Sports cars - at least those at the lower end of the price spectrum - appear to be in trouble if latest reports are to be believed.
According to UK mag Autocar, Nissan's iconic Z-car could be replaced by a high-riding, SUV-ish crossover within the next 18 months, deviating from the low-slung coupe shape that has been the Z car's hallmark since its debut in 1969 as the 240Z.
Autocar cites unnamed sources as saying that the plan to make the next-gen Z a crossover was picked over other plans (a downsized coupe and/or a high-powered sports car) due to the increasing popularity of SUVs.
And, according to the magazine, we could see the first proof of this new direction at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September.
Another decision that may factor into the Z's future is platform-sharing. The current Nissan 370Z rides on a fairly unique platform that's only shared with some older Infiniti models, raising the cost of manufacture.
It's also powered by an aging 3.7 litre naturally-aspirated V6, an engine that is complex, thirsty, and lacks the power density of modern turbocharged motors. Power goes to the rear wheels, with a classic front-engine, rear-drive layout.
But if reports of a new SUV direction for the Z are true, then Nissan could base it off the CMF B architecture that will underpin the next-generation Micra and Pulsar, thus saving development dollars.
Styling could also be similar to the Juke, though as a Z it would probably only feature a three-door hatch bodystyle and may only receive two seats - at most, a 2+2 configuration.
Swapping platforms to CMF B would open the Z up to using the Nissan-Renault Alliance 1.6 litre turbo engines as well as an all-wheel-drive drivetrain, while a hybrid powertrain also remains possible. Z-car purists will hate everything in the prior sentence.
If true, will Nissan fans approve? The approval of enthusiasts will mean little if there's the potential to dramatically increase sales with a sporty compact crossover, but is it really necessary to market it as a Z car when it's so radically different?
Will deviating from the Z's long-established format sully the badge? Is it even possible for a four-cylinder AWD crossover to have what it takes to be considered a proper sports car? Not even the Mercedes-AMG GLA45 hits that mark.
If a concept does indeed bow at Frankfurt, Nissan will undoubtedly be gauging the public's reaction to it.
But whether it's marketed as a Z or not, indications are that the words "Nissan sports car" may conjure up a very different image in the near future. Stay tuned.
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