Nissan relives the old school cool with the Z Proto

We love old cars – just took a look at the office parking space and you’ll see. But to many people, owning an ancient relic isn’t always the most practical or the most financially logical thing to do. With the next Nissan Z car though – in prototype form at least, hence the name Z Proto – you get to have the best of the old school cool without the headaches that comes with it.

After a long slow-drip process that started back in May this year, Nissan has now finally unveiled the Z Proto in full. As expected, the exterior of the Z Proto is deliciously retro-inspired, all the way down to the paintjob – sporting a bright yellow pearlescent paint, as a tribute to a popular paint scheme on both the first-generation 240Z and 300ZX.

But it’s not just looking back at the past, no. Nissan design chief Alfonso Albaisa said that the Z Proto was the result of “countless studies and sketches” as they researched each generation of the Z cars and what made them a success, and ultimately decided that “the Z Proto should travel between the decades, including the future,” making it a sort of retro-futuristic mix that we think works quite well here.

The “heritage-inspired” design cues start with the overall silhouette of the Z Proto, including the shape of the hood, roofline, fender height, and even how the rear quarter glass transitions into the tailgate. Up front, the teardrop-shaped LED headlights are also unmistakably Z, and the two half-circles and glass dome design also hark back to the Japan market-only 240ZG of the 70s.

Further down, there’s an upright grille that Nissan says is similar in dimensions to the recent 370Z and 350Z models, but the grille fins are inspired by older models in the Z’s history.

Over at the rear of the Z Proto, the taillights are also clearly inspired by the 300ZX, but “reinterpreted for the modern world” according to Nissan. The rounded-rectangle light signature mimics the grille fins in front, and is set within a black rectangular section that runs across the entire width of the car – again, inspired by the 300ZX.

Finishing the look on the outside are the lightweight carbon fibre side skirts, front lower lip, and the discreet valance spoiler. The Z Proto rides on 19-inch alloy wheels, and large twin tailpipe exits are moulded into the single-piece rear bumper.

The retro touch continues inside, as seen with the trio of analogue gauges on top of the dashboard, along with the deep-dish steering wheel which Nissan says allows the driver quick access controls without losing its vintage aesthetic.

But the Yokohama-based carmaker says that the Z Proto isn’t all about the looks. The company sought advice from professional motorsports legends to give the Z Proto an “ideal sports car cabin, both for road and track”, and that’s why it’s also equipped with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, displaying all vital information arranged in an easy-to-view manner, such as the redline shift point at the 12 o-clock position.

Yellow accents that mirror the exterior paintjob are found throughout the cabin, and the seats also feature a special accent piping and layered seat material to create depth. Despite the “Proto” in the name, the cabin actually looks close to production-ready status, and even has USB type-C charging ports and cup holders already moulded into the centre console. We wouldn’t be surprised if the entire cabin is ported straight into the production Z car.

Now, we still don’t know the exact engine that will be powering the Z Proto and by extension the next Z car, but Nissan says that under the hood is an “enhanced V6 twin-turbocharged engine”, and will be paired to a good ol’ six-speed manual transmission or an optional automatic gearbox.

We are used to seeing increased engine capacity in every generation of the Z cars, as denoted by the numbers in their names – 3.5-litre V6 on the 350Z, and a 3.7-litre V6 on the 370Z. However, recent rumours suggests that the next Z car, purportedly called the 400Z, will not be seeing a four-litre engine. Instead, it’ll inherit the 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged V6 engine as seen on several Infiniti models, with power output around the tune of 400 hp and 500 Nm, where the model will get its name from.

Despite the obligatory power bump, Z Proto’s chief product specialist Hiroshi Tamura says the Z is more than just output figures, but “about balance of power and agility”. Final development is underway to “synchronize the power with the grace and control that has defined the Z for the past 50 years”. Production is tipped to begin sometime in 2022, with deliveries starting in 2023.



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