Yes, absolutely buy a used Nissan 350Z. It’s a superb sports car with all the right ingredients: a raucous soundtrack, rear-wheel drive, sharp steering, excellent grip, and two seats. It also has stunning looks, with a nod to Datsun Z cars (now cult and collectible; Datsun was Nissan’s earlier name), but still intensely modern.
The 350Z is built on Nissan’s FM platform, which stands for “front midship.” It means the engine is not over the front axle but further back for better overall balance. The 3.5-liter V6 is a great engine, initially making 287 horsepower and 274 lb-ft of torque, with all that juice going to the rear wheels. The standard transmission is a 6-speed manual. Its shift action is firm but still a joy to operate. If an automatic is a necessity, then the 5-speeder option will be okay, just not as involving.
The steering wheel adjusts for height only, and the instrument cluster moves with it. The coupe’s trunk houses a huge strut bar, hindering the chance of putting in anything but a few soft bags. The Roadster’s trunk (thanks to it being a convertible) is even smaller. There’s no glove box. But if you wanted practical, you’d buy an Accord, right?
There’s only one generation, but improvements were made almost every year of its existence. The coupe hit first, in late 2002 as a 2003 model, in base, Enthusiast, Performance, Touring, and Track trims. The base still has 17-inch alloy wheels, climate control, and powered accessories. Enthusiast adds xenon headlights, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and cruise control, plus (crucially) traction control and a limited-slip rear differential.
Performance brought a more sophisticated driver aid in the form of Vehicle Dynamic Control, as well as 18-in alloys. Touring is the comfort choice; power-adjustable and heated leather seats join a more upscale audio system. The Track version has front and rear spoilers, lighter alloy wheels, and upgraded brakes. There is no auto option for this trim level.
The Roadster landed in spring 2003, as a 2004 model, in Enthusiast and Touring trims.
This marked 35 years from the original 240Z’s debut, so Nissan made a limited run of 35th anniversary 350Z cars with 300 hp, Brembo brakes (supplier to companies like Ferrari), special 18-in alloys, aerodynamic package, and two-tone leather seating.
In the regular models, 2005 brought heated side mirrors, height-adjustable driver’s seat, and tire-pressure monitoring. The automatic transmission was also programmed to rev-match the engine on downshifts.
For all manual versions, 300 hp became standard, along with 18-in alloys and HID headlights. It also saw a slight facelift with a remodeled front bumper, plus new front and rear lights. Changes on the inside brought a new navigation system, new cloth seating, and updated controls for the air conditioning.
Performance trim was phased out, but Grand Touring phased in for both body styles. It made the Touring trim more performance-oriented with an aero kit, Brembo brakes, and upgraded (lighter) RAYS alloy wheels in a staggered formation. The front wheels are 18-in for crisp steering, while the rear wheels are 19-in for better traction. The Track version also has this wheel setup.
Bluetooth joined side airbags as standard equipment, but the big story is a heavily revised 3.5-liter V6 that’s slightly taller than before, so now there’s a modest hood bulge. Going by the specs, power is 306 hp for both manual and automatic versions. But this was when the Society of Automotive Engineers changed its power measurement methods. The new engine really makes about 20 hp more than its predecessor.
Meanwhile, torque dropped to 268 lb-ft, but the power band became wider, with 90 percent available from 2000 revolutions per minute. It used to be around 4000 rpm when things got interesting.
The Nismo (short for Nissan Motorsport) coupe replaced Track trim with an even more pronounced aero kit, a re-welded body for greater rigidity, and a track-tuned suspension. It’s super stiff and super noisy. Great on the track, hard going for the commute.
This was the last year of the coupe before being replaced by the 370Z. The Roadster stayed until 2009.
The most recalls for any one model year was four, for 2003. These were for clutch parts, fuel filler parts, an improperly soldered circuit board for the crankshaft position and camshaft position sensors, and some aftermarket lighting. Recalls for 2008 were for airbag software issues.
What to Look For
Let’s start with the essentials: get an expert inspection, and make sure there’s a thorough service history.
The cabin doesn’t have a great reputation for durability, so check for worn materials, especially the bolsters of the driver’s seat. Do the electric windows work? If it’s a coupe, inspect the gas struts holding up the rear hatch. Roadster? The fabric roof should be in decent condition.
Moving outside, the nose is prone to stone chipping. Early models might have uneven tire wear due to bad alignment. The 350Z came from the factory with Bridgestone tires and is as good a choice as any. While you’re in the area, look for scuffed alloy wheels. And lower compression arm bushings are a common failure.
The engine’s oil pressure sensors are sometimes problematic, so keep a regular eye on levels. The clutch usually lasts 40,000 miles. If you have to change it, a smart move would be to upgrade the flywheel at the same time. Brake discs last for roughly 35,000 miles, and brake pads last for around 12,000 miles. Moving up to high-performance brake fluid and braided lines is a good idea.
Finally, look out for excessive or downright silly modifications. Over the years, these cars have become magnets for wannabe street racers with tight budgets who sloppily modify them mechanically and aesthetically. The closer it is to stock, the better, but something like a tasteful (and street legal) exhaust or aftermarket wheels can make a good sports car better.
Which Nissan 350Z is Right for Me?
The Nissan 350Z is now old enough that even the newest and most well-equipped models are pretty affordable. We recommend finding one from the 2007 model year or newer because of the upgraded engine and more standard features compared to earlier models. Enthusiasts will want to find one with a manual transmission, but if you just like the idea of a fast, cool-looking car that won’t break the bank, then the automatic is fine. Also, these are common enough that you can afford to be picky. Be prepared to walk away if something doesn’t seem right. There’ll be another one down the road. Find a Nissan 350Z for sale