Autoweek wrote a great article about the Z Proto that has a lot of info on the car.
It’s comfortable, the clutch pedal and steering wheel felt great and the outside looks like... every Z ever made.
My chance to poke around in it came just after sunrise in a studio in downtown L.A., a freethrow away from where the Lakers, who had just won another world championship, usually play, and a couple exits down the freeway from Dodger Stadium, where the Boys in Blue would normally play in a normal season, and who had also just captured another World Series. So L.A. was on something of a winning streak lately. I hoped the Z would be, too.
My guide would be Nissan’s Jonathan Buhler, who had gone from the product planning department to product communications specialist just because he loved the damn car so much. Buhler has a lifelong appreciation of Nissan Zs. His dad bought a first-gen 240Z before the young Buhler was even born, driving it around Southern California when he was stationed at Pt. Mugu Naval Air Station just north of Malibu.
“The Z is kind of the underlining topic of my life, it seems,” Buhler said. “Growing up, my dad had a '73 that he took me to daycare in for years. I fell in love with the car just because it was my dad's car. And he's had it since 1978. He bought it from the first owner up in Ojai when he was stationed at Pt. Mugu.”
His dad drove the '73 for 20 years, hauling the young Buhler around. In 1998 he parked the car, but Buhler spent countless hours inside it, pretending to drive, imagining what that experience would be like (just as I was doing) and in 2005 offered him the car. Buhler had to get over a fleeting Mustang obsession first – that was cured by purchasing a 1969 'Stang.
“It was a '69 coupe with the inline six and a manual transmission. But it wasn't anything to write home about. It just was plagued with rust that we didn't know about until we actually got it up on a lift.”
After that it was all Nissan Z. He and his dad restored the family ’73 Z over three years, finishing the project in 2008. After that he drove it all through high school and brought it with him when he went to college in Tennessee. Through a series of serendipities, he wound up working at Nissan two weeks after graduating college. Now his job is sharing his enthusiasm about the iconic sports car. Which brings us to Los Angeles looking down at the yellow Z you see here.
Has he driven the new car?
“Yes, actually, I've been the one moving this thing around the last several days here in the US and I've had the privilege to be able to use it for some photoshoots for some new assets that we'll be sharing here shortly."
The car isn’t just a roller, Buhler said it has a V6 twin-turbo engine underhood mated to a six-speed manual transmission.
“So the car, drivetrainwise, is pretty accurate. And, and quite honestly, it's a really great representation of what to expect here in the near future.”
What's it like to drive?
“Considering that I could only take it five miles an hour, exhilarating.”
Does it have the production suspension?
“All of those specs will be able to share with you in the future,” Buhler said. “Since this is a prototype, we're kind of just outlining the key aspects of the car with the engine and the drive train.”
The leading speculation has it getting the Infiniti Q60's 300-hp 3.0-liter V6 at launch, with the 565-hp 3.8-liter under the GT-R's hood coming at some later point.
So that was as far as I got with specific questions. I did note the tires were Dunlop Sport Maxx, 255/40 front and 285/35 rear on 19-inch bronze alloy wheels. Inside were huge disc brakes, six-piston front, four-piston rear.
Then he gave the standard walkaround, pointing out the design influences, which is to say, every Z ever made. You see 240 in the front, the hood, the roofline and in the katana sword running along the roof edge where there was a drip line in the original car. The rear end draws heavily on the 300ZX. And there are proportions of the current Z. If it’s a dog’s breakfast of styling influences, I’d be happy to eat it.
Then I got to sit inside. I took my ratty street shoes off and made sure there were no ballpoint pens poking out of my back pockets and slid in. The center seat foam was softer than I’d expected, very comfortable. The side bolsters were supportive but not intrusive on my skinny keister. The suede-wrapped steering wheel felt a little smaller in diameter than I expected. The shifter, as they say, fell easily to hand. In the cupholder was the key, done up in the same yellow as the exterior. That would be a cool touch, to have key fobs match the outside paint.
The gauges were a little busy. Through the wheel the main cluster was a flat digital display, this one dominated by a large tachometer in the center, but it could change configuratrions easily. I’m assuming it might even be driver-programmable. On top of the dashboard were three separate digital gauges done in homage to the original three analog gauges found in the original 240Z.
“This is kind of where you still get the vintage feel of the 240Z with your three pod gauges that have always been there since the early generations,” Buhler said.
Below that was another flat digital screen TFT touch screen for the infotainment. It came with two physical knobs for the radio volume and tuning. Below that were three knobs to control the HVAC.
In the driver’s seat there was more than enough headroom for my lanky, fishlike torso. Behind each seat was a small storage area that was in no way a seating area, this is a two-seater only. Behind that was a big structural member running across the rear cargo area. It looked like there would be some room for luggage back there, though I don’t know exactly how much.
All in all the car felt really comfortable and looked like it would be fun to drive, some day. Nissan hasn’t divulged any further specs on the car. We don’t know if it is a 400Z or what. But this early peek into the show car gave a reassuring sense that it would continue to be among its generation's great sports cars.