Front engined, rear-wheel-drive. Twin turbos. Manual transmission. It’s everything fans of Japanese sports cars have been demanding for years. The Miata and 86 are too underpowered? The Z has 400 horses. Subaru BRZ needs a turbo? The Z has two of ’em. Supra doesn’t come in a manual? The Z has six speeds. Mazda needs to build an RX-9? The Z, despite all odds, actually exists. You might have just watched the launch of the last pure FR, internal-combustion, stick-shift Japanese sports car in history.
First things first, it’s finally what we’ve been calling it all along, the Z. There’s no more numeric designation tied to engine displacement in the name. That’s because the naturally aspirated 3.7-liter VQ37VHR V6 has been replaced with the 3.0-liter VR30DDTT twin-turbo V6 from the Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400. It would have seemed like a step backwards to drop the name back to 300Z, and linking it to horsepower would limit, say, a NISMO version from gaining more power.
Confirmed with 400 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 350 lb-ft under a broad torque curve that stretches from 1,600 to 5,600 rpm, the engine change was pretty much expected. It’s not the first time Nissan has teased a Z with that motor, either. The Infiniti’s electronic variable valve timing on the intake side carries over, along with small-diameter turbos. As such, Nissan promises very good throttle response, something that’s been lacking on many modern cars.
Some might decry the parts-bin choice, but it’s from a very good parts bin. The engine has proved itself impressive and has strong aftermarket potential, it’s just been shackled in the wrong car. Freed from its luxury car reins and mated to a 6-speed manual, it should put a lot of smiles on new owners’ faces. Nissan estimates a 15 percent improvement in 0-60 times, which puts it in the low 4-second range, same as a V8 Mustang GT.
Speaking of that manual, it puts the power down through an Exedy high-performance clutch and a carbon-fiber composite driveshaft; stuff that used to be in the Gran Turismo tuning menu is now factory standard. There’s even a launch assist control system to ensure takeoffs are smooth. The 370Z’s pioneering rev-match downshifts carry over on some models as well. Of course, there’s a automatic if you don’t want to row your own, a new 9-speed automatic that can be optioned with aluminum paddle-shifters like those in the GT-R.
Styling-wise, it looks just as striking as the concept, a blend of heritage and modernity, with very little that didn’t make it into production. The grille appears to have a little chrome applied so the front intake doesn’t look as large. It looks a bit like a Star Road Z in blue. Or a certain Wangan runner that comes out at Midnight.
Hard points seem to match those of the 370Z, but Nissan says there’s been changes under the sheetmetal as well. They claim to have upped the body rigidity and tinkered with the suspension geometry. The new front aluminum double-wishbones, for instance, sport increased caster angle for better straight-line stability. Nissan says the rear multi-link has also been reconfigured but hasn’t disclosed details. New larger-diameter monotube dampers can be found at each wheel.
Nissan will offer the Z in two trim levels, Sport and Performance, both of which get the firecracking engine, thankfully. The latter also receives a sport-tuned exhaust, clutch-type LSD, and larger brakes (red 4-pot aluminum calipers over 14.0 x 1.26-inch discs in front, 2-pot aluminum over 13.8 x 0.79 discs at the rear, as opposed to the Sport’s 2-pot cast-iron calipers over 12.6 x 1.10 inchers in front, cast-iron single-piston calipers over 12.1 x 0.63 rotors at the rear).
Likewise, Performance trims get snazzy wheels in the form of Rays forged alloys, 19×9.5J in front, 19x10J out back wrapped in Bridgestone Potenza S007 high performance tires. That’s one size larger than the Sport’s 18x9J wheels in Yokohama Advan Sport high performance tires. We don’t know curb weight yet — we predict something around 3,400-3,500 pounds — but Nissan says cornering g-forces have gone up by 13 percent.
Performance models can be further visually identified by front chin and rear spoilers and leather throughout the interior. There’s also some stuff that we wouldn’t necessarily need but comes with the higher grade nonetheless, like power seats, a larger infotainment screen, and a better audio system.
The cabin has been thoroughly modernized and is where the new Z truly differentiates itself from its predecessor. While many of us probably don’t care about niceties like a digital instrument display with an enhanced map mode, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, or blind spot and lane departure warnings, such conveniences have kept average car buyers away from the Z.
These features will appeal to most customers and bring the Z back to the current age, and we can all agree more Zs on the street would be a Good Thing. Similarly, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, intelligent cruise control, and rear cross traffic alert help the Z become less of a dinosaur in the marketplace.
Those of us who drive older cars are used to having our phones sub in for all our in-car entertainment and navigation needs. As such, we do appreciate that Bluetooth is now standard (the last 370Z we drove in 2019 didn’t even have it) along with USB and USB-C charging outlets.
Nissan COO Ashwani Gupta summed it up when he said, “[The Z] is Nissan’s passion wrapped up on four wheels. The new Z retains its authenticity as a pure sports car to keep you connected to the road while bringing in the latest modern technologies to make sure the car can help keep you connected to your life.”
The Z will come in a wide palette of colors. Three are monotones: Black Diamond Metallic, Rosewood Metallic, and perennial Nissan favorite Gun Metallic. The other six must be paired with a Super Black roof: Brilliant Silver, Boulder Gray, Passion Red, Everest White Pearl, the Wangan Midnight-evoking Seiran Blue, or the Z Proto’s Ikazuchi Yellow. Ikazuchi means “thunder” in Japanese, while seiran means “mountain vapor,” conjuring up images of early morning touge runs.
Nissan will offer three interior color options as well, Black, Red and an 80s color we’re glad to see make a comeback, Blue. Additionally, Nissan is planning a run of Proto Spec launch editions, which will feature yellow brake calipers, yellow accents and stitching throughout the interior, and an exclusive shift knob. Only 240 will be built for the U.S.
It took a long road to get here. We first laid eyes on the 370Z in the fall of 2008, a few months shy of 13 years ago. That delay, however, may work in the new Z’s advantage. It’s forced Nissan to listen to enthusiasts making themselves very vocal over the last decade, and focus on what’s important — turbo power, manual transmission — while adding some inevitable tech to appease the masses. The next Z may be a hybrid, or electric, if there is one at all. We won’t be able to make a final call on the new Z until we get behind the wheel, but right now this looks like a promising send-off for the age of internal combustion sports cars.
Images courtesy of Nissan.