Is The Nissan 350Z A Good First Car?

We’ve written a few articles about the Nissan 350Z (known as the Fairlady Z in the Japanese Domestic Market) on this site.

In fact, articles about the 350Z are some of the most popular pieces of content on the site, particularly our 350Z buyer’s guide.

In this article we are continuing with our series of looking at suitable first cars, following on from our first instalment where we sought to answer whether the Mazda RX-7 is a good first car.

There’s nothing much in life more exciting than getting your first car, and the 350Z is certainly a desirable car, loved by enthusiasts young and old.

But is the Nissan 350Z a good first car?

Let’s look at the pros and cons of buying this legendary Nissan sports car as your first vehicle.

In order to assess the suitability of the 350Z as a first car purchase, we are looking at several key areas:

  • Practicality
  • Cost of running
  • Safety
  • Desirability/cool & fun factor

Practicality

Let’s not beat around the bush, shall we? The Nissan 350Z is not a particularly practical car, by extension of the fact that it only has two seats (although it is actually possible to retrofit rear seats into a Nissan 350Z, but we strongly advise against doing so!)

When it comes to purchasing a good first car, it is our long-held belief that practicality is valuable.

The reason for this is that your first car basically represents an opportunity for freedom. You’ve got the freedom to go and do what you want (within reason) without depending on your parents, public transport, walking/biking etc.

You might not realize it now, but we can guarantee you that “taking your friends along for the ride” will play a big part in enjoying this newfound freedom as well.

While the idea of a fast, exciting sports car as your first car greatly appeals, the truth is that most first car owners will get more enjoyment out of having something practical enough to fit a few friends in for a road trip, day out at the beach or the lake, going to parties etc.

Obviously this is a subjective measure, and your mileage may vary … but we do believe that the lack of practicality of the 350Z is a checkmark against its suitability as a first time owner’s car.

Cost Of Running

When it comes to buying your first car (or any car for that matter) it definitely pays to consider the cost of running.

The purchase price of the car – the “cost of admission” if you will – is not the only factor.

When buying your first car you are probably on a very limited income/small budget, so you want to be able to stretch your dollar further.

So what does the 350Z rank like in terms of the three key areas of running costs – insurance, maintenance and fuel economy/gas mileage?

Is The 350Z Expensive To Insure?

One thing to note is that the 350Z could be very expensive to insure as a first car. This is because of its reputation as being fairly unsafe for younger, inexperienced drivers.

Insurance costs vary greatly from country to country, and even within countries (for example it will probably cost you more to insure a 350Z in an American state with snowy winters, because icy/snowy conditions are when the 350Z has a tendency to get its tail out when pushed).

We imagine that a 350Z would be completely out of the realm of affordability for a British first time car owner, with the fact that insurance prices tend to be astronomical there.

In New Zealand – where we are based – you do see a fair few 350Zs (often Fairlady badged JDM examples) here on the roads with younger drivers behind the wheel. However, we have relatively inexpensive car insurance due to the fact that you cannot sue someone for personal injury owing to a vehicle accident. This, in conjunction with the fact that you can also opt for third-party only insurance, means that insuring something like a 350Z as your first car is more affordable.

In other words, make sure you check insurance premiums BEFORE you buy a 350Z as your first car.

Also make sure that you check any potential terms of exclusions that may apply due to your being a younger driver. You don’t want to buy the car, go to insure it and then find it is either too expensive or a whole bunch of exclusions apply.

Is the 350Z Expensive To Maintain?

Overall, the 350Z isn’t too expensive to maintain.

While it is a sports car, and therefore is probably going to cost more to maintain than a Civic or Corolla, the truth is that the 350Z is on the more modest end of performance car maintenance.

You need to keep on top of routine servicing, but the good news is that if you favour DIY-ing this there is plenty of good information out there about how to do so. If you want to pay a professional, then due to the relatively simple nature of the car you can find plenty of auto shops and mechanics who can do a good job for a fair price.

We recommend reading our 350Z buyer’s guide for more information on sourcing yourself a good example, as well as what to look out for in the purchase process. Invest more time up front into sourcing a quality 350Z, and you will save in the long run on maintenance and repairs.

Is The 350Z Good On Gas?

As you might expect, the Nissan 350Z doesn’t enjoy particularly great fuel economy/gas mileage.

It’s a heavy, V6-powered car so you can’t expect it to be a fuel miser.

For a 2005, six-speed manual 350Z, the US EPA rates it at a combined 20mpg (17 city and 23 freeway).  This equates to about 12 litres per 100 kilometres of fuel usage, if you prefer metric measurement.

Looking on 350Z forums and other websites like Reddit, most people seem to receive figures around the 20mpg mark.

This isn’t terrible, but is also not particularly economical either!

To conclude the cost of running section, it’s a bit of a mixed bag really.

The 350Z certainly won’t be the most expensive car to run, primarily because it is a robust and reliable vehicle and there is a lot of good information out there on doing common repairs and maintenance yourself (which can save a fortune).

