Nissan is set to farewell conventionally-powered sports cars with a high-performance successor to the 370Z.
Unveiled in near-production concept form, the Nissan “Z Proto” blends muscular retro styling with a high-performance engine, manual transmission and rear-wheel-drive traction.
Based on the ageing 370Z sports coupe, the Z Proto sheds the current car’s 12-year-old bodywork for styling that paying tribute to Nissan’s greatest hits.
There’s more than a hint of 1970s 240Z and 260Z to the front end, while the rear tail-lamps are a homage to the 300ZX of the 1990s.
The Z’s long bonnet has always housed a six-cylinder engine, and that’s set to be the case for the next-gen model.
Nissan says the engine will be a twin-turbocharged V6, though it hasn’t confirmed a displacement or power figures for the new machine.
Our guess is the GT-R’s handmade 3.8-litre, 421kW V8 would be prohibitively expensive for a sub-$100,000 sports car, and that the 3.0-litre, 298kW unit once found in the Infiniti Q60 coupe would make more sense.
It would also lend the car around 400 horsepower, opening the door to a tidy 400Z nameplate for the US and beyond.
Huge six-piston brakes tucked behind lightweight 19-inch wheels suggest the new machine will be faster than the current 245kW version priced from $49,990 drive-away.
While there’s no doubt the new car will cost more than that, it could shape up as a cut-price alternative to coupe rivals such as BMW’s M2 or the reborn Toyota Supra.
The prospect of a track-tuned Nismo version could prove irresistible for some enthusiasts.
On the inside, it’s clear the new machine is an updated 370Z rather than an all-new machine.
Scalloped doorhandles tucked into high-mounted air-vents are a giveaway, as are triple gauges placed high over the centre console.
A modern steering wheel with a tiny central airbag looks the goods while providing shortcuts to key features.
Dozens of buttons have been eradicated by the addition of a central touchscreen, while a 12.3-inch electronic display replaces analog driver gauges.
Vitally, the Proto retains a six-speed manual transmission and mechanical handbrake found in the old model.
That’s great news for enthusiasts with few manual options to choose from.
Modern sports cars such as the Supra, Nissan GT-R, Honda NSX, Mercedes-AMG C63 and upcoming Chevrolet Corvette are auto-only propositions, giving Nissan a key selling point in the race for customers.
It could be Nissan’s last pure manual sports car, as electrification, increasingly strict emissions requirements and dwindling support for three-pedal cars make investment in niche models harder to justify.
Nissan has not said when the new Z will go on sale, only that it is finessing prototype models with an eye to putting it into production soon.
Nissan chief executive Makoto Uchida said the Z “represents the spirit of Nissan”.
“It’s a key model in our Nissan NEXT transformation plan, and it’s proof of our ability to do what others don’t dare to do, from A to Z,” he said.
“As a Z fan myself, I’m excited to announce that the next Z is coming.”