Nissan has officially previewed its successor to the 370Z, which is widely expected to come to market as the "400Z" – powered by a 300 kW+ twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6, with the sensational 6-speed manual transmission. Meet the Z Proto!
It seems as if the 370Z has been with us forever! If you look up the specs of the venerable sportscar on Cars.co.za’s New Car Specs & Test Drives section, you’ll see “Date Range introduced (in) SA: June 2009”. A run of 11 years on the South African new-car price list is quite extraordinary, even if low-volume sportscars tend to have longer product lifecycles than stronger-selling passenger vehicle models...
Nissan's managed to incorporate many of the previous Z cars' design cues in the Z Proto, yet its design looks thoroughly fresh.
Even though the Nissan received detail updates through the years, most notably at the end of 2017, it feels older than it is because "a sporty, yet ultimately comfort-oriented coupe with a large-capacity, naturally-aspirated motor that drives its rear wheels" is a decidedly old-school sportscar recipe. Now that Toyota has a Supra back on the roads (albeit with help from BMW), Nissan has to raise its game and re-imagine its Z car…
And re-imagined it, it has! We’ve previously published renders of the upcoming Z35-series Z, which was expected to honour the iconic models produced during the 50-year history of Nissan's sportscar, but the elemental Z Proto has exceeded our expectations. The prototype, which was unveiled at the Nissan Pavilion in Yokohama, titillates traditionalists: like the Z32-series 300ZX (which was sold – albeit in limited numbers – in South Africa during the early Nineties), the newcomer is rear-wheel-driven and powered by a twin-turbo V6 motor mated with a manual ‘box!
The pert rear-end of the Z Proto is characterised by late-80s/early-90s rectangular tail lights set on a black screen.
Longer, wider and lower than the current Z34-generation 370Z, the Z Proto was penned by Nissan’s design team in Japan, who “researched each generation and what made them a success," said Alfonso Albaisa, head of design at Nissan. "Ultimately, we decided the Z Proto should travel between the decades, including the future."
The shapes of the coupe’s bonnet and LED headlamps take their cues from the original Z car, while the rectangular grille references that of the current model, with the exception of oval-patterned mesh that updates the look and the addition of a carbon-fibre splitter.
Yellow brake calipers complement the cheery paint finish, but the retro white lettering on the tyres' sidewalls is a treat.
"The LED headlights have two half-circles that hark back to the Japan market-only 240ZG of the 70s," Albaisa added. "The Z Proto has clear dome lenses over the headlight buckets, which under light give off two circular reflections over each headlight."
In profile, the contour of the black roof flows elegantly from the B-pillars to the squared-off rear to create that distinctive fastback look reminiscent of the 1st-generation Z. The transition from the rear quarter glass to the subtle C-pillars (adorned with retro Z logos) and past the sensuously flared rear fenders, all the way to the wraparound LED tail lights is striking.
We really hope Nissan will retain the retro Z logos on the C-pillars on the production version of this car.
Speaking of the sleek rump, the LED tail lights, which sit within a broad black strip that spans the tailgate, are an homage to the rear lamps of the aforementioned Z32-series 300ZX. The carbon-fibre diffuser houses a pair of exhausts ends and ties in with the side-skirt extensions.
As for the interior design, the cabin architecture provides the strongest hint that the Z Proto might be based on the current car’s platform, albeit an updated one; apart from the manual transmission gate and -handbrake lever, the minor switchgear looks rather familiar.
Contrast stitching and cowled mini dials on the dashboard are classic sportscar cues; note the large digital instrument cluster.
What sets the newcomer’s cockpit apart however, is the combination of a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster (with its 7 000-rpm redline set at the 12-o’clock position of the centrally mounted rev counter) in combination with a large touchscreen infotainment system (with a piano-black control panel). A trio of cowled minor gauges (for boost pressure, turbo rpm and battery charge) are embedded into the top of the dashboard.
Sporty accoutrements include a multifunction sports steering wheel and yellow contrast stitching. The seats feature matching inlays and a gradation stripe in the cushion fabric.
The production version of the Z Proto might be called the "Z400" and it's likely to feature an uprated Infiniti 3.0-litre motor.
But what of the Z Proto’s performance potential? Well, Nissan remains tight-lipped for now, but we're confident it will have a beefy 3.0-litre V6.
"The Z has always been a strong dynamic performer, making it easy for customers to enjoy its capabilities and feel as connected as possible to the car," said Hiroshi Tamura, the chief product specialist of the Z Proto. "This has been true through all its generations, and this is what drives our passion to innovate and challenge the norm."
It’s been widely speculated that the Z Proto's twin-turbo V6 is derived from sister brand Infiniti’s 3.0-litre motor, which produces 298 kW/475 Nm in the Q60 coupe, which is the coupe/cabriolet sibling of the Q50 business-class sedan that was sold in South Africa. In that car, the motor is mated with a 7-speed automatic transmission, however, and suffice to say Nissan would want to upgrade and tune the V6 for its installation in a Z car.
Track-day aficionados will be buoyed by the inclusion of a good old-fashioned stick shift.
The move to introduce the Z Proto with a 6-speed manual is widely seen as a dig at Toyota, which only offers its GR Supra in 8-speed automatic guise, much to the chagrin of hardcore enthusiasts. That’s not to say the "400Z" won’t also be offered with an auto’ box, it most certainly will, but perhaps the 6-speed in the prototype Z will prompt Toyota to push through with plans for a 382-kW Supra GRMN with a dual-clutch transmission.
So what’s next for the Z Proto? Alas, don’t expect it to go on sale in the near future. Nissan says that “as a prototype, work is now underway on synchronizing the power with the grace and control that has defined the Z for the past 50 years.” That means its development programme remains ongoing, but we do anticipate that the "400Z" will go on sale in some markets in late 2021, so an ETA of 2022 in Mzansi is our best guess.