New Car/Review

1997 Nissan 240 SX SE Sports Coupe

Carey Russ

Nissan

SEE ALSO: Nissan Buyer's Guide

Now that the 300 ZX has been retired to history, the 240 SX has been moved to the top of Nissan's sports car line. Although it isn't a high-tech, ultra-fast luxury GT like the late 300 ZX, the 240 SX can certainly handle its new mission. In the manner of the 240 Z that put Nissan, then known as Datsun, on the sports car map the early 1970s, the 240 SX is a fine example of a modern middleweight sports car.

The Nissan 240 SX has received a tasteful restyling for 1997, and is offered in three levels of trim: the value-priced base level, the sports-oriented SE, and the full-luxury LE. All use the proven 2.4-liter inline 4-cylinder engine, matched to a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission. A rigid chassis with fully independent suspension and 4-wheel disc brakes make the 240 SX a nimble, fun-to- drive car. Real room inside and a usefully-sized trunk make it a practical car for people who don't need a minivan or sedan.

Because of local press events and a hectic schedule by my local car delivery service, I had to spend a little extra time with a 1997 Nissan 240 SX SE. No complaints there. It was a great drive on the highways and secondary roads, an easy size to live with for city traffic and parking, and friendly on the fuel budget.

APPEARANCE: The minor restyling that the 240 SX has received for 1997 produces a major effect. The car is the same as it has been since 1995 from the windshield back, but the front fenders, hood, headlights, and bumper fascia have all been changed for a crisp new look. Very much in keeping with the car's character, the design is simple yet elegant, assertive without being aggressive, and completely functional. The new multi-faceted "jewel" headlights flank a small air inlet; the main intake is below the integrated bumper. Its rectangular, divided design is reminiscent of the Nissan GTP racers of the late 1980s. The passenger cabin has narrow roof pillars, plenty of glass area, and long doors. Besides giving a light and airy, very '60s-Italian style, this ensures easier access and far better visibility than is the norm for sports coupes. A small trunk-lid-mounted wing, side sill extensions, and 5- spoke alloy wheels give the SE contemporary sports character.

COMFORT: Like the exterior, the interior of the 1997 240 SX is functional and tastefully understated, with just a slight nod to the past. Although leather is available, my test car had the standard cloth upholstery. No problem there - it was cool in the heat and added to the supportive comfort of the manually-adjustable front sports seats. The passenger seat moves forward for access to the rear seat, and there is adequate short-distance room back there for two medium-sized people. The top part of the rear seat folds down for trunk access, and there is more luggage space than is usually found in a sports coupe. The 240 SX's one nostalgic touch is readily visible in front of the driver: black- on-white instruments that resemble those used on European sports cars in the '50s and '60s. The thick-rimmed, tilt-adjustable steering wheel and closely-placed gearshift lever are designed for serious driving. The SE model has all of the modern comfort features as standard equipment, including air conditioning, an AM/FM/ cassette sound system, and power windows, door locks, and mirrors.

SAFETY: All trim levels of the 1997 Nissan 240 SX has 4-wheel antilock disc brakes, with antilock available. Dual air bags, 3-point front and rear seat belts, and safety-cage construction with front and rear crumple zones and side impact protection are also standard equipment.

ROADABILITY: On the road, the 1997 240 SX SE lives up to its sporty looks. The chassis is much stiffer than that of the previous version, ensuring that the MacPherson front, multilink rear suspension can place the wheels precisely. Optional antilock brakes and a limited- slip differential ensure that the power gets to the ground and stops are quick and safe. In the finest sports car manner, the 240 SX is relatively low and wide. Like its illustrious 240 Z ancestor and unlike most competitive cars today, the 240 SX is a front-engined, rear-wheel drive machine. It has all of the expected sports car characteristics: great road manners and nimble handling, a firm ride, and good road feel.

PERFORMANCE: The 2.4-liter twincam, 16-valve engine that gives the 240 SX its name is from the low-end-torque-is-good school of design. This means that although it is a pleasure to use, the fast-action 5-speed gearbox doesn't need to be used excessively. It also means that the optional 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission should work well, but at some cost to sportiness. The 240 is not exactly a fire-breathing racer, but it's quick enough, and thoroughly enjoyable. The engine's sporty snarl adds to the experience. The 240 SX has all of the right sports car sounds and sensations.

CONCLUSIONS: The newest iteration of the Nissan 240 SX has to fill some large shoes, and does so admirably. The spirit of the original 240 Z lives on!

SPECIFICATIONS

Base Price               $ 21,999
Price As Tested          $ 23,168
Engine Type              inline 4-cylinder, dual overhead cams, 
                         16-valves
Engine Size              2.4 liters / 146 cu. in.
Horsepower               155 @ 5600
Torque (lb-ft)           160 @ 4400
Transmission             5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length       99.4 in. / 177.2 in.
Curb Weight              2862 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    18.46
Fuel Capacity            17.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement         unleaded premium
Tires                    P205/55 VR16 Michelin XGT 4
Brakes, front/rear       vented disc / solid disc
Suspension, front/rear   independent MacPherson strut /
                         independent multilink
Drivetrain               front engine, rear-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      28 / 22 / 24
0 to 60 mph                        7.5 sec
1/4 mile (E.T.)                    16.2 sec
Coefficient of Drag (cd)           0.34

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Antilock braking with viscous
     limited-slip differential     $ 699
Destination charges                $ 470     

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