The opportunity for Nissan with the 400Z is to get back to what the original 240Z was; a direct rival to Porsche’s 911 on power, weight and handling, but at half the price and with a classical FR fastback profile. Do that and you’ll repeat the success that Mr K enjoyed back in the day.
With the VR30DDTT installed, the Z35 is on target to hit its numbers. The real challenge is in taking the 20-year-old FM saloon platform and making it handle like the best FR sports cars. It’s a big ask, but this is the kind of challenge that Japanese engineers can on occasion rise to.
So, first thing is to borrow the R35’s GR6 dual-clutch gearbox. Why? because it fits at the back, under the rear seats in the GTR, moving the weight backwards. Having been in production for over a decade it can’t cost too much to make, yet it provides a modern seamless shift and will avoid the need to engineer both conventional manual and automatic options.
Having done this you then dry-sump the VR30 engine. Eliminating both the clutch/flywheel and sump, and without the GTR’s 4wd mechanicals jammed underneath, you can then drop the engine right down til the crankshaft is on the floor. This reduces the need for a towering bonnet bulge, and perhaps avoids needing a pop-up safety bonnet. The dry sump also ensures reliable oiling on track.
It’s going to be tough to get weight out of the existing platform, especially with the DSG, but I’d expect some kind of plastic/composite for the rear hatch (like the A90), and the same, or aluminium, for as many panels as possible.
With 50/50 weight balance and a significant chop to the centre of gravity height, we should be able to develop a much more agile car that feels balanced and sports-car responsive.
Infotainment should be purely phone-based (Apple & Android), possibly releasing an open-source app to interface with the car to display oil temperatures and so on, letting Z enthusiasts develop their own visualisations and alerts.
Although the platform is fixed, there’s room to trim a couple of inches off the car’s width by simply making the body panels that much narrower, rather than owners needing to fit 25mm spacers to get the flush look. If the Nismo version needs wider wheels, just do flared versions of the composite panels.
Talking of versions, this platform is amenable to profitable variations. A high tech package offers ProPilot highway self driving for those long trips, along with rear and perhaps side mirrors replaced with camera screens, and huge Tesla-style central touchscreen. A luxury package adds leather covering the plastic interior panels as well as the seats, more soundproofing and special paint colours. And the same drivetrain should easily support a Nismo Z with a lot more power, flared arches, wider wheels, big ducktail spoiler, the lot.
So my Z hopes are that Nissan seizes this last chance to make a proper petrol-powered sports car, invest to overcome the limitations of the legacy platform and hits a driver-focused home run. Ideally this will also spur Toyota to offer a lighter, cheaper six-cylinder Supra with the manual gearbox they’re sitting on.
My Z fears would be a torque converter auto, hybrid, 1700kg+ weight, anaemic soundtrack, too obviously outdated cabin and/or styling, fake vents or fussy creases, intrusive driver “aids” you can’t turn off, a price higher than the Supra, or the car not being sold in Europe at all due to low predicted sales, high taxes, or CO2 targets – remember the Z33 wasn’t initially destined for the old world. Most of all I guess I fear the legendary Z just flopping and disappearing with a whimper rather than a bang.
Here’s hoping for the best and will be fascinating to come back to these discussions when the new Z launches!