As Nissan blows out 50 candles on the birthday cake for its classic ‘Zed’ sports car series and Toyota whips the covers off its long-awaited, born-again Supra, it’s a great time to think about whether there’s room in the garage next to your daily driver for a ‘Sunday morning special’.
An all-electric future is coming up fast, so the time to celebrate everything that’s great about the internal combustion engine is now – and you don’t need a sky-high budget to get in on the action.
There are plenty of options – the Toyota Supra is a good place to start, but for the more badge-conscious, there is also its twin-under-the-skin, the BMW Z4 roadster that also arrived this year. The Ford Mustang is selling strongly for good reason, and there’s the perennial Mazda MX-5, and Japan’s two-door twins, the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86.
They are sports cars, one and all, with sub-$100,000 showroom stickers that mean you can have your cake and fang it, too.
Have your cake and fang it, too
Sales of the Supra went into melt-down when Toyota Australia opened the online order book, with the first 100 cars clicked and claimed in just seven minutes. It only took another 15 minutes for the next 50 to find homes.
If you have a more generous budget and you have the cash and connections, the Ferrari SF90 has just landed in Australia ahead of the first deliveries. But the Italian road rocket is not remotely affordable, and the waiting list stretches deeply into 2021 and beyond.
A sideways step from two-seat sports cars into hot hatches brings the likes of Mercedes-AMG’s just-released A35 and BMW’s M140i into calculations, which are great gateway vehicles into the world of sporty driving. Even the sharp-edged BMW M2, a shrunken and condensed version of the classic M3, is not a true sports car, although it is an absolute hoot on the right road (or racetrack).
What makes a sports car?
Casting an eye over the latest 370Z, especially sitting alongside the original 240Z, the basics are obvious. It has to look good, with proportions that put the focus on the engine room at the front, a couple of seats in the middle, and old-school rear-wheel drive. You cannot mistake a sports car for anything else. In a world of SUVs, it is like a T-Rex in a landscape of herbivores.
The 370Z is getting old, as old as the brutal Nissan GT-R supercar that sits alongside it in showrooms, yet Nissan has no plans to take the latter out of action. Slow sales in the USA mean the Z-car Roadster is about to end its run there, with orders for the last drives in Australia being taken now, but the coupe is almost a protected species.
It will eventually be renewed, but Nissan's ‘Mr Zed’ says he is still waiting for news from the top before going to work on the Nissan headliner.
Zed’s not dead - yet
Hiroshi Tamura has ideas about the future for the Zed, and also the GT-R that’s best known as Godzilla, but cannot accelerate his development plan until a choice is made between hybrid and full electric power.
Porsche has already made its commitment and went public last week with the battery-electric Taycan that will become an instant classic, but Nissan is not as adventurous.
“I have to wait. I am just the ... lead conductor for the orchestra. The company will show me the members of the orchestra. They need to decide who will play the violin and who will play the trumpet,” says Tamura.
While we wait, the 370Z is now being delivered with 50th anniversary touches including special side stripes - inspired by original ‘70s racers in the USA – and cabin frippery and some badges. But it is nothing much and there is still no digital speedometer, a necessity in 2019 with speed cameras potentially around any corner.
Compared with the pared-back appeal of the MX-5, which is still underpowered despite the sharpest chassis in the business, the 370Z is a brawny brute. It has a V6 engine that grunts and grumbles, but tackles twists and turns with enthusiasm, and offers performance that is more accessible than the GT-R.
Best of all is that the 370Z and many of its sporty contemporaries offer an enticing new hobby to fill your Sunday mornings with the sound and feel of old-fashioned, combustion-engined fun.