Does the Nissan 350Z deserve its bad rap?

Expectations were high when the Z was making a comeback after a seven-year hiatus from the US market, particularly when the Nissan 350Z’s design and marketing invited direct comparisons to the game-changing Datsun 240Z. At the same time, it was also expected to surpass the 300ZX that came before it. And all that came before we knew that the same basic chassis would still be around two decades later, or that it would be adopted en masse by sideshow dirtbags. Does the 350Z deserve its bad rap?

It was probably an impossible task for the 350Z to satisfy everyone. Motorweek sets the bar high right away, drawing comparisons to the 240Z, “the first sports car that was exhilarating to drive, easy to own, and didn’t spend half its life in the repair shop.” The comparison highlights how the 240Z was “slim and light” while the 350Z, in a charitable description, is described as “solid”.

Enthusiast reactions weren’t quite as forgiving. It was hard not to be disappointed at the fact that the 350Z went back to natural aspiration after the technologically advanced twin-turbo 300ZX. Seven years later and it has 13 horsepower less? But numbers don’t tell the whole story.

As Motorweek notes, the 300ZX was more of a grand tourer. The 350Z’s 287 horsepower and 274 lb-ft of torque may have been less than its predecessor’s, but it came with a more direct and smoother delivery that didn’t rely on turbos. Its aluminum multi-link suspension and front-midship layout with 53/47 weight distribution translated into “sharp and nimble handling that belies its 3,225-pound weight.”

Nissan also offered a legitimately hard-core Track model with LSD, 18-inch forged wheels, and vented disc Brembo brakes. Optioned with a 6-speed manual, it could hit 60 mph from a standstill in 5.7 seconds. Throttle-induced oversteer was easily controlled as well.

Perhaps best of all, the 350Z started at just $26,809 for the base model. The top-spec Track model cost $34,619, which was still reasonable considering Nissan offered five other trims in between. This was an especially good deal, considering that the 300ZX Turbo’s cost had ballooned to $50,000 by the time it left the market in 1996.

With the same chassis also underpinning the more powerful 370Z and new 2023 Z, it would seem that the 350Z is rather archaic. Over the years, the 350Z’s affordability and subsequent depreciation have also drawn a lot of owners out for cheap speed. Years of being slammed and drifted have unfortunately associated the Z33 chassis (and its cousins like the Infiniti G35) with a somewhat unsavory crowd. These days, most of the 350Zs spotted in the wild are rather hooptified.

In time, however, these crusty 350Zs will find their way into the scrapyard. When they become a bit more rare, we’ll begin to appreciate the purity in its simplicity. Whereas the 370Z seemed outdated by 2022, there 350Z is a product of its time and freed from expectations of modernism. And compared to its successors, the 350Z’s styling is rather charming.

All this is to say that there is room for the 350Z to become a classic like the Zs that came before it. Of course, it will have to have low miles, retain most of its originality aside from easily reversible mods, and being a Track model will definitely help. It’s easy to forget that there’s true sports car bones underneath the 350Z. While it wasn’t as revolutionary as the 240Z, we’d welcome a car like it from any manufacturer today.

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12 Responses to Does the Nissan 350Z deserve its bad rap?

  1. Mike Pearsall says:

    My brother took delivery of the first 03 350Z delivered to our metro region. One would have thought he was driving the newest Lambo with all the attention he got when out and about plus mulitple offers from folks wanting to buy it from him.

    About a year later I ordered a 04 6 speed Touring spec in Silverstone. It was amazing to take out on the windy mountain and coastal roads near me and I never got tired of it’s gorgous looks. Nissan tried to get me excited about getting the new 370Z but for me I like the looks of the 350 better but I guess i was in the minority based what I heard from others.

    One thing i don’t hear much about is the front tire cupping problem with the 350s. Cabin noise slowly gets louder and louder over a short periord of time. The problem is that the front tires tend to “cup” on the inside tire shoulder and need replacing arround 5000-7000 miles . You could actuall run your hand over the inside shoulder and feel the indents in the tires. My brothers car was one of the first to exhibt this which made me concerned if I waas going to have the same issue when mine arrived. Nissan assured me the issue had been solved.

    Well it turned out my Z demonstrated the same tire wear trait. I think the Fed consumer protection agency got involved and as a result Nissan agreed to give free OEM front tire replacement for the duration of ownership. I ended up going through 3 sets within 20000 miles of normal driving.

    The other let down is the Bose stereo which sounded like you were listening to music beneath the waters surface. Thought I just needed to upgrade the speakers. Not so since each speaker has it’s owm amp and the head unit basiclly has none so one needs to replace everything if audio is a deal for you.

    My Z was eventually replaced by G37 IPL coupe (no mods) which I have no plans of ever getting rid of. I have had not one issue with this car and it’s still a great drive and still is very solid after all these years. The Bose in it is great!

