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.