Opinion: Nissan needs to make a commercial-version 400Z

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We’re lucky here in Australia. As Matt Prior points out, Europe won’t get the new Nissan Z because of emissions regulations, although there is a way around that…

It’s time to tell your friends and family to buy electric Nissans. I don’t yet know if the Leaf is better than Volkswagen’s new ID 3, and while I suppose we’ll soon find out, it doesn’t matter: if we encourage people to buy zero-emissions Nissans in sufficient quantities, the company’s fleet-average CO2 emissions figure in Europe will dip far enough that it can afford to import the next-generation Z car, after all. So go Leaf.

We saw the new Z last week in the form of the Z Proto concept, which might be called the 400Z or might be called something else when it goes on sale, likely next year. The important bits are that it has rear-wheel drive and a 3.0-litre V6 at the front making in the region of 300kW. With a long bonnet, a gently sloping rear and familiarly muscly mechanicals, it looks like a solid continuation of the Z lineage.

Trouble is, it won’t go on sale in Europe, owing largely to the fact that if Nissan were to sell enough of them, its fleet-average CO2 figure would be pushed above the 95g/km mark that car makers have to get below as of 2021 or pay hefty fines to the EU. No performance or emissions figures for the Z have been released yet but, given that we’re talking about a brawny V6 sports coupé with a six-speed manual gearbox, it seems likely that emissions will exceed 95g/km.

Nissan also blames a “shrinking European sports car market”, and while that might be true, it’s also the case that the 370Z isn’t great and that Porsche and Mazda seem to do okay out of sports cars here, while Subaru and Toyota think it’s worth agreeing to make a replacement for the BRZ and GT86 pairing, too. I suspect sales would be there for the taking if the Z were good enough and if the rest of Nissan’s range were clean enough.

Nissan Z Proto exterior Rear Three quarter

“The Z, as a pure sports car, represents the spirit of Nissan,” said company CEO Makoto Uchida last week. “It’s a key model in our transformation plan, and it’s proof of our ability to do what others don’t dare to do.” It dares, but not here. I’m not having a pop at Nissan for this. It’s not like it’s alone here, after all: Ford can’t bring us a new Focus RS because its range is right on the upcoming CO2 limit. Dozens of different models will be limited or canned as their manufacturers try to tweak their ranges to slip under the limit. Suzuki even had to stop selling the Jimny 4×4 and reinvent it as a van, which makes it subject to different, less stringent EU CO2 target figures. Which is an odd but shrewd move.

I mean, the Jimny is so minuscule that nobody really sits in the back of one. So throwing out the two rear seats creates a tiny cargo hold, increasing dog space by 33 litres over the passenger version but allowing a maximum payload so small that Suzuki doesn’t even mention it.

And that gets me thinking. Is there another car whose production version isn’t yet finished, so could be given a shooting brake-style rear end and therefore a modicum of parcel-carrying ability? And one that has only two seats anyway, so wouldn’t lose any passenger space?

Yes, perhaps 2020 is ripe for a new breadvan of our times, in the shape of a Nissan Z Commercial. If interest in sports cars is down, I’m sure there would be unprecedented demand for specialist same-day courier vehicles.

Matt Prior

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