Tackle a long trip, and it won’t be long before the Caterham’s appeal wears thin. That’s where sports cars like the Nissan 350Z come in. Offering plenty of rear-wheel-drive thrills with a welcome dose of refinement, it’s a more usable everyday choice. This should be comfortable territory for the RS6, which is also designed to combine accessible performance and desirability. So can it blow the cobwebs away on a weekend drive as effectively as the rakish Japanese model? Styling has always been a 350Z strength. Taking design inspiration from classic Z cars such as the legendary 1970 Datsun 240Z, it never fails to turn heads. So it’s no surprise Nissan left the looks alone in last year’s mid-life update. A more pronounced bonnet bulge is the only real change. Inside, the thin-rimmed leather steering wheel is great to hold, while the stubby gearlever is placed close to the driver. There are plenty of neat touches, such as the cowled dials and the sculpted air vents in the door trims. Unsurprisingly, the Nissan’s cabin can’t match the Audi for luxury. And it isn’t very practical, either, with no glovebox. Opening the tailgate reveals 235 litres of luggage capacity, spoiled by an awkwardly placed strut brace. But don’t forget that in our RS6-rivalling dream garage, it’s the Mondeo that will be taking on any load-lugging duties. More disappointing is the 350Z’s driving position. The steering wheel doesn’t adjust for reach, and the seat is not only set high, but isn’t as supportive as Audi’s leather items. Still, the cabin wraps around the driver, and you only have to turn the key to remind yourself why the 350Z is so great. The revised V6 now delivers 309bhp, and while the torque output of 358Nm trails the Audi’s 650Nm by a long way, 90 per cent of it is available from 2,000rpm. This means the Nissan delivers its power in a lovely lazy manner, with thrust increasing smoothly. It isn’t a quick-revving car, but the twin exhausts emit a bellowing note. Between 30 and 50mph, the Nissan was only four-tenths and one-tenth-of-a-second slower than the RS6 in third and fourth gears respectively. And in fifth between 50 and 70mph, it was two-tenths quicker – although the Audi’s figures were recorded using the steering-mounted paddles and driving with the Tiptronic box in manual mode. Leave the RS6’s transmission to its own devices, and it’s phenomenally quick and responds instantly. From 0-60mph, the 350Z was 1.2 seconds slower, plus it took just over one metre longer to stop from 70mph. Flat-out, both are capable of 155mph. However, if you pay Audi a hefty £1,100, it will remove the RS6’s speed limiter, raising the maximum to an incredible 175mph! How this pair behaves on the road at legal speeds is far more relevant than the top speed – and the cars are very different. For starters, the Audi is easier to drive in town. With its automatic transmission, it’s relaxing and calm; the Nissan’s heavy gearbox and stiffly sprung clutch mean smooth low-speed ratio changes require effort. Still, on the open road, the short, precise action makes the 350Z’s lever a pleasure to use. You feel very connected to the action, the rear-wheel-drive chassis is entertaining and communicative, while the steering does an excellent job of keeping you involved. It just can’t match the Audi’s poise, traction or sheer technical ability. Plus, refinement is still an issue: the 350Z is quite raucous, with drivetrain kickback and intrusive tyre noise at motorway speeds. Severe mid-corner bumps can send a shudder through the bodyshell, where the Audi soaks up potholes with ease. And wind noise is less of an issue in the RS6, while active dampers ensure a far more composed ride. But the 350Z is always fun, and its gruff edge is part of the appeal: isolating the drivetrain and suspension would take away character. Standard kit includes xenon lights, Bluetooth and a multifunction steering wheel. A £2,500 optional GT pack adds a Bose stereo, heated leather seats and cruise control. So the Nissan is a tempting package – a strong driver’s car that deserves its place in our dream garage.
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