The Nissan 350Z is a classic at this point. I say that not necessarily from an age perspective, but in terms of its impact on the automotive world. First introduced in 2002, the 350Z had a fantastic blend of characteristics that made it a fantastic daily driver and a weekend warrior. After all, that was always the Nissan Z mantra.
The Nissan 350Z features a two-door, front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, layout which is the standard recipe for a well-handling sports car. Between the front wheels sits a Nissan VQ35DE 3.5L V6 engine (VQ35HR in late models), capable of producing between 287-300 horsepower and 260-274 lb-ft of torque. In addition to having a sizable amount of power, the 350Z is also light, weighing in at around 3,200 lbs.
While the 350Z provides pretty impressive performance from the factory, very few 350Z owners keep them in stock form. That’s likely because there are too many tempting performance-enhancing parts out there for them these days. In the 20 years since the 350Z’s release, it has become a favorite in multiple enthusiast communities and has huge aftermarket support.
The massive aftermarket community surrounding the 350Z can make modifying one a bit daunting. It’s a choice overload type of situation. In this article, we’ll help narrow down the choices a bit and recommend some of the best performance mods for the Nissan 350Z.
Best Nissan 350Z Mods Overview
When it comes to modifying a Nissan 350Z, we’ll mainly be concerned with two types of vehicle mods: handling modifications and engine performance modifications. While the 350Z has a good reputation for being a good all-rounder, it can definitely be improved in those two areas in particular. For performance driving applications, the 350Z can benefit hugely from suspension modifications, allowing it to corner flatter.
It is generally agreed that the primary way to squeeze the most power out of a VQ35DE and VQ35HR is by introducing forced induction to the mix. However, it is notoriously expensive to turbocharge or supercharge a 350Z, with most quality kits dipping into the five-figures price point. For that reason, we’ll be focused on 350Z mods that are geared toward naturally-aspirated performance. If you are interested in learning more about turbocharging your 350Z, check out our Ultimate 350Z Turbo Upgrade Guide. Here are the 350Z modifications that we’ll be covering:
- Sway Bars
- Plenum Spacer
Nissan 350Z Mods – Coilover Upgrade
One of the best handling-improving modifications that you can do to a 350Z, and most cars for that matter, is a set of good coilovers. One of the main gripes with the stock 350Z chassis is its relatively soft suspension and high ride height. While that makes the 350Z a good daily driver, it detracts from its performance potential.
The topic of coilovers is a nuanced one, as they come in all different shapes and sizes. With that being said, they all serve the same general purpose. In general, coilovers increase suspension stiffness over a stock setup which simultaneously allows a car to run lower to the ground. This results in your 350Z, in this case, cornering better by having better contact with the road and by having a lower center of gravity. Coilovers offer adjustable ride height, meaning that you can raise and lower your car by rotating an adjustment collar on the strut assembly.
Some higher-tier 350Z coilovers offer additional features like adjustable damping, which adds another element of customization depending on your application. Damping is good for a daily driver that doubles as a track day car, as it allows you to adjust ride stiffness on the fly. There’s typically a knob that you turn either clockwise or counter-clockwise to soften or stiffen the ride. For daily driving, you can set the coils to a soft setting to handle road imperfections better or set them to a stiffer and more planted setting when you get to the track.
Nissan 350Z Coilovers vs Lowering Springs
If you’ve spent any time browsing through 350Z suspension forum posts you’ve almost certainly encountered the inevitable coilover vs lowering springs debate. In my opinion, there shouldn’t even be a debate because there’s truly only one correct answer. While lowering springs might provide a solution to the dreaded 350Z wheel gap, they won’t provide the same performance that you’d see from a sturdy set of coils.
Unlike coilovers, lowering springs are not height adjustable and use you car’s stock struts instead of replacing the entire suspension assembly. In order to provide a lower ride height, lowering springs are typically shorter springs with a slightly higher spring rate over the stock 350Z setup. With that being said, they lack almost all of the customizability that you’ll find with a set of 350Z coilovers. However, due to the fact that you are only replacing the springs, they come at a significantly lower cost.
Lowering springs might be a good option for someone that is lowering their 350Z for purely aesthetic reasons. Due to the fact that you aren’t able to adjust ride height after the fact, it is important that if you opt to go the lowering springs route, you do your research and find the right spring rate for your desired application.
