Nissan kept the three analog gauges on the dash though, with the middle one now showing boost pressure. The yellow seat accents look great, though the yellow Z floor mats are a bit tacky. It looks like the trunk will be spacious, just like the 370Z.
We still don't know what this new sports car will be called, though the most recent rumors predict it will go by Nissan Z rather than Nissan 400Z. The same forums predicting the name also claim the new Z will start at only $34,995, making it far less expensive than the Toyota Supra. The cheapest Supra with a BMW-sourced four-cylinder engine costs $43,090, and only produces 255 hp. If Nissan can undercut Toyota by such a huge margin, the Z should not struggle to find buyers.