This is the seventh-generation Nissan Z Proto

It’s hard to believe, but the Nissan Z Proto is the first new Z design in nearly 12 years. It was way back on November 15, 2008 we showed you the first photos of the 370Z ahead of its official debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Since then, several other Japanese sports cars have seen reboots, but arguably none have the name recognition, the following, and the brand heritage of the Nissan Z. When you have that much history and fandom, expectations run sky-high and it’s an almost impossible bar to clear. From what we know of the Z Proto, though, we think Nissan just might have pulled it off.

We were recently on a video call with Hiroshi Tamura, chief engineer of Nissan Z and GT-R, and Senior VP for Global Design Alfonso Albaisa to discuss the Z Proto, and what we heard is very encouraging. Besides the fact that it houses a V6 twin-turbo under the hood, Nissan isn’t revealing specific performance numbers yet. The car is still undergoing engineering work. However, as the two gents explained, that might not really be all that important.

These days, sports cars with many hundreds of horsepower and 200 mph top speeds are plentiful. What’s actually rare, though, are sports cars that prioritize the driving experience. Nissan is unusual among car companies because it has two performance icons. To destroy Nürburgring records, there’s the GT-R and its army of electronic systems achieving physics-defying lap times. That leaves the Z free to be a more convivial driver’s car. Having two iconic halo cars “is a unique point in Nissan DNA,” Tamura pointed out.

“The GT-R was created by mad scientists,” Albaisa mused. “Every little detail is engineered for driving perfection.” Drawing a contrast, Albaisa said, “The Z has a gentle beauty and accessibility.”

“It’s more like a mobile suit,” Tamura cheerfully added. “The Z is a dance partner. It has total balance, a nice design, performance, and good sound.”

These descriptions indicate that the Z will be engineered for driving pleasure, not for chasing all-out speed. It also clarifies why in the age of superior dual-clutch gearboxes, Nissan went out of its way to underscore a stick shift.

“Nissan has two sports cars but they have different characters,” said Tamura. “And because it’s a dance partner, that’s why it must have a manual transmission.”

Music to our ears! Engaging driver’s cars are something which were once plentiful, something that’s sorely lacking in today’s automotive marketplace, and something that Japanese carmakers have historically excelled at.

This may be why the Z Proto’s styling draws heavily from the original S30 Z, a car that embodied that philosophy so thoroughly. For months we’ve been promised a car inspired by the 1969 Fairlady Z that started it all, and the Z Proto does not disappoint.

From the front, we see a throwback to  Yoshihiko Matsuo‘s sugar scoop headlights, but interpreted perfectly for modern times. According to Albaisa, “The LED headlights have two half-circles that harken back to the… 240ZG of the 70s. The ZG has clear dome lenses over the headlight buckets, which under light give off two circular reflections over each headlight. We liked that unique characteristic and discovered that it naturally fit with the Z’s identity.”

Other callbacks to the S30 include a nose that starts from a point, the distinctive power bulge on the hood, and a receding rectangular grille. Moving rearward, a “Z” logo C-pillar badge and a diagonal script “Fairlady Z” trunk emblem evoke the S30 as well.

The rear, as predicted, references the fourth-generation Z-car. It has thin rectangular taillights like the Z32, surrounded by a vertical black panel spanning the back end. That panel manages to be reminiscent of both the Z32 and the S30, and of course, any car that pays homage to those two generations has to be yellow.

Perhaps most surprising in this day and age, the design is overall very clean. There are no fake vents or big spoilers, and the wheels are kept at a reasonable 19 inches. We’ll have a more in-depth design article soon, but for now most of the JNC staff agree, it’s quite pretty.

If there was a part of the 370Z most in need of a refresh, it was the interior. The Z Proto manages to keep its driver-oriented feel, but updates the console with a large touch screen. It retains the Z’s trademark triple gauge pod above the dash, and the steering wheel is a modern interpretation of the original 3-spoke.

Like many modern cars, the gauge cluster is actually another screen. We have mixed feelings about that, but at least one of the menu options places the tachometer front and center. Not only that, but the 7,000 rpm redline mark is oriented at the 12 o’clock position.

