Fans of the old Need for Speed video games would remember the Nissan 350Z, and the 370Z that spawned a few years after. But the Nissan 370Z has been around since 2009. And for years, long time fans of the Datsun have been eagerly waiting for the return of the Fairlady Z.
This is Nissan’s answer. Behold, the Nissan Z Proto. But this is not the 400Z. Not just yet. This is a pre-production prototype of the Z35 Fairlady Z. And it is a sneak preview of what Nissan has in store for their upcoming cars.
The Z Proto adopts a somewhat retro-modern design, with several styling cues that have been carried over from the old Datsun 240Z. The car doesn’t look as rounded as the 350Z and 370Z models that came before it. Although it’s not too hard to spot some similarities, the door panels for instance. And the shape of the door handles.
The side profile of the car does somewhat resemble the 240Z, with its short rear overhangs, its sloping roofline and a long bonnet that ends off in a tapered point. There is a strip of chrome trim running down the roofline to the rear buttress, no doubt emulating the chrome trim around the windows of the 240Z. Wheels are 19 inch all around, and wrapped in Dunlop rubber.
The rear however, is where the Z Proto shines, with its rectangular taillights with two horizontal light elements. Its unmistakably modern, but undeniably retro. And I like it a lot. The taillights are housed within a strip of black trim that runs across the rear, just like the 240Z. And beneath that, there is a rear carbon fibre diffuser with dual exhaust tips.
Fairlady “Z” badging on the C-pillars and a Fairlady badge on the bootlid adds to the nostalgia. When you look at these cars side by side, its really not difficult to spot these little nuances.
Now the front is where things are not quite as shapely. The 240Z had a chrome bumper running across a rectangular grille. Not rounded, not curved, but a completely rectangular grille. Now on the old car, the front lip of the car is noticeably higher, which makes that grille design less obvious.
But on this Z Proto, without the chrome bumper, it is rather…. Unsightly. The front of the car is dominated by its massive gaping black grille that looks like the mouth of a whale shark. Now don’t get me wrong, I love retro design touches on a car, and I adore restomods. But in this instance, it doesn’t pan out that well. I don’t hate it, but I don’t fancy it either.
Grille aside though, it’s a good looking design. Front arches are subdued and sleek. The teardrop-shaped LED headlamps give the car a more elegant design compared to its predecessors. The small power dome on the hood hints at the car’s performance. And I’m not one for yellow paint, but this pearlescent yellow finish is rather nice actually.
Inside, the cabin is rather well equipped for a Japanese sports car, with colour matches accents finished in the same shade as the body. Drivers get a digital gauge cluster (what’s new), a triple meter gauge that display turbo pressure, turbine RPM, and the battery voltage. The centre stack features Nissan’s familiar infotainment display, with volume and tuner knobs on either side and a few button controls for the navigation and menu. Three illuminated dials under the screen controls the climate settings.
But best of all, this car is fitted with a stick shift. And an actual handbrake lever. The 6-speed manual transmission is mated to a 3.0L twin turbocharged V6 engine. The same VR30DDTT unit found in Infiniti’s Q50 and Q60 models, so it’s good for 300-400 horsepower, depending on the tune. Automatic transmissions will no doubt be available, but I foresee very few driving enthusiasts who would tick that option box.
As a “homage” or a retro-modern take on the 240Z, I like it. But as an actual production car, I’m not too sure. The lines are good, the proportions are spot on. But that front grille? Not so good. If Nissan wants to replace the 370Z, they’re going to have to try just a little bit harder. Because they’re so close to getting it right.