We asked the owner of a vintage Toyota Supra (of all people) to weigh in on the virtues of the new Nissan Z Proto, which previews the production version of the "400Z" – the long-awaited successor to the Japanese firm's 370Z sportscar. His conclusions might surprise you...
A sportscar is a funny old thing. You might never own one yourself (mind you, we hope you will), but there's no denying the halo appeal of such a single-minded machine. It entices you into a brand, as in "you aspire to buy a GT-R, but end up getting a Maxima" or, more recently, "love a Supra, but own a Corolla". And that leads me nicely to the point of this column. To appreciate what Nissan has nailed with the Z Proto we must first get something out of the way... We need to revisit what Toyota "did wrong" because, ultimately, petrolheads across the globe will compare the Supra with the 400Z.
1. Nissan built it themselves
Designed in-house, not outsourced or developed in partnership with another company.
Toyota has recently adopted a trend of co-opting other manufacturers to develop some of its models. Subaru built the Toyota GT86 (or just 86, as the model was known on the local market before its facelift – now the solitary derivative is called the GT86), BMW famously (infamously?) crafted the Aichi-based firm's hallowed Mk-5 Supra and I've just driven the new Toyota Starlet (otherwise known as a rebranded Suzuki Baleno). And while collaboration and badge-engineering appeal to the pragmatist in me, there's something to be said about that age-old ethos: "If you want something done right, do it yourself." Nissan has done just that, and not by some half-measure either – just about 100 Nissan employees have been involved in the Z Proto's creation. That includes a robust design team, a program team to ensure that the project made business sense and, of course, the R&D squad that did all the initial legwork. So then, a big push from the company. This is important to Nissan.
2. It's in the name
Having prototype in the name appears to mean it's much closer to production than a concept.
Z Proto(type). Not concept, the latter being a taste tester, part of the rigamarole that essentially means teasing the public for 5 or 6 years (and sometimes, infuriatingly longer), replete with drip-feeding the media "sanctioned spy photos" and engaging in various forms of guerilla marketing. By showing us a prototype of its sportscar, Nissan has given us a pretty accurate view of a vehicle that is surely around the corner. This thing drives! But be warned, Japanese manufacturers like to take their time to deliver sportscars and gestation times are notably longer than those of German manufacturers.
3. Nissan nailed the design
The gaping grille appears less noticeable when a number plate is positioned in place.
Well, 90% of the design anyway, depending on who you ask. A few have complained the gaping grille is too large, comical even – but a few renders of what the Nissan would look like with a number plate on its face has, by-and-large, silenced critics of the "massive maw". The overall styling is a retro pastiche with echoes of the initial 240Z (aping even its original paint finish), while at the coupe's rear, the Z Proto pays homage to the digital look and feel of the Z32-generation 300ZX. That's proper 90s stuff, here skillfully inserted into a thoroughly contemporary design. The profile remains akin to a muscled-up teardrop, which is reminiscent of the 350Z and 370Z, but there's a delicateness to it now. The result is a shape that feels authentic and coherent, not a throwback for throwback's sake.
4. The 400Z has a powertrain that respects its lineage
A V6 at the heart of a Z car just makes sense, doesn't it?
And look, this one is admittedly a bit ironic, seeing as the current model's V6 was essentially derived from a Renault motor (a by-product of the alliance between the Japanese and French firms, which now incorporates Mitsubishi). The fact is that Nissan had barrel-chested 6-cylinder powerplants in its lineup before the arrival of Carlos Ghosn and, as for turbo power, well, the 300ZX was propelled by a twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6. Truth be told, forced-induction motors are now de rigueur – wonderfully linear throttle response is of little use when your opposition is blowing you into the weeds with their smaller turbo motors. Then there's the fact that "400Z" is a clue to its outputs, 400 hp or 300 kW means this will be the most powerful Z yet – and a force to be reckoned with in its segment.
5. This Nissan is the next model, not a remake
It's not been so long since the 370Z came to market that everybody has forgotten of the lineage the 400Z will be part of.
I'm sorry to keep bringing up the Supra (a sportscar we just happen to love), but the rear-wheel-drive Toyota coupe is also the direct rival to the 400Z and a perfect example of our point. While the Mk 5 is a direct successor to the 2JZ-powered Mk 4, it emerged after a 2-decade-long hiatus for the model, which is long enough for the J29/DB to be considered a remake. As for the upcoming 400Z, well, its predecessor was never mothballed; the newcomer will directly succeed the 370Z. As such, it doesn't feel like Nissan is reviving anything, rather continuing its successful lineage. We rather like that!
Now, I realize that I've come across like a Nissan loyalist, but the fact is, I'm a proud owner of a Mk 2 Toyota Supra, as well as an obsessive fan of Japanese sportscars. Hence my excitement at the prospect of a new Z. What do you think, do you reckon I've got it wrong?