Photo of Jeff Yip

Nissan took the wraps off its Z Proto concept car this week, giving sports car enthusiasts a taste of what we can probably expect from the seventh-generation Z. 
The upcoming Z will retain its front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout and V6, but add twin turbochargers. There are, for now, scant specs, but we’ll note that Nissan’s upscale division, Infiniti, offers a twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 that makes 400 horsepower in its Q60 sedan. (That model is also available with all-wheel-drive.)
Nissan is apparently banking on the next Z car to be fueled by nostalgia, as the Z Proto blatantly echoes design cues of the most popular Zs. In profile, you can see the roofline of Nissan/Datsun’s first Fairlady/240Z. At the rear, LED taillights are integrated in a black panel that extends the full width of the vehicle, much like the 1990-96 300ZX. 

The tasteful cabin is business-like, blending traditional sports and racing touches with contemporary technology like a 12.3-inch display for digital instrumentation. A deep-dish round steering wheel lends a vintage (and welcome) touch as well.

But the throwback touch that could be the clincher for not just Z fans but die-hard performance customers is the six-speed manual gearbox. A stick is a rarity today as dual-clutch transmissions take over shifting with more efficiency, but less fun. An automatic will be an option.

“The United States is home to one of the most devoted and enthusiastic Z communities in the world, with nearly 1.35 million total sales over the model’s 50-year history,” said Mike Colleran, Nissan’s senior vice president of U.S. marketing and sales. Colleran called the Z Proto “our loudest statement yet that Nissan will continue to bring vehicles that thrill to U.S. showrooms.”

The first Z sports car, the 1970 240Z, was a huge home run, thanks to its fresh styling, handling and smooth inline six. The first generation endured through 1978. The second-generation cars, the 280ZX, ran from 1979-1983; the third-gen 300ZX was produced from 1984-1989 and the fourth-generation 300ZX, near classics today, from 1990 to 1996. There were no Z cars from 1997-2001 but Nissan brought its two-seater back with the fifth-gen 350Z between 2002 and 2008. The current 370Z, introduced in 2009, is the sixth-generation.