Words: Mike Ryan
After what has seemed like years of spy shots, teases and previews, the new Nissan Z sports coupe has finally been revealed. The first new Z car in more than a decade, the latest generation was unveiled in the US in August and is due to reach Australian showrooms sometime in 2022.
While the new Z continues a lineage that stretches back to 1969, it does break with tradition somewhat in that there’ll be no number prefacing the model name.
What started as the 240Z in 1969 (Fairlady Z if you were in Japan) referred to the 2.4-litre straight six engine under the bonnet. When that was enlarged to 2.6 litres in 1974, so the model name changed to 260Z. The 2.8-litre saw the arrival of the 280Z a year later, with the Nissan-badged 280ZX following.
Redesigned with a 3.0-litre V6 to become the 300ZX, there were two distinct versions of the Z car to wear that badge before the all-new 350Z arrived in 2002. Obviously, that model upped engine size to 3.5 litres, followed by the 370Z with a 3.7-litre V6 that was introduced for the 2009 model year and is still with us today.
The new Z car had been rumoured to carry a ‘400Z’ model name, which seemed a logical progression and suggested a 4.0-litre engine, but instead, the seventh generation of Nissan’s sports car will simply be known as the ‘Z’. Knowing the powerplant for the new model explains why Nissan broke with the engine capacity-based tradition for the badge.
Smaller, but Better
The new Nissan Z will be powered by a ‘VR30DTT’ 3.0-litre V6 that’s not an all-new engine, having previously been employed in Infiniti sedans and coupes.
Despite being smaller than the 3.7 V6 in the 370Z, the VR30DTT in the new Z is more powerful, with listed outputs of 298kW (400hp) at 6500rpm and 475Nm (350lb/ft) at 1600 to 5600rpm - significantly higher than the 245kW/363Nm in the standard 370Z and eclipsing the 253kW/371Nm of the 370Z NISMO, too.
The new Z’s performance figures are broadly similar to the 285kW/500Nm produced by the new Toyota Supra’s 3.0-litre inline six, but It should be clarified that the 298kW/475Nm, along with all specs on the new Nissan Z in this article, refer to the US market version - specs for Australian-delivered units are yet to be confirmed.
Two model grades – ‘Z Sport’ and ‘Z Performance’ – will feature in the US market, both of which run the same engine in the same state of tune. Whether both these grades will be offered in Australia is also unconfirmed. Similarly, a limited-edition Z Proto Spec will be offered in the US but is unconfirmed for Australia.
“Simply put, our goal is to make this the best Z yet - period,” said Hiroshi Tamura, chief product specialist of the new Z. “With each generation, we raise the bar, pushing the limits of Z and continuing to tap into the human instinct for that next thrilling journey.”
The addition of two small-diameter turbochargers to the 3.0 V6 balance power output and response time, while a turbo speed sensor is key to the engine’s high performance, ensuring each turbo is “fully utilised”. Electronic variable valve timing, micro-finished crank and camshafts, an oil cooler and an electronic throttle also feature on this engine.
Ensuring what they describe as a “physical and visceral” connection to the driver, a six-speed manual transmission will be standard, with a nine-speed automatic optional.
The manual is a close-ratio unit, with an Exedy high-performance clutch and carbon fibre composite driveshaft standard, while ‘SynchroRev Match’ rev matching technology and an advanced launch control function will be added to the Z Performance grade.
On the nine-speed auto, it’s described as new and offering direct response and quick acceleration, thanks to a wide ratio spread. Launch control is standard with the auto, as are paddle shifters, while the Z Performance variant upgrades these to the same paddles that are used on the GT-R.
The auto Z will also offer two drive modes – Standard and Sport. Standard is pretty self-explanatory and best suited to everyday driving, while Sport delivers quicker acceleration, active sound enhancement, sharper steering and “sports mode vehicle dynamic control”.
Other mechanical points of difference between the Z Sport and Z Performance include a standard limited-slip diff on the latter, regardless of transmission choice.
