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Nissan Unveils Z Proto, and Hope Is Reborn

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Nissan has unveiled the Z Proto, a concept that prefigures the next generation of the sporty Z model.

It would be a lie to say that for the past two years, things have been going well at Nissan. There was of course the Carlos Ghosn affair, but the coronavirus crisis really didn’t do the Japanese automaker any favours. Those travails, combined with questionable product planning that resulted in the company being in the position of trying to sell an aging product line, has created conditions not really conducive to success.

Add to that financial struggles. Safe to say that Nissan has seen better days.

There is hope, however, particularly as the company undergoes a structural reorganization that was recently announced. Eagerly awaited are new generations of several products, which can only help. A total of 10 models will make their debut over the next 20 months in North America.

Among them is the sporty Z, a truly iconic model for the brand. The model has been remained virtually unchanged since 2008, and there was real fear at one point regarding its survival. Then the company confirmed a sequel was in the plans, but the long wait that ensued created doubt once again. Fortunately, those doubts dissipated over the last few weeks as we learned that the company was going to present a concept prefiguring the next-generation model.

And so on Tuesday evening, Nissan unveiled the Z Proto.

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Nissan Z Proto, profile
Photo: Nissan
Nissan Z Proto, profile

Live from Japan
The presentation of the model took place live online from Japan on Tuesday evening, North American time. Along with some other 45,000 others, we tuned in to the presentation online on YouTube. And what we saw revealed that the historical signature of the vehicle has been preserved, and that retro elements harkening to the original creation have been integrated into the design.

Funnily enough, in the town Franklin, south of Nashville, Tennessee, where Nissan has its North American HQ, hundreds of Z owners gathered to watch the big-screen presentation in their vehicles. They were there also to attend the 33rd annual Z Owners' Meeting. North America, you should know, is fertile soil for the Z, with 1.35 million units sold in North America over the past 50 years.

Nissan Z Proto, three-quarters rear
Photo: Nissan
Nissan Z Proto, three-quarters rear

The styling
As for the concept presented, it’s draped in a yellow that is reminiscent of a colour used with the first generation of the model, the 240Z, as well as with the 300ZX a little later on.

The line of the hood as well as the shape of the headlights are reminiscent of the original Z. The rectangular grille (which will hopefully evolve) offers continuity with the current generation. In profile, the resemblance is even more striking as the height of the rear ends is slightly lower than the front fenders. The link between the rear window and the rear section is also a reference to the past.

As for the lights, they draw their inspiration from the 300ZX. Carbon fibre, used for the side skirts and parts of the front and rear of the car, is a cornerstone element of the model. Nineteen-inch wheels and a dual exhaust system complete the signature look.

“Our designers made countless studies and sketches as we researched each generation and what made them a success. Ultimately, we decided the Z Proto should travel between the decades, including the future.”

- Alfonso Albaisa, head of design at Nissan

Nissan Z Proto, front
Photo: Nissan
Nissan Z Proto, front

On board
Inside, the presentation is modern and the seats have been designed to fit the driver and passenger like gloves. Motorsport legends (whom Nissan chose not to name) supplied their suggestions to make the cocoon as pleasant as possible, both for traveling on road and speeding on the track. In front of the driver sits a 12.3-inch screen that displays the data normally given by traditional instruments.

Here, a retro touch would have been really nice.

Nissan Z Proto, interior
Photo: Nissan
Nissan Z Proto, interior

Under the Hood
Mechanically, a twin-turbo V6 engine will be centre point of the powertrain, and the good news is that the Z Proto carries a manual transmission. Nissan has wisely avoided committing a sacrilege here. An automatic transmission will also be offered, but the company explained that it's still in development. Output from the V6 hasn't been announced, but there’s been speculation it could hit 400 hp. Remains to be seen.

As for the rest, that also remains to be seen. The production model is expected to be introduced sometime next year. Nissan promises, though, that the Z Proto concept that's very close to a production model; any cosmetic changes from here on in should be minor.  Three cheers for that.

Nissan Z Proto, rear
Photo: Nissan
Nissan Z Proto, rear
Photos:Nissan
Nissan Z Proto pictures