1989 Nissan 240SX

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$2,811–$4,599
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chicagotribune.com
Nissan calls it the 240SX.

Better you should refer to it as the baby Z.

Nissan dumped the 200SX designation-along with the car-and came up with the all new 240SX for 1989.

The subcompact SX coupe was resized, restyled and renamed the 240, with the number referring to the 2.4-liter, 12-valve, 140-horsepower, 4-cylinder engine. Psychologically, the 240 designation was used to associate the new car with the original 240Z sports model that proved to be so successful for the Japanese automaker.

That 240Z has evolved into the 300ZX, which also was resized, restyled and re-energized for 1989.

The old 200SX looked sporty but didn`t act it. The 240SX looks and acts like a performance machine. Somewhat a 300ZX in miniature.

The 240SX comes in two versions, the SE fastback (Autos, Oct. 18, 1988) with sharply slanted roof line and the XE notchback with a stand-up formal roof line. We test drove the XE.

In either body style, the 240SX is an attention-grabber. Up front, body- colored wraparound bumpers, concealed headlamps and an air dam provide a clean, crisp but powerful look. In back, the slightly raised, slightly rounded deck also sports body-colored wraparound bumpers.

The 2.4-liter 4 is lively, and one reason the SX performs very Z like. A five-speed manual is standard, a four-speed automatic with overdrive controlled by a push button on the gear lever is optional. Our test car was equipped with automatic, a quiet unit didn`t seem to rob the 2.4 of its pep.

Where the 240 stands out is in ride and handling. Lots of cars look sporty, few have the road manners of the 240SX. It hugs the pavement without wavering in or out of a tight corner or turn. The 15-inch, all-season, steel- belted radial tires grip the pavement. Four-wheel, fully independent suspension and front and rear stabilizer bars smooth rough spots.

The power steering requires very little effort. Turn the wheel, and the car responds quickly and accurately. The driver is in control, not just along for the ride. The 240 is a rear-wheel-drive subcompact and the weight distribution helps contribute to almost nonexistent body sway, roll or excessive lean.

Four-wheel power disc brakes harness the power and bring the car under control. Antilock brakes are a $1,400 option, but only on the SE, not the XE. Nissan said there are no immediate plans to offer antilock brakes in the XE because it has proven to be a low request item in the SE. You have to suspect $1,400 is what`s keeping buyers away from a braking system that ensures fast, true stopping regardless of road conditions or surface.

The 240SX is built on a 97.4-inch wheelbase and is 178 inches long. The dimensions pinpoint one of the car`s shortcomings-room.

No problem up front, but forget about carting adults in the rear. Nissan needs to redesign those rear seats and use thinner padding or raise the roof line to allow ample head room. We thought the notchback XE with its formal standup roof line would offer welcome headroom relief versus the slanted SE fastback. It doesn`t.

At least the rear seat backs fold down to allow added storage space, probably the most common usage unless you have tiny children with minuscule heads who could fit in back.

Front seats have the size, but not necessarily the comfort we expected. The wide buckets have side bolsters that sweep out along the occupant`s torso and help keep driver and front-seat passenger in place in sharp corners and turns. The buckets were very comfortable in the SE version we previously drove. In the XE, the lower seat back was a bit too firm and rigid and would have played havoc with long-distance driving.

The car we drove had the optional heads-up speedometer display in the windshield. Little green digits give you a quick speed reading on the windshield glass without having to hunt for the speedometer. U nlike the display on GM models, which is dead center along the bottom of the glass in the driver`s field of vision, the Nissan unit is slightly to the left of eye view. That location seemed to mean less glare and was easier to see than if in the center of the glass.

But the heads up display is part of a $1,350 package that includes cruise control, power windows/door locks/mirrors and upgraded radio with cassette and is a stiff price to pay for a quick glance speed reading.

Standard equipment includes power brakes and steering, tinted glass, dual mirrors, tilt steering wheel, AM/FM stereo, intermittent wipers, rear window defroster, hood/trunk/fuel filler inside-release levers, quartz digital clock, visor vanity mirrors and automatic safety belts that fasten around your upper torso when the ignition key is turned on and release when the key is turned off.

The notchback XE coupe starts at $13,249 with manual, $14,079 with automatic.

Replacing the 200SX with the 240SX has been a good move for Nissan. Sales in the first six months of the year totaled 38,417 units, almost a 300 percent increase from the 10,112 sold in the period a year earlier.




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