The new Nissan Z: a first look from ZCON 2021
When Paul and Todd asked me to attend the 2021 ZCON in Colorado Springs two weeks ago, I was thrilled. As a fan of the early 240Z cars, and an even bigger fan of the early 90s 300ZX, the opportunity to be one of the first to see the new Z up close was one I was happy to take off work for.
The questions going into the event were the same as every other enthusiast in the nation: Would it live up to its heritage? Would it be more than a mild reworking of the 370Z chassis? Is it going to be good? And, perhaps the most predominant elephant in the room: would it give the Supra some competition? With my notepad in hand and the latest Everyday Driver podcast in my ears, I set out from Salt Lake City to Colorado to find out.
Arriving in Colorado Springs, I was immersed in a Z car and Nissan enthusiast culture I didn't know existed. Steve Parrett, Regional Director of Corporate Communications at Nissan, was especially accommodating and gracious in ensuring I was taken care of and not lost in the bustle of the event.
The next morning was the main event, the Z car premiere, so I retired for the evening and prepared for my much-anticipated interview with Hiroshi Tamura, Nissan’s Chief Product Specialist, one of the main players in the development of the new Z.
After arriving at Pikes Peak International Raceway with a fellow automotive journalist in his gorgeous Genesis G70, we were granted access to a private garage at the track, in which we were given exclusive one-on-one time with the new Z.
Upon entering the garage and first laying eyes on the Z, I was immediately struck by how attractive it looked in blue. While I was unsure of the lemon meringue color of the Z proto, the blue Nissan chose for the Z premiere was stunning. Deep, rich, and just bold enough to make a statement, the Z looked clean, and understated -- especially compared to the bulgy, swooping appearance of the Supra.
Although the new Z has some carryover appearance elements from the 370Z, the new styling cues (especially in the rear quarter and tail area) were enough to make me appreciate this car as its entity. While the Z seemed larger than my BRZ in some dimensions, I found its sleek, simple, and refined presence refreshing.
Creating something of a buzz in the garage was the unexpectedly very blue interior. Presumably, an optional interior color selection, the blue on blue is a bold choice. I found the blue interior a cool place to spend time and appreciated how it sets itself apart from the sea of black, boring interiors rampant in this segment. While this color combination won’t be for everybody, I admire Nissan for going for it. And, after sitting in the seats (also potential carryovers from the Infiniti G models?), any concerns about the blue interior were dismissed.
Make your interiors whatever colors you want, Nissan -- just make sure these seats are there and all will be well. I find the seats in the Supra to be fine, but not especially supportive or comfortable for the money. However, after just a few minutes in the Z seats, I found them very comfortable and the seating position and visibility excellent -- a far cry from the semi-claustrophobic feeling present in the Supra.
For a $40,000 starting price, a twin-turbo V6, 400 horsepower, an available manual transmission, and sharp, clean, simple good looks, the new Z might be the performance bargain of 2022. While drives or ridealongs were not available at the event, reviews are only a few months away.
Speaking with Mr. Tamura, I was eager to hear about his mindset in bringing the new Z to a reality.
“It’s all about Nissan’s DNA,” Mr. Tamura said. “Emotion, inspiration, this is what we want. The Nissan DNA is about giving you some thrill. Not just about cornering or acceleration, but about stirring the heart. Giving an energy to the driver from the experience of the car.”
His comments were encouraging. With Nissan rolling out many refreshed, and in some cases, completely revamped models, it’s clear that Nissan has been listening to their customers, observing the competition, and are willing to pull out the stops to infuse some of that thrill, emotion, and “stirring the heart” that Mr. Tamura was so keen to emphasize in our conversation, into their lineup.
When asked about why someone would choose a Z over the competition, Mr. Tamura again responded with a very emotionally resonant answer:
“What do you love? Why do you love it? Do you have a reason? No, it’s just inspiration. We can make up reasons for why we love our spouse, or this or that, but in the end, loving something is about capturing your heart. This car will capture your heart,” he said. Getting his iPad out of his bag, he started to show me pictures of when he was a young boy. “50 years ago the 240Z at the track grabbed my heart. With the new Z, we want to attack your heart. We want it to hit you,” he said.
While other product specialists might want to focus on power ratings, 0-60 times, skidpad stats, etc., Mr. Tamura was wholly concerned about the experience the driver would have with the car as a whole. Yes, that includes acceleration, handling, braking, etc., but to Mr. Tamura, it was evident from our conversation that the car needed to be more than just a spec sheet for the customer, it needed to be a "dance partner."
When asked why it took so long to bring out a new Z car, I overheard Mr. Tamura say, “We wanted to get it right. We wanted it to be what it should be.”
Fingers crossed it is, Mr. Tamura.
In speaking with a number of the ZCON attendees, the most loyal and dedicated fanbase for Z cars in the United States, many acknowledged their admiration of the new Z car.
“I’m thrilled about it. I’m just glad it exists and that the Z can continue to be around,” said one 300ZX owner to me.
That sentiment seemed to be the consensus among most Z enthusiasts. While some were wholly disinterested in the new Z and were only invested in the track-rat 240Z they brought in on a trailer, the new Z should find many happy homes nestled among other Z cars nationwide.
I walked away from the track, and the event, wholly enthused and encouraged by what Nissan is doing. It is evident that they are doing everything they can to be what they, and customers, want them to be, and from what I could gather, the future is looking bright.
Many thanks again to Paul and Todd for having me represent the Everyday Driver brand, and huge thanks to my friend, Steve Parrett at Nissan for his gracious accommodations and kindness shown to me throughout my attendance.
Nissan is here to play, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
About the author: Having owned everything from a DeLorean to an E46 M3 and a Toyota Land Cruiser, Jason Bell is a lifelong car enthusiast who loves sharing his passions as a teacher, writer, speaker and social media manager. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org for comments/questions, or just to say "Hi."