The Gripz previews a next-generation Zed car
New pictures show the concept's interior for the first time
The concept will be called Nissan Gripz
Nissan's official teaser image shows off the car's styling
This Autocar image shows how Nissan's new Z car could look
The new crossover will bring back the famous Z badge - and the new model is poised to hit showrooms within the next 18 months. The teaser images show that the concept car has a black bonnet like the classic Datsun 240Z rally car that won the East African Safari Rally in 1971. New images of the car's interior also show a central speedometer.
The Japanese brand has been weighing up a variety of options on where to take the famous Z brand as the current 370Z is phased out by 2017. It has considered a higher-powered sports car and a cheaper, more basic four-cylinder model - as previewed by the iDx compact coupé concepts that were revealed at the Tokyo motor show in 2013.
However, sources indicate that Nissan has settled on a more radical solution: making the next Z car a small sports crossover.
An SUV-influenced Z car is likely to infuriate purists, but Nissan believes it can still satisfy a large number of Z fans while also tapping into a huge new customer base, particularly in the US, where the badge has equity and the crossover market far outweighs the sector for small sports cars.
Senior Nissan officials have recently hinted at a rethink on the Z strategy. Earlier this summer, the firm’s chief creative officer, Shiro Nakamura, told Australian media: “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.
“We haven’t yet decided anything about whether next-generation Z should be anything larger or with more power,” he said.
In a clear reference to a switch of vehicle type, Nakamura 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.”
Nissan executive vice-president Trevor Mann has supported Nakamura’s view. He told Autocar: “We do know that Z, as a sub-brand if you like, has high equity. The market is not like it used to be, though, so I think that if you do something, you’ll need to do something which is quite special, to attract the segment.”
When asked to comment directly on Nakamura’s statement, Mann said: “If that’s what Nakamura said, then I guess he might be right, in terms of re-establishing the links to something people can connect to.”
That’s likely to be a reference to price. It’s thought the new Z crossover will be notably cheaper than a £30k 370Z and its range-toppers could overlap with the lower-end editions of the Qashqai.
The new Z will be similar in size to the Nissan Juke although, unlike the current version of that car, the new model will be based on the Renault-Nissan Alliance’s latest CMF B platform. Its engine line-up will be able to include the full range of 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engines.
It’s unclear if the new model will be a coupé-esque three-door or if Nissan will include a pair of rear doors with hidden handles. It’s likely that the roofline will compromise rear cabin space for adults, though, making the Z crossover a car with occasional rear seats at best. The more extreme concept, which will be designed to gauge reaction after the Frankfurt show, may even be a two-seater only.
The new platform has the flexibility to accommodate hybrid powertrains, so it’s possible the concept at least will showcase a set-up featuring an electric motor to drive one of the axles.
Nissan is likely to argue that the GT-R has managed to mix strong performance credentials with a rear-biased four-wheel drive system and that a hybrid crossover can provide some of the same character - while potentially also offering zero-emissions running for short distances.
The Z should allow Nissan to compete in the lucrative middle ground on small crossovers, attracting buyers who don’t want as large a car as the Qashqai but who find the Juke too quirky nor not sporty enough.
The demographics of Juke buyers are said to have confounded Nissan product planners. The average age of Juke buyers is in the late 40s, but this is based on really young purchasers and a surprisingly large band of elderly customers.
A Z-badged crossover would also be a legitimate choice of vehicle for the Nismo tuning division. Nissan hopes to extend the sub-brand’s influence with cars like the forthcoming Pulsar Nismo, but senior figures insist it will not be applied to models that don’t allow it to deliver genuine performance credentials.It’s thought the continued strength of Juke sales has allowed Nissan to consider adding a further small crossover to its line-up.
The Juke is expected to evolve for its next incarnation, which will bring a switch to the same CMF B platform as the new Z crossover (and the next Micra) but only mild changes to its exterior styling.
“We think the Juke still looks a really fresh car,” Mann said. “Sales are still really strong and the customer base continues to expand for that type of vehicle. I think that’ll be reflected in what comes next for Juke.”
Z cars - the six pack the crossover must follow
240Z (1969) - The original Z was first shown at the 1969 Frankfurt show and went on sale the same year. It started with a 149bhp 2.4-litre six-cylinder engine in the US. This was upgraded to a 2.6 in 1974 and a 2.8 in 1975, resulting in name changes to 260Z and 280Z.
280ZX (1978) - The second-generation Z car carried over the 2.8-litre engine and five-speed manual gearbox of the first generation but little else. It added more luxury and was larger. A turbo boosted power and performance in 1981, taking the output up to 178bhp.
300ZX (1983) - The second-generation Z car carried over the 2.8-litre engine and five-speed manual gearbox of the first generation but little else. It added more luxury and was larger. A turbo boosted power and performance in 1981, taking the output up to 178bhp.
300ZX (1990) - The engine remained largely the same for the fourth-generation Z car, but it now had 219bhp in naturally aspirated form and 296bhp in turbo guise, bringing a 0-60mph time as low as 5.0sec. This version also introduced the first Z convertible, in 1993.
350Z (2002) - The Z car was absent for five years after the 300ZX went off sale in 1997. It returned with the 350Z, the first Z model built after the creation of the Renault-Nissan alliance. It came with a 3.5-litre V6 engine.
370Z (2009) - The coupé version of the 370Z went on sale in early 2009, with the convertible following towards the end of the same year. It came with a 3.7-litre V6. Power outputs have ranged up to 339bhp for the latest Nismo edition.
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