The Fairlady is over 50 years old with each new model promising to be the best to date.
Having owned one for several years, I can say that the accolades aren’t without merit.
But if you’re looking for a comparable alternative, we put together this list of our 13 favorite cars like the 350z especially for you.
Below you’ll find one name plate per manufacturer.
We also restrained our list to the scope of street rockets you can pick up for less than $15,000.
This way you’re not drowning in loans to enjoy the exhilaration of a fast-revving engine and superb handling.
1. Honda S2000
Introduced in 1999, the S2000 is the stuff of dreams for many a Honda fanboy and girl. (It was a strong contender before I settled on the 350z.)
Stupidly fun to drive, the naturally aspirated 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine makes 237 horsepower at 7,800 rpm in the facelifted AP2 version – Honda offered the AP1 version from 1999 to 2003.
No matter which version you choose, you get a top-of-the-line six-speed manual transmission.
And like early generation Vipers, the Honda S2000 requires an attentive driver, especially the early AP1 models which have a stiffer suspension.
Even though production sadly ended in August of 2009, used car prices are still strong ranging from $18,495 to as much as $105,977 according to truecar.com.
2. Porsche Boxter S
image source: Road and Track
Here’s one I’ve spent most of the summer researching to add to the stable.
The reason why this car has been so maligned will likely remain a mystery to me.
But even in this 986.1 version with the “fried egg” headlights, the Boxster S is such a joy to drive.
It’s a pure sports car.
Arguably the car that saved Porsche from bankruptcy, the Boxster is nimble with a low driving position thanks to a rear-mounted 3.2-liter flat 6 engine that makes 252 hp in the S variant.
This was enhanced to 260 hp in the 986.2 generation which was offered starting in 2003.
Mated to a 6-speed gearbox, you can accelerate from 0-62 mph (0-100kmh) in less than 6 seconds.
3. Ford Mustang S197
This all-new Mustang was a big deal when introduced back in 2005.
Miles ahead of the Foxbody and SN95 cars, the S197 brought classic muscle car looks back to Mustang.
Currently, prices are right at that sweet spot before it ages into becoming a classic and prices go up.
The 2005-2009 Ford Mustang GT is a great bang for your buck right now. Compared to the latest Stangs, its 300 hp V8 as well as handling performance is somewhat wanting.
Fortunately, aftermarket options are virtually limitless. Depending on condition and mileage you could easily pick one up for a cool $8,000 to $14,000.
4. Mazda Miata MX-5
The reason why you’ll almost always find the Mazda Miata on lists like this is because it’s good at what it does.
Introduced in 1989 as a 1990 model and lasting until 1997, the first-gen Miata (known as the NA) is still our favorite.
There’s just something cool about it.
Styling is reminiscent of the old MGB, but with a reliability that’s deserving of the Mazda name.
With a flick of the wrist, shifting into gears has never been so much fun.
You can get it in either a smooth 1.6-liter engine or a 1.8-liter that’s about a half-second faster.
An amazingly awesome aspect of this car is that even if the timing belt snaps, it won’t kill the motor.
5. Chevrolet Corvette
This was a complete gamechanger for the Corvette nameplate when it debuted 1997.
The styling was revolutionary setting the template for Corvettes up to the current C8 generation.
While slightly out of my budget as a high schooler when it was new.
What makes this an amazing bargain now is that it’s not hard to find a low mileage example for less than $15,000 on a website like Cargurus.
The Corvette also has the kind of sharp reflexes that makes it entertaining to drive through the canyons.
It also came to market during the time General Motors was introducing the LS1 aluminum small-block V8.
It gave the Corvette 350 hp and 350 lbs-ft of torque. But if that’s not enough power for you, with a little wrenching you can get some insane figures on a dyno.
Here’s what MotorWeek had to say about the 1997 Chevy Corvette.
6. Mini Cooper S
When BMW launched the New Mini Cooper in 2002, it was love at first site for me.
