It’s fair to say that 2020 is probably not a good time to introduce a new sports car. From the coronavirus pandemic to the recession to the seemingly constant stream of natural disasters, it’s proving difficult to introduce any new models this year, let alone push them into the shrinking niche new car segment. Yet that’s exactly what Nissan has done with this Z Proto sports car to set the table. The Nissan Z Proto 2022 Proto debuted on Tuesday, teasing the upcoming seventh installment in Nissan’s 50-year Z Car history, a range that started with the now ironically named Datsun 240Z and stayed with the Channel 370Z for the better part of a decade.
Instead, this Nissan Z Proto may be just the right amount of optimism (if not revelation) that many driving enthusiasts could use right now. At the same time new, yet familiar enough to consider the car here a plate of high-performance comfort food in an era when all of us could use a familiar face and something to look forward to. Ready or not, world, it’s time to get excited about the next chapter of the iconic Z.
The Proto in Nissan Proto is short for prototype, which means the pale yellow coupe seen here is not only purely a concept, but about 98% of the production model expected to come out in ’98 before hitting dealers in 2022. Possibly carrying the 400Z name.
Nissan Z Proto previews the hot 400Z with twin-turbo V6 and manual gearbox
I was actually lucky enough to see the Z Proto in person during a trip to Japan last October. at the time I was sworn to secrecy and until now, a year later, it’s very difficult to bite my tongue and not share any impressions. I saw a slightly earlier full-size version of the Z Proto in a courtyard full of other future wonders (which I’m still not allowed to talk about). But even then, the Z is not just the center of gravity of the display – if not the outdoor environment, the Z will suck all the air into the room. Yes, I have a weakness for pristine sports cars in general, but I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame. This design has an authentic feel to it.
Despite being unveiled at an awards ceremony in Yokohama, Japan, and coinciding with the annual ZCon fan gathering in Nashville, Tennessee for a link-up celebration, there weren’t a lot of tough numbers to launch the new Z Proto. For now, Nissan confirmed it is powered by a twin-turbo V6 engine, the soul of which is churned out by a six-speed manual gearbox. The company has also released the base dimensions, so here’s how the Proto stacks up to the current 2020 Nissan 370Z range. As you can see, the new Proto maintains the classic long bonnet and rear-wheel-drive proportions of the Z. The Z has an enviable design history, and expects chief designer Alfonso Albaisa to sign off on something radically different would be to misunderstand the company’s vision of the model. As Albaisa told the roadshow at the virtual press launch, the car “is, like Nissan, in our hearts, a huge responsibility and an honor [to design a new car].” With the exception of the Z32 in the 1990s (which was a technological moonshot conceived during Japan’s economic bubble), the Z has fulfilled its mission very steadily throughout its five and ten-year life. The new Z Proto suggests that Nissan will seek to maintain this continuity.
Interestingly, the prototype is 19 inches in diameter, with reasonably sized staggered wheels and higher sidewalls than you would expect on a modern sports car, let alone a prototype. Again, note the very intentional retention of the six-speed gearshift and manual handbrake. With these details in mind, Nissan has stated that the new Z model will focus more on creating a connection between the car and the driver, rather than focusing on producing eye-popping performance figures. With the Japanese automaker having a GT-R to loosen the jaws of enthusiasts and commendable stopwatch numbers, it seems sensible to keep the Z as the driver’s element of choice.