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New Nissan Z Proto 2021: Why it stands apart from the Toyota Supra, Subaru BRZ and Mazda MX-5

Nissan's next Z stands out as a standalone sports car in an environment where other brands find it hard to justify such models.

Nissan finally gave us a look at the next generation of Z car this week, but whether you love or hate the Z Proto, every sports car fan should be celebrating its arrival.

There’s been plenty of debate over exactly how ‘new’ this new model is, with questions over how much it shares with the current 370Z dodged by Nissan.

While we haven’t got the full technical specifications of the Z Proto yet, what we do know suggests some strong shared mechanical DNA between the 370Z, as well as the Infiniti Q60, as Nissan tries to make a profitable sports car with limited resources.

Just look at the basic dimensions, the Z Proto measures 4382mm in length, which is only 132mm longer than the 370Z. It’s also only 5mm wider and 5mm shorter, but crucially Nissan hasn’t revealed its wheelbase, so there’s no way to compare.

However, the circumstantial evidence of the dimensions, combined with the visual similarities between the two car’s basic architecture, suggest the Z Proto/400Z is likely a modified version of the 370Z fitted with the 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 taken from the Infiniti coupe.

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But the real question isn’t ‘how new is the Z Proto?’ but ‘should we care?’

The reality is, in the current economic and social climate, the fact that Nissan is making a sports car is good news.

The 370Z dates back to the 2008 Los Angeles Motor Show, so if we assume the 400Z (or whatever the official badge becomes) hits dealerships in 2021 that’s a 13-year lifespan for the outgoing car. That’s significantly longer than the seven years most passenger cars and SUVs have, and even commercial vehicles get new life every decade.

It dragged on so long, serious questions were raised about its future, with hints from senior executives for several years implying the company was considering turning the Z car from a coupe to an SUV to meet the growing appetite for crossovers.

When Nissan president and CEO Makoto Uchida announced the company’s financial results in May, and unveiled a revival plan for the company that would cut more than 10 models from its global line-up, it seemed hope was fading for the Z faithful.

But despite Mr Uchida stating the brand’s future is focused on electric vehicles and SUVs, he surprised the world by simultaneously confirming both the Z and GT-R will be fixtures of the Nissan range for the foreseeable future.

Mr Uchida believes its vital for the brand to retain what he calls its “passionate” models that define the company; or “Nissan-ness” as he called it.

So, while he also believes the all-electric Aryia SUV is the new “face” of Nissan, the heart of the company remains the Z and GT-R.

If – and it remains a question mark at this stage – Nissan has used the 370Z as the foundation for the Z Proto, then it makes it even more impressive the company has got the business case for the car to stack up.

Look at the lengths Toyota has gone to to justify building its two sports cars – the Supra is a joint-venture with BMW and the company partnered with Subaru for the 86 – and it’s the biggest car company in the world. And it isn’t just Toyota too, Mazda did a deal with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to offset the cost of developing the latest MX-5, the most popular roadster in the history of the planet.

Badge engineering may be sneered at by purists, but at this period in time, it’s a practical reality for brands that want to build relatively low-volume sports cars, so Nissan should be applauded for avoiding it … even if it means borrowing heavily from its predecessor.