New & Used Nissan 350Z: In Depth
2003 Nissan 350ZEnlarge Photo
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The Nissan 350Z marked the rebirth of an icon—one of Japan’s most long-running and beloved sports cars: the Z.
First birthed in 1969, the Z-car line spanned the next four decades with four generations of progressively larger, more powerful sports cars. Then, in 1996, the Z was no more in North America. Its price had grown out of proportion to its performance, and the public—as well as Nissan—lost faith in the Z.
For more on the 350Z, see our review of the last year model, the 2009 Nissan 350Z, here.
But fortunately, all was not lost. In 1999, the 240Z concept presaged a return to the Z car—and, hopefully, to the Z-car’s affordable, fun-to-drive roots. The fifth-generation Z, the Nissan 350Z, was the fulfillment of that hope, when it made its North American debut in 2002 as a 2003 model. In base form, the new Z weighed less than 3,200 pounds, generated 287 horsepower and 284 pound-feet of torque from its VQ-series 3.5-liter V-6 engine. Best of all, the new 350Z was priced to start at just over $26,000.
Available with a choice of a six-speed manual transmission or a five-speed automatic (though the automatic was matched with a slightly detuned version of the V-6 engine), the 350Z was an avid performer, providing a fun mix of horsepower and handling that suited both the car's history and the market at the time.
Further helping the Z’s cause as the rebirth of the Nissan sporting heritage, it wore a sleek, minimalist design that remains attractive today, nearly five years after the 350Z was replaced by the 370Z. It might not be a truly timeless shape, but it’s sure to remain an iconic design in sports car enthusiasts’ hearts and minds for years to come.
The interior of the 350Z was spartan at best, especially in base models, with hard plastics and gray color themes making for a rather bland experience. For the sports car driver, these faults could be overlooked; for the more ordinary driver looking for an attractive coupe, the bare-bones aesthetic could be a fatal flaw.
Though higher-tier (and more expensive) trim levels were offered, including Touring and Grand Touring models to complement the more hardcore Base, Enthusiast, and Performance models, the 350Z didn’t grow into its own in terms of refinement and equipment levels until the final years of its model run. Even at its best, however, the 350Z is no match for the much-improved 370Z when it comes to interior comfort—though the 350Z’s handling traits and raw fun-to-drive nature still stand it in good stead in the sports car world.