It's Friday on the FDR Drive, and the stockbrokers in the black Beamer keep staring. We zoom along in eighth-mile zips, then slow to stops as traffic clogs, all of us trying to leave New York. The stares persist as we move north along the East River. Finally, at one stop, one of the guys gets out, a huge smile on his face.
"Is that the new Z?"
After six years off the market, the Z is back, and Nissan's reincarnation of its most gutsy sports car has an infectious effect on anyone who sees its sultry lines, in particular turning anything male into a drooling fool. In a recent, all-too-short weekend test drive it captivated everyone from executives at a golf course to a bar full of blue-collar guys and right down to some kids on bikes. It's hard to tear your eyes away.
Yet look quickly. The car looks fast even when sitting still. But start it up and the 3.5 liter, 24-valve V6 gives it blazing speed off the line and down the stretch. The Z corrals 280 horses under its hood, plenty for the light two-seater, which was made with generous amounts of aluminum, in and out. It's small -- there's absolutely no room behind the seats for, say, a pesky child or naggy in-law. And the hatch has just enough room for a bag of golf clubs and a modest suitcase. (Figuring out just how to angle said clubs under the wide bar that sits pressed against the hatch when it's closed takes some practice.) The wheels of the Z are pushed to the corners, widening the car's footprint and adding agility.
Options include a navigation system and an air pressure monitor to keep you at maximum performance. You can buy the car with an automatic transmission, but why? The only way to fully enjoy this machine is with the six-speed stick.
The new model represents a leap in the evolution of the Z, which was launched in the United States in 1969 as the Datsun 240Z. The zippy and chiseled sportster was a hit, and the car morphed into the 300ZX, getting rounder, faster, more luxurious and more expensive until being withdrawn in 1996. This newest version, which went on sale last fall, incorporates elements of the original 240 as well as the 300. At $34,079 for the highest option package, it's even cheaper than the last 300Z sold in America.
But don't buy one if you can't handle being the center of attention.