Nissan Z Proto front

Nissan unveiled the Z Proto online, showing what the next-generation Nissan Z sports car will look like. Despite the name, company officials assure that this isn't a fanciful concept. It's a production-intended design that draws inspiration from the model’s storied history, most notably the classic 240Z and the beloved 300ZX.

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The Z Proto looks to edge the Z legacy forward, with a more modern style, new features, and increased power. But it doesn’t appear to make significant moves or stray from the established Nissan Z formula. Key to its appeal will be proportions, rear drive, and numerous styling cues that connect it with its heritage.

This is the latest in a wave of 10 new models that Nissan is showing for the U.S. market, including the all-electric Ariya and Rogue SUV.

Details are thin, including the on-sale date, but here's what we know so far. 

What it competes with: BMW Z4, Porsche 718 Cayman, Toyota Supra
What it looks like: The current Z crossed with a Jaguar F-Type and our Gran Turismo fantasies.
Powertrains: 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder engine with 6-speed manual or automatic transmission; rear-wheel drive.
Price: $40,000-$50,000 (estimated)  

Nissan Z Proto side

CR’s Take

The new Z remains close to the formula honed over the last two generations, while drawing inspiration from earlier versions. It looks evolutionary, not revolutionary, and more sophisticated than the outgoing 370Z. The heritage-focused design is a rolling celebration of the model’s 50-year history.

The current car has been around for a decade. It still shines as a capable car with sharp handling, and muscular power, but it’s hampered by its nose-heavy feel. Still, it has been a delight to drive around our track. If the new car even incrementally improves on the dynamics, it will be quite thrilling to drive.

But no matter how compelling the styling and driving dynamics may prove to be, the next Z is competing for a piece of the shrinking sports car market. Back in 2005 the Z sold more than 25,000 cars. Last year sales were about one-tenth of that. And unlike last year, the new car will have to compete against the similar—and highly engaging—Toyota Supra.

If the pricing stays within the realm of the current car, it will have a distinct price advantage over a comparable Supra, potentially priced thousands less than the top 382-hp version.

This is definitely a car we look forward to testing … vigorously.  

Nissan Z Proto rear

Outside

The Z Proto is about 5 inches longer than the current 370Z; it looks larger and more ferocious. The fascia is dominated by a simple, wide rectangular grille similar to the fifth-generation 350Z. It's such a stark contrast to the rest of the car that it's as if the designers lost their protractor and had to finish the styling with a carpenter’s square. The teardrop-shaped LED headlights are meant to be evocative of early Z cars with a clear lens cover. A slight hood bulge hints at the power beneath.

A floating roof element connects with other current Nissan models, and it has a nice detail with a katanalike accent that follows the roof down the back glass. The broad rear fenders give the car a stance associated with rear-wheel drive cars, making it look ready to pounce. The taillights draw from the 1990s 300ZX.

The side skirts, front lower lip, and rear valance made from lightweight carbon fiber contribute to the look and aerodynamic design. There was no mention of a convertible in Nissan's presentation. 

Nissan Z Proto interior

Inside

The intimate two-person cockpit features a large 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. The dash truly wraps around the occupants, with vents positioned on the doors by the release handles. The row of instruments above the center dash give the car a modified feel right from the factory, with numerous ways to monitor the turbo boost, oil temperature, and other vitals—another cue from the original 240Z.

Below the central infotainment screen are three conventional dials for adjusting the climate control system.

Body color accents throughout give the cabin a sporty appearance.  

Nissan Z Proto with an original Nissan 240Z
Nissan Z Proto with an original Nissan 240Z.

What Drives It

The Z Proto marks a return to a turbocharged engine after a couple generations of naturally aspirated V6s. Nissan says that the next Z will have more horsepower than the current 3.7-liter, which puts it at north of 332 horsepower (or 350 hp for the 370Z NISMO).

The Z will again be offered with a six-speed manual transmission. Stick shifts have become rare even on sports cars. This move should please driving purists, but it remains to be seen how many will buy one so equipped. An automatic transmission will also be offered. The current model has a seven-speed automatic.

Quick Take

2020 Nissan Z

Price Range: $30,090 - $47,190

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