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300ZX FEELS PRACTICALLY PERFECT

Nissan's twin-turbo 300ZX has all the right stuff on paper - horsepower, handling, stopping, comfort and looks - and the stuff that can't be defined or measured.

It just feels right.Considering the hundreds - thousands - of different models that have rolled out of car-manufacturing facilities in the past 30 years, there have been precious few into which you climbed and felt that here was a car built for fast, fun driving, interlocking so intimately with the driver that you couldn't tell where one ended and the other began. The Jaguar XKs of the late 1940s and early 50s. The Lotus Elite, Elan and Europa of the 1960s and early '70s. The Porsche 904 of the early 1960s. The Lamborghini Muira of the late 1960s.

There were a few others, but these were the best. To put the Nissan 300ZX - twin-turbo or the regular breather - with these guys might seem surprising because until now, Z's have been heading in the wrong direction. They'd been getting fatter and softer.

But with new looks comes new performance and new feel. Looks alone could almost justify the price: $33,000 for the turbo, $28,000 for the non-turbo. I'm not going to say this beautiful body is a copy of the 1964 Ford GT, the one that eventually won LeMans four years running, but it sure isn't much different.

The view that most other drivers will usually get is of those duals and, in the twin-turbo's case, the rear-deck spoiler. Both 300ZXs have performance to back up their looks - plenty of power and brakes, suspension and steering to handle it. The twin-turbo has more.

To the four-cam (two per bank), 24-valve V-6, it gets an extra boost from two turbochargers, two intercoolers and different variable valve timing - boosting the normally-aspirated 222 horsepower to 300 (with stick shift, 285 with automatic).

The flak sheets and some scribes have been quick to point out that with three liters of displacement, this comes out to about 100 horses per liter. Impressive, but the more significant number is the power-to-weight ratio: In this case, it's almost 1:10. Very high, and 0-60 times in the low sixes should be expected.

Even that comes with a taller rear axle ratio (3.692:1) than the normally aspirated model (4.083:1). Unlike most high-horse, turbocharged engines (Why does the 911 Porsche come first to mind?), the rush of power is quick and smooth. There's no delay while the turbine gets spinning and sends its message to the intake manifold, then no sudden catapult-launch, rocketsled takeoff a second or two later.

Nor is there any feel of cumbersome clumsiness from the 3,414 curb pounds on slalom-like stretches. The standard driver-adjustable shocks and rear-steering setup, standard on the twin-turbo, are the big helpers. Unlike the rear-steering offered by Honda and Mazda, which is geared to making parallel parking, U-turns and medium-speed lane changes easier, Nissan's is built with high-speed stability as the top priority.

Change lanes in this rig and all four wheels turn in the same direction - after a split-second counter-steer (the rears go slightly in the opposite direction) which improves the pitch of the car and adds to its stability.

The power-boosted steering is also awfully quick - 14.8:1 and lock-to-lock only 2.4 turns - noticeably quicker than the non-turbo.

Also helping to give a secure feeling are the big four-wheel discs, vented front (11 inches swept area, dual calipers, 4 pistons) and rear (11.7 swept, dual calipers, 2 pistons).

Not helping to give a secure feeling are the standard P225/50VR16 Michelins (245/45ZR16s at the rear). In a heavy rain, on smooth, high-crown roads, they can telegraph you, through a slight twitch in the wheel, that you shouldn't breathe easy until the road dries.

But look, there are two ways around that problem. Either hold out for a turbo shod with Dunlop D40 M2s (some are), or - more likely, if you've got the $33,000 to begin with, buy a set of Gatorbacks.

The turbo's interior isn't different from the normally breathed 300ZX. Seats are comfortable, supportive and plenty adjustable (manually). Controls are easy, whether on the instrument pod, the steering wheel (cruise, for instance) or the door (power windows and lock).

In keeping with the new presence of the ZX, there's no Vidiot Digital Display. Gauges are analog, though one wonders why, for this kind of money, there isn't a voltmeter. But no car has yet been turned out to perfection.

The 300ZX is one that feels close to it, though.