High ReZolution

The late ’90s and early ’00s were dark days for American fans of the Nissan marque. Their 300ZX and its twin-turbo V6 died out in 1996, the Sentra SE-R became fat and slow, and the 240SX had pretty much fizzled out. The brand that had once been red-hot had lost much of its mojo.
However, Renault and CEO Carlos Ghosn came to rescue the ailing Japanese automaker in 1999 thanks to the Renault-Nissan Alliance. First order of business was to inject some excitement into the American lineup.
Nissan had toyed with the idea of a new Z-car a few times over the years, showing a 240Z concept in 1999 to lukewarm reception. The concept car was powered by the ubiquitous KA24 four-cylinder engine—the same one used in the Altima, 240SX and pickup.
The all-new production Z-car arrived soon after for the 2003 model year. It was a clean-sheet design sporting a totally new chassis, fresh looks and a V6 engine—like its predecessors, this one would have six-cylinder power. That’s not to say the 350Z didn’t share anything with other cars. The new FM chassis was common to the Infiniti G35 coupe and sedan as well as the FX and EX crossovers. Its engine was set well back in the chassis for favorable weight distribution, and sophisticated multi-link arrangements suspended both ends.
Under the hood of the new Z-car was a 3.5-liter version of the corporate DOHC aluminum V6, which had powered the Maxima and Pathfinder models since the late 1990s. In the 350Z, it initially produced 287 horsepower thanks to a revised intake and exhaust plumbing.

Punching Above Its Class

With plenty of horsepower, an all-aluminum suspension, aggressive alignment settings and a refreshingly clean appearance, the new Z-car was a hit. Zero-to-60 times were in the mid-5-second range, and contemporary road tests put maximum lateral g-loads around 0.88. Overall, performance was on par with that of a Porsche Boxster S, a $50,000 car.
The new Z-car, though, was much more modestly priced. Thanks to a few cost-cutting measures—using rather ordinary materials for the interior, sharing platform development costs, and mildly pumping up a corporate engine—the new Z-car started at just $26,800. A loaded 350Z could approach $35,000, but even then it offered an amazing performance value at the time.
Reviews at launch praised the Z’s excellent steering, brake and shifter feel, and lauded its overall performance. The VQ engine also received great marks for its broad torque curve and ability to induce oversteer seemingly at will. Gearing matched the engine well, with plenty of power to pull—even in sixth gear.
A tendency to plow in faster corners, a less-than-sprightly curb weight, and an impractical cargo area received negative marks. However, most enthusiast publications branded the 350Z as a worthy successor to the original, returning the model to the performance-value balance that gave it such popularity in the early 1970s.
Typical of Japanese automakers, the 350Z did not have many à la carte options. Upgrades were possible through option packages, and in addition to the base model—it didn’t even have its own name—buyers could choose from the Enthusiast, Performance, Touring and Track trim levels.
The base car really was basic— cloth seats, no cruise control, six-speed manual transmission and an open differential. Enthusiast-package cars were equipped more completely, receiving HID headlights, a viscous limited-slip differential, traction control and interior detailing, such as aluminum pedals.
The Performance package added VDC—Nissan’s stability control system—and 18-inch wheels. Touring combined those 18-inch wheels and VDC with powered, leather seats, a Bose audio system and an optional DVD-based navigation system. Enthusiast and Touring were the only packages with an available automatic transmission.
The hardcore option was the Track package: no leather seats, no high-end audio and no navigation system on this model. Instead, buyers got Brembo brakes at all four corners, staggered 18-inch Rays wheels, an underbody aero kit and a small hatch spoiler. This package was available only with a manual transmission.

Broadening the Lineup

Nissan didn’t rest on their laurels, however: They updated the car during its model run. One year after its launch, a convertible version joined the lineup in 2004.
The 350Z Roadster featured a powered soft top and was available only in Enthusiast and Touring trims. While it lost some of the coupe’s edge, the roadster added a dash of style that was popular with buyers more interested in cruising than racing.
The 350Z saw a few horsepower bumps over the years, and for 2007, Nissan released another special package for the driving enthusiast: the Nismo 350Z. While mechanically it was basically a Track package, the Nismo cars had a special front and rear aero accessories and revised suspension tuning. Lightweight forged Rays wheels—18-inch-diameter fronts and 19-inch rears—further differentiate Nismo cars from the rest. According to Nissan, only about 1600 examples were produced.
You could say the 350Z ended on a high note, too, as the reincarnated Z left one year after the introduction of the Nismo. The Z-car wasn’t a temporary project to help get

Things to Know

Cars from the first few years of Nissan 350Z production have depreciated quite a bit by now, with early base models typically trading for less than $10,000. High-mileage examples can be even more affordable. Later 35th Anniversary, Track, and Nismo cars, however, carry quite a premium; a 2008 Nismo, for example, can cost as much as $20,000.
While no model year seems to be particularly troublesome, it’s best to buy the newest car you can afford. The Z received gradual improvements each year—including more engine horsepower—so every new car emerged better and faster than the one before it.
We would probably budget $15,000 for a base 2007 model and live without the cruise. That gets us the later, better engine plus, in theory, lower miles. We could then put some money toward personalizing the car.

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