However, insurance costs will probably be high because of the safety issue – which we cover in the next section of this article – and gas mileage is not particularly great either.

Ultimately, you need to look at your running cost budget and decide what you can afford, and whether a 350Z is likely to stretch this past breaking point.

Safety

The biggest black mark against the 350Z in terms of being a suitable first car is its safety.

We actually have a very detailed article on this site about whether or not the 350Z is a dangerous car (read it in full here) but allow us to recap the main points:

  • According to one study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Nissan 350Z is the most dangerous car on American roads in terms of numbers of deaths relative to registrations.
  • The 350Z ranks particularly highly in terms of being involved in crashes with younger, less experienced drivers.
  • The car itself actually scores well in terms of crash protection; the bad track record in terms of safety is more of a reflection of the fact that this car tends to be purchased and driven hard by people who like to drive “on the edge” and probably don’t have the skills to handle it properly (this is not all 350Z owners of course).

While the car has multi airbags etc, it’s important to remember that base models didn’t even come with traction control. This is a powerful car that can easily be coaxed into getting its tail out if pushing on too aggressively.

In our view, it’s too much of a car for the average first time owner to handle safely.

Cool & Fun Factor/Desirability

Here’s where the 350Z crushes it on the first car stakes – it is undeniably a cool car.

The styling still looks superb almost two decades after it launched (those “Art Deco” lines are timeless, and in our view age like fine wine).

It’s powerful, fairly luxurious by the standards of what most people would have for a first car, and overall a very desirable package for first car owners and weekend toy buyers alike.

To top it all off, there is no doubt that the 350Z is an extremely fun car to drive.

In the lexicon of sports cars that are actually affordable to an average first time buyer (let’s face it, the ‘big league’ Japanese legends like the Nissan Skyline GT-R and Toyota Supra are out of the realm of most of us mere mortals now) the 350Z must surely rank high on the desirability list.

Is The 350Z A Girl’s Car?

One question we have seen some prospective owners ask is whether or not the 350Z is a “girl’s car”?

Firstly, this kind of question is probably considered highly politically incorrect in this day and age (but we aren’t here to pass political judgement).

Secondly, in our view the 350Z is definitely more of a masculine car. The roadster/convertible version may be more feminine, but when putting together this article the editorial team here at Garage Dreams struggled to think of the last time any of us saw a 350Z being driven by a female driver (we see far more Honda S2000s being driven by female drivers, for comparison).

Something like a Mercedes-Benz SLK350 would be more what we would consider a girl’s car in the conventional sense of the term – but ultimately men and women can drive whatever they want, as long as it’s something they like driving.

We don’t think the 350Z is a girl’s car … and ultimately, as long as you like it and enjoy it, then who cares what others think?

Conclusion – Is The 350Z A Good First Car?

If you’re looking for your first car and have an eye on a 350Z, should you go for it?

In our view, the 350Z isn’t a particularly good first car, for a few key reasons.

  • The most important of these is that it is an unsafe car for inexperienced drivers. As we established in our detailed article about whether or not the 350Z is dangerous, the car itself actually has quite a respectable crash rating for its age. But this doesn’t overcome the fact that due to its power, tail-happy handling and relative lack of driver aids, it is not an easy beast for new drivers to tame. The stats are on our side here; the 350Z is – by the numbers – one of the most dangerous cars on American roads, particularly for younger drivers who don’t have the skills (both in terms of driving and decision-making) to
  • Although 350Zs are generally reliable cars, you will still need to spend more on maintenance and repairs than you might on a more sedate, normal first car like a Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic. If you’ve got money to burn or you really value having a nice car, then this isn’t too much of a factor – you’ll probably spend less on maintenance than European performance cars for example.
  • Insurance costs can be very high due to the safety risk of this car, and the fact that they can be prone to theft as well.
  • With only two seats (although you can retrofit rear seats into a 350Z … but we don’t recommend it) this is not a practical car. It might sound boring right now, but we can guarantee you that at some point the lack of practicality will bother you at some stage. Your first car is often about taking your friends out to parties, events etc … if you’ve got more than one friend, then you’ll struggle with this car.

If you have your heart set on having a two seater sports car, then we would strongly encourage you to consider a Mazda Miata/MX-5 (read our buying guide here) particularly of a later generation that has superior safety features. You still get the sports car experience but in a package that will be much easier to handle and cost you less to run.

If you are going to purchase a 350Z as your first car, then at the very least we strongly encourage you to be sensible when you drive.

This is not a car to be taken lightly, especially in the hands of someone with little driving experience.  We would encourage you to look at taking a defensive/advanced driving course to better learn how to handle a car with this level of power (and tendency to oversteer when pushed or in inclement weather).

Also consider taking your car to track days where you can indulge in the dark arts of driving fast – which you will be tempted to do with your 350Z – in a much safer and more controlled environment that doesn’t put other road users at risk.

To wrap up, we would also be keen to hear your opinion on the suitability of the Nissan 350Z as a first car. Do you think that it’s a good option for a first time car owner? If not, what else would you suggest?

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