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Nissan Z Proto Concept Previews Nissan 400Z

Automobile logo Automobile 9/16/2020 Aaron Gold,Manufacturer
a car parked in a parking lot: Nissan Z Proto exterior Front Three quarter © Manufacturer Nissan Z Proto exterior Front Three quarter

Back in the spring, Nissan released a 71-second teaser video that showed a new Z-car in silhouette, and now the company has revealed photos of a concept car called the Z Proto. We're assuming this is the next-generation Z, presumably to be called the 400Z—but of course, we all know what they say about assuming.

Nissan Z Proto: An Homage to Z-Cars Old and New

At first glance, the Z Proto has a clear familial resemblance to the current-generation 370Z, particularly in the body-side and roof treatment, but there's an important change: The Z Proto visually shifts its weight rearward, bringing its profile further away from the shape of the Z32 300ZX and more in line with the original Z-cars. Note the treatment to the back bumper, which reduces the perception of rear-overhang length. The roofline is more aerodynamic and flatter over the hatchback than the first Z, but chances are most people who are familiar with the 240Z's famous profile will see it clearly in the Z Proto. The canary yellow paint is a welcome throwback.

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The rounded headlights are an obvious nod to the 240Z, 260Z, and 280Z. And what about those two rounded DRLs? Those are a representation of the circular reflection from the clear headlight fairings fitted to Japanese-market Zs (and sometimes fitted as aftermarket parts to U.S.-spec Zs). The large grille opening, meanwhile, is picked up from the 350Z and 370Z. The taillights are horizontal stripes set into a full-width black panel, an homage to the Z32, which for many potential buyers will be the Z-car of their childhood.

From the inside, the Z Proto is, in many respects, a modern-day interpretation of the 240Z, particularly at the center: Three round gauges sit atop vertically-oriented vents, with the stereo and climate controls directly beneath. The infotainment unit uses a touchscreen, of course, but there are volume and tuning knobs, and three-dial climate controls. The instrument panel is a flat LCD screen, and while we can appreciate the nod to the LED digital dash used on mid-'80s Z-cars, it would have been much cooler if the Z Proto echoed the twin-pod gauges of the original Z. Perhaps the accountants blanched at the cost of using round LCD screens.

a close up of a car © Manufacturer

What Engine for the Z Proto? Nissan Isn't Saying

As for mechanical details, well, there aren't many. Nissan has given us dimensions for the Z Proto—it's about 5.5 inches longer and half an inch lower than the current car—but warned us that it's a "development study vehicle" and does not indicate anything about the production model. Nissan confirmed the Proto is powered by a twin-turbo V-6 engine—our educated guess is that it's the 400-horsepower, 3.0-liter used by Infiniti in the Q50 Red Sport 400—and, praise be, has a six-speed manual transmission.

Most important, the powertrain—whatever it may be—and the design were clearly done in-house; this is a Nissan-designed and Nissan-engineered car through-and-through. Take that, Toyota. Twice.

So is this the next Z? Look closely at the photos and you'll see a lot of functional details that far-from-production concepts don't have: Door handles, side-marker lights, full-size side mirrors, windshield wipers, and a fuel cap. The interior looks even more production-ready than a typical concept, with bits and pieces we recognize from other Nissan models. And the 19-inch wheels sure seem production ready; were this merely a dream car, we'd expect to see the fenders stuffed full of 22-inch rims. If the Z Proto really is just a styling exercise, it's one of the most production-ready styling exercises we've ever seen.

a car parked in a parking lot © Manufacturer

However, it's far from a sure thing—remember the 240Z Concept of 1999? Besides its four-cylinder powerplant (blasphemy for a Z!), it turned out to share little with any production Z (and thank goodness for that). The 2001 Z Concept, however, was nearly a dead ringer for the first-year 350Z production car.

We're hoping that's the route Nissan is taking now. When asked if the production design was finished and in the hands of the engineers already, Nissan's senior vice president for global design, Alfonso Albaisa, said, "They have it now and they're running full speed." If the Z Proto turns out to be an undisguised look at the upcoming Z, that'd be just fine with us.

Nissan Z Proto Specifications:

  • Dimensions (L x W x H): 172.5 x 72.8 x 51.6 in
  • Tires: 255/40 R-19 front, 285/35 R-19 rear
  • Engine: twin-turbo V-6
  • Transmission: 6-speed manual, automatic

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