While the new Z has a platform based heavily on the current 370Z, there have been multiple changes made to deliver what Nissan says is predictable, responsive handling.
The body is stiffer and a front strut brace is standard, while new geometry features on the front double wishbone suspension, including increased caster angle. The IRS multi-link rear has been reconfigured, too.
Front and rear dampers use monotube shock absorbers that are both larger and of a new design. While damping force has been reduced by 20 per cent with these shocks, the result, says Nissan, is minimised impact shock on uneven surfaces, thus enhancing road holding and stability. Coupled to this is an electronic power steering system and wider front tyres.
Ventilated disc brakes feature at all corners, of 320mm front and 307mm rear diameter on the Z Sport, matched to fixed two-piston calipers on the front and single piston calipers on the rear. The Z Performance ups the disc size to 355mm front and 350mm rear, with calipers similarly upgraded to floating four-piston units on the front and two-piston rear, finished in red with yellow calipers optional.
Various electronic aids, including ABS, EBD and Brake Assist, are standard across both variants.
Wheels also differ across the two Z variants, with 18-inch alloys and Yokohama Advan tyres for the Z Sport, while the Z Performance runs with 19-inch RAYS super-lightweight alloys and Bridgestone Potenza tyres.
Again, suspension, braking and wheel/tyre specs covered here refer to the US market.
New. . . and Old
In terms of its exterior styling, the new Z is remarkably close to the ‘Z Proto’ prototype unveiled in 2020. The design is all new and a world away from the 370Z, but elements of this model and past members of the Z family are apparent.
That influence has been acknowledged by Alfonso Albaisa, global head of design at Nissan.
"Inspired by the voices of thousands of Z owners and Z lovers, and ignited by internal conversations around the six generations of Z that have come before, we found ourselves gravitating towards the sketches that touched the high points of certain decades while remaining true to our vision of the future," Albaisa said.
“Ultimately, we created a Z that travels between the decades while being completely modern."
The long-bonnet, short-tail design that characterised the first four generations of Z car have been reintroduced on the new model. In particular, the profile is close to the original 240Z, but there’s still some of the visual “bulk” of the Gen 5 350Z and Gen 6 370Z.
At the front end, a low broad grille is broken into two sections, while the design of the LED headlights mimics the tunnelled look of the lights on the early Z cars. Nissan themselves cite the nose of the Japanese market 240Zg as specific inspiration.
At the rear, a squared-off tail is true to the original Z, but the 3D LED tail lights have a two segment design that’s very similar to those on the 300ZX.
On the flanks, the door handles are flush-mounted to the door’s trailing edge, like what was first seen on the 350Z.
A subtle front spoiler is common to both grades, but the Z Performance adds a rear spoiler that Nissan claims creates positive pressure where the opening hatch and spoiler meet, mitigating rear-end lift.
A range of colours will be available across both grades, including a trio of single-tone metallics and six two-tone options that add a black roof. Of those, two are tri-coat finishes, too. Cars presented in the launch imagery are finished in Seiran Blue and Ikazuchi Yellow.
Colour choices for Australian-delivered versions of the new Z are unconfirmed, but likely to be the same as those offered overseas.
Beauty on the Inside
Seen alongside the 370Z, the obvious change in the new Z's cabin is the switch from vertical to horizontal design themes. Some design elements from the outgoing 370Z, like the door trims, door-mounted air vents and trio of dashtop auxiliary gauges angled toward the driver, carry over to the new Z, but the rest is very new.
Taking advice from professional race drivers, Nissan says the interior design seamlessly blends modern technology with vintage Z touches. The former includes a 12.3-inch TFT dash with three different display options – Normal, Enhanced and Sport. Normal devotes the central part of the screen to navigation, audio and vehicle information, while Enhanced pushes the speedometer and tachometer to the outer edges, allowing for a larger navigation display. Sport moves the tachometer to the centre and crowns it with a shift light, with this mode also allowing for a boost gauge and G meters to be added.