In one interior shot, a gauge on the left shows boost pressure, which seems to be redundant when there’s a boost pressure gauge in the pods. Presumably, though, the digital one on the dash can be replaced with a useful readout by the flick of a switch. Encouragingly, the handbrake pull has not been substituted by a button or other electrical gizmo.

A clever easter egg: Nissan has the odometer reading at 1969 km and the trip meter at 370 km, a reference to the year the original Z debuted and the current model.

According to Nissan, the Z Proto is 172.5 inches long, 72.8 inches wide, and 51.6 inches tall. That’s 5.6 inches longer than the 370Z, the same width, and 0.4 inches lower. In some of the images where it’s driving alongside a 1977 Fairlady Z-L on the grounds of Nissan’s legendary Oppama plant, it looks not that much bigger.

It should be noted that the Z Proto isn’t exactly what the production version will look like. Tamura pointed out that Nissan revealed the GT-R Proto in 2005, but the production R35 wasn’t unveiled until 2007. That comports with our prediction that the production Z35 might not be ready for at least two years from now.

In the meantime, Nissan will be fleshing out the details. Albaisa indicated that this is gist of the design, but small changes might have to be made. “This is our vision for the Z today,” he said. “Tomorrow, Tamura-san might say we need to tweak this or that for engineering purposes.” For his part, Tamura said that the twin-turbo system was not easy to install, which is one reason the hood is elongated.

Neither man mentioned this, but Nissan in a separate announcement said they’ve achieved a breakthrough in carbon fiber reinforced plastic. A new casting method shortens the curing time from three hours to just two minutes, making it viable to use on an assembly line. Nissan says this technology will appear on SUVs in four to five years, but perhaps it could be used on the Z as well. If so, it would mean a considerable weight savings that would further codify the Z35 as a dance partner for the road.

Based on these photos the words of Tamura and Albaisa, we think Nissan is on the right track with the next Z. Of course, pricing and power will play a factor in its success, but it seems they know their priorities and will deliver a car for true driving enthusiasts. That’s a rarity in today’s market, one that’s been generally unfavorable to sports cars to begin with. It’s giving us hope that the Nissan that made us fall in love with the marque, to paraphrase Tamura-san, will not die.

Images courtesy of Nissan.

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42 Responses to This is the seventh-generation Nissan Z Proto

  1. Ellis said:

    Does the accelerator pedal hang or is it hinged at the bottom? It looks like the latter to me (which would be one hell of a turn off) but I don’t know for sure…

    I’ll watch the stream replay once it’s over see if they give you a better look but yeah… I’ve never owned an organ pedal car and I don’t intend to. I’ve driven a few but it just feels wrong.

  2. Mazluce said:

    I’m so excited. This is a proper Japanese sports car. I love that the lines are clean and not fussy and a obvious connection to the 240z. Even the interior is reminiscent. Finally a car that is worth looking into from Japan.

  3. RainMeister said:

    I will withhold judgment until we can see the production model in the flesh, but I’m bothered by the proportions. The Z (not to mention ’60s sports car icons like the E-Type and the 2000GT) was so successful because the cabin was set far back with the long bonnet, and short rear hatch. It gave the car the “pouncing crouch” appearance that Alfonso Albaisa alludes to in his presentation, but which he failed to execute with this Proto Z. Of course, he was constrained by the hard points of the underlying chassis from the current and ageing platform.

    Which brings up another issue with Nissan’s attempt here in 2020 to revive the glory of the original Z. For the past two decades, every manufacturer has dragged out earlier designs from their heritage collection as part of a nostalgia boom, as if the designers had run out of ideas. Not only is this practice passe at this point in time, most of us enthusiasts who grew up during the ’60s and ’70s are frankly bored with rehashing old ideas. We can’t be fooled.

    While it is good to see that Nissan (unlike Honda) has the will to keep an affordable sports car in their lineup, if the performance fails to measure up to today’s sedans and even SUVs, then they will quickly be forgotten after the initial introductory hype. I have two roadsters in my garage, one from the ’60s and another from the ’90s, but my daily driver is a Tesla Model 3 Performance. For the same money, I could have bought the new Supra, but the Tesla’s performance blows this traditional “sports car” away, while packing people and luggage. The original Z was successful because it was superior in performance to the sedans of the day. Can this new Z say the same thing? Perhaps Nissan should have developed an all-electric Z for a new century?

