3. Nissan 370Z Coupe
Price as tested: $30,825
0-60 mph: 5.1 sec; EPA rating: 21 mpg city-highway combined
Hottest color: Chicane Yellow
Here’s an aging gem that echoes such sports-cars classics as the Jaguar E-type and Triumph TR6, the Big Healeys, yes, even the original Datsun 240Z. It puts a sizable six under a long hood, a short-throw shifter at your hand, and a smile on your face.
Our $30K barrier relegates us to the bottom rung of the Z-car ladder (it peaks at $50,235 with the Roadster Touring Sport). The $835 destination fee slips us over our limit by $825. But there isn’t a Nissan dealer in America who wouldn’t work with you to move one of these Z cars for under $30,000.
What you’ll get is a base-model coupe with few frills but all the essentials. The engine is a 3.7-liter with 332 horsepower at 7000 rpm, 270 pound-feet of torque at 5200. The engine is a proven performer, if not a scintillating one. The mulitport fuel injection certainly isn’t cutting-edge, and this engine — already phasing out of other Nissan and Infiniti vehicles — can get coarse when revs build. We’ve specified the standard short-throw six-speed manual, a companionable gearbox. Too bad you’d need to move up to the $34,405 Sport model to get the neat rev-matching downshift feature. Same for a limited-slip differential and uprated brakes with red calipers
But there’s something quite appealing about this base coupe’s frill-free honesty. The steering is direct. The aluminum-intensive suspension is nicely sorted, with double wishbones in front and a multilink arrangement in back. There are twin-tube shocks all around and black-finish alloy wheels clad in Yokohama Advan Sport summer tires, 225/50R18 front, wider 245/45R18 in back.
You get bi-xenon headlamps, LED daytime running lights, and clingy cloth upholstery. There’s Bluetooth, but amenities like leather, navigation, satellite radio, heated mirrors, and a rearview monitor are reserved for up-trim models. Still, you sit low before an analog gauge cluster with a big tach dead ahead. Looking out over the big bonnet, exhaust burbling, shifter trembling, this Z is your very affordable connection to a great sports-car tradition.