Zensational: 2009 Nissan 370Z

April 23, 2009, 8:58 PM UTC
Fortune

2009_nissan_370zAs the owner of an original 240Z purchased in 1970, I felt cheated by the first Z-car to arrive during the reign of Carlos Ghosn in 2001. Its stubby lines and flashy interior radiated none of the elegance or presence of my car, which came in British Racing Green, and which I thought of as my Japanese Jaguar.

I felt none of those shortcomings, though, about the electric blue 2009 370Z that turned up in my garage recently. Although it is shorter and wider than its predecessor, it is more graceful, especially in the rear section where the roof tapers suavely into the hatch. The die-cut style headlamps and tail lamps, with their whimsical shapes, gave designers a real opportunity to go overboard, but the fixtures are executed with such refinement that they amplify the overall elegance of the car’s exterior.

The interior and instrument panel are designed to a similar standard. The three-layer layout groups the instruments by how essential they are to the driver. The speedo and tach are located smack in front of your eyes, with a small window in between that tells you what gear you are in – a huge help when driving a manual transmission. Three secondary gauges are mounted slightly deeper in the IP, while the gas supply is registered by a dotted meter that takes the guesswork out of refills.

Underway, the 370Z delivers performance to match its appearance. At first, power from the 332-horsepower 3.7 liter V-6 threatened to overwhelm my left foot as I eased off the clutch, but I quickly adapted, making the Z surprisingly tractable in traffic. When the opportunity to air it out arrives, the Z responds with alacrity. Zero to 60 miles per hour has been measured at a super-quick 5.1 seconds. Steering and cornering are a match for cars costing twice as much; I have never felt more confident rounding a corner or exiting on a thruway ramp. Better still, the Z extracts few penalties for its exceptional performance in ride harshness or road noise.

You can get into a 2009 Z for $29,930 plus $695 for destination charges. My Sport Package model, with the synchro rev transmission that automatically matches engine revs on downshifts, along with special wheels and tires, added another $3000.

Back in 1970, my slightly bruised 240Z cost me $3,450 and rusted away after a few Michigan winters. When I reluctantly dropped off the 370Z at Bradley International Airport outside Hartford, I thought about relative value. The inflation-adjusted price of the 240 in 2009 would be $18,913 – still a great value from the era of the cheap yen.

But the 350 has twice the horsepower, a whole raft of features unimaginable back then, and it isn’t prone to rust. Despite being nearly twice the money, it would be my choice today.

Now, I wonder if it comes in green….