• Nissan Ushers in the Future By Looking to its Past With the Z Proto

The Z Proto gives us a strong idea of what the next-gen Z Car will look like

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It’s been 11 years since Nissan’s famed Z family welcomed an all-new model into the fold. The wait has been long and oftentimes frustrating, but, finally, the next-generation Z car, or at least a prototype version of the production model, has arrived. It’s called the Nissan Z Proto, and it’s about as close as we can get to the production model that’s scheduled to arrive in 2022. Nissan hasn’t been shy about touting a retro-inspired look for the next-generation Z model, and the Japanese automaker lived up to its word on that one. The Z Proto is dressed in styling cues that Nissan borrowed from its predecessors and combined all of that with modern design elements to give the all-new Z car a distinct look that lives up to its nameplate. The Z Proto also comes with a modern interior and a healthy twin-turbo V-6 engine that packs plenty of punch. This is the Nissan Z Proto, folks. After a long wait, it’s finally here.

What do we make of the Nissan Z Proto’s design?

We expected design cues from older Z cars to be present on the Z Proto, but what we didn’t expect was how those styling cues of old would mesh with a modern and sporty aesthetic styling. To the automaker’s credit, it successfully pulled it off. The Z Proto is stunning to look at. The sharp nose gives it a decidedly aggressive look. It serves as one of the focal points of what is otherwise a minimalist front section. This is where the play in design eras work to the Z Proto’s advantage.

The elongated hood, rounded LED headlights, and the rectangular grille are all borrowed from past Z models.

Contours on the headlamps the slit-like air intakes, and the angular bumper add more layers of depth to the front end’s appearance. Ironically, even with all these details, the Z Proto’s fascia looks clean. There’s a lot of empty space, but it’s hardly noticeable by the way the whole design comes together.

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It gets even better in the back. The sloping roof with the black partition running the length of the rear hatch is arguably the Z Proto’s most impressive aesthetic design detail. Look at the sports coupe from the side and it’s hard not to be impressed by the Z Proto’s profile from that angle. The black partition even hides horizontal LED taillights, which, if you’re a fan of old Z models, you’ll probably recognize as a proper callback to the 1990s Nissan 300ZX. Mercifully, the wave-like taillamps of the current-generation 350Z won’t be around for the successor. The new design looks cleaner, too, and there’s even a “Fairlady Z” badge on the truck to cap the entire design throwback theme of the Z Proto. Everything is tied together by bright pearlescent paint finish that fans of the Z nameplate will immediately recognize as a callback to the first-generation Nissan 240.

Nissan Ushers in the Future By Looking to its Past With the Z Proto Interior
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The interior offers a similar theme with plenty of new details. The center console has what looks to be a nine-inch digital display. Nissan also retained a few elements from the incumbent Z models, most notably the three analog dials sitting on the dashboard of the Z Proto. It’s a good thing that Nissan didn’t take those out; apart from being useful readouts, they’re also cool to look at. Thankfully, the analog instrument cluster is gone; we won’t miss that. In its place is a saucy 12.3-inch digital cluster that brings that looks more natural in a soon-to-be next-generation sports car.

Nissan Ushers in the Future By Looking to its Past With the Z Proto Interior
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The rest of the cabin space follows a similar setup. The sports seats look great with the black and yellow treatment and the prevalence of leather and Alcantara gives the cabin an upscale finish. There’s still some hard plastic scattered throughout the cabin, but that’s expected, too. After all, the next-gen Nissan Z sports car isn’t going to be confused for a luxury rig. This is a sports car through and through, and that point is hammered home by the powertrain sitting underneath that elongated hood.

What kind of engine are we looking at here?

Nissan Ushers in the Future By Looking to its Past With the Z Proto Exterior
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As expected, the Nissan Z Proto, and the subsequent production model, isn’t getting anything more than a V-6 unit.

The good news is that the concept model is powered by an updated version of Nissan’s punchy 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged VR30DDTT V-6 engine.

Output wasn’t announced, but we do know that this particular engine is available with 300-horsepower or 400-horsepower in the Infiniti Q50 and Q60, respectively. Considering its anticipated 400Z name, we gander that the twin-turbo V-6 in the new sports car will carry 400 horsepower, usurping the 382-horsepower Toyota Supra in the process. Raise your hands if you want to see that race unfold in the future.

A six-speed manual transmission comes standard on the Z Proto and, presumably, the upcoming 400Z. An automatic gearbox should be available, though you’d have to check that in your options and add-ons checklist. Don’t be surprised if another optional gearbox — a seven-speed unit with a torque converter — also makes its way to that checklist.

How will the Z Proto translate to the upcoming 400Z?

Nissan Ushers in the Future By Looking to its Past With the Z Proto Exterior
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That’s the question on everyone’s mind, isn’t it? Nissan hasn’t divulged details in that respect, but there are enough breadcrumbs to suggest that the next-generation 400Z won’t look dramatically different from the Z Proto. That hopefully ends up being the case because the latter already makes for a spectacular next-generation Z sports car. Nissan wanted to bridge the nameplate’s past with its future, and that’s exactly what it has accomplished. You can’t ask for more than that from Nissan.

Kirby Garlitos
Kirby Garlitos
Automotive Aftermarket Expert - kirby@topspeed.com
Kirby’s first exposure into the world of automobiles happened when he caught Knight Rider on television as a five-year old boy. David Hasselhoff didn’t leave much of an impression on him (that happened later on in Baywatch), but KITT certainly did. To this day, Kirby remains convinced that he will one day own a car with the same ‘spirit’ as the original KITT (not the 2008 monstrosity). He doesn't know when that will be, but until then, he’s committed to expressing his love for KITT, and all cars for that matter, here at TopSpeed.  Read full bio
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