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Jailhouse Rock

Everybody in the whole cell block
Was drivin’ to the Jailhouse Rock

At the time of the Datsun 240Z’s 1969 introduction, most of the excitement on import showrooms – or, more correctly, the import showrooms accessible to America’s Middle Class – had largely dissipated. Obviously, BMW and Benz were about to get on a roll, but Volkswagen was stagnant, and the Brits were offering essentially the same menu they’d been fixing for a decade, one little better than that country’s food. Prior to the Z’s launch, affordable excitement – if we can call it that – was centered on Fiat’s 124 Spider; a twin-cam four and Pininfarina sheetmetal set itself apart in an upmarket – albeit still accessible – way from the MG and Triumph lineups. 

The 240Z was altogether different, with sheetmetal that channeled the fluid sensuality of Jaguar’s E-Type, along with a SOHC six that could sing like both Joni Mitchell and Mick Jagger. And if you can forget (and/or forgive) the screw-you mentality of Datsun dealers, the 240Z could be yours for under $4,000. (Of note: Some of those same dealers, now operating as Nissan showrooms, offer today’s Performance-optioned Z at $10K over its $55K window sticker. But, as you’d know, they’re independent businesses…)

That, of course, was then, and you’ll need Wikipedia to remember how many iterations of the Z have been offered in its 50+ years of history. As of its reveal just two years ago we now can enjoy a new Z, if – of course – you can find one. During and after the pandemic any number of new car models were hampered by parts shortages and production stumbles, yet few seem quite as challenged as Nissan’s rollout of this new Z. And if you think showrooms lagged, you should consider press fleets and their ‘clients’, especially those of us working for relatively small outlets. ‘Don’t call us – we’ll call you’ was/is the mantra. Happily, two years after its production reveal Nissan called.

As we noted when the production version was finally released, there are elements of the original 240Z in this new Nissan’s sheetmetal, as are aspects of the 350Z, which was launched in the summer of 2002. In proportion this remains very much a front-engined, rear-wheel drive GT, with its passenger compartment sitting well back on the chassis, and relatively minimal front and rear overhangs. It is, in short, a tidy platform, more substantial than a Miata but far less visually busy than its most direct competitor, Toyota’s Supra. 

From a strictly subjective standpoint I find the new Z somewhat bland when compared to my favorite Nissan, the 350Z. And while I always thought the Z’s immediate predecessor, the 370Z, was a tad too busy, it had obvious character – and ‘obvious’ isn’t part of the new Z’s descriptive. But with that, Ferrari’s front-engined Roma is also short on visual ‘spice’, and its selling price is $200K north of the new Z’s $45K (and up) window sticker.

Inside, the Z Performance is contemporary in its design, and with leather-appointed seating surfaces, (synthetic) suede inserts and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, driver and passenger are well supported, if not absolutely coddled. Getting in and out seemed slightly easier than the Supra driven just a week earlier, which I might attribute to the Nissan’s marginally higher roof or (perhaps) a slightly wider door opening. Regardless, access was relatively easy given that I’m twice the age of the Z’s 30-something target customer.

What you need to know is clearly displayed in front of the driver, and the Z’s infotainment screen is nicely integrated immediately to the right of the steering wheel, above the separate HVAC controls. And yes, you can adjust the fan speed or temp settings with but one motion and not three. Distraction necessary to make that operation is minimal, and you can get back to doing what you’re there for – driving a performance vehicle in an engaged, attentive manner.

That performance is delivered via the Z’s twin-turbocharged DOHC 24-valve V6, which displaces an even 3.0 liters and delivers 400 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque. This is roughly 5% healthier than the number provided by the Supra’s BMW-sourced turbocharged inline six. Despite that surplus the Z is slightly slower, taking – in testing by Car and Driver – 4.5 seconds to arrive at 60. With that, a dual-motor Model 3 Tesla is faster than both. (And for the record, my wife – if riding shotgun – can get royally pissed in just 3 seconds…faster than a Tesla!)

On the road you’ll find this new Z comfortable and composed, but the vibe is more GT than sports car. That, of course, isn’t a bad thing, especially for that long weekend up the California coast or romping in and around New York’s Catskills. But if allowed a retune of the steering and suspension, I’d hope for something slightly more tossable, perhaps just a tad more nervous. Toyota seems to have hit that nail on the proverbial head, and Z owners – I think – would enjoy more of the same.

At a base price comfortably under $45K the Z is an absolute steal, giving you the 400 horsepower of the twin-turbo V6 for the same price point as Toyota’s base Supra with its 250 horsepower turbocharged four. But the upgrades given to the Performance trim for its almost $10K upcharge aren’t, in my view, monies well spent; at that price point you have other, perhaps more compelling choices. 

Less than one year before the 1969 intro of the 240Z, Elvis taped his Christmas special for NBC. The success of that performance again put Elvis squarely in the public’s consciousness. The Z’s relaunch was intended to do the same, and I – for one – am willing to be patient…and remain hopeful.

Boldt, a contributor to outlets such as, Kelley Blue Book and Autoblog, brings to his laptop some forty years of experience in automotive retail, journalism and public relations. He is a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, The Washington Automotive Press Association and L.A.'s Motor Press Guild. David is the Managing Editor of txGarage, a regular panelist on the AutoNetwork Reports webcast/podcast, and the automotive contributor to Dallas' Katy Trail Weekly.

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