Many of us grew up believing the American cultural imperative that "bigger is better." Even in the age of nanotechnology, as physical dimensions of electronic devices shrink, we are exhorted to be impressed because quantitative descriptives are bigger, thus better. Megapixels? Bigger is better. My digital cameras range from 1.1 to 6.6 Mp, far behind the state of the art; point-and-shoot cameras now seem to require at least 10 million pixels. And so it is in cars, where we demand more, whether we can use it or not. Horsepower? Of course bigger is better, so how about 500 hp or 600 or, the production pinnacle at the moment, 1001?
I firmly believe that this is wrong, and I applaud every effort to bring cars back to rational size, weight, and power. So I hope this latest Nissan Z-Car, the restyled 370Z, is a harbinger of more sensible design and engineering to come. Not only is it a great deal better looking - tauter, tighter, and more purposeful - than the 350Z, it is also smaller, quicker, and more economical. I am no fan of statistics, but let's look at a few. The brilliant 1970 Datsun 240Z weighed 2300 pounds and was about 13.5 feet long on a 90.7-inch wheelbase. You could buy the base model in 1972 for the number of dollars you would have paid for 50 Troy ounces of gold.
Subsequent Z-Cars got bigger, more powerful, and heavier, and the last 300ZX Turbo cost a great deal - too much, in fact. So Nissan sports car production stopped until 2003, when the more reasonable 350Z, still bigger and heavier than the original, debuted. It was 4 percent longer, 42 percent heavier, and cost 28 percent more - 64 ounces of gold. For that, you got air bags, ABS, power steering, and more, along with 91 percent more power. Now with the prettier 370Z, power is up again, by 8.5 percent from last year, but length is down 1.6 percent, and the U.S. base price is just 33 Troy ounces, a 34 percent reduction from the original. This is what we need in all our cars.
Compared with the 240Z, this terrific coupe is still a bit excessive, and for all its fantastic performance, most of which is unusable in daily driving on public roads, it is not really any more fun than its four-decades-old ancestor, even if it is easier to drive. Nissan announced that it intends to make another sports car both smaller and less expensive than the 370Z, but that project could turn out to be a casualty of the financial crisis. In which case perhaps a stripped, lighter version of this model with a simpler interior would be a possibility. Nissan has an excellent 2.5-liter engine that could slot right into the engine compartment, and it makes 18 percent more power than the original Z-Car. Wouldn't it be nice to have an affordable and economical-to-run 240Z again, even if it had only four cylinders?