Ultimate Nissan 350z Buyer’s Guide
Are you considering purchasing a Nissan 350Z? Make sure you check out this guide before handing over your hard-earned cash.
- Nissan 350Z/Fairlady History
- Models & Variations
- Upgrades & Tuning
- Reliability & Common Problems
As you’ve probably noticed, the 350Z has become the most featured car in our various Tuning Guides, and it’s undoubtedly deserved its spot on the throne.
It seems that like us, our fans can’t get enough of the Nissan 350Z, and we completely understand the appeal.
The 350Z was arguably launched at the perfect time to reach its targeted market.
In 2002, the motoring world was going through a transitional phase between the hardcore old-school S-Chassis era and the modern-day technologically advanced, perfectly-refined masterpieces featuring substantial price tags.
Where the market was veering towards phasing out the manual gearbox in favor of flappy paddles and lightning-quick automatic transmissions, the 350Z was fighting back.
Nissan had the technology and knowledge to make the 350Z work like the perfectly-refined competition, but instead, they opted to keep the hardcore motoring enthusiasts’ dreams alive.
Getting behind the wheel of the 350Z, you know you’re in a car built for fun. It’s far from perfect, in a beautiful way.
Having just two seats reminds you what this car built to do, and as you start her up, you’ll immediately hear the burble of the V6, which gives you a friendly nudge and nod for what’s coming next.
As you shift into gear, the beautifully clunky JDM gearbox requires a little encouragement to go through the motions, before vibrating its way down the street, just like the SR20 boxes we know and love.
From your floor-hugging position, you begin to feel every bump in the road, and you even have the option to do without the roof for the ultimate V6 soundtrack. (Well, assuming you got the roadster. If not, you’ll need to get the angle grinder out).
Throw the Z into a corner, and although Nissan could’ve handled like it was on rails, they opted to make the back end slides out in a calm, controlled manner. Which, in turn, delivers a childish grin that takes you back to your misbehaved teenage years.
Although it’s probably not going to win any straight-line races against fierce competition, it’ll certainly put up a decent fight in the twisties.
Once the fun is over for the day, you’re to step out of the Z reluctantly, but we’re willing to bet that you’ll look back and think to yourself, “DAYUM, SHE FINE”.
Not only is this chunky two-seater a stunner in stock form, but it can be transformed entirely with some of the styling mods and upgrades on the market.
While we’re on the subject of mods, there’s certainly no shortage of them when it comes to the 350, and we’ll dive into that more in-depth later in the guide.
Not only are there a lot of mods on the market, but the 350Z responds fantastically to them, which provides the ability to turn this motoring bargain into a drift or track weapon.
There is a valid reason that it’s earned its spot on our Ultimate Tuner Cars Guide, Ultimate Cheap Drift Cars Guide, 12 Best Drift Cars For Beginners, AND 11 Best Budget Project Cars lists!
And, let’s not forget, the “Drift King” also had the 350Z as his weapon-of-choice in The Fast and the Furious.
Not only are they perfect for the track, but their stunning looks make for incredible stance cars, too, which has led to a massive following for the 350Z within just about every enthusiast scene.
With the ever-increasing prices of its JDM rivals, such as the S-Chassis, 350Z’s have continued maintaining a fantastic price in the market, especially since the 370Z’s introduction.
We’re not going to tell you that the 350Z is perfect, but there isn’t a single car out there that we would say is. However, certainly for the money, it’s about as close as you’re going to get.
The few common niggles that it does have are incredibly minor, and they certainly wouldn’t put us off buying one.
But, enough teasing. Let’s take a look at what you’re here for, as we explain why the 350Z is most probably the perfect car for your needs. (Well, assuming you don’t intend on putting passengers in the back).
Nissan 350Z/Fairlady History
In 1996, Nissan ceased production of the previous Z car, the Z32 300ZX.
Although many feared this would be the end of the Fairlady family, they couldn’t have been much further from the truth.
As they prepared to launch the new Z in 1998, Nissan North America’s designed team decided to try and take the Fairlady back to its roots, with a re-designed modern-day 240Z concept.
