We Brits like coupes and right now the coupe we love most is the Audi TT, whose Bauhaus style has become as commonplace as cappuccino bars - in London, at least. The Audi, however, is about to see its supremacy challenged not by one rival but three - from Mazda, with its rotary-engined, four-door RX-8, Chrysler, with its Mercedes-powered art deco Crossfire, and Nissan, with the potent 350Z. All three appeal, but the Nissan is winning most plaudits in the motoring press, not so much because of that power, but because it is so satisfying a drive. And it certainly looks good.
The 350Z is a modernist reprise of the 1970 Nissan 240Z, a car sold in small numbers here but a massive hit in the US, where it decimated the British car industry's hold on the sports car market. The 240Z was - you guessed it - better built, better marketed and better serviced, and more modern than the under-developed Austin Healey 3000, Triumph TR6 and Jaguar E-Type. What the 1970 Z shared with these British bruisers was their character, its lazily muscular six-cylinder engine and weighty controls lending it a manly demeanour that scored heavily among the hairy-chested, unbuttoned-shirt types of the era.
The new Z has something of that character, but with a shade more grace in its make-up. It is not as crassly long-bonneted as the original, it's less weighty to drive and it offers plenty of convenience features. The popular £2,500 GT pack, for instance, brings such niceties as heated electric seats, leather trim, cruise control and a Bose stereo that can throng the cabin with thundering sounds.
But the engine provides an alluring enough soundtrack of its own. A pleasingly mellifluous 3.5-litre V6 issuing 287bhp - sufficient to dismiss 60mph in 5.8 seconds and brush 154mph - it pulls the 350Z ahead with a rumbling authority that is well matched to its abilities on the road.
Being a low-slung, big-tyred, rear-wheel-drive sportster, the 350Z feels reassuringly well planted on the road; it's agile and, of course, fast, though injudicious applications of the accelerator - admittedly irresistible at times - can provoke a tail slide.
Electronic stability control reins that in before your pulse-rate soars - the skilled can switch it off for track-day slitherings - and, indeed, anti-lock brakes and six airbags provide further reassurance.
The 350Z is comfortable too. Its ride is sportingly firm but absorbent, and the driving position is near-perfect. The only debit is too much road roar on motorways.
But never mind that. What impresses before anything else is the 350Z's looks - especially if it comes in metallic orange with optional orange leather seats. This combination may sound appalling, but it works - it brings class to an attractive cabin only slightly diminished by the odd cheap moulding and an absence of convenient storage space.
However, this is not a car to get too rational about - it is, after all, a two-seater. Like the TT, it is guaranteed to provoke desire and, luckily for Audi, Nissan will not be importing many. So if you fancy indulging - and you won't be disappointed - order now.
Price £24,000; £26,500 with GT pack
Max power 287 bhp
Max torque 268 lb ft
Max speed 154 mph
0-60mph 5.8 sec
Fuel consumption 24.8 mpg
CO2 emissions 273 g/km
Mazda RX-8 £22,000
The smooth-revving rotary engine serves less urge than the Nissan, but
it's keenly priced.
Chrysler Crossfire £27,260
Like the Audi TT, it offers style, comfort and equipment. Less
exhilarating and pricier.