  2. Taylor C. says:

    This is an extremely good topic. Back in 2002, when it was about to premiere, just about everyone and their mamas were talking about the 350Z. “the new Z,” “three fiddy Z,” “Track Model,” “the blue paint,” “287hp,” it was all mentioned. Car and Driver did a few articles, and the car came out first place. It was definitely on my want list, My mom’s 1998 Maxima had a VQ engine, so this larger 3.5L was surely respected as well, and the startup growl was definitely attractive.

    I think the 350Z always did well, for something pretty much ground-up. The 370Z also wow’d the crowd, from the power increase, refreshed design inside and out, rev-match feature. I think the earlier 370Z looked better, since it didn’t have the eye-sore two-toned interiors,nor the uglier (IMO) wheels. But because of evolution, newer cars started dominating. Add the fact that Nissans have historically low resale values, the 350Z started getting forgotten, and the 370Z started feeling those effects of being outdated.

    The trashy crowds will continue to buy up and clap out the Zs and old G35s, but I think the silver lining is that the ones that remain untouched or OEM+ will actually drive values up. Hagerty even put the 350Z on their 2023 Bull Market, and I can definitely see clean variants appreciating, since they’ll be more rare. It’s never going to be Supra-crazy, but then again, the Supra is only a museum piece nowadays, while the Zs will still be driven.

    People also forget that the Z-car has soldiered on all these years. Ask Mazda, Mitsu, Toyota, Honda, the same question.

  3. nlpnt says:

    You nailed it, it’s not just in the automotive world but in all fields of design we love to dump on the dated-but-not-yet-retro.

  4. Land Ark says:

    Am I wrong in thinking there were issues with the Brembos for these and the G35s? Didn’t they only have them for the first couple years?

  5. Fashion Victim says:

    Over the years, the 350Z’s affordability and subsequent depreciation have also drawn a lot of owners out for cheap speed.This happened to a lot of other JDMs from decades ago

  6. j_c says:

    I never liked the cheap feeling plastic all over the interior, but because of the cheap speed it offers I always considered it the perfect used car.

  7. Danny says:

    I was so excited about these cars when they were released, and at the time I was about 14 years old. I always thought that in person they looked a little oddly proportioned though, I once parked my old IS300 Sportcross next to a 350Z and the Nissan was larger in almost every dimension, which I found odd considering one car was a 2 seat sports coupe and the other was a wagon.
    In the drift community, they seem to work as well as or better than the once ubiquitous S13/S14, so I think the number of unmodified and clean examples of the 350Z will continue to dwindle over time. The 350 was maybe not as exciting as some of the Z cars that came before, but I think it has certainly proven durable and competent for the money.

  8. Tom Westmacott says:

    I hate to be negative, but the one I had, a low mileage 2007 HR, never hit the mark for me. The fundamental issue is that it doesn’t really have sports car bones, it’s the same basic chassis as the V35 Skyline and the related Infiniti crossovers. And it just feels like a saloon car to drive hard in the bends, to me. Then on top of that I found the clutch action unnatural, which sapped much of the enjoyment from the six-speed. It may be unfair to compare it with Mazda’s MX-5 and RX-7, or the GT86, but as a sports car that’s what it’s up against, and it doesn’t really feel like it’s even the same sort of car to me.

    Then the thing is it’s almost wilfully impractical inside. It’s like the Nissan engineers had a challenge to make a two-seater on such a long wheelbase properly impractical. The hatch squeezes the back of the boot, the strut brace chops across the middle, and the plastic bulkhead limits the front.

    You end up with the worst of both worlds, a car that drives like a saloon and has the impracticality of a sports car. I’m not anti-Nissan, the thing is the 180SX was just as quick with a bit of tuning (that you can’t cost-effectively do on the VQ35), felt light agile responsive and exciting despite its own dynamic limitations, and had half-decent rear seats or a really useful load bay with them down. And used less fuel and was easier to maneouvre in town or narrow touges.

    The one thing I will say about the Z33 is that it’s decently quick and robust, as such if someone wants one, there’s not much to fear, much much safer than a German car. And if you buy one and find it as disappointing as I did, no worries, just sell it on for the same or more money and move on, no harm done.

  9. Mark Newton-John says:

    I really hate how punters get their pan*** wet about a new car, then dismiss it because it doesn’t do what THEY think it should be doing. This morning after regret is a total bummer, and time and time again we’ve seen it, from the Ford Thunderbird, the Pontiac GTO, and people are still bitching about the Toyota Supra with people saying it’s just a re-badged BMW Z4. (It ain’t). But somehow, a GR86 with a Subaru motor is not blasphemy?
    So I bet now people will start complaining that GR Corollas as going for more money then Supras…

  10. J Wilson says:

    Great car underneath, but that Jello-Mold-Meets-911-Greenhouse is just a crime after the preceding version. I’ve always hated the way this one (and now the new one) looks.

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