When Yutaka Katayama, also known as ‘Father of the Z’ unveiled the project, the concept project received a rather disappointing response, particularly from the 240Z’s original designer, Yoshihiko Matsuo, as he stated that it looked more like a Nissan Bluebird, or Leopard.
Not quite what they had in mind for this two-seater sports car they’d designed to blow away the masses, then.
Ignoring the rather clear early warning signs, Nissan opted to go ahead with their 240Z concept, before unveiling the project at the 1999 North American International Auto Show.
After being hit with a mixed reaction, Nissan knew that there was potential in the idea. However, they thankfully knew that the design needed changing, and their plans to continue with the KA24DE engine also went into the trash can.
After heading back to the drawing board, Nissan produced a brand new V6 powerplant before significantly improving the aesthetics of the original concept.
Before we knew it – the 350Z was born.
The standard was undoubtedly high for the 350Z to live up to the family name, but this fantastic two-seater wasn’t afraid to prove it had what it takes to stand tall alongside its legendary siblings.
Keen to know more about the history of the 350Z and the Nissan Fairlady family? We take a much more in-depth look in our Ultimate Nissan 350z Guide - Everything You Need To Know.
If you want to know more about the history of the 350Z, check out this great video:
Models & Variations
For the US and Japanese Domestic Markets, the 350Z came in various specs. Doing so allowed Nissan to appeal to a wide range of the market, with their ‘Base’ model being the cheapest, and unsurprisingly, the least equipped.
Despite only being initially intended for the USDM and JDM, European models soon arrived a year later due to popular demand.
Although there are six trim levels to choose from in North America, the UK received just two, keeping things far more straightforward.
The UK’s GT pack was the superior version of the two offerings, with its upgrades featuring Brembo brakes, a limited-slip differential, electric leather seats, cruise control, and an improved stereo, to name just a few.
Let’s take a look at the various models sold in the US.
As you’ve probably guessed, this is the lowest model in the range. But don’t let that stop you if you’ve found one for a bargain.
Although the ‘Base’ model misses out on the viscous limited-slip differential, and the traction control, these aren’t a deal-breaker.
Traction control should never have been a thing in the first place. When it comes to the LSD, there are plenty of used or aftermarket variations available for a reasonable price.
Asides that, the other main missing features are the heavy electric, heated seats (which we’d strip out anyway), and cruise control.
Included are HID headlights, 17” wheels, automatic climate control, and the tire-pressure monitoring system.
The ‘Enthusiast’ model has all of the features of the ‘Base’ spec but also gets a limited-slip differential, traction control, auto-dimming mirrors, steering wheel controls, and aluminium pedals.
‘Performance’ builds on ‘Enthusiast,’ but with the addition of 18” wheels, optional Brembo brakes, front air dams and a rear spoiler, and VDC replaced the standard traction control system.
All ‘Track’ models featured Brembo brakes, a front air dam and rear spoiler, traction control, 18” wheels, and cloth seats. GPS was an optional extra. ‘Track’ spec was the same as the ‘GT Pack’ for the European market.
The ‘Touring’ variant was the first luxury-orientated model, which appeals to those who wanted the modern-day comforts, but still knew how to let their hair down and have some fun.
With features such as a Bluetooth phone, a premium Bose audio upgrade, heated leather seats, and VDC, it also has the VLSD, xenon headlights, and 18” wheels, with the optional upgrades of Brembo brakes and GPS.Grand Touring
‘Grand Touring’ was the premium model, and unsurprisingly the most expensive at launch.
Featuring everything from the ‘Touring’ model, this time, Brembo brakes come in the package, alongside lightweight Forged wheels, a front chin spoiler, rear spoiler, and a rear diffuser.
Here is a breakdown of the 350z timeline:
Nissan’s 350Z launches in Japan and the US.
Nissan’s 350Z launches in the UK, with ‘Base’ and ‘GT’ models only.