    • Ben Hsu said:

      The next Z will probably have to be electrified, if there is one. We already have the perfect name for it: e-Z. Or maybe they can just revive the Zzzap!

      • RainMeister said:

        I hope so Ben. As much as I still get goosebumps listening to a well-tuned, high output gasoline engine car, electric motors have upended the definition of what it means to be a performance car. Mere mortals can now compete on a track with million dollar supercars. BTW, you had better trademark those names now before Nissan wakes up!

  4. ERK said:

    Love the stick shift! Not sure how I feel about the looks. I typically hate the way new cars look when I first see them, then in time, they grow on me. I don’t hate the look, so maybe I end up loving it.

  5. XRaider said:

    Sad news for Europe: the next Z won’t come in Europe

  6. BlitzPig said:

    My question is, will this “new” Z offer the same “bang for the buck” that the original 240Z did?

    I think probably not. Time will tell of course, but it certainly will not stand out in the crowd of it’s competitors like the original did in comparison to the MGs, Triumphs, Fiats, Alfa Romeos, and Porsche 914s of the day, offering better performance and significantly better day in and day out reliability, at reasonable cost.

    Comparing the Z to the Tesla 3 is ludicrous. The Tesla, regardless of it’s performance, is a boring sedan car with very derivative styling and is about as exciting to the eye as watching paint dry. And it’s bloody expensive to boot. Utter nonsense.

    • Ellis said:

      The 350z was being compared to the Porsche Cayman when it came out. Comparable performance for half the price. When you look at it like that the Z was quite the bargain.

    • RainMeister said:

      I think we are in effect both saying the same thing: Will this new Z have “better performance and significantly better day in and day out reliability, at reasonable cost.”

      My Model 3 will accelerate to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds. Will the new Z do that? A version with upgraded suspension and brakes out-lapped a McLaren F1 at Tsukuba Raceway in Japan (search Youtube). Can the new Z keep pace? If you prize performance, there’s nothing boring about what a Tesla can do today. And, like any appliance, they are as reliable as a Maytag dish washer.

      You say ludicrous? Well, Tesla will sell you a Model S with Ludicrous Mode that will take the car to 60mph in 2.3 seconds. Take that Lamborghini! It would surely be embarrassing to buy a “sports car”, only to be out-dragged by a “boring sedan car with derivative styling.” But I can do that all day long without attracting the attention of a LEO. This Q-ship can be purchased at the “bloody expensive” price of $45K, or less than the price of today’s NISMO Z.

      So Nissan, and all of the other enthusiast car brands, will need to turn to an electric-hybrid or full-on electric drive-train if they want to remain relevant in the future. Porsche is already making the transition. I want a Z as beautiful as a Tipo 33 Stradale, with quicker acceleration, better brakes and finer handling than my Model 3. If Nissan can achieve that, I’ll be the first in line to buy one.

      • BlitzPig said:

        Misses point entirely. You are basing everything on performance numbers only. A sports car is more than just it’s numbers. It how it makes you want to drive, just for the pleasure of driving, It’s about tactile responses, the sound of the engine, The feel of moving a gear lever, the ability to make even a run to the grocery store something to look forward to. Once you get past it’s formidable performance numbers, your Tesla is about as involving as an electric razor. You said it yourself, it’s an appliance, and it certainly looks like one.

        • speedie said:

          I totally agree. I own a 2010 RX-8 R3 that on paper is a low horsepower, low torque car that should make it a performance driving snore. it is actually quite the opposite. It has near 50/50 weight distribution, responsive feedback steering, and a truly balanced chassis. I enjoy driving it more than all the higher performance cars I have owned. On back roads I can keep up with any mustang/camaro/challenger that would blow me away on a straight away. Personally I prefer the corners.

