There are cars for the young and those for the old. That is not a politically correct assessment of reality. But it is reality nonetheless.
Cars are time capsules reflective of individual life stages — thus, the current battle among automobile manufacturers for those segments of the market serving young, gainfully employed families.
Midsize family sedans and crossover-utility vehicles are hot. Two-seat coupes and convertibles, by comparison, in terms of raw sales numbers, are not.
That does not seem to be the case, judging from the current run of automobile television commercials. Fancy, fast cars being driven in ways that would get most of us arrested or lodged in a hospital are all the rage.
That’s because most automotive marketing messages are designed to deflect reality. They are aspirational halo notes, meant to appeal to the dreamer in all of us.
Reality is something different. Consider the 2014 Nissan 370Z Touring sports coupe. It is a powerful, compact, rear-wheel-drive two-seater that drew rave street reviews from nearly every spectator who, based on empirical observation, appeared to be 30 years old or younger.
The young folks loved the 370Z Touring’s lines, which they thought sleek and sexy. They marveled over the car’s advertised performance — 332-horsepower gasoline V-6, 270 pound-feet of torque, 0 to 60 mph in a bit under five seconds — numbers they seemed to know by heart. Some of them chided me for being in an “old man’s Z” — the relatively tame 370Z Touring equipped with the optional seven-speed automatic transmission.
They would have preferred the even more powerful 370Z Nismo (350-horsepower gasoline V-6, 276 pound-feet of torque) attached to a standard six-speed manual transmission.
But most of the young people expressing those opinions were still in high school, or college, or just entering above-minimum-wage employment, or still living rent-free with parents. On their own, it is doubtful that many, or any, of them could have afforded the $35,270 base price of the 370Z Touring or the base $43,020 sticker of the 370Z Nismo.
Epiphany: The Nissan 370Z is a sports coupe designed for young bodies and libidos but not for young wallets — not most of them anyway.
That revelation was highlighted by an invitation to a Virginia event staged by the Nation’s Capital Jaguar Owners Club. I drove the Nissan 370Z Touring to the Jaguar ceremony, mostly attended by senior citizens who have enough money to own two or three Jaguar cars at prices ranging from $47,000 to $174,000.
I love the Jaguar crowd because they love cars and most of them have lived long, hard and well enough to afford any automobile they want to buy. Most of them liked the “solid red” 370Z Touring coupe I was driving but said they never would consider buying it.
“It is sexy eye candy, but most of the women I know wouldn’t want to go on a weekend trip in it,” said Michelle Dawson, a longtime member and official of the local Jaguar club.
“Why not?” I asked.
“It’s impractical,” Dawson said. “Women going out with a man who can afford that kind of car want to dress up. That means they want to bring lots of clothes with them. There is no place in your little red car to put those clothes. We would have to go in something else.”
Other members of the Jaguar club said they liked “my” 370Z Touring but wouldn’t consider buying it because the car’s low-slung body and steeply raked roof mitigates against aging bodies. They have a point. Ingress and egress via the 370Z Touring is a chore for the less-than-agile.
Dawson, an accomplished woman who has lived long and well, put it this way: “It’s cute. But it’s for a much younger body.” She offered to drive me home in her 2005 Jaguar XJ Van den Plas sedan.
I respectfully declined. For all its shortcomings — troublesome ingress and egress, severely limited cargo space, arrest-me “solid red” exterior — the 370Z Touring was fun to drive. But it also was frustrating as heck.
The car was happy only at extra-legal highway speeds — hard to maintain on perennially congested Mid-Atlantic roads and hard to get away with under the watchful eyes of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia law enforcement officials.
When my drive week ended, I parted company with the 370Z Touring sans regrets.
Bottom line: The Nissan 370Z Touring and its siblings — the base model, the Nismo coupe and the 370Z convertible — are wonderful toys for a limited demographic audience: mostly young, affluent people relatively free of spousal or other familial obligations. It is the essence of “fun” — temporary, ephemeral, expensive, mostly self-centered and potentially memorable.
Ride, acceleration and handling: The car is happy only at speeds of 65 mph and above, which can be problematic in a strictly regulated driving environment. It feels cumbersome and weighty at lower speeds, which makes it less than fun-to-drive in most urban motoring settings.
Head-turning quotient: Super — it turns heads everywhere.
Body style/layout: The Nissan 370Z is a subcompact, front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, two-seat, two-door sports car available as a hardtop coupe and soft-top convertible. It is available as a hardtop coupe in three iterations — base, Touring and Nismo.
Engine/transmission: The car comes standard with a 3.7-liter, 24-valve, gasoline-fueled double-overhead-cam V-6 with variable valve timing. A six-speed manual transmission is standard. A seven-speed automatic, which can be operated manually via steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters, is optional.
Capacities: There are seats for two people. Cargo space is limited — 6.9 cubic feet. Fuel capacity is 19 gallons. Premium gasoline is required.
Mileage: With the optional seven-speed automatic transmission, I averaged 26 miles per gallon in mostly highway driving.
Safety: Standard equipment includes front and rear ventilated disc brakes; four-wheel anti-lock brake protection; emergency braking assistance; electronic brake-force distribution; electronic stability and traction control; high-intensity-discharge headlamps; and driver head-restraint whiplash-protection system.
Price: The base price of the 2014 Nissan 370Z with optional seven-speed automatic transmission is $36,570. Dealer’s invoice price on that model is $33,870. Price as tested is $42,760, including $5,400 in options (onboard navigation, rearview camera, carpeted floor mats and other items) and a $790 factory-to-dealer transportation charge.