The Nissan 350Z was a bit of a revelation when it first appeared in 2003, reviving the Z-series brand as well as reviving the company’s public image. Remember, this was the company that put faith in the ultra-dull (but reliable) Almera for what seemed like an eternity.
The reaction to the arrival of the 350Z was pretty much astonishment all round. Auto Express gave it 5 out of 5 while one of the only negative things that What Car? Could find to say about the pint-sized performance car was that it lacked a prestige badge.
The status of the Nissan brand back in 2003 was always going to be a problem when marketing a sportscar like the 350Z in the UK. In a car segment dominated by the likes of Porsche and a rather snobbish attitude to ‘brand name’ Nissan was going to have to pull something rather special out of the bag to impress – and this they certainly did.
Now we can maybe look back at the 350Z in a slightly different light, for the Nissan brand has steadily climbed the ladder of respectability since the dark days of the rather dull, functional car, and this revival of the Z-car format proved to be a master-stroke by Nissan. Entering a market that was largely unprepared for the level of finesse and power at such a price tag, the 350Z arguably left it’s rivals for dust in almost every category.
So named because of the 3.5 V6 nestling under the bonnet, the 350Z coupe arrived almost out of the blue. Pushing out 287bhp (this later went up to 306bhp in 2007) with a top speed of 155mph for under £30,000 it was bound to become a bit of a cult hero. The Z was almost a bit part car, costs were kept in check by using parts that already existed in the Nissan stable, in a similar way to how special edition vehicles are often created. This meant that the price to performance ratio was pretty much unbeatable.
When Nissan released the limited edition GT4 with an extra 20bhp in 2005, they still managed to keep the price to (just) under £30,000, while the Porsche Cayman and BMW’s Z4 coupe easily pushed the money dial over the £40,000 mark. But as with all car purchases in this category, the consumer’s emotional input takes up a fairly large percentage of the decision making process, and in the UK, the Porsche tag will always ooze more kudos than Nissan.
The zed was strictly a real world 2-seater, no major claims to laughably be a 2 plus 2 with hobbit seats in the rear here, and no real pretences to being able to take a trip to B & Q with any confidence of being able to fit your purchases into your car either. Although the boot did reveal a sticker instructing the owner how to pack 2 sets of golf clubs in the cramped rear boot. This probably says more about who Nissan were marketing the 350Z at more than anything else.
Ultimately, the 350Z was the performance car for those looking for more bang for their bucks. Although a fairly stiff sports suspension, rear wheel drive and a lot of power for a genuinely surprising price tag is somewhat offset by a fairly disappointing 20-24mpg.
In 2009 the 350Z was superseded by the 370Z with a new 3.7 litre engine. Although to the uninitiated the new Z-car may have looked much the same as before, it was lighter, and 100mm shorter and slightly wider than the outgoing 350Z. Such things can make a huge difference to handling when coupled with more power.
All in all it was a seamless transition from 350Z to 370Z, again offering a large amount of performance for the money that other manufacturers just didn’t seem to be able to compete with. Though reviews still complained about the lack of luggage space, not so great fuel economy, intrusive tyre noise and driver fatigue over long distances.
I had the pleasure of comparing the 350Z with a GT-R on a Nissan track day once, and found myself smiling more whilst behind the wheel of the 350Z. It felt like a car should feel to me, you could hear it, you could feel it, and it felt like you were driving it, not the other way round. While the GT-R was more refined, it rather oddly reminded me of the old Nissan QX in that felt like I was behind the wheel of a spaceship, disconnecting me with the road. Not something I like.
The 350Z has aged well and maybe harks back a little to the days of the more compact, old-school muscle cars, it’s certainly butcher than the Audi TT and for that, along with it’s ‘hands-on’ feel and that beautiful burnt orange paint job it still gets my vote.
Rear image from modified.com