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One of many popular used cars for sale, an orange 2003 Nissan 350Z, is shown parked near a building.

Just How Cool Was the 2003 Nissan 350Z?

Two decades on, there’s still something to be said about the Nissan 350Z. Yes, the 350Z and 370Z have been replaced by the simply-named Nissan Z. While everyone is enamored with the latest and greatest, though, sometimes it’s important to go back and look at some of the groundbreaking steps taken to get to where we are today. What better car to reminisce about than the Nissan 350Z?

These days, you’ll likely find the 350Z among used cars for sale from various used car dealers and online sellers. When it first hit the lot two decades ago, though, was it really as good as some people remember it? Or is it all rose-tinted goggles and nostalgia fogging up the windshield of our memories? That’s what we’re here to take a look at today, covering the highlights and unique elements of the 350Z and its impact on the economical sports car market.

The Base Specs

Back in 2002, the 350Z came equipped with a naturally aspirated 3.5L V6. The two-door, two-seater managed 287 hp and 274 lb-ft of torque. Those were highly impressive numbers for the time, especially given the fact that the vehicle only weighed 3,400 lbs. The 350Z was a real mover and shaker when it first rolled out onto the market as a rear-wheel drive sports coupe.
Interestingly enough, the price of the 2003 Nissan 350Z launched with an MSRP of $26,800, which is worth about $45,500 today after inflation, which isn’t bad given the looks and performance of the vehicle. The modern Z starts at an MSRP of $40,990, but that quickly escalates beyond the $50,000 mark once you add option packages.

Furthermore, Nissan’s budget-priced sports coupe came with a six-speed manual transmission, which really honed in on the sports-performance aspects. Added to this, the vehicle featured a drive-by-wire throttle, variable valve timing control, and dynamic vehicle control with an enhanced traction control system. All of that means that at the time, the 350Z had precision handling and impressive responsiveness for its power output. There was even a performance package available with Brembo brakes, cruise control, and a limited slip differential.

Popular Among the Tuner Crowd

What made the 350Z so popular? The lightweight sports coupe had a great deal of scalable power at the time. The V6 it came with had not peaked out by the time it rolled off the assembly line, so there was a lot of room to unlock more power with the right upgrades. It was also easy to upgrade the vehicle’s exterior and interior as well, so the tuner scene went to work on the 350Z.

The vehicle also came out at a time when tuning imports was exploding thanks to the mainstream popularity of films like The Fast and the Furious. The 350Z was actually featured in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. As always, this led to a surge in body kit conversions, turbo conversion kits, and all kinds of wheel mods and alterations.

Throttle body upgrades, exhaust header upgrades, and all sorts of suspension modifications became available as well. This gave owners a great deal of selection versatility when it came to upgrades and tuning the vehicle to meet specific specifications. Even to this day, the Nissan 350Z is still popular among enthusiasts and tuners, with many guides available to help you customize the car to your particular tastes.

Making a Mark on the Sales Charts

The 350Z followed up the popular 300ZX, which had maintained its legacy over nearly 20 years from 1983 up to 2000 By then, the 300ZX had evolved from a raw sports car into more of a luxury cruiser, much like the Corvette had during this time. Coming into the market with a fresh new performance profile and a unique look helped the 350Z move some decent numbers during its initial year on the market. It also garnered a solid audience during its generational run from then on.

It had a modest 13,200-unit run in 2002 during its initial debut, but skyrocketed up to 36,700 in 2003 after the 350Z had time to marinate in the positive reviews and wider distribution among Nissan dealers. Given that it was a two-door sports coupe, the 350Z was never going to compete with family vehicles and full-size SUVs at the time, so it did not crack the top 50 best selling cars of 2003. But it did capture the attention of the demographic who were interested in a two-door, highly capable sports coupe.

The 2003 350Z managed to secure various awards for its style and performance, even being classified as the car with the most sex appeal in 2003 by Road & Travel Magazine. It was also easily a top-rated pick among reviewers in its class segment, managing a very impressive 4.5 out of 5 stars in Edmunds’ official review, and an impressive 4.8 out of 5 stars from more than 400 user reviews. The people who drove it loved it, and they still love it to this day.

How the 2003 Nissan 350Z Measures up Against the New 2023 Nissan Z

Twenty years later, we now have a new iteration of a multi-generation icon in the form of the new 2023 Nissan Z. It takes the model to the next level, and still attempts to maintain affordability with a lot of high-end features. It swaps the naturally aspirated V6 for a twin-turbocharged power plant, but still delivers the optional six-speed manual transmission for those who want it.

The 2023 Z sports 400 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. It’s obviously much faster than the naturally aspirated V6 found in its two-decade old predecessor. An actual infotainment touchscreen suite and contour seating all add to the comfort and performance appeal of the newer generation vehicle. But, surprisingly enough, the 350Z is still a worthy Z in the long-line of vehicles that Nissan have produced under the nameplate. As Vehicle Virgins showcases, the two-decade old 350Z can still hold its own in its own regard. A high top speed, nice shifter throw, decent handling, and great visibility are still prominent features of the now classic sports coupe.

So How Cool Was The 350Z? Very Cool

Even by today’s standards, the 350Z was, and still is, a very cool sports car. Unfortunately, the only way to get your hands on one is in used cars for sale from dealers and online resellers, but the upside is that you can typically find one for well under $10,000. You can invest a bit of tender love and care into a used version of the sports coupe and bring it up to the standards of a new car. It may be two decades old, but it still has a lot of fresh support from the tuner community, who love all of the different ways you can evolve and personalize the vehicle to your tastes.

The 350Z will likely live on as one of those affordable fixer-uppers that will be popular in the modding scene just because of how easy it is to scale up the performance, the looks, and the interior. Some have added Bluetooth support and digital display screens to their 350Z, even though the original didn’t come with those features. Even though the vehicle is as old as it is, there are still ways to keep it feeling fresh and competitive in a world where gasoline power plants are being phased out and a lot of DIY tuning is becoming more difficult due to alternative fuel vehicles. It’s nice to look back on a time where affordable, cool looking sports coupes were all the rage. The 350Z was one of many that really struck gold with the enthusiast community.

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