In October 1969, American auto enthusiasts were feasting on big, powerful Plymouth Road Runners, Dodge Charger Super Bees, Ford Mustangs, Mercury Cougars, Pontiac Firebirds, and of course Chevy Camaros and Corvettes.
However, a sudden shift occurred when a little-known Asian automaker named Datsun introduced a lithe, compact coupe called simply the 240Z. Powered by a 2.4-liter in-line six-cylinder engine, the 240Z was an instant success and changed not only the direction of Datsun (now Nissan), but the future of the small sports car in America.
The car in front of you is the seventh-generation Z. No number moniker anymore, which used to denote engine displacement, just plain old Z — as if aficionados needed more of a label. This car hews heavily to the original. The long hoodline and the steeply raked rear hatchback/deck are just a few of the clues that designers worked long and hard to recreate a modern interpretation of the very popular original.
As with every other Z, this one uses six-cylinder power; a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 here makes 400 hp (50 horsepower more than the recent 370Z) and 350 pound/feet of peak torque. Rear-drive only, of course, but you can choose between a six-speed manual gearbox with automatic SynchroRev Match, or, a nine-speed automatic with paddle shifters like our sample coupe. No word yet about a potential drop-top model Z.
Visually stunning in its Seiran Blue Metallic paint, with a black and blue leather and suede interior in top Performance trim, the Z makes a statement from inside and out. From the RAYS double-spoke alloy racing wheels to the spoilers on the front, sides and rear, to the double cannon exhaust tips, the Z seems more fluid, more comely than its rivals.
Inside, there is a new digital, reconfigurable dash, a new and larger touchscreen, plus a plethora of electronic driving aids. The triple-pod of instruments remain atop the dash — turbo boost, turbo speed and battery output — plus the power seat controls are still affixed to the top of the seat bolster where you can easily access them. Behind the seats are two large open vertical pockets, while a real glove box is low in the dash. The suede interior is a nice upgrade.
Buying a Z signals that you want more verve in your daily commute, or, more fun when the weekend arrives. The new car’s additional power is readily available and easily accessed. Slightly heavier than the last 370Z, this car is definitely quicker while retaining a composed ride and the crisp handling long associated with this platform. The exhaust note is very subdued, so your speed is deceptively masked. Big speed is not a challenge in this new Z.
The Z Performance also offers red-painted brake calipers behind those racy wheels wearing Bridgestone Potenza summer sport radials. A familiar strut tower brace in the engine bay as well as splitting the cargo compartment persists, while the new car uses aluminum for the hood, doors and the big hatchback. Our pre-production sample did not have an EPA fuel economy rating, yet premium fuel is suggested.
Buyers have three real small sports car choices from three manufacturers with offerings that are almost exactly the same size: this Z, Toyota’s new Supra, plus Porsche’s benchmark 718 Cayman. The Z undercuts them all on price, starting at just $41,015 ($53,210 as shown with navigation, heated seats, automatic, Bose audio, Apple/Android, and more) a solid $10,000 less than a comparable six-cylinder Supra and a whopping $19,000 less than an entry level Cayman. The Z will be a blink behind the Supra in a drag race, however, the Nissan is easier to enter and exit, offers far better visibility, plus the cabin is more user-friendly. Cargo space is about equal — two sets of golf clubs and pull-carts will fit with some coaxing in both coupes, while the Z allows relaxed driving with the windows down, a feat strongly discouraged in the Supra.
As through history, the Z offers 90 percent of the Porsche’s performance, for one-third less money. Hence the mass appeal and the higher sales levels of the Z through the years. A robust aftermarket that has super-sized the performance of both the Z and the Supra for decades can add more performance.
The latest Z strikes the right styling cues and offers impressive driving excitement, all while retaining Nissan’s long-term reliability and enduring performance. Will a new generation of sports car fans embrace the new Z? Loyal Nissan and Z fans used to the racing success and consistent performance of the brand surely will.
Next week: Ford Escape Plug-in Hybrid