It’s no great secret that some cars are more dangerous than others.
For example, the Toyota MR2 is a legendarily dangerous car (read our article on why Toyota MR2s are dangerous for more information).
We all know that older cars also tend to be less safe than modern cars.
Even a modern compact hatchback is probably safer than the safest car of 20 years ago, as was tested in what is now a relatively old episode of Fifth Gear:
In this article we take a look at one of Nissan’s most popular creations of recent years, the 350Z (AKA Fairlady Z, read here where the Fairlady name comes from if you’re not sure).
Is the Nissan 350Z dangerous? Let’s find out!
Before we begin, make sure you also take the time to read our Nissan 350Z buyer’s guide for more information on this popular car. This is one of our most popular buyer’s guides on the whole site; people seem to love the 350Z!
Is the Nissan 350Z/Fairlady Z A Dangerous Car?
According to the statistics, yes.
In fact, the Nissan 350z is – by the numbers – one of the most dangerous cars on the road in America.
When researching this article we actually found it a little hard to believe, but multiple sources report that the 350Z is, on a statistical basis, one of the most dangerous cars on American roads.
This harrowing fact comes from a 2011 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which we have added a screen grab of here:
The 350Z (2005-2008 models were assessed) topped the list of most deadly cars on US roads, with 143 deaths per million registrations during the study period and 90 deaths per million registrations in single-vehicle crashes. You can read the full study here.
The Nissan 350Z has a death rate double that of the average sports car, according to the same study.
So if you like living life on the edge, then this could be the perfect car for you.
Why Is the 350Z So Dangerous?
Perhaps more important than the fact that 350Z is a statistically dangerous car are the reasons why.
Just what is it about the 350Z that makes it more prone to being involved in accidents?
Here are some reasons/points to note:
The 350Z Isn’t Inherently Unsafe From An Occupant Protection Perspective
Firstly, the 350Z actually scored a pretty good safety rating in its day, scoring 4s and 5s across the board in official US testing data (source).
Of course the 350Z was first released nearly 20 years ago (back in 2003) and what constituted a safe car in terms of crash testing performance is vastly different to what we expect today.
With multi-airbags and fairly modern construction standards, it’s not that the 350Z is as dangerous in a crash as a classic from the 60s/70s/80s; basically, the 350Z doesn’t do a terrible job of protecting its occupant(s) in the event of a crash. All things being equal, the occupants of a 350Z would likely come out better than the occupants of a Toyota MR2 in a crash of the same nature/magnitude.
However, the 350Z is dangerous because of the nature of the car, the manner in which it is driven, and due to its popularity with often relatively inexperienced drivers who simply aren’t up to the job of handling such a beast of a car.
In particular, we think there are a some key reasons why the 350Z has a tendency to be involved in so many crashes.
Limited Driver Aids – And They Can Be Turned Off
Although the 350Z has a fairly solid crash safety rating, one issue that could contribute to its being a more dangerous car is the relative lack of driver aids compared to how powerful the car is.
Depending on exactly which trim/model you purchase (as well as model year) a 350Z can feature VDC – Vehicle Dynamic Control and TLC – Traction Lock Control, as well as ESP (Electronic Stability Program).
Long story short, these systems definitely help reign in the 350Z if you start to get into trouble.
Of course they aren’t perfect. At some point, all of the best driver aids in the world can’t overcome physics, and the driver aids in the 350Z aren’t particularly sophisticated by today’s standards.
To compound matters, base model 350Zs didn’t come with any form of stability control, which is a real life saver for drivers who get caught out by the combination of high power and RWD that is prone to get the tail out.
Another problem from a safety perspective is that these driver aids can be turned off, and the kind of people most likely to turn off the driver aids are also those who are probably less capable of driving such a car safely without them. While there are legitimate reasons to disable traction control and driver aids, it’s not hard to browse 350Z forums, YouTube videos etc and come across people who want to disable their traction control system just to make the car more likely to oversteer.
Affordable Performance – It’s A Very Fast Car For Not A Lot Of Money
In terms of “power per dollar” the Nissan 350Z is probably one of the best automotive bargains out there.
If you’ve read our 350Z buyer’s guide, then you’ll know there are many great examples you can buy for reasonable money, and they tend to be fairly reliable cars that aren’t too difficult to maintain. The biggest ongoing expense for many is the fact that insurance prices can be high, primarily due to how frequently these cars wind up in wrecks compared to the rest of the cars on the road.
This combination of power, handling and relatively affordability mean it has become such a sought-after enthusiasts car, especially with younger people who are getting into the car scene – often males, who have a much higher likelihood of being involved in a serious crash at speed.
Back when we (the authors of this site) were at high school, a “fast” car you could conceivably afford to buy and insure was something like a 1997 Honda Civic SiR, which had around 170hp and the sedate, predictable road manners that FWD brings.
For kids graduating high school these days, something like a 350Z is probably an affordable, accessible option (depending on where you live) but this combines a potentially deadly cocktail of 306hp and RWD.
This is a car that can do 0-60 mph in not much more than 5 seconds, and that is in stock form with no mods.
We will probably catch some heat for saying this, but for younger, inexperienced drivers whose egos are more than capable of writing checks their driving skills can’t cash, the 350Z is probably too much car from a performance perspective.
Classic Japanese sports cars like the Nissan Skyline GT-R or the Toyota Supra MKIV are simply out of the price league of most young, inexperienced drivers (even most people with 20 years on their licence would struggle to afford one now).
Cars like the 350Z attract inexperienced drivers who have a “need for speed” like moths to a flame.
Because of the power and RWD, tail-happy nature of the 350Z, it is much easier to get in to trouble than in something like a Honda Civic.
As you can see, on a statistical basis the Nissan 350Z/Fairlady Z is a dangerous car.
The reasons for this are straightforward to understand.
Firstly, it is a powerful, rear wheel drive car with relatively few driver aids that can help “course correct” if you make a mistake while driving. In some respects, this is a bit like the Toyota MR2 – the nature of the car and the way it drives conspire to make it more dangerous than some other vehicles on the road.
So while the 350Z is not particularly dangerous from a crash protection point of view (i.e. it doesn’t have serious flaws in terms of occupant protection) the nature of the car and its popularity with younger, less experienced drivers – often car enthusiasts who are more likely to drive in a more dangerous manner – lends itself to being involved in more serious crashes.
If you’re thinking of buying a Nissan 350Z, don’t let you put this off. They are great cars, and provided you can drive sensibly and to the conditions (and respect the power and relative lack of driver aids) you can pick up an excellent sports car for reasonable money that seems all-but-certain to become a true future classic.
A poster on the Nissan 350Z forum “MY350Z” put it well; that the safety record of the 350Z is not so much a reflection of the car itself but of the type of person likely to buy and drive it (source).
Driven appropriately and with the right level of skill, the 350Z is a brilliant modern classic. Driven too aggressively for the conditions by someone who doesn’t know what they are doing, and it becomes a potential deathtrap.
We can’t help improve your driving, but we can help you get a 350Z that is in the best possible condition. Make sure you go and read our Nissan 350Z buyer’s guide here for more information on scoring yourself a great 350Z.
Do you think the Nissan 350Z is an excessively dangerous car? What has been your experience? Leave us a comment below – we would love to hear from you.