The overwhelming worldwide demand for the Toyota GT 86 / Scion FR-S / Subaru BRZ has put automakers on notice: build an affordable and modestly-powered sports car, and the buyers will come. That goes counter to everything automakers have believed for the past decade, so expect change to come slowly to the industry. If and when that change does come, expect it to be filled with compromise.
According to , Nissan has given the green light to build a “Mini-Z,” targeted directly at the Toyota and Subaru sport coupes. It’s not the oft-rumored replacement for the 240SX, which was killed with a stake through its heart during the last global financial crisis of 2008. Instead, it will be based on Nissan’s Compact Sports Concept, first shown to the public at last year’s Shanghai Auto Show.
Right away, we’d point out a serious flaw in Nissan’s plan: the Compact Sports Concept isn’t a sports car; it’s a “sporty” car for drivers “in emerging markets.” In other words, it will be built to a price point instead of to a level of performance; worse, it will be front-engine, front-wheel-drive, with power reportedly coming from the turbocharged 1.6-liter four used in the Nissan Juke.
Word is that an all-wheel-drive variant will be offered, too, and the “Mini-Z” will shed its conservative hatchback styling in favor of a much more aggressive coupe design. We still don’t see such a car as a counter to the Toyota and Subaru coupes, but that may not matter since the Nissan is said to be targeted at China, Japan and possibly Europe.
Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and we’d like to remind Nissan of the early ‘90s Mercury Capri. Designed as a counter to Mazda’s hot-selling Miata, the Mercury convertible even used the same 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine. Instead of offering the Miata’s emphasis on handling (thanks to a rear-drive layout), the Capri served up front-drive mediocrity, and buyers largely ignored it.
If you’re going to throw down against a segment leader, make sure you understand what buyers want first.