        • kitterpetter said:

          I completely agree with this take. There is no question that electric vehicles have raised the bar on “performance” (numbers), but I personally don’t think sports cars need to be judged solely by their performance figures. I also think we’re approaching a time when cars are becoming TOO fast, like what can I even do with a car that gets to 60 in less than 3 seconds? On a day to day basis, that kind of performance is barely exploitable at best and frankly, I think it’s a bit dangerous, but that’s probably an unpopular opinion from a middle aged dude who’s all about driving small, slow cars at their limits. I absolutely look forward to grocery trips in my very lightly modded ’06 xB1. I can’t imagine the same trip being much fun in an electric rocket ship that’s largely isolated from the outside world, but to each their own.

          Back on topic though: I think Nissan might have something here if they keep it light(ish), affordable(ish…sub $40k maybe?), and quick, but not not too powerful (sub 400 hp…ish), but again, I’m probably not your average sports car buyer who needs to be able to hang with high speed, high horsepower monsters. “Jinba ittai” or something like that.

        • Negishi no Keibajo said:

          Well said… No clutch. No stick. No involvement. Just virtual excitement. Not saying that electric can’t be exciting but Tesla’s are iPads with wheels.

        • RainMeister said:

          It is reported that the new Z will remain on the existing platform, which evolved from the 350z FM platform introduced in 2002. I owned the sister car, the G35 6MT Skyline, and have driven the 370z on the track countless times. They are not what one would call sports cars in the classic sense. They are heavy, coarse and dull vehicles; not at all like the original Z.

          To believe that just because the new Z will retain the manual transmission will make it a joy to drive is to believe Nissan can turn a sow’s ear into silk from this 18 year old chassis. It will neither be as modern, fast and efficient as my Tesla, nor as fun to drive as my S2000 or Alfa Romeo Duetto. Perhaps in 10 years time, used ones will be bought by the Fast and Furious crowd. So if that is you, then congratulations, but if you want a real sports car, buy a Miata.

          • BlitzPig said:

            RainMeister, I see we do agree about some things.

            Yup the new Z is going to be an epic fail. I’ve already talked to a couple of my enthusiast friends who have been waiting for the new car, and now seem thankful that they can save their money for some other car.

      • dankan said:

        This does seem to overlook a few things. Yes, electric cars certainly can deliver excellent acceleration. And, with some significant upgrades can outlap exotic cars from 30 years ago on short tracks. But, by all accounts, they’re not very exciting in the handling department, weigh a lot, and cannot handle multiple laps. Plus the sound is gone. Even the best driving EV on the market (the Taycan) does not handle as well as gasoline equivalents.

        And Teslas do not have reputations for adequate reliability or build quality at this point.

        Now, will the Z have better performance that a significantly more expensive EV? Probably not. It’s explicitly not being designed as a numbers cars, so I doubt a low-3 second 0-60 time is on their agenda. Will it sound better and feel more responsive than your Model 3? Undoubtedly. Will that be enough? Well, if you want that sound, and the feeling of something lighter than 4000lbs swinging between apexs with good balance and feedback, then yes, it probably will be. If you really need acceleration above all else, and the feeling that you’re part of the cult of Elon? Decidedly not.

        This, like the 86, is a statement car. Not from you, but from the manufacturer, about what they think is valuable in automotive engineering. Nissan is not building this to look at the future and take a big leap into Jetson-land. It’s very much a love letter from Nissan to its younger self.

        • RainMeister said:

          Have you ever owned a Tesla or driven one for an extended period, or are you just parroting what you’ve seen and heard on YouTube videos? I’ve previously owned a G35 6MT and leased the G37, so I at least have a baseline to compare the Tesla with.

          Is the Tesla as agile as my old Miata, or as responsive as my S2000? No, but neither are those 18 year old FM platform Nissans, which the new Z will continue to languish on. The current Z is heavy, coarse and unrefined, which may be ok if they had the performance to back it up, but that too is lacking.

          So the fallback for fan-bois is to talk about “driver involvement” in having that none-too-smooth transmission to shift, and to accuse Tesla owners of being Elon cultists. Well, that’s ok because I’m sure that early adopters of the horseless carriage were also ridiculed by the horse and wagon crowd. Something about lacking that aroma of horse manure they said.

