Few cars in automotive history have had as many comebacks as Nissan’s Z cars. Generation after generation, they’re released to fanfare, only to wither on the vine for years before a complete re-imagination on Nissan’s part brings them back to the forefront of the affordable sports car segment. Case in point: The current base 370Z is still a performer, with its 332 horsepower 3.7 liter V6 powerful enough to get the car from zero to 60 in under five seconds and starting right around the $30,000 mark. But it was unveiled back in 2008, and compared to its competition, it might as well be from the stone age.
So we can’t blame Nissan for wanting to shake things up a bit with its next Z, due in 2017. But we didn’t expect this: According to Autocar, the next-generation will take a page from Aston Martin’s DBX and ditch its low-slung sports car roots to become a crossover. While the move could reap huge benefits for Nissan, especially as the crossover segment continues to grow, the announcement is a shock to enthusiasts, akin to Chevy announcing that the next-generation Camaro will ride on a Colorado truck chassis, or that the Hellcat twins are being phased out for the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk.
But that’s what’s happening. Sources inside the company not only say that the next Z car won’t be a car at all, but that the crossover Z is so far along that it’s preparing to show a concept of it at next month’s Frankfurt Motor show. With a more family-friendly Z, Nissan believes that the loss of sports car enthusiasts will be outweighed by the influx of buyers looking for a sporty crossover.
Introduced in the U.S. in 1970 as the Datsun 240Z, Nissan’s sports car was a revelation. Combining design elements of the Porsche 911 and Jaguar E-Type, with four-wheel disc brakes, an independent suspension, and an overhead cam engine at a price that rivaled a base-model Camaro or Mustang, it did wonders in legitimizing Japanese cars in the eyes of American buyers. By the end of the decade it was the 280ZX, a full-on Disco-era cruiser, complete with a loud bodykit, T-tops, and overly-plush interior. It became the 300ZX in 1983, a wedge-shaped grand tourer with as many digital gadgets as Nissan could cram into it. Seven years later, it was replaced by a newer, rounder, faster 300ZX. That Z was one of the best performance cars of the decade (especially in twin-turbo form), but it felt old when it was discontinued in ’97.
Nissan rebooted the Z cars in 2002, and has only seriously updated the car twice since then. It’s certainly time for a change, but this isn’t the one that enthusiasts expected. Still, Nissan has been dropping hints throughout the year that something may be in the works, with the company’s chief creative officer Shiro Nakamura telling Australian journalists:
“I don’t think the next one [Z car] is going to be the 390Z. It’s not growing because it’s already big enough. You know, 350 started with 240, 300, 350 and then came 370. I don’t think we should go higher.”
He then added:
“We need to take another path. I feel Z needs more revolution than evolution. I think GT-R has to stay the most high-performance symbol of Nissan technology and Z is a more affordable sports car or a sporty car to get the younger people.”
According to insiders, this “revolutionary” Z will be roughly the size of a Nissan Juke, and be priced slightly below the current 370Z. It will be based on Nissan’s CMF-B platform, which is built to handle hybrid powertrains, so a greener version is likely as well. Like the current Z, the crossover will have a coupe profile, but it’s yet to be seen whether or not the company will keep it a true two-door.
For Nissan’s bean-counters, transforming the Z car into a crossover has the potential to be a financial home run. For enthusiasts however, many would rather see the Z moniker fade into history than be transformed into a more accessible people-mover. Details are still sparse so we won’t jump to any conclusions, but there’s nothing more dangerous for a brand than to mess with an enthusiast’s car. We’re interested to see what the reception will be like in Frankfurt, it should be interesting.
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