It retains the essence of its predecessor with an intimate design, a feisty supercharged engine and communicative handling that culminates in an irresistible fun factor.
The R53 model is my top choice.
We still consider the Cooper S the enthusiast’s choice. This British hot hatch delivers pure driving enjoyment from the sport bucket seats.
The 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine comes with a mechanical-drive supercharger in S models that produces 163 horsepower.
The six-speed manual transmission always gives you gears to grab to get the most performance.
While the sheer numbers aren’t terribly exciting, it’s the confidence inspiring communication between the tires, wheels and steering that makes this a fun car to drive.
7. Saturn Sky Redline
image source: Curbside Classic
Redline means that the Sky can challenge the likes of the Porsche Cayman with a 5.8 second 0-60 mph time.
As one of the last Saturn models before the company that was going to change the way we buy cars went under, the Sky sadly went mostly unappreciated.
You could make the argument that it’s just a face-lifted Pontiac Solstice. And for the most part you’d be right.
A closer look, however, reveals a zippy little machine with a 2-liter straight-four and dual-scroll supercharger.
What’s the result you ask? A tire shredding 260 hp with 260 lb-ft of torque helping it outrun the better advertised Solstice.
8. Mitsubishi Eclipse
image source: CarGurus
Can we take a moment to acknowledge how disrespectful it was for the 3-diamond company to give the Eclipse nameplate to a crossover?
After all, this is the car that helped kick off tuner culture.
It even shared its platform with the Eagle Talon and Plymouth Laser. I had a 1992 Eagle Talon TSI in high school like the one pictured above.
Throughout its history, the Eclipse has been fitted with a variety of powerful power plants each of which express the car’s rev happy nature.
You could even get one with an all-wheel drive systems (a friend of mine had one).
With a production run spanning from 1990 to 2012, these cars are now so dirt cheap you can get them in any flavor you want.
They’re all designed with eye-catching styling and heart thumping performance with horsepower numbers that range from 92 to 263 from the V6 Mayvec engine.
9. Chrysler Crossfire
image source: The Chrysler Crossfire Store
We hesitate adding this car to the list.
Critics bemoaned the toned-down styling compared to the concept car featured in the 2001 North American International Auto Show.
But when it hit showrooms in 2003 it was fresh. It was new. It was an American sports car with a thick German accent.
Only produced from 2004 to 2008, the Crossfire was Chrysler’s halo car representing DaimlerChrysler’s short-lived synergy.
Chrysler co-developed and shared parts with quite a few companies throughout the 90s resulting in the Crossfire.
It’s a two-seat sports car with mechanical parts from the SLK320 platform.
The exterior design gets by with art-deco touches to differentiate from its Teutonic counterpart.
The SLK320 derived 3.2-liter V6 produces 215 hp and 229 lb-ft of torque in the Crossfire which is enough power to motivate the 3,100 lbs sports car adequately.
And the six-speed manual (also borrowed from the SLK320) makes better use of the Crossfire’s powerband for a more engaging drive.
While those numbers are satisfying, the SRT-6 is the model you want to get.
It packs a supercharged 330 hp 3.2-liter V6 engine lifted straight out of the SLK32 AMG.
It also benefits from a sport-tuned suspension; bigger front and rear brakes; and grippier tires.
The 18-inch front and 19-inch in rear tires work to provide plenty of grip through the turns.
And the incredibly rigid chassis keeps the car nearly flat.
10. Subaru BRZ
Here’s another sports car that’s the result of a colab.
This time Toyota and Subaru. Who saw that one coming?
Aside from the badges, the cars are virtually identical even sharing every major body panel (most elements come from Subaru).
It was an enormously significant car for enthusiasts when it was introduced in 2013.
The BRZ is power by a 2-liter flat-four Subie engine producing 200 hp, with rear-wheel drive and a six-speed short-throw shifter that’s nice and close to the wheel.
