Unique heritage-inspired look, bespoke engineering and manual gearbox – Nissan pulled a golden bunny out of a hat that looked as sterile as the dark side of the moon
Well done, Nissan. The company, beset by drama following Carlos Ghosn’s alleged search for numbers and his subsequent bizarre escape from Japan, has just produced an all-new twin-turbo V6 mini-muscle with all the special low-volume allure. a true modern classic.
It is a testament to the magnitude of this realization that the mighty Toyota couldn’t – or at least chose not to. As balanced and powerful as the A90 Supra is, it lacks a sense of individuality; that smell of exoticism that (relatively) mass-produced cars like the Honda S2000 and the BMW M3 E90 evoked in spades. The Z Proto might not be coming to Europe, but it’s sure to come and massage your eager glands.
Nissan has made a commitment to produce this thing and now says it is adapting the power output to the chassis the same way Toyota did – successfully, in my book – with the GT86. But with a twin-turbo six-shooter arranged in a nice balanced front-to-middle position, the baseline will be closer to 400bhp than 200, and the aftermarket tuning potential is evident. Even if I hit those keys, the tuners will phone Nissan contacts and schedule the first stage mods accordingly. With such a retro-racy look, the Z Proto only asks for a 1000hp drift conversion. Right? You know it makes sense.
Nissan also managed to keep the future Zed compact. It’s 3mm longer than the Supra, 4mm narrower, and 18mm taller, so it couldn’t get any closer without someone being sued for homework copying. Its size is, like that of the Toyota, in that ideal balance between the agility of the B route and the stability of the highway.
But it’s in the drivetrain where the concept really crushes a home run, right out of the park and through the windshield of an innocent family’s van. A manual gearbox is the perfect choice for a heritage-inspired rear-cabin rear-wheel drive sports car. Choosing something else is either a compromise on driver engagement or an indulgence to the rich who don’t want to have to – haleter – learn and / or improve additional driving skills.
The production cousin of the Z Proto will be a car that challenges you to fight for the last slice of pizza. Are you hungry enough? It immediately offers more than one task; more of a thrill at the idea of taming it, learning its quirks and how to achieve its best. The Supra is usually happy to give you that final installment, but is that what you really want in a relationship?
Part of Nissan’s PR is generally dumb, like claiming the steering wheel has a vintage aesthetic when that is clearly only true if your definition of “vintage” includes any time before Covid. The absolutely rectangular grille is also a bit of an odd choice, but at least it channels a brutalist motorsport vibe.
A few tweaks and the Z Proto will be ready for public consumption. Unlike the charismatic but paralyzed 370Z, still held back by heavy controls and a general sense of the lead, the replacement should be more agile and easier to ride while requiring genuine skill and passion from the driver. On top of that, it’s tailor-made. This is, frankly, exactly what we wanted the Supra to be.