350Z Coilover Benefits
- Flatter cornering resulting in better handling
- Ride height adjustability / 1-5” drop
- Damping adjustment on higher-end setups
- Better on and off-track performance
Recommended 350Z Coilover Set
- Best Budget Kit: Raceland Nissan 350Z Coilover Kit
- Best Mid-Range Kit: BC Racing BR Series 350Z Coilover Kit
One of the biggest considerations when it comes to a 350Z coilover kit is price. Luckily, since the Z33 platform is so popular, there are good options at multiple different price ranges. If you’re looking for a budget option that’ll get your Z looking right while also slightly improving performance over stock, Raceland is the way to go. Raceland is known for providing a quality product at the lowest price point and providing excellent customer service.
If you’re willing to shell out a bit more cash, BC Racing is another brand that offers a great mid-range set that comes with additional features. In addition to providing adjustable ride height between 1-5,” BC Racing 350Z coilovers also have 30-way adjustable damping and optional camber plates for additional customization. BC Racing is known for providing a fantastic balance between price and performance for most applications.
Nissan 350Z Mods – Upgraded Sway Bars
While upgraded suspension will improve the handling characteristics of a stock 350Z, coilovers aren’t the end-all-be-all to all of the Z33’s handling issues. Upgraded 350Z sway bars are another great handling improving mod, especially when paired with upgraded suspension.
Upgraded sway bars have the potential to improve overall chassis stiffness, reduce weight, and add an additional level of adjustability to your Z33 build. The purpose of a sway bar is to link the left and right sides of a vehicle’s suspension, in turn resisting the torsion applied to the chassis when cornering. Upgraded sway bars tend to resist torsion better than stock ones, decreasing body roll.
In addition to providing better torsional stiffness, upgraded 350Z sway bars tend to be lighter than stock ones. Decreasing weight is always a plus on a performance car. Most aftermarket options also provide a high degree of stiffness adjustability, making it easy to set up your Z exactly how you want it.
Recommended 350Z Upgraded Sway Bar Kit
- Hotchkis 350Z Sport Sway Bar Kit
- Price: $499.99
One of the best parts about upgrading your sway bars is that it is a relatively inexpensive 350Z mod and they are pretty easy to install. Some manufacturers, like Hotchkis, provide a full kit including front and rear adjustable sway bars, bushings, and brackets, ready to be thrown in from the jump.
The Hotchkis kit provides everything that you’d want in a set of aftermarket sway bars. The front bar allows for 4 different stiffness configurations ranging from 22% stiffer than stock to 129% stiffer than stock. The rear bar has 3 levels of adjustment ranging from 5% softer than stock to 78% stiffer than stock. They are also a few pounds lighter than the stock bars. No matter how you set them up, you’ll feel an immediate improvement in your 350Z’s handling.
Nissan 350Z Mods – Upgraded Exhaust
An upgraded exhaust is another 350Z modification that requires some thought. Like pretty much every other 350Z mod, there are tons of aftermarket options out there for the Z33 chassis. There are three main considerations to take into account: price, sound, and performance.
Cat-back exhausts are without question the most common type of exhaust fitted to lightly modified Zs. Cat-back exhausts are exactly what they sound like. They replace all of the factory exhaust components from the catalytic converter to the exhaust tip. This type of exhaust is generally made of stainless steel and is made to improve exhaust gas flow out of the engine, resulting in a bit more power and a lot more noise.
Aftermarket cat-back systems can vary a good amount in terms of their pipe diameter, tip diameter, and how they exit the vehicle. Some aftermarket 350Z exhausts are single-exit, but the vast majority are dual-exit like the stock exhaust. The sound produced by an aftermarket 350Z exhaust is heavily dependent on the diameter of the exhaust piping and the type of muffler that it employs.
350Z Upgraded Exhaust Benefits
- Better exhaust flow resulting in more power/torque
- 10-20 horsepower / 10-25 lb-ft of torque gain
- Better exhaust tone
- Imrpoved exhaust aesthetics
Recommended 350Z Upgraded Exhaust
- Stillen 350Z Full Cat-Back Exhaust
- Price: $1,343.14
While there are a lot of systems to choose from, our performance 350Z exhaust recommendation is the Stillen 350Z Dual Exit Cat-Back system. While it certainly isn’t the loudest on the market, it enhances the VQ35DE’s deep growl at high RPMs while limiting exhaust drone during highway driving.
In terms of performance, it is widely agreed that Stillen’s 16 whp and 14 lb-ft gain claims are a bit inflated. Power gains are said to be closer to 10 whp and 14 lb-ft, which still isn’t bad. Most of the power comes from the Stillen’s mandrel bent piping, which allows exhaust gas to escape easier than with the stock system. While the Stillen’s stainless steel construction doesn’t reduce weight very much, it is very sturdy and should live a long life under your Z.
