By Steve & Tamami Laser; with Nahoko Osuka reporting from Japan
Update Aug. 2021: Nissan introduced the production models of the 2023 Z for the U.S. market during a presentation from New York. See our story here.
Nissan unveiled its new Ariya EV all-electric crossover at the automaker’s new Nissan Pavilion in Yokohama in July. Now, the excitement of “Nissan Next” continues with the long-awaited reveal of the Nissan Z Proto, a prototype of the next Z sports car (called Fairlady Z in Japan).
For more than 50 years, the Nissan/Datsun Z car has captured the hearts of enthusiasts across the globe. For its world premiere, the new Z Proto joined historic Z models, from Nissan’s collection, outside the Pavilion in Minatomirai.
Watch the world premiere of the new Nissan Z Proto in this digital unveil video from the Nissan Pavilion in Yokohama. (video: Nissan)
Inside, Nissan executives, engineers and designers were on hand for the virtual unveiling event. Meanwhile, thousands of fans watched online, including members of the Z Club in Japan, ZCON attendees near Nissan’s U.S. headquarters in Nashville, and auto enthusiasts everywhere.
“The Z, as a pure sports car, represents the spirit of Nissan,” said Makoto Uchida (above), CEO of Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. “It’s a key model in our Nissan Next transformation plan, and it’s proof of our ability to do what others don’t dare to do, from A to Z. As a Z fan myself, I’m excited to announce that the next Z is coming.”
“The Z badge has special meaning to sports car lovers, and special meaning to me, because my very first car was a Fairlady Z,” said Uchida. “The Z was love at first sight, it looked so cool, so desirable. And when I had driven it, I felt the connection, I knew I wanted to own one. This was 1993, I finally bought a Z … it came with a T-bar roof, and of course, manual transmission. I am delighted to unveil our Z Proto.”
Nissan streamed two different versions of the premiere. The above video, presented in Japanese language from Yokohama, includes some unique content. (video: Nissan)
Instead of calling it a “concept car,” the Z Proto is thought to closely represent what Nissan plans for the next-generation Z (and Fairlady Z for Japan). While the launch timing has not yet been announced, our best guess is that the new Z is likely to go into production sometime next year in Japan, with U.S. market versions called 2022 models.
The Z Proto features a completely redesigned exterior and interior with styling cues inspired by its legendary predecessors (shown above with Satoru Tai, executive design director). We really like the look of the new Z Proto, plus the selection of bright yellow pearlescent paint, that pays tribute to the first 240Z (S30) and 300ZX (Z32).
“Our designers made countless studies and sketches as we researched each generation and what made them a success,” said Alfonso Albaisa, head of design at Nissan, shown above with Tai. “Ultimately, we decided the Z Proto should travel between the decades, including the future.”
This video from Nissan offers another look at the design and development stages of the new Z Proto. (video: Nissan)
Albaisa pointed out that the teardrop-shaped LED headlights, as well as the shape of the hood, are inspired by the first generation Z. The rectangular grille, said to exude sportiness and elegance, is similar to the current Z, while adopting oval grille fins for a modern touch.
“The LED headlights have two half-circles that hark back to the Japan market-only 240ZG of the ‘70s,” said Albaisa. “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 fits with Z’s identity.”
Retro design cues inspire the silhouette, with a roofline that flows from the nose to a sharply tapered and angular rear. Z Proto features carbon-fiber accents on lower surface trims, plus 19-inch alloy wheels wrapped with custom 255/40R-19 tires up front and 285/35R19 in the rear.
Unique taillights take their cue from the horizontal elements in the 300ZX (Z32). However, they’ve been transported into the future with LED lighting set in a rectangular black space that really makes them stand out.
The Z Proto sports a two-passenger cockpit that also blends the past with the future. There’s a 12.3-inch digital meter display, a center infotainment screen, a new deep-dish style steering wheel, and a trio of hooded gauges on top of the dash.
Deeply bolstered bucket seats are trimmed with yellow accents found throughout the cabin. We expect that production models will include an array of the latest high-tech connectivity features that Nissan has to offer.
In these days of paddle shifters, DCTs and electrically assisted transmissions, we’re thrilled to see that Nissan endowed the Z Proto with a 6-speed manual gearbox. And while production models are sure to offer an automatic, we hope that the M/T carries over for enthusiasts who crave three-pedal driving.
While Nissan is charging full-speed ahead with an expanded lineup of electric vehicles and hybrids, we’re glad to see that this futuristic Z Proto is fitted with a twin-turbo gasoline V6 engine. Specific output and performance specs will have to wait until Nissan provides more info about its upcoming production models.
“The Z has always been a strong dynamic performer, making it easy for customers to enjoy its capabilities and feel as connected as possible to the car,” said Hiroshi Tamura (above), chief product specialist of the Z Proto. “This has been true through all its generations, and this is what drives our passion to innovate and challenge the norm.”
Nissan says that work is underway on synchronizing the power with the grace and control that has defined the Z for more than 50 years. “Z is a balance of power and agility,” said Tamura. “It is a vehicle that creates a connection with the driver not just on the physical level, but emotionally, and responds to the driver’s impulses.”
With a huge array of collectible models, we tried to determine our favorite Nissan/Datsun Z to wrap up this story. After a long discussion, we finally decided, that we like them all. And in the spirit of Nissan Next, we’re looking forward to the next generation Z.
For more information on the Z Proto visit TheNissanNext.com
Note: Prototype vehicles shown are not for sale. Nissan says that Z Proto is a development study vehicle and does not confirm or reflect production model specifications.
News source, photos and videos courtesy Nissan Motor Co., Ltd., and Nissan North America, Inc.
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