The first Nissan Z car sold in this country dates back nearly half a century, to a time when the automaker still went by the name Datsun.
The Datsun 240Z debuted here as a 1970 model. It sold well for several reasons: With a starting price of $3,500, it was affordable fun. And with proportions not unlike the Ferrari GTO's and a front-end design that evoked a Jaguar E-Type, it was one good-looking car. For my money, it remains the most aesthetically pleasing Z of them all.
The first Z was also a nicely built sports car that handled well and accelerated decently for its time. Fitted with a 2.4-liter, inline six that employed dual carburetors to develop 151 horsepower, it got from 0 to 60 mph in a follicle over eight seconds and topped out at 125.
The sporting nature of the Z was corrupted for a time by some of its successors, notably the 280ZX, a mushy boulevard car. But eventually, it got its mojo back. Like its ancestor, the current iteration, the 370Z, is an affable performer. It corners crisply and sprints from rest to 60 mph in a spiffy five seconds. That kind of get-up-and-go is courtesy of a 3.7-liter V-6 that serves up 332 horsepower.
And like the first Z, the 2018 offering is still affordable. The base coupe model starts at a reasonable $29,990. That affordability is eroded, of course, as you go up the food chain. The upmarket 370Z Touring Sport Roadster I played with started at $49,400 and ended up at $51,210 after you tacked on shipping, a premium paint job, and floor mats.
That's a long way from the $3,500 240Z in that dealership near the farm, Dorothy. Guess we ain't in Kansas anymore.
A decade after it was last redesigned, the current Z car was revised for the 2018 model year. This refresh included a new rear fascia, new headlights and taillights, and a fresh clutch assembly for the models with six-speed manual gearboxes. There is also a slightly premature Heritage Edition celebrating the Z's 50th anniversary.
The 370Z two-seat roadster I tested proved attractively styled with a straightforward, functional feel. The interior was equally pleasing, with nice accents like synthetic suede door-panel inserts and aluminum-trimmed pedals. Although the tester touched all the usual luxury bases, I was a little surprised to find a manually adjusted tilt steering wheel instead of a power tilt/telescoping feature at this price point. The top was easy enough to put up and down. Just press a button.
The leather-trimmed buckets proved comfortable and supportive. The car was quiet enough, and afforded a pretty supple ride for a vehicle with a performance-biased suspension and tires.
And perform that suspension and tire tandem did. The low-aspect tires, an ample 245 millimeters wide up front and 275 out back, took a bite in the corners like a dog holds onto his toy when you try to take it. The Z stayed flat and composed during those ambitious changes in direction, and evinced little body lean.
Engine performance was lusty business in the Z. No fancy-schmancy turbos and superchargers at work here. Just a normally aspirated V-6 delivering its power to the rear wheels via a slick, seven-speed automatic gearbox. But when you motivate a car that weighs a modest-to-moderate 3,548 pounds with 338 horses, you get pressed back in your seat a bit.
Predictably, that kind of fun is teamed with less than exemplary fuel economy. The Z's EPA mileage ratings are 18 city and 25 highway.
2018 Nissan 370Z Touring Sport Roadster
Base price: $49,400.
As tested: $51,210.
Standard equipment: 3.7-liter engine, seven-speed automatic transmission, rear drive, and all the usual inmates at the Posh Penitentiary, including leather and a Bose sound system.
Options: Premium paint and floor mats.
Fuel economy: 18 city and 25 highway.
Engine performance: Good.
Handling: Top shelf.
Ride comfort: Better than expected.
Styling: No-nonsense handsome.
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles bumper to bumper.