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When the now-redesigned Nissan 240SX rolled off the assembly line last summer, we were surprised by the transformation it had undergone. This new version blurs the fine line between sports cars and upmarket vehicles because Nissan has downplayed this car's racier lineage in favor of a more genteel and understated design.
All of this has been at the service of folks who favor graceful styling over road-burning performance, but who see themselves as too young to retire to a stately sedan. In short, the 240SX has been tweaked to cater to the changing values of the baby boomer generation - the first wave of which is now approaching the age of 50.
To that end, Nissan engineers have designed a more rigid body structure, extended the track and enhanced the suspension of the 240SX to ensure a more comfortable ride, easier handling and improved stability. Low to midrange torque has been increased to allow for smoother acceleration, and the suspension contact points have been made more compliant to reduce noise.
Inside, the old monoform seats have been replaced by cozier 2-cushion buckets, and the placement of controls, knobs and switches is more sensitive to the ergonomic needs of the middle-age driver than they were in years past.
That's not to say that the new 240SX is a cream puff. It still incorporates the nimble handling, spirited acceleration and styling accoutrements that made previous incarnations so popular to those buyers who harbor sports-car inclinations. It's just that some of the 240SX's sharper edges have been smoothed and rounded out for comfort's sake.
We tested the high-end, sporty SE model, which comes with numerous standard-feature amenities that include a sport-tuned suspension, front and rear spoilers, projector-style foglights, driver-adjustable lumbar support, moquette fabric seats with a sporty center insert, remote keyless entry with an anti-theft system, and attractive analog gauges with black digits on a white background.
Our test model was also equipped with optional anti-lock brakes (ABS), limited-slip differential and a sunroof. Including the destination charge, that upped the price of the SE to $23,163.
Standard equipment on both the base and SE models includes electronic fuel injection, front-engine/rear-wheel-drive powertrain, 5-speed manual overdrive transmission, power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, independent strut-type front suspension and multi-link rear suspension, power remote-controlled mirrors, fold-down rear seatback, power windows and door locks, and dual airbags.
According to Nissan research, the quality of ride is important to the 240SX's recently expanded target market. So the engine's valve timing and intake camshaft were tweaked to attain the aforementioned low to midrange torque that translates into velvety acceleration. Other changes - a more rigid cylinder head, revised engine mounts, a larger-volume exhaust system - reduce engine noise and vibration.
Meanwhile, various components of the front and rear suspension were modified to attain greater stability and maneuverability. For example, cornering ability and traction were improved by increasing the suspension stroke in the rear.
Such measures paid off handsomely. The ride of the 240SX is quieter and smoother, with greater ease of handling, than that of its comparatively gnarly predecessor.
Both on the freeway and in city traffic, our SE danced from lane to lane with minimum body roll and nary a disturbance to its passengers. It also negotiated an abrupt 90-degree,
25-mph turn with ease.
But Nissan's comfort-conscious refinements have not been made at the expense of performance: The 2.4-liter DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder engine yields 155 hp at 5600 rpm. And the 160 lb.-ft. of torque at 4400 rpm - in a vehicle that is 80 lb. lighter than the '94 model - means the SE's
8-second 0-to-60 mph performance is a half-second quicker than it was in '94.
At 65 mph in the cruise control mode, the tach purred at a civilized 3600 rpm in fourth gear and an even calmer 2800 rpm in fifth. At 60 mph on the freeway, we gave it some gas and downshifted from fifth to fourth, and the SE delivered all the passing power we needed.
Braking power with the optional ABS was also impressive on our tester: In a light drizzle, our SE descended from 30 mph to a dead stop in less than 4 seconds.
No doubt, the gearheads will find something lacking in the Nissan 240SX's upscale move - and its accompanying emphasis on comfort over flash. But Nissan probably figures that offering four flavors of its awesome 300ZX road warrior is enough to satiate even the most rabid of racing enthusiasts.
For the rest of us, the graceful lines of the 240SX offer a dignified way to make sure that the transition into middle age is a relatively painless one.