The Nissan Z Proves You Should Just Build the Concept

The Z Proto was a hit. Nissan built it. Simple as that.

2023 nissan z
Nissan

I've never cared for concept cars. The automaker calls up its best designers and gives them freedom to dream. Then it shows off a car it could only build in a different world. But our world is gated by regulations, manufacturing concerns, and cost-cutting. So by the time the concept car leaves the factory, the production version is closer to a turd with mirrors than it is to the concept.

Worse still, many gorgeous and exciting concepts never get close to production. These pure design exercises, meant to showcase the imagination of automakers' best designers, can still bore us somehow. I have no interest in naming names here, but take a look at this Infiniti.

That brand has a thing to learn from its mainstream counterpart. When the Nissan Z Proto debuted last year, it looked sensational, a thoughtful piece of design that nodded to a glorious past. Equipped with a six-speed manual and a twin-turbo V-6, the Z Proto was everything we wanted from a new Z.

So Nissan gave it to us. The result is stunning. It looks incredible, is built on an engaging sports car chassis, and should start around $40,000. That's less expensive than a four-cylinder Supra, with more power than a six-cylinder Supra. It's hard to remember the last product to stick the landing like this.

2023 nissan z
Nissan

That sustained excitement is more than a feat of design. The way Nissan launched the Z kept that magic alive. We weren't shown endless teasers, far-off concepts, or dreams of bespoke powertrains. There was simply one prototype, repackaged and put on sale without extraneous drama.

In fact, Nissan Senior Vice President for Global Design Alfonso Albaisa said the production design was finalized before the Proto. Tiny details such as side markers and materials choices changed, but the differences are nearly imperceptible. In fact, Albaisa says a gray production Z was visible in the background of a video he did on the Z Proto. That means you could have seen the street car long before it debuted. It looked so similar to the concept that nobody noticed.

2023 nissan z
Nissan

And to lock in the customers hoping and praying that the Z Proto made it to production largely unchanged, Nissan is not just using the same basic design. It's also offering a special Proto Spec of the Nissan Z, limited to 240 units. Available in the same brilliant yellow and featuring exclusive yellow brake calipers, bronze wheels, Proto-spec seats, and unique yellow-accented interior touches, the Proto Spec is a love letter to those who waited a decade for Nissan to launch a new Z.

lexus lf lc concept
The Lexus LF-LC Concept, which became the LC500.
Lexus

The last time an automaker pulled off such a seamless transition from concept to production, the Lexus LC500 was born. It's a car that, years later, still carries more presence than anything else you can buy for five figures. Sales have not been phenomenal, but among enthusiasts, that car is already a legend.

land rover d100 concept
Land Rover

The Land Rover DC100 concept also bowed as a masterful piece of design. The modern but blocky body encapsulated the tough-but-luxe image Land Rover tries to maintain. Nearly a decade later, a production Defender followed that kept all of the presence of the concept, albeit updated. Armed with a good name and positioned in a popular segment, the impossible-to-miss Defender earned a long waitlist that still hasn't cleared.

chevy volt concept 2007
The original Volt concept.
Chevy
2011 chevy volt
The production Chevy Volt.
Chevy

Other companies aren't so direct. The Chevy Volt Concept was sleek, aggressive, and interesting. It promised a desirable future with its next-gen plug-in hybrid powerplant. By the time it arrived, though, it was an egg-shaped hatch that inspired little desire. Still a solid car, the Volt never became a true hit.

mercedes vision eqs
The Vision EQS
Mercedes
mercedes eqs
The production EQS.
Mercedes

Mercedes clearly didn't learn from GM. The original Vision EQS had its aero-friendly body stretched into a dramatic, futuristic design. But that was lost in translation. The production EQS eschews the athletic lines of the concept for a stubby, rounded profile. Perhaps the tech and quality will sell it, but the instant appeal of the concept's design is long gone.

Automotive history is filled with examples of automakers flubbing the jump from poster to production. The new Z stands among a crowd of legends for bucking that trend. All because Nissan never overpromised, only over-delivered. After a decade of bland CVTs and a lineup aimed at fleet sales, it's good to see Nissan coming back around. After all, there's more to life than palatable lease deals.

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