The folks at Nissan have gone to a lot of trouble to bring out the Infiniti M30 convertible. In Japan the M30 is called the Leopard. It was never intended to be sold in America and was never intended to be a convertible. But Nissan needed another car to bolster the Infiniti lineup when its flagship Q45 went on sale 2 1/2 years ago. To make the Leopard into a convertible, Nissan builds a special version of the coupe with a stronger body and frame. These special cars are shipped to a company called ASC in Rancho Dominguez, Calif., where the roof is hacked off and the convertible apparatus and special trim are installed. ASC also builds convertibles and limited-edition cars for other manufacturers. Even if the M30 had been designed from the start to be a convertible, and even if Nissan had taken on the entire job of manufacturing, it's hard to imagine where any improvements could have been made. The M30 is a fine car. It's comfortable, quiet, reasonably roomy and fairly quick, and it provides a modicum of luxury. PERFORMANCE Power is generated by a 162-horsepower 3.0-liter, single overhead cam V-6, which is smooth and peppy and pulls strongly up to the 6,100 rpm red line. Nissan says the M30 will go from 0 to 60 mph in 9.7 seconds. The M30 is built with a computer-controlled four-speed automatic transmission. The automatic is a good match for the V-6, with shifts that are crisp and nicely timed. No manual gearbox is offered. When the car is passing slower traffic, the transmission slips easily into third gear, where the V-6 is powerful enough to muscle the 3,576-pound car out of sticky situations. The M30 is Environmental Protection Agency-rated at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 25 on the highway. I averaged just better than 22 mpg in combined city and highway driving using the air conditioner. The 17.2-gallon tank provides a range of more than 300 miles. HANDLING Taking careof business underneath is a four-wheel independent suspension that, in most cases, ensures that the M30 stays glued to the road. However, the suspension system does have one peculiar trait: The rear of the M30 tends to squat upon moderate acceleration. This wasn't bothersome and didn't cause any problems, but no car I have driven recently has done this. Even though the M30 is no sports car, you can drive it fairly aggressively. Yet that's not where the car excels. The rear-wheel-drive M30 performs best in long, sweeping curves and on smooth, flat roads. Nissan says the M30's ''Sonar'' suspension system ''analyzes road conditions and fine-tunes the shock absorbers between settings to provide a smooth, comfortable ride.'' I don't know how this fine-tuning is carried out, because I could never discern any noticeable differences in the ride quality, regardless of road conditions. The driver also can set the suspension to either a ''sport'' or ''comfort'' mode. I tried both under severe conditions and could not tell the difference. The power rack and pinion steering provides crisp response, and the 32.2-foot turning radius allows for sharp turns. The four-wheel disc brakes come standard with an anti-lock feature. FIT AND FINISH The M30 has something in common with Mercedes-Benz' 300 SL and 500 SL: a fully automatic power convertible top. Press one button and all four windows lower. Then, a few seconds later, the top unscrews from the windshield frame and lowers into its storage compartment behind the rear seats. To raise the top, you press another button and the top folds forward. Then you reach up and tug slightly on a handle in the middle of the top frame. That helps the screw-type fasteners attach the convertible top to the windshield frame. A few seconds later, all the windows raise. Thisis one of the easiest convertible stops I have used. The driver need not get out of his seat - unless he is oing to attach the tonneau cover. That's where the problems begin. The tonneau cover is held in place by a rubber strip that is supposed to snap into a groove on another rubber strip that runs along the car's outer body. I could not get the tonneau cover to stay in place. Visibilitywith the top raised is good, even though there are no side windows in the convertible top. There are blind spots, but they are easy enough to work around. Though the M30 is not a big car, it has ample foot, leg and head room for both front and rear passengers. The leather seats are plush and comfortable, and feature numerous electric adjustments. Switches are clearly laid out and easy to use. The black-on-white analog instruments are pleasing to the eye and easy to read. The M30 has something not usually found in other Japanese cars: It has character. Many cars don't make the transition well from hardtop to convertible. The M30 is one of those rare cars that is better as a convertible than it is as a hardtop. The engineering is first-rate, the performance is pleasing and the materials used in the seats, top and interior trim look expensive and durable. The M30 convertible has sold well since it was introduced late in 1991. It may have potential as a collectible, since production will be limited to a few thousand. Nissan recently announced that the M30 will be history after this year. The company believes that the Infiniti lineup will be more successful with three sedans - the entry-level G20, the forthcoming mid-size J30 and the full-size Q45 luxury.
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