350Z Roadster added to Japan and the US, with two trim options. The electronic roof made the car 110kg heavier, reflected in the 0-62 time of 6.4 seconds.
350Z Roadster goes on sale in the UK.
To celebrate the 35th Anniversary of the Fairlady, Nissan released an upgraded version of the 350Z. The upgrade included the Rev-up VQ35DE, which now became the standard for all for manual models, capable of pushing out 300 hp, from the original 287 hp of the early version, which Automatic models still used.
The upgrade included the Rev-up VQ35DE, which now became the standard for all for manual models, capable of pushing out 300 hp, from the original 287 hp of the early version, which Automatic models still used.
Also included were 18-inch wheels, front spoilers, Brembo brakes, a Bose 6-speaker premium sound system, and unique ‘Z’ badges.
The Anniversary Edition was available in two colors - Ultra Yellow and Pearl Blue.
Later in the year, the newly-updated six-speed CD009 manual transmission was included in all manual models, alongside some minor suspension upgrades.
The Rev-up engine didn’t last long, and from 2006, all manual variants now come with the VQ35HR engine.
Although the upgrade only provided six horsepower more than the Rev-up at 306 hp, it also included a dual-throttle body design, and Nissan raised the redline to 7,500rpm.
The upgrades of the HR engine gained significantly more torque throughout the rev range, providing a much-improved driving experience over the early DE engines.
With the upgrade came a ‘hood bulge’ to allow for the raised deck of the HR, which was reminiscent of the original 240Z.
In 2006, Nissan also upgraded the brakes, including a more significant brake booster, larger discs, and dual-piston calipers on the front, for the ‘Enthusiast’ package onwards.
They also made some trim adjustments and included bi-xenon projector headlights and new LED rear lights.
Nissan launches the 350Z NISMO model for the mass market, based on the Super GT Championship car.
With Rays forged alloy wheels and a NISMO exhaust, it also had numerous aero upgrades.
The suspension incorporated a multi-link system with front and rear dampers produced by Yamaha alongside Brembo 4-pot front, and 2-pot rears.
Alongside the bolt-on upgrades, the chassis’ were sent to tuning specialist Autech to have the structural seams hand-welded to strengthen the body, thus making the handling more impressive than ever.
The final 350z’s leave the factory in favor of the newly-launched 370Z, with the ‘Coupé’ production ending before the ‘Roadster’.
There were three different engine variations throughout the 350Z’s lifespan.
The VQ35DE engine came from the factory in the earlier 350Z models from 2003 to early 2005. With a six-cylinder configuration, this naturally aspirated V6 was capable of 287 hp and 246 ft/lb torque.
The Rev-Up revision featured variable exhaust valve timing, a new ECU, adjusted ABS, different wiring harnesses and internals, and a different intake plenum.
These upgrades enabled the Rev-Up to achieve 300 hp, and also increased the redline, but its production span was short-lived.
The Rev-Up was the least favored engine as it suffered from oil issues, which we’ll take a look at in our ‘Reliability & Common Problems’ section.
The VQ35HR is the most sought-after engine for the 350Z.
A dual-intake system, similar to the 370Z alongside a 7,500rpm redline, this enabled Nissan to achieve 306 hp in stock form.
Although there’s not a massive difference in power, the delivery became significantly improved over its predecessors as it produced significantly more torque throughout the rev-range.
The HR is typically the engine of choice, but we’d undoubtedly still consider the DE if you can get your hands on a bargain.
For those of you that have some cash to splash, the HR will likely set you back a little more but will be a better investment for the future.
Upgrades & Tuning
Tuning is where the 350Z comes to life, and it’s one of the main reasons that so many enthusiasts are keen to get their hands on them.
Whether you’re planning on building a full-spec drift car, track car, or stance car, the 350Z is exceptionally versatile.
With fantastic looks, heaps of potential in stock form, and a bargain price-tag, there are so many reasons that these are the perfect cars for upgrading and tuning.
Thankfully, the tuning houses across the world have caught on with the 350Z hype, and they’ve produced an enormous range of off-the-shelf modifications, enabling you to upgrade just about every aspect imaginable on your 350Z.