Since the boxer engine is mounted lower, it gives the car an ultra-low center of gravity that sets it apart from many sports cars in this range.
The 2,757-pound car can carve up back roads with self-confidence. It was designed to be an inexpensive car that’s fun to drive.
Even the latest generation remains an attainable sports car dedicated to the art of driving. Mission accomplished.
11. Pontiac GTO
image source: Pinterest
If you want a little more comfort and grunt from your sports car, may we suggest the Pontiac GTO.
The Australian-sourced pony car was a last-ditch effort for Pontiac’s 350-hp Chevy small-block LS1 V8.
It’s a true American sports car with a V8 under the hood and a rear-wheel-drive configuration.
Belying the 5.3 second time to 60 mph, styling is unfortunately reminiscent of a big Grand Am.
Since GM wasn’t in a position to spend millions for a Firebird replacement, the body is actually GM’s Holden Monaro.
All we can say is drive it.
A friend of mine traded in his 2001 Mustang for a 2006 GTO. Being a good friend, he of course let me take it out for a spin.
I was impressed.
If you’ve had some seat time with GM’s f-body cars. You’ll find the ones in the GTO uncharacteristically comfortable.
Also very un GM-like is the soft feel of the clutch pedal and the feel of shifting the six-speed Tremec manual transmission.
Sadly, the new Pontiac GTO only lasted for three years from 2004 to 2006.
Capped at just over 40,000 units, 2004 models come with a 5.7-liter LS1 V8 rated at 350 horsepower.
While 2005 and 2006 got an increase in horsepower to 400 thanks to the same 6.2-liter LS2 V8 from the C6 Corvette.
12. Infiniti G35 Coupe
image source: Pinterest
Like the Porsche Boxster, this was such an important car for the Infiniti brand when it was introduced back in 2003.
Remembering what Infinities used to look like, when I first saw a blue G35 coupe with black leather interior back in 2004, it was lust at first sight.
Before this car, Infiniti wasn’t a manufacturer of automobiles of any real significance. But the G35 coupe, what a stunner.
Like the GTO you’re seated in comfort as the elaborate suspension helps the car hug the road with sultry performance.
Under the hood is the same 3.5-liter DOHC 24-valve V6 borrowed from the 350z making 280 horsepower at 6200 rpm.
While it shares the rear-wheel drive FM chassis with the 350z, the G35 coupe is more mature and upscale with slightly softer springs and the addition of two seats in the rear making it a 2+2.
Though the car weighs 122 pounds more than the 350z, the 18-inch wheels help it remain remarkably composed through twists and turns.
13. Toyota MR2
image source: Bring a Trailer
Like the Mitsubishi Eclipse, you can easily pick up an MR2 (Midship Rear-drive 2-seater) of any vintage for less than $15,000.
And just like the Eclipse, sadly Toyota no longer makes the MR2.
But even though it was discontinued in 2007, the Toyota MR2 is still regarded as one of the brand’s greatest sports cars.
The Mark I mostly (featured above) competed against the Pontiac Fiero.
And like the Fiero, it was a bit of a parts bin special with many components shared with the Corollas of the day.
Still, it was and remains an excellent driver’s car.
Regarded as the poor man’s Ferrari, the 112-hp, 16-vavle, twin-cam 1.6-liter inline-four mounted ahead of the rear axle makes for a lively driving experience.
The Mk2 moved upscale becoming more refined, larger and heavier with more curves that made it look even more like the poor man’s Ferrari.
The power train increased to 130 hp from a 2.2-liter engine sourced from the Camry.
And the turbo model got 200 hp from the company’s Celica engine.
Mark III MR2s launched for the 2000 model year went back to basics. This time the car was offered only as a convertible.
And for the first time no forced induction was offered. Only a 138-hp 1ZZ FED 1.8-liter all aluminum inline four.
0 to 6 is 6.8 seconds with the five-speed manual. 2005 was the final model year of Toyota’s MR2 state side.