In 2003, Nissan Motors introduced the 350Z as its new Z concept and 5th generation of the Nissan Z series, which garnered instant popularity.
Despite not being the fastest car on the market, the 350Z gave drivers a true sports car feel at an affordable price.
Today, the car is still highly celebrated, and you still see plenty of 350Zs on the road.
But is this popular sports car reliable, and which model year is the best?
If you’re looking to buy a Nissan 350Z, you may wonder whether you’re getting a good service or a potential nightmare.
To help you find the answer, we look closely at the reliability of this Japanese “modern classic” and which model year is the best.
Is the Nissan 350Z Reliable?
The Nissan 350Z has above-average reliability, with some model years scoring better than others.
The short answer: the 350Z has a solid reputation for reliability relative to its corner of the market.
This reputation boils down to a few key reasons.
As far as sports cars go, the Nissan 350Z is relatively simple.
It adopts an ‘old school’ formula – combining a large, robust, naturally aspirated engine with simple transmission and rear-wheel drive.
Moreover, the Nissan 350Z’s beefy engine has a solid reputation for being reliable, provided you keep up with regular maintenance.
While later models of the 350Z with the VQ35HR engine are the best in terms of reliability, older model years are fine too.
However, these earlier models may present some issues.
Good long-term reliability almost always depends on how well you maintain your engine.
Nissan 350Z can easily enjoy a long service life with careful handling and regular maintenance.
Top Nissan 350Z Problems
Although the Nissan 350Z is a reliable sports car with no serious issues that cause the car to become uneconomical to repair, it does have its fair share of problems.
Here are the most commonly reported issues for the different model years of the Nissan 350Z.
The VQ35DE used in the two versions of the 3.5-liter VQ35 V6 2003-2006 Nissan 350Zs is known for burning oil.
However, it never issued a recall as Nissan didn’t consider it a flaw.
While not much of a problem if maintained, if left, burning oil can damage your catalytic converters and piston rings over time.
Fast Transmission Synchro Wear
Another problem with the 2003-2006 350Zs is that the synchro wears faster than usual.
The 2007 model year and onwards do not have this problem.
Synchromesh gears, or ‘synchros,’ smooth the transition between shifts in manual transmission cars by matching the transmission and engine speeds.
Another common problem with the MY03-MY06 350Zs is the clicking noises coming from the cars’ driveshafts and rear axles.
This is typically caused by metal-on-metal contact from insufficient or worn-away lubrication.
The good news is that there is a solution.
Regreasing your 350Z does the trick, and it’s a cheap fix.
Chipped Plastic and Faded Paint
Many 350Z owners have noted that their front bumper paint has faded faster than the rest of the car’s exterior paint job, with some colors being worse than others.
Nissan also budgeted on the 350Z’s interior by using plastic.
It’s incredibly common for this to chip and crack, especially in climates where there is extremely hot and cold weather.
Tire Wear and Noises
Some 2003 Nissan 350Z owners have complained that the car’s tires were worn out after 18,000 miles, while others reported loud rumbling noises coming from their front tires.
Faulty Crankshaft Position Sensor
A widely reported issue for the 2003 Nissan 350Z was engine stalling caused by a faulty camshaft or crankshaft position sensor.
Nissan recalled this issue over poorly-soldered sensor circuit boards.
The Best Year 350Z Models: Which Should You Choose?
Generally, the best years for reliable 350Z models are 2007 and 2008.
These post-refresh models featured more reliable and better-performing VQ35HR and other VQ engines, as well as a host of other improvements.
2003 – 2005 350Zs
In 2003, Nissan impressed the auto world with their release of the 350Z.
For the first model year (2003), the 350Z was available in five trim levels: Base, Enthusiast, Performance, Touring, and Track.
Each variation was marked by slight differences in styling and interior features, with some markets limited to only certain models and trim packages.
In 2005, the Base models brought heated side mirrors, tire-pressure monitoring, and a height-adjustable driver’s seat.
The early models feature a 3.5-liter VQ-series V6 engine that produces 287 horsepower and hits 0-60 in 5.4 seconds.
The main criticism of the 350Z is the interior. It’s covered in plastic which gives it a cheap feel.
It seems the earlier models try in vain to make up for a small trunk, lack of a glovebox, and thin door pockets.
On the other hand, the attainable price tag makes up for most of these shortcomings.
From mid-2005 onwards, all 350Zs have an improved transmission with upgraded synchros.
2006 – 2008 350Zs
For 2006, Nissan ushered in a new standard for the Z series with revised exterior styling, speed-sensitive steering, forged alloy wheels (18-inch front and 19-inch rear wheels), better brakes, new front, and rear lights, and slight changes to the interior trim.
The interior of the MY06 350Z did not have an exceptional design upgrade, but it was practical for a 2-seater.
At this point, the 350Z with automatic transmission still had the previous 2003-2005 engine.
For 2007, Nissan upped the ante.
Now, a new and improved 3.5-liter V6 engine sits under the hood.
Crossing the 300hp barrier of the MY06 to 307hp, the MY07 350Z is slightly beefier and more powerful than the 2003-2006 models, producing 300 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque.
These new updates mean the 2006-2008 models will cost you more than the 2003-2005 models.
350Z Trim Levels
This section will introduce some of the key features of each 350Z model.
The ‘Base’ 350Z is limited in its features.
The Base model did not include vicious limited slip differential (VLSD), traction control, or cruise control and was only available with cloth seats that were neither electric nor heated.
To identify a Base model 350Z, check for cruise control buttons.
If there aren’t any, you’re looking at a Base model.
The Enthusiast model came with all the features absent from the Base model, including traction control, VLSD, and cruise control.
To identify an Enthusiast model 350Z, check the dashboard under the steering wheel for a ‘TCS’ button.
If there isn’t one and there are no buttons for a heated seat, it’s an Enthusiast trim.
The Performance trim brought a more sophisticated driver aid with Nissan’s Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) instead of traction control.
It also gave buyers larger 18-inch wheels, Brembo brakes, and an aero-kit with front air dam and rear spoiler.
To identify a Performance model 350Z, check if there is a “VDC” button instead of a “TCS” button under the steering wheel and no heated seats.
Touring was a more luxurious model and comfortable choice.
Power, heated leather seats, a VLSD, VDC, 18-inch wheels, and xenon headlights came standard with all Touring models.
Optional GPS Navigation and Brembo brakes were also available.
To identify a Touring model 350Z, check that it has xenon headlamps, heated seats, and 18-inch wheels.
The Track model came with Brembo brakes, a front air dam, a rear spoiler, a VLSD, 18-inch wheels, and cloth seats.
GPS Navigation was optional on all Track models.
To identify a Track model 350Z, check that it has cloth seats and Brembo brakes.
Adding on to the Touring model, the Grand Touring trim came with added features, such as cruise control and a Bose stereo system.
To identify a Grand Touring model 350Z, check that car has heated leather seats and a Bose stereo system with no 18-inch wheels.
If it has RAYS 18-inch wheels, it’s likely an optional choice with the GT Pack or a Touring model.
Powerful performance and decent affordability make the 350Z an appealing car for drivers – especially when combined with its affordable price tag, large front-mounted V6 engine, rear-wheel drive handling, and aggressive Z-car looks.
When it comes to buying a Nissan 350Z, there are no major pitfalls.
The engine is notorious for oil consumption issues, and while worn brake pads and transmission synchros are the usual concerns of aging cars, they are not time bombs.
Whether as a new or used car, an older or newer model, you’ll enjoy an exceptional set of wheels with a Nissan 350Z.