1990 Nissan 300ZX

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chicagotribune.com
The Nissan 240Z was a spirited sports car when it appeared in October, 1969.

The Japanese automaker boasted that the Z combined Porsche performance with Jaguar luxury-for a mere $3,526.

The car was called awesome long before today`s teens took up the word.

Since that first Z appeared, there have been several updates-the 260, 280 and 300 with an X added.

The name changed when the engine displacement did-and so did the car`s personality and intent. It became less Porsche spirited and more Jaguar luxurious.

The sports car gradually became a touring machine, one of those cars you could drive coast-to-coast without even adjusting the mirror to account for fatigue.

But when you broke from the light, you`d eat others` exhaust fumes. Ride and handling became sedan like. You`d float in corners and turns. And price became, well, awesome. The 1970 240Z was the poor man`s sports car, the 1989 300ZX became the rich man or woman`s designer label car.

While Nissan spent 20 years changing names, the competition developed worthy rivals. The Z had become long in the tooth. After several years of development-and even Nissan folks argue whether 1984 or1986 was the starting point-the new generation 1990 300ZX is on sale.

If you`re of the school that complained the Z had become too much a luxurious touring car and Nissan had abandoned the sports car philosophy, the 1990 300ZX should ease your chagrin.

If you were of the school that liked to get into a two-seater and drive coast-to-coast without even adjusting the mirror, be advised that the Z has changed personalities along with looks and performance.

In unveiling the car at the Chicago Auto Show in February, Katsuo Yamada, Nissan`s general manager for product development, said the car was redone because, ``we received complaints from true sports car enthusiasts saying it had become just a sporty-looking luxury car.``

The new Z is more powerful, aero dynamic and sophisticated. It`s also shorter and lower though wider and a few pounds heavier than the `89. The `90 is built on a 96.5-inch wheelbase, up from 91.3 inches for `89, but overall length is 169.5inches, down from 173.4 inches. Height is 49.2 inches, down from 49.7 inches and width is 70.5 inches, up from 67.9 inches.

Those numbers mean the Z fits in a shorter parking stall. It stands so low you can wash half of the removable glass roof panel on the passenger`s side from the driver`s side. The added width gives you more room to stretch arms and legs than before.

Power comes from a beefed-up 3-liter, 24-valve, sequential-port fuel- injected V-6 that boasts 222 horsepower, or 17 h.p. more than last year`s turbocharged 3-liter multiport fuel-injected V-6 and 57 more h.p. than that engine without the turbo boost. It`s teamed with a 5-speed manual as standard, 4-speed automatic with overdrive as an option.

The car we drove came wit h optional automatic. A button on the lever allows you to activate overdrive once up to cruising speed to conserve on fuel.

The power comes in bursts. Off the line, the dual exhausts are throaty, with the sound effects aimed at the impression of power. The 222 h.p. V-6 in the `90 Z springs to life more quickly than last year`s 165 h.p. V-6. And it`s much appreciated to have that power in reserve without having to resort to a turbo. But by comparison, the 245 h.p. 5.7-liter V-8 in the `89 Corvette we recently drove (Cartalk, April 23), had much more spring and zest plus slap- you-back-into-the-seat force.

Though the engine may come up a bit shy on G force, the four-wheel independent multilink suspension is a dream in corners and turns. Nissan says the system has a unique third link that provides straight line tracking and high-performance cornering.

We took to a favorite patch of remote twisting roadway to learn what the engineering mumbo jumbo meant Taking a sharp left turn at speed was as if the left tires grabbed the concrete and pivoted the body into position out of the turn. No lean, no sway, no roll, no need to back off the accelerator. The rear-wheel-drive Z hugs the road like a bear.

Handling is further complemented by speed-sensitive power steering that uses a microprocessor to give you more assist at such low-speed maneuvers as parking and less when cruising the open roadway.

