It’s almost time for us to share with you how the new 2023 Nissan Z drives, so we figured it’d be prudent to take a step back into the Z’s recent history with this week’s Used Vehicle Spotlight. The Nissan 350Z was made from the 2003-2008 model years, and it paved the way for the Z to become a modern sports coupe.
Picking up a number of years after the 300ZX was laid to rest, the 350Z adopts a bodystyle that we can still see in today’s brand-new Z. Its shape is reminiscent of the original 240Z, and the layout is as enthusiast-friendly as it gets. The rear-drive, front-engine two-door coupe features a long hood, short deck shape with a long wheelbase and tiny cabin. It’s a two-seater, and while it does have a hatchback, the cargo area isn’t a particularly spacious one.
Back when it was new, Nissan strove to make the 350Z an affordable and fun sports car experience. It featured a 3.5-liter V6 that made a stout 287 horsepower and 274 pound-feet of torque. For some perspective, the 2003 Ford Mustang GT made 260 horsepower with its 4.6-liter V8 — yeah, the Z was packing some serious power for 2003.
Why the 350Z?
Today, the 350Z is an attainable sports coupe for someone looking for power and performance on a budget. You can get it with either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. The in-cabin experience is basic, but that’s very likely for the best, as tech in cars from the mid-to-late 2000s hasn't aged particularly well. The 53/47 weight distribution gives the Z a nice balance. Plus, its VQ (Nissan engine code) engine is a well-known and widely-used motor, so there’s plenty of sources you can turn to should you experience troubles.
A 350Z Roadster model was made available starting in the Z’s second model year (2004), so you can even get one without a roof if you want. The Z received largely favorable reviews when it came out. It offered a huge amount of performance along with stylish looks, and it was affordable to boot.
Nissan super fans will also enjoy the availability of a Nismo model that was introduced later in the 350Z’s run. Frequent track day goers have a wealth of aftermarket support to look to, but the Nismo would be your best starting point for track day fun.
Which Nissan 350Z should I choose?
The most desirable 350Zs are the post-refresh models, which feature added power and a whole other host of improvements. The 2006 model year is the first for the refreshed 350Z, meaning that 2006-2008 models are going to cost you more than 2003-2005 350Zs. If you do pony up for the updated Z, you’ll enjoy a revised 3.5-liter V6 that produces 300 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque (yes, torque went down). However, the automatic 350Z still had the previous engine at this point, rated for 287 horsepower and 274 pound-feet of torque.
Other updates include a revised front end, new taillights, a revised interior, new power steering system (speed sensitive), new drive-by-wire throttle, larger brakes, three new colors and available Rays forged wheels.
A few different trim levels of the 350Z were available, including Base, Enthusiast, Touring, Track and Grand Touring. The Grand Touring and Track are the most desirable to us, for they have every possible performance extra you could want. These include Brembo brakes, Nissan’s sport-tuned stability control, Rays forged wheels and front/rear spoilers. The Track came exclusively with a manual transmission, but you could get the auto with the Grand Touring.
The Nismo (directly above) is the most hardcore of the bunch, and it was available starting in the 2007 model year. Nissan improved it with additional body welds, added supports, unique body dampers, Nismo-tuned suspension, Rays forged wheels and a special Nismo exhaust. We’ll also note that Nissan significantly revised its 3.5-liter V6 for the 2007 model year, so it’s making 306 horsepower and 268 pound-feet of torque in these Z cars.
Our used vehicle listings can be helpful to find a good deal near you. Narrow the offerings down by a radius around your ZIP code, and pay attention to the deal rating on each listing to see how a vehicle compares with others in a similar area.
What else to consider?
If it’s a rear-drive coupe with sporty intentions you’re after, the options outside of the 350Z are plentiful. Both the Mustang and Camaro are affordable alternatives. Those interested in the 350Z Roadster might find happiness in a Miata instead, but again, the American muscle cars of the time could also be had without a roof. The Mazda RX-8 was a contemporary alternative, but you should do your research before choosing a rotary-powered machine.
Luxury cars have dropped down in price to be comparable to a 350Z these days, too, so you could dive into the world of BMW coupes — or maybe even an Audi TT — if you can deal with the potential repair costs. Lastly, the Dodge Challenger came along right at the end of the 350Z’s tenure, so if you’re in it more for the speed than handling, that’s yet another alternative worth looking at.
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