We’ve constructed comprehensive guides here at Drifted to help you build the ultimate Nissan 350Z.
Click on any of the links below to visit the full guide, where we break down the best products on the market, whatever your needs.
- Nissan 350Z Supercharger Kits
- Nissan 350z Turbo Kits
- Nissan 350Z Exhausts
- Nissan 350Z Cold Air Intakes
- Nissan 350Z Coilovers
- Nissan 350Z Test Pipes
- Nissan 350Z Y-Pipes
- Nissan 350Z Headers
- Nissan 350Z Clutches
- Nissan 350Z LS Swap
- Nissan 350Z Rear Wings
- Nissan 350Z Rear Diffusers
- Nissan 350Z Front Lips
- Nissan 350Z Aftermarket Seats
- Nissan 350Z Roll Cages
When the 350Z first launched, you could get your hands on a base-spec model fresh out the showroom for just $26,470, which is insane value for money.
Upon launch of the 370Z, 350Z prices have dropped on the market, and if you keep your eyes peeled, there can be some real bargains to be had.
Used 350Z prices fluctuate immensely depending on your requirements and also your region. It can often be worth traveling to pick up the perfect example.
In the current market, less than $5k will enable you to get your hands on a budget drift beater. However, if you’re looking for a pristine low-mileage example, then you’d best get saving, as we’ve seen some up for sale for around $40k!
We think that there’s a good chance that the 350Z market has bottomed out, especially considering their increased popularity, and this could be the perfect time to get your hands on one.
Since they’re so popular in the drifting community, their numbers will most probably start declining quicker than we’d like. We’ve frequently witnessed this with the S-Chassis, and also cheap RWD alternatives such as the BMW 3-series.
There are very few cars out there that provide the same bang-for-your-buck value that the 350Z will.
Reliability & Common Problems
No car comes without its own common issues and niggles, especially at almost twenty years old. But, the 350Z is incredibly reliable, so you surely won’t be disappointed.
However, there are a few things that we recommend looking out for, especially now that some models are almost twenty years old. (Scary, huh?)
We always recommend thoroughly inspecting a used car before you buy it. For those of you that aren’t too clued up mechanically, we’d highly recommend taking someone knowledgeable along with you.
It’s always best to view a used car early in the morning when the temperatures are lower, as warm engines can often hide issues.
It’s also best to try and do your viewing in dry weather conditions, especially if you’re particular about bodywork, as rain can hide some real paint and bodywork nasties.
Bear in mind the 350Z wasn’t built to be a grocery-getter, the chances are that most have been used to their full potential for a good chunk of their life.
Don’t let this put you off, but a well-maintained example is always ideal, so service history is a bonus. Some owners may not have taken quite as much care as others, so this can help provide some peace-of-mind.
As always, you’ll want to check the oil level, especially if you’re taking a look at the Rev-Up model. These can be surprisingly thirsty when it comes to oil, and damage can occur if the level dips too low at any point.
For a healthy engine, we’d expect to see at least 14psi on idle.
The oil issue was subject to a recall from Nissan, so the engine may well have been replaced under warranty at some point.
HR engines can also suffer from low oil pressure, which likely indicates an internal gasket failure, and this can typically cost up to nine-hours labor to replace, which we’re sure you’d rather avoid!
If you hear ticking upon revving, this is likely to indicate that the car has a worn fuel dampener, of which there are two. These aren’t expensive and easily sourced used, but it may be a useful bartering tool to knock a few bucks off the price.
One of the 350Z’s bonus points is that it uses a timing chain rather than a belt, which Nissan expects to last the lifetime of the engine, many of which have surpassed the 300,000-mile mark with minimal maintenance.
Standard brakes are up to the task, but the upgraded Brembo’s are a definite bonus. Brake upgrades can be expensive, so it’s always worth paying a few extra bucks for one with uprated brakes.
The later VQ35HR models use the superior CD009 gearbox, and these are by far the most desirable but expect to pay the price for the more recent variants.