But if you want sports car handling, you pay the price. If you like ``road feel,`` you`ll get it in the 300ZX. Older Zs camouflaged the tar marks and bumps and a cup of coffee wouldn`t budge much less shed a drop. The new Z has firmer springs and shocks and when the pavement isn`t flat, you`ll feel it in the seat and wheel.

Because the Z is a sports machine, it needed and Nissan gave it antilock brakes as standard equipment. We tried employing them on a couple of simulated panic stops but they never were really called into play. The regular four- wheel power disc braking system was so quick to respond to pedal pressure and so true in stopping straight that the antilock brakes were not forced to kick in. Brakes had to be the best we`ve experienced in years.

Designers compartmentalized the driver and front-seat passenger by extending the console from the dash to serve as a barrier between the two.

Seats and door panels are covered in a rich cloth. Side bolsters are just big enough to hold you in place when taking corners and turns without sticking out so much they feel like a girdle.

Most controls are within sight and easy reach. Temperature, front window defroster, and front/rear window washer/wiper controls are on the instrument panel to the right of the wheel; lights, cruise control and rear window defroster are on the dash to the left of the wheel.

The center console houses digital clock, ashtray, power mirror controls, a small stowage compartmentand the switch to activate outside mirror defrosters.

Though easy to reach and use, the air conditioning gave us fits at times. Put it on automatic and get blasted. Put it on economy and you feel like you`re in a microwave with the setting at baste.

There`s no automatic safety belt system that fastens around your torso when you turn on the ignition key. You have to reach for the belt in the door pillar and fasten it. The belt is very comfortable, but the pillar it pulls from is an annoyance. If you look in the side mirror for cars when passing or turning and double check by turning your head to glance back, the pillar obstructs rear and side vision.

Another annoyance is the arch designed into the roof line running from windshield to door pillar. It looks like half a McDonald`s sign. Nissan says the arch was a design criterion specified for the car. It`s supposed to signify speed or some such nonsense. The lighter the car, and our test model was whit e, the more pronounced the arch and the more bothersome it looks.

Except for that one quirk, the Z sheet metal is aerodynamically pleasant. Though the design intent of the 240 was long hood, short deck, the 300ZX looks a bit saucer like and more short hood, short deck in approach. Flush mounted headlamps with plastic lenses dress up the front, plastic coated rocker panels the sides and plastic coated and body colored bumpers the rear. There`s no deck lid spoiler. Nissan says the body design combined with the suspension will keep the wheels on the ground without one.

The two seater is being joined in a few weeks by a larger two-plus-two model with a rear seat for munchkins. This fall a 300 h.p. model with twin turbos rounds out the lineup.

Standard equipment includes removable T-bar glass roof panels, 16-inch steel belted radial tires mounted on alloy wheels, tinted glass, fog lights, dual power mirrors, reclining bucket seats, leather wrapped steering wheel, air conditioning, power brakes/steering/windows/ door locks, cruise control, theft deterrent system, AM-FM stereo with automatic antenna, two-speed wipers, electric rear window defroster, remote hatch and fuel filler door releases, digital quartz clock, trip odometer and antilock brakes.

Options increase the comfort and pad the price. The electronic equipment package includes a Bose audio system, automatic temperature control for the air conditioning, power driver`s seat, dual heated mirrors and an illuminated entry system. Price: $1,600. Then there`s the leather trim package with leather seats, cargo cover and bronze tinted glass for $1,000 that can bought only with the $1,600 electronic package.

Base price is $27,300 with manual and $28,100 with automatic. With the popular options, you break $30,000 easily before tax.

>> 1990 Nissan 300ZX Wheelbase: 96.5 inches Length: 169.7 inches Engine: 3 liter, 222 h.p., V-6 Transmission: 5-speed manual; 4-speed automatic optional Fuel economy: 18/24 manual; 19/24 automatic Base price: $27,300 manual, $28,100 automatic Strong point: Performance finally matches styling Weak point: What took so long? >>


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