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.