New Nissan Z Proto Signals a Return to Coolness

Nissan Z Proto 2021 coupe debut
All images courtesy Nissan

It was only a matter of time. Now that Toyota’s excellent Supra is around again (part of a collaboration with BMW), we’ve been waiting for Nissan to breathe new life into its Z cars, which, unlike the Toyota performance coupe, have never actually left the scene. But the current 370Z is a vestige. In present guise, with a 332hp V6 that shares its VQ guts from so much of the rest of the Nissan parts bin—not to mention a shape that’s needed restyling for ages—the company really had to turn the clock back to its 50-year sports car DNA that began with the original Z in 1969.

Nissan Z Proto 2021 coupe debut side profile

The Z Proto, mind you, isn’t a production car. But the hints are pretty strong. It’s almost exactly the same width and height of the current 370Z, though it is about a half-foot longer. Actually, the Z Proto is exactly the same length as the Supra. Hmmm. And given how it’s not too far off the footprint of the current 370Z means that Nissan doesn’t have too much work to do to produce the Proto.

Save, you know, start over.

The big enemy of the current 370Z is bloat. Sure, 332hp is plenty of muscle, but the 2021 Supra weighs about the same amount (3,400 pounds, depending on spec) as the 370Z, but produces considerably more mojo: 382hp. To feel more lively, Nissan either has to trim fat, or add horses.

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Nissan Z Proto 2021 coupe debut front profile

There are reasons this may be an unfair comparison. The current 370Z starts at just over $30,000. This puts it within reach of a lot of buyers. But its price ladders all the way up to just shy of $50,000—which is right about where the Supra starts.

If Nissan pursues its current strategy, they’ll reach more customers than the relatively niche Toyota. And while the Z Proto is showcasing a twin-turbo V6 (the present 370Z is naturally aspirated), thinking about turbo and non-turbo options would be one way to spread that love. After all, the GT-R (nicknamed Godzilla), which is about to fade into the sunset, is a twin-turbocharged beast; a hat-tip to the crown jewel in the Nissan pantheon via double-turbo-ing a Z would be worthy touch.

As for the looks, no question, Nissan is going way back to the 1969 drawing board—at least in part.

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Nissan Z Proto 2021 coupe debut next to original

Revisiting style roots really starts at the scalloped-out headlight cavities; the long, low engine bay with a bump in the middle to indicate the pulsing heart beneath; and the overall shape, with a long chase from the top of the roof to the squared tail.

But designers also yanked from the awesome late-1980s-2000 300ZX, with a boxed off, blacked-out rear that’s be-speckled with horizontal LED tail-lamps, which enhance the look of ground-hugging width. Yeah, about that wide-ness: One way you can tell this is a design piece and not ready for the street is the very massive side skirting. It’s cool, but you’ll have to buy that aftermarket.

Nissan Z Proto 2021 coupe debut back end tailight

While Nissan went the way of all brands circa 2020 and produced a main instrument cluster that’s purely digital, it’s great to see them hearken to some mechanical displays, showing off a trio of sport gauges crowning the dash. And the bucket seats are strictly old-school classic.

Nissan Z Proto 2021 coupe debut interior

What does all this mean for production? Good question. But if past is prologue, Nissan doesn’t tease many concepts that don’t see pavement. Our guess is that’s the plan here, but for all the granular facts, we’d say check back in a few months—and maybe ask your dealer when they’ll start taking deposits.


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