In terms of price, the Stillen falls in the mid-range. It certainly isn’t the cheapest option, but it isn’t the most expensive either. It bridges a healthy middle ground between cost, performance, and sound. What else could you ask for?
Nissan 350Z Mods – Upgraded Intake
A performance intake is an excellent option for those looking for a relatively inexpensive Z33 Nissan 350Z performance modification. Depending on how you look at it, a performance intake can be considered a great starting point or the finishing touch to a highly tuned build. The purpose of an upgraded performance intake is to increase engine breathability over the stock setup. In general, the performance of an upgraded intake scales with engine performance, as highly modified engines can often be throttled by poor airflow.
Quite a few members in the 350Z community claim that the stock 350Z airbox provides pretty good airflow for a stock setup. If you are on a budget, most Z33 enthusiasts recommend retaining the stock airbox but equipping it with a K&N drop-in filter. This increases the filter surface area and allows for better breathability.
In general, horsepower and torque gains from a 350Z cold air intake are marginal. However, they are a good option for those looking for a relatively inexpensive mod that will bump performance slightly. In most cases, you can find a good 350Z intake for a couple of hundred dollars. They are usually very easy to install. The biggest power gains from an intake are achieved when forced induction is added, but taking that out of the picture you can expect power gains in the 3-6whp range and torque gains around 2-4wtq.
350Z Upgraded Intake Benefits
- 3-6whp gains
- 2-4wtq gains
- Increased airflow
- Cool intake engine noise
- Quicker throttle response
Recommended 350Z Intake
- Price: $387.98
If you are looking for a bit more performance than the stock airbox or K&N drop-in filter can provide, aFe’s Takeda intake system is the best combination of price and quality on the market. DIY’ing the install is super easy and can be done by any beginner. aFe claims 16whp gains and 19wtq gains but these numbers are astronomical and unrealistic.
In addition to providing better engine breathability, the aFe intake features a washable filter that can be cleaned when it gets dirty. The kit comes with all of the necessary tubing, filters, couplers, and hardware to be installed right out of the box.
Nissan 350Z Mods – Plenum Spacer
This mod is a unique one to Nissan 350Zs and Infiniti G35s with the VQ35DE engine. The VQ35DE engine has an awful plenum design which cuts off airflow. The intake plenum is the part of the intake manifold that holds all of the air and distributes it to the cylinders. It has “runners” that branch off of it to feed each cylinder with air. On the VQ35DE the spacing between the plenum and the first two runners is so small that it restricts airflow and reduces power.
A plenum spacer sits between the upper and lower parts of the plenum and increases the air capacity of the plenum. Doing so increases the airflow to the cylinders, providing more power.
Nissan 350Z Plenum Spacer Benefits
- ~8whp bone stock
- Up to 15whp with intake, headers, exhaust
- ~12wtq gains
- Improved airflow
- Lower air intake temps
Nissan 350Z Recommended Plenum Spacer
- Price: $219.95
MotorDyne offers the best plenum spacer on the market for the 350Z. The spacer adds 5/16 of an inch to the plenum and is the easiest kit to install compared to the other options on the market. Installation shouldn’t take more than an hour and can be done by beginners as well. At ~$220 this mod provides the best price per horsepower gains out of any 350Z mod. MotorDyne claims 11-13whp gains which we believe is honest and accurate.
Top 5 Nissan 350Z Mods Summary
The Nissan 350Z is unquestionably a great platform right from the factory. It has all of the characteristics of a great sports car. While the Z33 is competent in stock form, it can be made significantly better with the right performance modifications.
In this article, we covered both handling-improving modifications and power-increasing modifications. Since the 350Z is known for having a less-than-ideal suspension setup from the factory, coilovers and upgraded sway bars can improve your Z significantly when it comes to cornering. With a coilover/swaybar combo, your 350Z will be able to corner flatter and have better contact with the road.
It is pretty hard to squeeze a sizable amount of additional power from a stock VQ35DE without forced induction. However, there are quite a few worthwhile upgrades that you can do that won’t break the bank like a turbo. An upgraded intake, exhaust, and plenum spacer will net somewhere around 30-40 additional ponies out of your Z. While that might not seem that significant, it’s a difference that you’ll be able to feel. Those three mods combined will only cost a fraction of what a turbo or supercharger kit would as well.