The centre console rearranges components in what Nissan calls a “three zone” approach, with the aforementioned analogue gauges up top, centre console in the middle and tactile controls below.
The vertical air vents that used to flank the central infotainment screen have been turned 90 degrees and moved above a touchscreen that now measures 8.0 inches (9.0 inches on the Z Performance) – up from 7.0 inches on the 370Z. A broad spread of tactile switches is mounted below, with radial dials for the air con below that.
Mounted just above the gear shifter are the start/stop button and SynchroRev Match (S-Mode) selector, which along with the shifter itself, are only mildly modified from the 370Z.
The steering wheel is new, but retains the signature ‘Z’ centre boss, while the seats are mostly carryover from the 370Z. Benefitting from what’s been learned on the GT-R to improve hold and fit, the seats now feature more suede on the uprights, to help hold the occupants in place.
While the Z Sport features cloth and suede seat trim, 8-way manual driver’s seat adjustment and 4-way manual passenger seat adjustment, the Z Performance upgrades the seat trims to leather/suede and adds 4-way power adjustment for the driver’s seat, with seat heating for both driver and passenger.
A choice of three interior colour themes – black, red and blue – will be available in the US, while the Z Proto Spec limited edition adds a yellow-accented interior.
Convenience and Safety
Early indicators are that the new Z will be well - but not lavishly - equipped, with convenience features for both grades including two 12V and two USB ports, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, Bluetooth, rear view monitor, adaptive cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, satellite radio, a hands-free text messaging function and Siri Eyes Free that allows Siri interaction via voice commands to review schedule and calendar entries, dictate emails and make calls.
Above this, the Z Performance adds heated mirrors, sports pedals and the aforementioned larger touchscreen with navigation and NissanConnect Services assistance, while the sound system is upgraded from six speakers to a Bose 8-speaker unit with active noise cancellation and sound enhancement.
Safety tech is a more significant upgrade over the 370Z and includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, high beam assist, intelligent forward collision warning and six airbags.
Aussie Z coming, but spec TBC
While Nissan has confirmed the new Z will come to Australia, exactly when remains unconfirmed, but a late 2022 arrival seems likely.
Specification of the locally-delivered Z is also yet to be confirmed at time of writing, but using the 370Z as a guide, expect only one grade to be available here, possibly the better-equipped Z Performance.
Pricing won't be announced until closer to local release, but will almost certainly start above $50,000.
Regardless of when it comes to Australia and in what form, the new Nissan Z will be going head-to-head with a familiar rival in the form of Toyota’s new Supra, which has also been reborn for the new millennium.
From Z to Z – a brief history
To say the 240Z was a game-changer for Nissan is an understatement. Aside from the early Fairlady roadsters and Toyota’s 2000 GT, Japanese carmakers weren’t known for sporty cars in the late 1960s. That changed with the 240Z.
240Z – 1969-73
Debuting in December, 1969, and reaching most global markets, including Australia, the following year, the 240Z was, in essence, an Oriental E-Type. With its long bonnet and short tail, the comparisons were understandable, but unlike the E-Type, the 240Z was never offered in open-top form from the factory.
Performance from the 2.4-litre engine and five-speed gearbox (an auto was available) matched the looks, as did the handling, but perhaps more crucially, the 240Z was more affordable than the competition – at least in the US. In Australia, you could buy a V8 Monaro and still have a lot of change for what a 240Z cost.
Driving enthusiasts the world over fell in love with the 240Z, particularly in the USA, which accounted for a big portion of the 150,000+ cars produced before the 260Z arrived.
In Japan, a 2.0-litre version was offered in addition to the 2.4-engine, as well as a top-of-the-line model, the Z432. This featured a DOHC six (that also powered the Skyline GT-R), producing 119kW (160hp) in standard form and up to 149kW (200hp) in race trim. Taking its name from the engine’s four valves, three carburettors and two camshafts, the Z432 also featured a limited slip diff and magnesium wheels.
