After production of the Z32 Nissan 300ZX ended in 1996, Nissan initially tried to keep the Z name alive by re-creating the 240Z the following year. The car was conceived by Nissan’s North American design team in their free time, and the concept was introduced in a four state Road Show in July 1998 to various car media, dealers and employees.
The 240Z concept was produced for the Detroit Motor Show for the following August and September. Nissan was unhappy with the first design as they felt the original 200 bhp 2.4 L engine known as the KA24DE that was going to be assigned made the car feel under-powered they also felt the car was considered too “retro” or too “backward” resembling a futuristic 240Z; thus, a redesign was commissioned. During a press conference in February 2000, president Carlos Ghosn announced plans to produce the car as he felt the new model would help to assist the company’s recovery.
The Z Concept was unveiled in Detroit Motor Show two years later, which was similar in body shape but with a new front end. The car then underwent a minor redesign and was eventually assigned the VQ35DE engine, hence becoming known as the 350Z.
The 350Z entered production in late 2002 and was sold and marketed as a 2003 model. The first year there was only a coupe, as the roadster did not debut until the following year. Initially, the coupe came in base, Enthusiast, Performance, Touring and Track versions, while the roadster was limited to Enthusiast and Touring trim levels. The Track trim came with lightweight wheels and Brembo brakes, but its suspension tuning was the same as all other coupes.
Released on August 20, 2002, the 350Z coupé was available in the U.S. in 5 trim packages: ‘350Z’ (Base), ‘Enthusiast’, ‘Performance’, ‘Touring’, and ‘Track’ editions. In Europe, only the ‘Track’ trim was available, although it was badged and marketed as ‘350Z’.
In 2004 Nissan introduced the 350Z Roadster featuring an electrically retractable soft-top roof. In the U.S. market the car was available in just 2 trim packages (Enthusiast and Touring), while in Europe, the same versions as the coupé were offered. Nissan added the Grand Touring (GT) trim to the Roadster trim packages for 2005.
In 2005 Nissan launched a 35th Anniversary edition, with a revised exterior and interior (see Special Editions below). 35th Anniversary 6-speed manual models and Track models were a mid-year introduction, and included the 300HP/260 ft-lb Rev-up engine. Automatic transmission-equipped 35th Anniversary edition models continued with the original VQ35DE with the 287HP 274 ft-lb powerplant.
For the 2006 model year, the 350Z received a number of notable changes for its mid-cycle facelift. The 300HP, 260ft-lb Rev-up engine that was introduced mid-year 2005 with 6-speed manual was offered for every trim now. The VQ35DE with 287HP and 274lb-ft was offered with the 5-speed automatic. New features included bi-xenon projectors, a revised front fascia, new LED rear lights, and changes to the interior trim. Touring and Grand Touring models have radio-steering controls standard, MP3 CD compatibility, and Satellite Radio became an available option. For the 2007 model year, the 350Z was again moderately revised. The VQ35DE V6 was replaced with a new VQ35HR V6. It produced 306 hp at 6800 rpm with 268 ft·lb at 4800 rpm using the revised SAE certified power benchmark. The hood was redesigned featuring a bulge reminiscent of the original 240Z in order to accommodate the revised twin-throttle design of the new VQ35HR V6 engine. In the US, trims levels were narrowed down to 350Z (base), Enthusiast, Touring, and Grand Touring, while in Europe the same trim levels remained.