A week with a 2014 Nissan 370Z Roadster was more than enough to make this enthusiast wonder — once again — why Japanese manufacturer Nissan ever allowed the newest Z car to stray so far from the formula of its progenitor, the Datsun 240Z sports coupe.
The original Z car, which made its debut about 1970, was a relatively affordable, handsomely designed, agile two-seater that bristled with some of the modern technology of the time.
At about $3,500, it would be a bit cheaper in today’s dollars than, say, a $25,000 Scion FR-S, and it featured an independent suspension, 151-horsepower, overhead-cam, six-cylinder engine, front disc brakes and a four-speed manual transmission. What’s more, it had a hatchback which opened to a relatively large cargo area behind the comfortable front bucket seats.
For those of us who admit to a certain age, it was rolling excitement, a coupe to be coveted, a replacement for the atavistic British MGs and Triumphs.
But let’s not go overboard here. The 240Z couldn’t begin to cut it in today’s market. With no air conditioning, passengers sweltered in the summer heat. Balky fuel pumps were problems for owners I knew. There was no power steering, no power brakes and practically none of the safety equipment that protects today’s occupants.
What’s more, the 240Z filled a market niche that was fading away. Sports cars were losing their luster, seen as primitive, impractical and too small for buyers who cared less about driving thrills than comfortable transportation. They were into bigger cars with an ever-increasing amount of luxurious amenities. Many sports car lovers had to turn to the more practical sports sedans.
Still, I cannot help but wonder if Nissan could have maintained a profitable market with a less opulent Z car that would deliver the elemental joy of driving at an affordable price. After all, it has worked for Mazda with the Miata.
Obviously, we will never know.
In the meantime, let’s take a closer look at the car Nissan obviously believes is a more marketable solution for the hearty band of sports car aficionados that remain.
At slightly over $50,000, this two-seat Touring Edition is way closer to Corvette territory than it is to the Miata.
Its muscular looks are distinctive, with enough design touches to link it to the original. With power cloth top stowed, the 370Z has a strong, aggressive presence, as if it were born for racetrack duty. Top up, it has the attitude of a burly football player wearing a helmet that’s a couple of sizes too small.
The car’s swagger is reinforced by a strong 3.7-liter, double-overhead cam, V-6 engine that generates 332 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. The EPA estimates fuel efficiency at 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway. I averaged between 21 and 25 mpg in a week of relatively tame driving. Premium unleaded fuel is recommended. The race from a stop to 60 mph can be completed in under 5 seconds.
The optional Sport Package ($2,830) further enforces the 370 Z’s sports car credentials with 19-inch wheels, larger rear tires, sport-tuned shock absorbers, limited-slip differential and stronger brakes.
But, for me, there was one particularly big turn-off.