Partway through the 240Z’s life cycle, the home market also received a 240ZG, which was a premium model with wheelarch flares to cover wider wheels, while a more streamlined nose and faired-in headlights improved aero efficiency. This latter feature was cited by Nissan designers as inspiration for the headlight treatment on the new Z.
260Z / 280Z – 1974-78
The template set by the 240Z wasn’t messed with much for the 260Z that followed in 1974. The body was exactly the same, and while the engine was larger at 2.6 litres, it actually produced less power than the 2.4 due to tighter emissions regulations.
Despite this, the 260Z was an even bigger success than its predecessor, with over 470,000 produced. The addition of a 2+2 variant on a longer wheelbase (again aping the E-Type), contributed to these numbers, while fuel injection was introduced and the engine enlarged again to 2.8 litres to stay ahead of emissions rules. These changes saw the 260Z evolve into the 280Z.
280ZX – 1979-83
Longer, wider and heavier, with more luxurious trim inside, the 280ZX was now a GT instead a sports car. Purists disapproved, but the revised formula sold to the tune of 400,000+ over five years – almost as good as the 260Z. As with the previous iterations, the USA accounted for the bulk of sales.
The 280ZX saw the badge change from Datsun to Nissan, while a T-top roof, revised independent rear suspension and disc brakes all round were other additions. In the US, a turbocharged version was released to counter ever-decreasing performance figures.
Two-seaters and 2+2s continued to be offered, but only the latter was released in Australia.
300ZX – 1984-00
While the 280ZX had obvious visual links to the original 260Z, the 300ZX that followed for 1984 was all-new, with a squarer, more chiselled look that polarizes Z car fans to this day. Along with the body, the engine was all new, too, in the form of a 3.0-litre V6 that allowed more cabin space. Turbocharged versions continued to be offered in the US and finally made their way to Australia with this generation. As with the 280ZX, only the 2+2 300ZX was offered locally, while other markets got a two-seater.
The “first generation” 300ZX (coded Z31) was replaced by a completely restyled version for 1990 – the Z32. This variant featured a sleeker shape and a DOHC version of the 3.0 V6, as well as a twin turbo variant and a factory-approved (but not factory-built) convertible. The latter two were limited mostly to the US market and never officially released in Australia.
The Z, along with sports cars in general, was running out of steam by this stage, compounded by economic factors that saw Z car sales plummet in the key US market. Discontinued in Australia in 1996, the 300ZX remained on sale in other markets until 2000, after which an all-new take on the nameplate followed, albeit a couple of years later.
350Z – 2002-08
Released in 2002, the 350Z was closer in spirit, if not style, to the original 240Z, with more compact dimensions and the return to a two-seater configuration.
Power came from a naturally-aspirated 3.5-litre V6 (already in use in other Nissan sedans and SUVs) that delivered 214kW and 271Nm initially. Despite no turbo version being offered, this would be improved in subsequent upgrades, particularly NISMO versions that were more performance-focussed than the “everyday” models.
The Z car celebrated its 35th Anniversary during the 350Z’s lifespan, with a commemorative model released to suit. The first official factory convertible was offered, too, as part of an overall production run that exceeded 250,000 in six years.
370Z – 2009-21
The sixth generation Z car arrived for the 2009 model year. Identified by 3.7-litre V6 and styling revisions, the 370Z was perceived by many to be a minor makeover of the 350Z it replaced, but was extensively re-engineered. Those changes included a shorter wheelbase and wider track, reduced weight and improved handling.
The 370Z introduced the SynchroRev match function that features on the new Z and replaced the five-speed auto with a seven-speed amongst its mechanical upgrades.
However, while it continues to find an audience, 370Z sales have been on a gradual decline, both locally and globally. A seemingly endless array of special editions have aimed to arrest this slide, along with the continued offering of a NISMO version, but it was only a matter of time before Nissan was going to pull the plug on the 370Z.
While some feared the 370Z would be the end of the line, the release of the new Z ensures the nameplate will live on.