We couldn’t wait for the real thing, so we’ve slipped behind the virtual wheel of the next Nissan Z for a sneak peek.

It’s no secret the previous-generation Nissan 370Z was long in the tooth, having graced Nissan dealerships for a whopping 12 years without substantial updates or facelifts.

Nissan’s long lead time from a late 2020 first look at its next-generation Z-car toward a 2022 unveil has us at CarAdvice sitting on the edge of our seats too.

It all adds up to a frustratingly long time to wait before we get behind the wheel for real, so we’ve saddled up on the couch with Project Cars 3, which has a playable new Nissan Z Proto car to drive, to try and get a feel for what we’re in for come 2022.

Of course, no amount of time spent behind the TV could equate to driving the real thing, but as a way to become familiar with – and reacquaint ourselves – with the venerable Z nameplate, we’ve snuck behind the virtual wheel for a first look at the 2022 Nissan Z Proto.

We’re relatively light on detail regarding what will actually come under the bonnet, but it’s expected that the next Nissan Z-car – whether it’s called 400Z or not – will come with a 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged V6 engine producing 298kW/475Nm. It’ll power the rear wheels only, and come paired to either a six-speed manual or nine-speed automatic transmission.

That said, the playable Nissan Z Proto on Project Cars 3 features an extra 33kW and weighs 1475kg. Whether there’s any real-world truth to that boosted output or not remains to be seen.

Whatever’s under the bonnet, we couldn’t wait to saddle back up in a Nissan Z-car.

What better place to sample the latest Z than to return to Mount Panorama, Bathurst, where Nissan celebrated 50 years of the Z nameplate at the 2019 Festival of Z.

Hitting the famed circuit in the virtual 400Z, the first thing that comes to mind is the iconic VQ engine exhaust note. Project Cars’s development team has modelled the Z Proto’s sound after its 370Z predecessor, which we hope is the case in real life as it’s a unique note and would be a shame to lose.

However, the next Z will go from naturally-aspirated power to a twin-turbocharged forced-induction set-up. One thing we all know with turbocharged power is that it invariably kills the exhaust note. Fingers crossed the sound emanating from the next Z is up to par – if it’s anything like Project Cars suggests, we’ll be happy.

Speaking of past Zs, back-to-back in-game testing against the Nissan 370Z revealed a substantial boost in power and torque that will be most welcome. You wouldn’t call its predecessor slow, but more than a decade without a substantial change in power plant does take its toll when tested against a contemporary rival.

No doubt there’ll be a wholly different tune if Nissan does employ the related Infiniti Q60 Red Sport’s twin-turbo V6, but that car’s 475Nm torque figure was available between 1600 and 5200rpm. Like the Q60 Red Sport, the in-game Z pulls strongly throughout its rev range.

We’re more than happy to peek through the window while blasting up Mountain Straight and see the racer banging through the gears himself manually. Nissan could have all too easily shunned the manual transmission in favour of an all-automatic offering, but the choice between a six-speed manual and an automatic (likely the seven-speed paddle shift as used in the Infiniti Q60 Red Sport) is most welcome.

Our in-game driver isn’t the quickest shifter, so we could only record a circa 5.4-second run from zero to 100km/h. That sort of performance would put it in the company of the Ford Mustang EcoBoost, Mercedes-AMG A35 sedan and Subaru WRX, though we’d expect the real-life car to do the sprint in less than five seconds to be more of a competitor to the Toyota Supra.

Whether it’s faux game-tuned entertainment or not, the Z Proto isn’t shy of big-angle oversteer. It can stick out its rear end on command and hold a consistent slide thanks to that all-new wave of turbocharged torque. Grip is provided by a set of staggered 255mm- (front) and 285mm-wide (rear) Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tyres with 19-inch alloy wheels.

As an indicator of progress, the best time that we could get around Mount Panorama in the old Nissan 370Z was 2min 33sec. The Z Proto did the same lap over nine seconds quicker with a time of 2min 24sec.

Even though Project Cars 3 isn’t the most accurate driving simulator out there, if the next Z does turn out to be that much faster than the outgoing car, then we’ll be in for a riot.

While this test can’t hold a candle to what it’ll actually be like to drive the real thing next year, our first look at the 2022 Nissan Z-car fills us with excitement at the prospect of a new iteration of the legendary Z nameplate.


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