Well played, Nissan. The company, beset by dramas in the wake of Carlos Ghosn’s alleged number-fumbling and his bizarre subsequent escape from Japan, has just produced a brand new twin-turbo V6 mini-muscle car with all the low-volume, special brew allure of a true modern classic.
It’s testament to the scale of this achievement that the mighty Toyota couldn’t do it – or at least chose not to. As balanced and potent as the A90 Supra is, it does lack a sense of individuality; that whiff of the exotic that (relatively) mass-produced cars like the Honda S2000 and E90 BMW M3 conjured in spades. The Z Proto may not be coming to Europe, but it’s sure as hell coming to massage your want-glands.
Nissan has committed to producing this thing and now says it’s in the process of matching the power output to the chassis in the same manner as Toyota did – successfully, in my book – with the GT86. But with a twin-turbo six-shooter laid out in a nice, balanced front-mid position, the baseline is going to be closer to 400bhp than 200, and the aftermarket tuning potential is obvious. Even as I bash these keys, tuners will be phoning contacts at Nissan and planning stage one mods to suit. With such retro-racy looks going on, the Z Proto is just begging for a tyre-smoking 1000bhp drift conversion. Right? You know it makes sense.
Nissan has also managed to keep the future Zed compact. It’s 3mm longer than the Supra, 4mm narrower and 18mm taller, so it couldn’t be any closer without someone getting sued for copying homework. Its size sits, like the Toyota’s, in that sweet spot between B-road agility and Autobahn stability.
But it’s in the transmission where the concept really smashes a home run, right out of the park and through the windscreen of some innocent family’s minivan. A manual gearbox is the perfect choice for a heritage-inspired, cabin-rearward, rear-wheel drive sports car. Choosing anything else is either a compromise to driver engagement or pandering to the wealthy set who don’t want to have to – gasp – learn and/or hone additional driving skills.
The Z Proto’s production cousin is going to be a car that challenges you to wrestle for the last slice of pizza. Are you hungry enough? It immediately offers more of a task; more of a thrill at the thought of taming it, of learning its quirks and how to reach its very best. The Supra is usually happy to give you that last slice, but is that what you really want in a relationship?
Some of Nissan’s PR guff is typically daft, like claiming the steering wheel has a vintage aesthetic when that’s clearly only true if your definition of ‘vintage’ includes any time pre-Covid. The absolutely rectangular grille is a bit of an odd choice, too, 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 hamstrung 370Z, always held back by heavy controls and a general sense of lead-footedness, the replacement should be nimbler and easier to pilot while still demanding genuine driver skill and passion. On top of that, it’s bespoke. It is, frankly, exactly what we wanted the Supra to be.