Retrolicious Nissan Z Proto tiptoes through the past toward the future
The pretty, bright-eyed yellow canary sitting before you is the all-new Nissan Z Proto, an early look at what Nissan's cooking up with the seventh-generation Z. If it feels more like you're looking at an older generation Z, that's on purpose. Nissan has moved in a retro direction with the latest Z design, celebrating 50 years of Z by folding in inspiration from past models, including the one that started it all: the 1970 Fairlady Z/Datsun 240Z. Given how timeless some of those older Z models are, it's fair to say, it's a very promising direction, indeed.
The sixth-generation Nissan 370Z has been on the market for over a decade and is hurting for a replacement. Unlike the evolutionary step between fifth-generation 350Z and sixth-generation 370Z, the move to future Z is shaping up to be a dramatic one. The Z Proto blows up the current mold, bumper to bumper, celebrating the full breadth of Z history, from conception to events yet to happen.
"Our designers made countless studies and sketches as we researched each generation and what made them a success," Nissan design chief Alfonso Albaisa explains. "Ultimately, we decided the Z Proto should travel between the decades, including the future."
The most agelessly memorable part of the original 240Z was the intent gaze of round headlamps set deep in teardrop-shaped recesses. The Z Proto doesn't recreate those precisely but departs dramatically from the current 370Z in sporting a set of LED teardrops that serve as a modern interpretation of classic Z lamps.
"The LED headlights have two half-circles that hark back to the Japan market-only 240ZG of the 70s," Albaisa says. "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."
The curve of the hood has also been modeled after first-generation Zs ... at least until the leading edge, where it ends abruptly in a displeasingly large rectangular grille that looks out of place at the front of the smooth, curvy body. Hopefully Nissan massages that away in the production variant because it's the one major negative to nitpick on an otherwise brilliant retro-modern design.
Spin the Z Proto around to profile view, and Nissan has thinned away the bulbous design of the current Z by crisping up the edges, belt line and roofline. The roofline, in particular, flashes some retro flair, finding a sharply defined peak at the end of the A-pillars before dropping slowly and directly between the muscular rear haunches and to the squared-off rear-end. The lithe silhouette effectively conveys the added 5 inches (12.7 cm) of length the Proto enjoys over the 2020 370Z.
The taillights take their cue from the 300ZX, recreating that unmistakeable full-width lighting signature in modern fashion. The thin Proto strip puts stretched LED loops at the ends of a blacked-out surround. Below, the rear bumper leaps forward through the decades, featuring a high-powered, contrast roof-matching black look, dual exhaust rounds and carbon fiber trim. Carbon fiber also finds its way around the side skirts and front lip.
It may be just a prototype, but the Z Proto is more than just an exterior design study. Nissan has also dived inside to create a modern cabin with a hint of retro flair. The driver takes in information through a 12.3-in digital instrument panel, combined with a trio of analog gauges that top the center console. Yellow accent stitching and piping ties in with the bright yellow pearlescent exterior paint, chosen as a tribute to the popular color choice of first-gen 240Z and 300ZX models.
Nissan isn't divulging power or torque estimates just yet, but it emphasizes that each new Z generation has been marked by a power increase while confirming the Z Proto relies on a twin-turbocharged V6. The six-speed manual transmission remains alive and well.
Nissan revealed the Z Proto on Wednesday through a digital premiere event broadcast from the Nissan Pavilion in Yokohama, Japan. The most dedicated Z owners and enthusiasts watched it unfold from the comfort of their cars on big screens set up at the 33rd annual International Z Convention (ZCON) in Franklin, Tennessee. Below you can find a few more specs Nissan revealed today.