Where Does The Nissan Z Car Belong?

2015 Nissan Nismo 370Z

On paper, the Nissan Z should be a winner.  When it was re-released in 2002, it represented the car we had been clamoring on and on about for a long time.  $30,000’ish price tag, RWD, 300’ish horsepower, swoopy shape.  It was a Porsche for half the money.  And it sold fairly well for a bit.  Somewhere around 30,000 cars per year in the U.S.  I bought one used in 2007, it was a “performance” model in that great bright blue color.  I loved it.  Since the release however, the Z has been in fairly steady decline, Nissan moved just 7,199 Z car’s in 2014 and 2015 is on about the same pace.  So what does Nissan need to do to revive a great concept?  Well there are rumors that they are going down-market with the Z, and to that we say “yes”.  Probably.  Let’s take a quick trip down the current Z lineup first.

Z Now

The current Z car lineup isn’t drastically different then it was in 2002 when launched.  For 2015, you can get a base model, a sport model, a sport model with some “tech”, and a touring model, most of which were around more than a decade ago.  New(er) is the NISMO model, which also comes in a “tech” model.  There is a quick graphic to your left if you don’t care to venture over to Nissan’s website.  Most Z’s feature a 332hp 3.7L V6 and even the base coupe, Nissan-Z-lineupwhich still starts under $30,000, is spec’d pretty well.  Each iteration gives you a bit more, as you would expect.  The Sport adds a Limited-slip Differential, 19″ RAYS® forged wheels, sport brakes, and Nissan’s SynchroRev Match® and takes you into the $33,000 sticker price range.  Tech, as it sounds, adds some gadgets, Touring adds leather seating on top of said “tech”.  The NISMO will set you back $42,000 but gives you a bump to 350hp as well as “Continuously Variable Valve Timing Control System (CVTCS) with advanced Variable Valve Event and Lift (VVEL®) technology”.  Whew, that’s a mouthful.  You also get some aero bits outside and NISMO stuff inside like Recaro seats and a new steering wheel, both with leather/alcantara trimmings.  Finally NISMO Tech gets you the exact combination of stuff you would think and crests $45,000.  So who is the Z competing with?  We can’t really say where the Z should lie in the world automotive market until we figure that out.  Is it Porsche?  The Corvette?  Let’s take a quick look.

 Z Competitors

The Z lives in a strange world.  It’s clearly more expensive than the BRZ and FRS twins, which (combined) sell roughly 3 times better than the Z.  But the Z is much less expensive than the Corvette, which sells pretty well, roughly getting numbers the Z used to get back when it was new (Although Chevy hit a bit of a rough patch between 2009-2013).  The Porsche Cayman sells at about half the rate as the Z per year, but it’s Porsche, we expect that, right?  Well, the 911 has been leaving U.S. dealers at 10,000 plus a year, so there’s that.  Which leaves us asking, who is Nissan competing with exactly?  Unless you’re the Miata, which only moves around 5000 a year, you don’t necessarily need a competitor.  But apparently Nissan thinks the Z does, which brings us to why I asked you all here today.  Where does the Nissan Z car belong?

Z Future

Nissan’s Shiro Nakamura told Autoblog in a recent interview “We would like to do something, I personally think, that is more in the original concept of Z, which is … more practical and appealing to younger customers” and he continued with “We are questioning ourselves in repeating the 350, 370. We don’t want to create 390Z, right?”  So what does that mean for the Nissan Z?  The current platform is what it is, and may or may not be able to be “downsized”.  What do we, humble auto journalists at RFD think Nissan should do as they are evaluating various options?  We need a renaissance of the Nissan/Datsun days where they made cars that were synonymous with cheap, good looking cars.  The original Z, the 510 come to mind.  We’ve already seen the Nissan IDx concepts.

Nissan IDx concepts

Image credit: LA Times

This diminutive coupe captured the hearts and minds of many of us when Mr. Ghosn brought it to the Tokyo show in 2013.  Whether or not Nissan will produce such a cool little coupe will depend on many factors, most of which are financially based.  Building an IDX alongside the new, smaller, lighter, Z Car on the same platform just makes sense.  As I mentioned above, the BRZ and FRS platform mates are selling three times as many cars as the Z  Of course even then people are talking about poor sales figures for them, but I digress.  Undercut the roughly $26,000 price of the Toyota-Subaru twins and ’86 them in sales.  See what I did there?  Keep it simple, base model, sport model, NISMO iterations for both cars.  You can add the “tech” features if you want them on each model.  Here are my proposed specs:

Nissan Z Coupe

  • MR16DDT – 1.6-liter Direct Injection Gasoline (DIG) DOHC 16-valve turbocharged 4-cylinder engine
    Horsepower – 188 hp @ 5,600 rpm
    Torque – 177 lb-ft @ 1,600 – 5,200 rpm
  • 40 Miles Per Gallon
  • 6-speed manual transmission
  • 17″ Wheels
  • Curb weight 2550 lbs

Nissan Z Sport

  • Limited-slip Differential
  • 18″ Wheels
  • Nissan sport brakes
  • SynchroRev Match®

Nissan Z NISMO

  • MR16DDT tuned to 230 hp
  • NISMO®-tuned suspension
  • 18″ RAYS® forged wheels
  • NISMO® aerodynamic body kit

In keeping with Nissan’s “RS” lineup, you could include a Nissan Z NISMO RS featuring Recaro® sport bucket front seats, 12.6″ Front vented disc brakes, and Increased chassis bracing similar to the Juke NISMO RS.  The aforementioned IDx  lineup would be configured similarly to the Z outlined above, but would be a 2+2 and thus weigh a bit more and likely be targeted to a different consumer. Heck, toss in a wagon version with sport and NISMO models and I’ll sign up to buy one right now.

As far as the design goes, honestly I’m on the fence.  It’s tempting to go old school Datsun 240Z retro, long hood, short rear.  But you could also keep it modern, with some GT-R touches in there to ensure that people recall the big daddy in the lineup.  But I’m tired of typing at this point, I’ll leave it up to you all.  What do you think the new smaller, lighter Z should look like?  Post your favorite concept drawings, whatever you can dig up on the internet.




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