350Z gearboxes are notorious for being a little stiffer than most modern gearboxes, but in our opinion, that’s one of their quirks.
We would expect a worn gearbox to become pretty evident on a test-drive, so don’t be shy. Always check with the owner before giving it a decent shift through the gears for peace of mind.
Typically we would expect a 350Z clutch to last around 40,000 miles. 350Z clutches are reasonably priced, but if it’s been slipping for some time, then a new flywheel may also be necessary, which can add up quickly.
One of the common clutch issues is slave failure, particularly on later-model HR cars, which requires removal of the transmission to replace.
If the car has a spongy clutch pedal, it’s likely to simply need a fluid change, or perhaps a new master cylinder.
350Z’s are well known for getting through bushes, particularly in the lower control arms. If you hear knocking over bumps, it’s likely to be a bush issue.
Bushes are inexpensive, and we’d recommend upgrading to poly bushes when the time comes, especially for track or drift use.
Solid bushes can also be a consideration for track cars, but these are horrible for road use.
Worn drop links from the rear anti-roll bar can often cause rattles if you hear a sound at the back, but these are cheap and easy to fix.
On your test drive, try to go (carefully) over some speed bumps, and test the brakes. Doing so will give you a good indication of whether anything will need replacing in the brake or suspension region, which can knock a few bucks off the price.
If the suspension itself is past its best, then we highly recommend opting for coilovers. Hell, we’d go coilovers regardless - we’re just making excuses.
As we mentioned, some 350Z’s are nearing the 20-year mark, so unless you’re forking out for a pristine example, expect to have some bodywork niggles.
Nissan did an excellent job with rustproofing the 350Z, but it’s still worth checking for rust in the typical places. Believe us when we say there’s nothing worse than having rust eating your way into your new purchase.
Common rust areas are typically at the bottom of the doors and around the wheel arches. It’s also worth checking in the wheel wells and the engine bay.
Stone chips can often be common on the front of the car, and can often lead to rusting, but we wouldn’t worry too much about these.
One of the downsides of 350Z’s is that they’re notorious for having badly-painted interior trim.
Many owners have reported that the paint literally scratches off with the touch of a fingernail and that the knobs on the dash often become sticky with age.
You can paint, or wrap, the trim, and the knobs are easy enough to replace if either bothers you. We wouldn’t be too worried here.
It’s worth checking that the electric windows work, as this can be an inconvenience to have to repair and aren’t the cheapest part when it comes to replacing.
Bolster wear is typical on the seats, but standard or aftermarket upgrades convenient to source if necessary.
Simply put, the 350Z is a complete and utter bargain.
Ask anyone who has owned or driven one, and we have no doubt they will heap praise on this awesome two-seater.
Sure, they’re not the lightest or the fastest car on the planet. However, there’s plenty of easy weight-saving to be done and a massive selection of upgrades on the market.
There are very few platforms that tick as many boxes as the 350Z, especially for the price. Drift tax has bumped up the JDM market, and the likes of S-Chassis and Skyline prices are soaring.
The 2007-onwards models are by far the most desirable, thanks to their uprated engine and gearbox, but the earlier models also have heaps of potential to offer.
They’re not the most spacious cars out there, so if you’re frequently carrying passengers, or requiring substantial rear boot space, they’re not likely to be the ideal choice for your needs.
So, whether you’re looking to build a budget drift car, a track weapon, or a stunning stance car, the 350Z is genuinely capable of ticking every box imaginable.
If you opt for a 350Z for your next car, we’ve got no doubt you’ll be delighted with your purchase!
For those of you that are also considering a 370Z, these are quickly becoming very affordable, but offer quite a different driving experience, so we recommend taking a look at our 350z Vs 370z - What’s Best? Guide before you hand over the cash.
With the rumors finally becoming real, we’ve also taken a look at the future of the Fairlady in our Ultimate Nissan 400Z Guide.
Thank you for reading our Nissan 350Z Buyers Guide.
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