No, Nissan. That is not how you design a grille.
Thought BMW's huge grilles were hideous? Well, Nissan ups the ante again.
Image from Nissan
I am not a picky eater. Well, both in real life and when it comes to car design, even more. Not every car can be jaw-dropping and whining how the Nissan Juke is ugly, or the new BMW 4 series’ grille is hideous is not going to do any good. But, good lord. That was only until I have witnessed this abomination—the Nissan Z Proto.
No, putting a classic 240Z won't make the new Z Proto look better. Image from Nissan
To give a bit of a background explanation, the Nissan Z Proto is basically the ‘prototype’ stage of the potentially upcoming 400Z, according to Nissan’s senior vice president of global design, Alfonso Albaisa. So while there will be minor differences, the whole concept of the car will still stay pretty much unchanged. The Nissan Z Proto ‘captures the Z identity’ from older Zs and incorporates it into a modern platform, especially to help the audience ”revisit the sense of seamlessness”. Albaisa says, “We want the audience, the buyers, the lovers, to feel this seamlessness and [say], "Wow, how did they get this car to come together so cleanly?" but still be an homage to the 240.”
Alpine A110 incorporated the tricky foglight design into the car quite successfully.
Sounds quite nice on paper, right? Companies incorporating retro styling elements into modern vehicles are nothing new. There has been quite a lot of successful cases like the Alpine A110, Ford GT, Fiat 500, Jeep Wrangler, Mini Cooper, Dodge Challenger, Fiat 124, and the list goes on, and Nissan’s design team is evidently hoping that their new Z Proto will also be on the list. But too bad. I do not see that happening anytime soon.
It's a perfect rectangle. Image from Nissan.
Why? The grille. The goddamn grille. The first thing that catches your eye is undoubtedly the massive, rectangular void in the front of the car that just throws everything off. To be fair, big grilles itself aren’t uncommon nor usually bad to look at. Modern Lexuses and Audis are known for their enormous grilles that resemble the shield of an ancient warrior. The Z Proto did pretty much the same thing, but there are already a substantial amount of complaints being thrown out from the automotive fandom.
You can easily tell that not a lot has changed over the years in terms of design. Image from Daimler AG
Then why is it only the Z Proto that is getting all the ‘vomit’ emojis and disappointed remarks from fans? The answer obviously lies in how Nissan packaged and incorporated the massive grille into the design. The grille of the Z Proto is simple; it is basically a rectangle. There are only a handful of modern cars that has a completely square grille like that: the Ford Bronco, Mercedes G-Class, and Rolls Royces. Yes, they are all ‘bricks’. Those cars still incorporate angular body lines of their ancestors, which are from the time when angular design with angular elements was nothing out of the ordinary. But with a better understanding of aerodynamics and the ever-rising importance of fuel economy, cars became more streamlined and less like a brick in general.
This is a Lexus ES, that would normally compete with the C-class. Yet, it has the elegance of a full-sized saloon like the S-Class. Image from Lexus
While square elements worked perfectly on older cars, subtle changes were necessary to incorporate them into modern vehicles with different body silhouettes. BMW, Mercedes and Bentley rounded the edges off their square grilles, while Audi added more sides, making it aggressive as well. Lexus went their own way and developed their own ‘spindle grille’ which flows smoothly in and out, like a women’s dress, making it elegant and classy. But Nissan thought otherwise. They believed slapping a gigantic rectangular grille from the 240Z into the car that still retains the curvy silhouettes of the 370Z would work.
Probably the best looking angle I could find. But then, the car itself is a decent looking car. It's just that the grille messes it up. Image from Nissan
Excluding the grille, the Z Proto is still a smooth coupe that retains the 370Z’s silhouette. The character lines aren’t bulbous nor aggressive, while the semi-circular headlights are simple yet deliver the 240Z’s aura perfectly. Overall, it is a fluid, clean, easy-on-the-eyes type of design. But a ‘clean’ design is a double-edged sword, as it can easily seem mundane in the world of flashy sports cars. And yes, the Z Proto still lacks the detail as the side and the bumper of the car is basically empty, whereas other cars would have something like brake ducts or light elements added. While the grille was an excellent opportunity for the designers to give a fresh twist to the front end, they chose to add a massive rectangle instead.
Image from Nissan
The rectangular grille does not work in two ways. Firstly, it does not blend in with the overall fluid design of the car. Imagine slapping a rectangular grille on the Jaguar E-Type, the Volkswagen Beetle, and the early ‘90s Dodge Viper. It just does not blend well with the other elements of the car. The same goes for the Z Proto. While a thinner rectangle could have worked a bit better, the sheer size of the grille makes the car look like a whale shark opening its mouth to catch fish, and I don’t mean it as a compliment. Perfectly rectangular grilles rarely work on anything else than brick-type SUVs and pickup trucks, and Nissan somehow seems to have forgotten that.
Image from Nissan
Secondly, it makes the already bland front end even worse. Look closer to the front of the car, and you will notice that the front fascia is pretty much a bunch of flat surfaces added together with a small vent-like area(that isn't actually a vent). Adding a perfect square as a grille only makes it look like the designers did not have enough time to design the car and decided to stick with flat square surfaces added together instead. Considering the quite plain bumper of the 370Z was replaced with a more dynamic trapezoid-like grille on the Nismo(which looked better), this already shows Nissan knows that they have too little going on in their front fascia.
Image from Nissan
So the end result is a decent car ruined by a monstrous grille that not only sticks out like a sore thumb but adds little to no exciting details to the car. This makes the Z Proto in some ways worse than the new BMWs with long kidney grilles, as those BMW grilles are not extended rectangles at the least. Nissan promised so much to their Z fans who were expecting a proper throwback with modern elements, yet what the fans got was a nasty fiasco of a perfect rectangle, circular headlights, and an almost flat bumper.
The teaser honestly looked better. Image from Nissan
Still, there is some good news. The Z Proto is still a prototype. Prototypes exist for the sole reason of experimenting to see what works and what does not in the real world. The best we can do is hope Nissan accepts and realizes the mistake they have made in terms of designing the car, and hopefully, incorporates a design that actually works when they reveal the production 400Z. Yes, I'm not a fan of the current Z Proto in terms of design. But as much as I hate it, the Z Proto’s overall concept has potential, which will work out brilliantly if Nissan gets back on track. So Nissan, please don’t let our hopes down, we will be waiting for you.