Nissan Z Proto is Retro-Styled Tease of Next-Gen Sports Car

Kyle Patrick
by Kyle Patrick
Prototype model pulls design inspiration from the Z’s 50-year history: features turbo V6 and a manual transmission.

Yes please. After an entire summer of teasing, Nissan has shown off the Z Proto in its entirety. As the name implies, this is an early prototype of the next-generation sports car. And if the final production car looks even close to this, we’d be pretty stoked, because the Z Proto looks fantastic.

Nissan has pulled styling cues from all around the Z’s half-century of history for the Proto. The clearest inspiration is up front, where various 240Z cues take shape with a modern twist. The curved crease below the headlights instantly reminds us of the classic model, as does the gentle, shield-shaped bulge in the hood. The headlights may seem a stylistic departure, but there’s a reason for their semi-circle LEDs daytime running lamps (DRLs). “The ZG has clear dome lenses over the headlight buckets, which under light give off two circular reflections over each headlight,” explained Alfonso Albaisa, head of design at Nissan. “We liked that unique characteristic and discovered that it naturally fit with the Z’s identity.”

The big, boxy front grille is another nod to the original Z. A chrome bumper bisected the rectangular opening on the classic car, but here it’s wide open. It’s dramatic, but the curved headlights give it a friendlier, almost elegant look, at least to our eyes. It doesn’t have permanent scowl-face like most modern cars, anyway.

In profile the Z Proto is classic sports car, all long hood and short rear deck. Nissan is proud of the tail’s edge being just lower than the front wheel arches, gifting the new car the same posture as the old one. The Japanese company has also changed up the door handles, ditching the current car’s stylized vertical handles for simplified flaps along the door’s trailing edge. A thin strip of chrome picks out the Z’s traditional curving roofline.

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The rear of the Z Proto might be our favorite angle, though. Here, Nissan took inspiration from the turbocharged 300ZX of the ’90s. A black bar spans the width of the tail, housing thin LED lights. There’s also a little a small character line curving down below the black section, just like the lower bumper on the 300ZX. A sizeable diffuser and two fat exhaust tips round out the tail.

A set of bronze 19-inch wheels sit at each corner of the prototype. They’re wrapped in 255/40R tires up front, with 285/35 rubber out back.

Z goes digital inside, keeps the manual

Moving inside and we’ll start with the important news: the Z will keep its manual transmission. Rejoice, enthusiasts—and fear not, fans of self-shifters, an automatic is also in development for the production car.

It’s easier to spot the ties to the current car inside than out. Some things, like the general transmission tunnel design, the door handle/air vent combo, and trio of dash-mounted dials, line up quite directly with the 370Z. Nissan has tidied the rest of the interior immensely however, bringing the Z firmly into this decade. A large, flush-mounted infotainment screen sits in the middle of the dash, with physical climate controls below. Ahead of the driver, a 12.3-inch screen handles instrument duties. Yellow contrast stitching abounds in the cabin, while the seats get even more of the bright hue thanks to a unique layered pattern.

If anything, the similarities with the current car should make it clear this is very close to production.

Turbo V6 engine underhood

As expected, Nissan has confirmed a turbo V6 will return to the Z lineup, for the first time in 25 years on these shores. While it didn’t provide details, we believe it will be an evolution of the 3.0-liter unit found in the Infiniti Q60. There it produces an even 400 horsepower—a number that would compare favorably with the Z’s reborn competitor, the Toyota Supra.

SEE ALSO: 2020 Toyota GR Supra Review

Speaking of the Supra, the Z Proto is nearly identical in size to the Toyota. It’s the exact same length at 172.5 inches (4,381 mm), and around half an inch taller at 51.6 inches (1,310 mm). Width is also a fraction apart, with the Nissan measuring 72.8 inches (1,849 mm) to the Toyota’s 73.0 inches (1,854 mm).

This represents a roughly half-foot growth in length over the current 370Z, but is still a solid foot shorter than the Q60. Nissan is quick to point out these are only measurements for the Proto, not the final production car.

When can you buy one?

We expect to see the production version of the Z within the next 12 months. Nissan is planning a product offensive involving 10 new cars in the next 20 months, and a new, reasonably affordable sports car would be one heck of a face for the effort. What do you think? Sound off in the comments.

Discuss this story at our Nissan 400Z Forum.

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Kyle Patrick
Kyle Patrick

Kyle began his automotive obsession before he even started school, courtesy of a remote control Porsche and various LEGO sets. He later studied advertising and graphic design at Humber College, which led him to writing about cars (both real and digital). He is now a proud member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), where he was the Journalist of the Year runner-up for 2021.

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