The real punch in the gut isn't that the Gripz is handsome (it is, in a sense) or fundamentally flawed in any noticeable way (it will surely be a satisfactory sporty crossover when it goes into production), but the stillborn cars that it leaves in its high-riding wake.
Nissan has been soul-searching out loud for a few years now, trying to figure out how to follow up the 370Z. That car, a bit fat and a bit long in the tooth, wasn't quite the 240Z or 300ZX reincarnated. Perhaps, Nissan wondered, splitting the baby might work: a more powerful car above, and a much lighter car below. Think early 1990s, when the 300ZX Twin-Turbo was complemented by the more basic, lighter 240SX. Perhaps, if we were really lucky, a production IDX would round things out as a sporty coupe, like the legendary Sentra SE-R of yore.
Well, we're not lucky. Gas is cheap, crossovers are profitable, and our sports cars are dead. The Gripz is born, and it is the way of things. Stand in its way and it'll flatten your outmoded ideas about what carmakers think enthusiasts want.
And if you'd like to listen carefully, you can hear Yutaka Katayama spinning at a steady pace in his grave as the Z car heritage he brought to us (the U.S., specifically) is transmogrified into something else entirely. The Gripz "pays homage to one of Nissan's first 'crossovers'—the iconic Safari Rally-winning Nissan 240Z," says the company. By way of apology, Nissan insists that "sports cars didn't have to be low to the ground to be fun," so perhaps the word "fun" is being as radically reimagined as the Z car concept itself.
Did we mention it's a hybrid?
Yes, a Nissan Leaf's electric motor backs up an unspecified "efficient" gasoline engine. But other than Nissan's dogged insistence that a crossover can be both fun and practical, there's little hard evidence that the Gripz's hardware is intended to impress enthusiasts. Sure, some of the details, like the chronograph-style gauge cluster, are wonderful … but that PRND complication sure seems to preclude the notion that you'll be able to shift the Gripz's production descendent by yourself. At every turn, we're stymied.
is that the Gripz has already been greenlighted for production, so this is all a dog-and-pony show anyhow. Nissan also insists the Gripz won't directly replace the Juke or the Qashqui, so its position in the lineup remains a bit unclear. The bottom line is that the fastback sports coupe you hold in your mind as an archetype of the sports car genre has been surplanted by the crossover. This is the future—for now, at least.