          Nissan has been missing the market pulse for some time now with their dated and dreary model lineup. It shows up in their poor sales numbers and abysmal quality rankings. As a life-long fan of the brand, I was hoping the Z would be a break through product to lead their turnaround, but sadly, I don’t see that happening.

  7. dankan said:

    As I said in the live reveal post, I think it looks like a modern take on a Star Road S30. I like it a lot. I hope they deliver on their driving engagement promise. This might be the last chance Nissan has for a car like this, it’d be great if they properly lit the fire one last time.

  8. Paul said:

    It has a 240SX vibe to it. Just two things I don’t like.

    1. Front bumper. Not sure how they can address this. Possibly some colour in the intake might break it up, and why not lower front indicators while they’re at it?

    2. Sticking with vertical door handles. They can still be true to the original with flush, horizontal handles in a contrasting colour like brushed silver metal or black.

  9. Steve said:

    I have to agree with Paul, above; it’s more S13/Z32 than S30/Z32. The cab is too large and forward to be compared to the S30. I seem to recall that the Z32 was the first Z that was designed from the beginning as a four-seater which is why it actually looks good as a 2+2. All 2+2 Zs before the Z32 were so clunky looking.

    Having said that, I would never off-handedly reject a RWD, 3-pedal M/T, 2-door coupe. Especially based only on concept prototypes. Payments on my FRS end next month; just in time to (hopefully) buy a new car. IDEALLY, Nissan will have an epiphany and do a quick redesign to include an I6 but I’ll take a V6. Afterall, I accepted the Subaru motor in the FRS (pleeeeeeze, Toyota. Spec a Toyota I4 in the next 86)…

  10. Ginkei Garage said:

    Well it’s finally here. I admit that I’m thrilled and disappointed at the same time.

    Thrilled because even with the turmoils that Nissan is going through, they did the job well and they really wanted to make something great for the new Z. Some might argue that going neo-retro is the easy way, but in this case it really works nicely. I also like the new interior a lot. It looks simple and functionnal compared to the Z34’s interior which I personnally always found very busy and weird.

    But I’m also disappointed because even if the styling looks nice, the underpinnings are still the 17 years old FM platform (even though updated). Not that it’s a bad one (far from that because it’s really one of the best chassis in this price range), but it makes for quite chunky proportions in 2 seater configuration, which in some way isn’t the best suited for a reminiscence of the S30 and the Z32’s styling cues, that were really sleek compared to the more muscular Z33/Z34.

    I wish they could have come with a brand new platform that would allow less bulky and chunky lines. From the pictures, it’s hard not to see the Z34’s roofline hiding under the new body panels, which makes it feel to me like a body kit’ed Z34. Of course, this would have been in an other world considering the costs and Nissan’s situation.

    Nevertheless, I cant’ wait to see the final car in person, because pictures of a prototype are often deceiving in terms of perception.

    Congratulation to Nissan for actually doing it !

  11. upsetZ said:

    Such a wasted opportunity; design alone, there’s an obvious disconnect in themes on this and it definitely looks like 3 different guys did 3 different themes and didn’t speak to each other, only to have them thrown together at the last minute by the so-called director. The front feels unfinished and those apologetic vertical sculpture details don’t help. And there’s no tension in the lines at all; from the 3/4 views the main feature body line hangs under weight. Faking the carry-over cabin C pillar with paint just adds to the weight and makes the rear look narrow on the haunches and the cabin too square and squashed. Even the cowl / a-pillar interaction is so basic; yes’ it’s carry-over from the 370, but there are so many other ways that could have been solved. As for the interior, I don’t think the customer will be happy with the majority carry-over plastic and only a new IP top area.

    I honestly think they’ve missed the trick here, big time. It will be too expensive and far too old, and can’t be sold in Europe due to emissions. They should have ditched this aged platform and made this Z and EV. They lead with the leaf but have stumbled and fallen behind since then. A new generation Z EV would have been the perfect message with the leaf crossover (Ariya) instead of this one step forward, 2 steps back nonsense.

