Nissan Z Proto Design References Previous Generations for Inspiration

Since its inception, the Nissan Z has always been an avant-garde sports car, an uncompromising driver-centric machine that stood firmly in the future. For this latest generation, the company’s design team was inspired by elements from previous successful generations of the now-iconic sports car, which will be called the 400Z when it makes an appearance in the US market next year.

“We explored two directions – one with a strong homage tone, and one with a futuristic feeling throughout,” says Nissan Design VP Alfonso Albaisa. “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.”

The Z Proto is 4382 mm long, 1850 mm wide, and 1310mm tall; marginally longer and lower than the 370Z model it replaces (4240mm/1850mm/1320mm). It sources power from a twin-turbocharged six-cylinder engine.

Its design references the 350Z (Z33) and 370Z (Z34) models in side view, with a more dynamic rocker and a more elegant treatment of the lower quarterlight, a nod to the first-generation 240Z (S30). Designers were inspired by a katana sword for the cant rail brightwork and the black roof serves to detract visual weight, but the Proto still looks as heavy as its predecessor. The bodyside is cleaner, however, thanks to its concealed body-colored door handles.

The rear of the vehicle noticeably references the 300ZX (Z32) – an attainable icon from the 1990s – in the taillamp treatment and black panel between. The rear three-quarter angle is arguably the best view, the soft peak of the rear haunch flowing gently into a Kamm tail replete with a blacked-out diffuser. This makes the car look lighter and shorter.

The front end of the car is the most contentious. Albaisa says the headlamp design was inspired by a special edition of the 240Z (S30) of the 1970s, which is somewhat visible in the inner element, but they make the Proto Z’s front end look droopy and sad. The rectangular grille also references previous models but is larger than on the 350Z and 370Z. It is disproportionately large and devoid of dynamism in this application, giving the face a static and unfinished look.

The interior is nice and simple: three analog gauges sit atop the center of the IP – as in the original S30 – over a canted 12.3-inch screen and ergonomics worthy of a sports car were clearly considered. The interior design team is said to have sought advice from professional motorsports legends during the development phase.

While the exterior design is an elegant, well-executed homage to some legendary Nissan sports cars — with some very pleasing details — I feel it could have been more forward-thinking, future-oriented, and future proof. An electric powertrain — which Nissan arguably spearheaded with the introduction of the Leaf — would have been a welcome addition, too.

I applaud Nissan’s efforts to retain the Z’s strong fan base by offering a back-to-basics sports car with a manual transmission, but the Z Proto somehow misses a trick. And while Nissan is calling the new Z a concept, I doubt much will change before it hits production next year. I’ll reserve my final judgment until I see the new 400Z in person and take a seat in the cockpit.

In the meantime, have a look at the video above for a brief look into the Nissan Proto Z design process.

Z Proto specifications
EngineV-6 twin turbo
Transmission6-speed manual
Length4,382 mm
Width1,850 mm
Height1,310 mm
Wheel and tire sizeFront: 255/40R19
Rear: 285/35R19

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