"It's about damn time." Four words that will undoubtedly be plastered across every Z-related comment section for the next few days, as the automotive media world bombards your social feed with the long-awaited Nissan Z-car prototype—the latest generation of Nissan's beloved 50-plus year bloodline. The outgoing 370Z has, in many enthusiasts' eyes, overstayed its welcome with more than a decade under its belt in the Nissan lineup and very little change to celebrate.
Before you get too excited, keep in mind that this is a prototype and additional changes in both design details and overall presence will certainly change over the next year... or years. Much like other manufacturers, a long lead into the production model is expected. We saw it with the NSX, Supra, Civic Type R and others, and it seems to be somewhat standard practice these days. Whether the new Z will officially hit dealerships in 2021 as a 2022 model or be pushed back another year is still up in the air. For now, Nissan is hard at work refining their latest sportscar that inherently carries quite a bit of weight.
More than just another new offering, the next Z continues a long tradition of Nissan's Z-car heritage, which has never strayed from driver-centric, front engine, RWD layouts powered by a 6-cylinder powerplant. In addition, the current automatic transmission global takeover seems to have been paused, if only momentarily, as Nissan's recent teaser video and these official images confirm a 6-speed manual will in fact be available. A collective sigh of relief can be heard as Toyota's A90, along with other sporty offerings, have adopted the far more popular auto trans at the disdain of enthusiasts worldwide. Just to the side of that manual gear shift sits an actual mechanical parking brake rather than yet another button to push and hear the "whirr" of an electronic brake being called into action as you second-guess yourself but assume it did its job and your car isn't going to roll away.
Ok, so after you've read a hundred or so comments that say "it looks like this car had a baby with that car" and "they should bring back the old *insert 30-year old car here*," you probably want some hard facts—however, there aren't a ton of those available, as Nissan is keeping this one pretty secretive for the time being, which is either a strategic play or they simply haven't sorted it all out yet being that it's so early. Speculation is that the badge will be "400Z" and rather than the numerical value of that label lining up with engine displacement, as it has in the past, it'll likely represent the horsepower number.
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Finding 400-ish horsepower means turbo motivation and what better, easier way than to meet that goal by pulling a powerplant from the shelves of the Infiniti Q50/60 Red Sport inventory? The 3.0L, direct-injection, twin turbo V6 delivers 400hp and 350 lbs.-ft. of torque and would be a slam dunk for the brand. Braking appears to be backed by the 2-piece rotors and large calipers found on the GT-R, though due to the price tag of those stoppers, they probably won't stay on in the end. Surely, whatever is officially applied to the Z upon its debut will be more than up to the task at hand and suspension will likely be adaptive, like most of the industry. It's worth noting once again that a manual is baked in and goes a long way in gaining presence and respect among the enthusiast crowd.
Like any new vehicle offering, especially one with such a storied past like the Z, people are going to rip it apart. Writing this a few days before it officially launches, I can already picture the amount of hate it will generate on social, but it's to be expected. In keeping with the look and feel of the Z, Nissan retained the long hoodline and sloping roof you've come to expect. Compared to its 370Z predecessor, the new generation seems to have trimmed quite a bit of fat, most notably from above the front and rear wheel arches.
In the front, the straighter, less bulbous fender area results in a sleeker hood with a razor straight line above the wheels before arching downward toward a set of headlights that don't really resemble anything from models of the past. Just below the new set of peepers is an area that I expect people will complain about the most.
The front grill takes inspiration from early Z models and combines it with the blunt, hard edges of the 350Z face. Where the 350 incorporated vertical reflectors, the 400Z features a slight pinch on either side of the bumper. The rectangular grill opening uses a multi-patterned design separated sharply by a horizontal line that runs across the entire layout. I can picture a nicely sized intercooler filling much of the space, but the design is very bold and will ruffle some feathers and, in a round-about way, still plays into the modern oversized grill fad that seems to increase every year.
Make your way to the side of the car and along with the retro badging, a silver strip separates the roof from the rest of the body and harkens back to early Z design, which relied on a chrome strip that ran the length of the roofline, though it tied into the matching windshield and side window trim whereas this version is all on its own.
The hips of the 400Z are not only slimmer in appearance, as compared to the 370, but they carry a more sculpted body line that brings your eyes to the decklid which, visually, is very short, but take a closer look and you realize that the black roof treatment takes over half of the rear upper sheetmetal as well. The taillights unmistakably take cues from the Z32 but also have a bit of an S14 vibe. Dual exhaust exits are nestled within a rear diffuser and its carbon construction takes the lion's share of real estate on the back bumper.
On the inside, the 400Z again combines the past with the present. In terms of styling touches, there's plenty of yellow stitching on various panels and the seats to play off of the exterior. At a glance, the surface plastics don't scream premium and the visor that sits atop the highest point of the dash feels like an afterthought. A trio of gauges relay info from the center of the dash and puts a much-needed stop to the dashtop screens that seem to jut from the center console of most modern vehicles, usually in an awkward manner. A digital-faced cluster sits behind a 3-spoke steering and the prototype displayed "Sport" within the tach, which means various drive modes will be onboard and if you look closely, you'll note the boost gauge included. Overall, the dash and door panels wrap around the driver and passenger nicely, and the feel is certainly very "Z."
There's your first look at Nissan's newest Z-car and the latest in a growing line of sporty Japanese offerings. Just a few years ago, thoughts of heading to a U.S. dealership to pick up a new Supra, Civic Type R, 400Z or boosted 86/BRZ were nothing but a topic of discussion and today, half of that bunch is already available with the others seemingly on their way.