  12. F31roger said:

    I actually like it.

    I just feel it has a simpler look. You see a lot of cars with very aggressive looks.

    But this will have the bark to it. I don’t know if the cost will be great for consumers, but just like the new Supra, it will have to grow out of the shadows of the predecessor and come onto it’s own.

  13. Tim said:

    The radio screen needed to be moved up to replace the upper vents and gauge pods so you don’t have to limit your visibility when utilizing the backup camera. The dash needs to be less tall vertically. The door panels need to have less of a massive-slab-of-plastic feel to the top half. The front bumper needs a complete redesign.

    Aside from that, it’s a great looking car. A good evolution on the 370Z. If they can keep the weight under… Eh… 3300lbs or so, (and the price under $40K) it’ll be a hit. The size is great, the rear end is very well done, and the basics are all there – wide rear tires, FR layout, a decent wheelbase, and of course a stick shift.

    I’ll certainly be checking one out in person when they come out!

  14. james said:

    Where’s that fry meme? I’ve not been excited for a Nissan product for a very long time.

  15. ACSK said:

    V6 twin-turbo? Just how heavy is it?

    • Paul said:

      I hope not.

      Surely Nissan should be capable of a 2.0l with ~220(NA) -300hp(T) and combine that with electric assist.
      If turbo, it would fill any lag.

      That would enable two things:
      1. It will pass EU regulations,
      2. They can position the battery pack and other bits to fine-tune the weight balance. It should yield a bit less weight over the front axle, aiding steering.

  16. BlitzPig said:

    If it’s under 3400 lbs. I’ll be shocked. (Needs to be under 3000 to be taken at all seriously as a sports car, and not a GT)

    As to the way it looks, perhaps a different color would help some? the bright yellow just washes out all the details.

  17. Dutch 1960 said:

    It’s not making me want to rush down to the local dealer with a down payment in hand, but it appears a darn sight better than most of the Z-car iterations, those having come out after the first one was done.

    Sounds like the engineers have Mazda-envy, as to the driving experience goals. The more choice in good driver’s cars, the better.

  18. Dutch 1960 said:

    IMHO the new Z sells itself short by being lined up next to the original. The side-by-side emphasizes the derivative styling elements of the new car, while at the same time making the old one look more dowdy than it is/was. After all, roughly 50 years separate the two, they really are apples and oranges now, in most ways. Either one is worthy on its own, and the direct visual comparison diminishes both of them.

    I also understand why they put the old name badge diagonally on the flanks of the new car, but does it really belong there? Perhaps a vinyl or painted iteration of it would work better…

  19. XRaider said:

    Also like to mention that Tomica will be the first one to have a die-cast version of the said car

    https://twitter.com/ikura89957678/status/1306207849270243328

  20. Jim Daniels said:

    Well, I will throw my 2 cents in on this topic. The Proto Z is not bad but not great. Yes, the BRZ is the best looking retro Z to date and it will probably remain that way based on these photos. The proportions of the BRZ are right, the cabin is located to the rear. As in the S30 the seats need to be positioned inches (2-4) in front of the rear wheels. The Proto Z needs to move the cabin rearward (8-10) inches. Everything above the fenders needs to be narrowed slightly, tapering toward the rear ever so slightly as in boat tail style including a ever so slightly convex roundness of the roof and rear glass. This will emphasize the rear finders more and the slight convex curve of the S30.

    The two tone color black top looks like it is trying to hide how the lines near the rear hatch don’t come together well. The whole hood and cowl area needs to be lower. There are lines in this area attempting to draw your eyes away from the thickness of this area. But this is like a once bikini model that is now 50 year old and back in a bikini attempting to hide the mid section. It’s the fine details that set greatness apart from what the Z has been since the S-30. So the exterior looks is Ok not great. My and others suggestions can move this car into greatness. Keep the horsepower to weight ratio around 7.5 pounds or lower per horse power with lots of torque everywhere and the car will be fun.

    The interior looks great. Get the basics right and keep it simple. If Nissan gets the basic looks and chassis right the after market can work on the rest and keep the Z alive for another 50 years.

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