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Affordable sports cars have seen a resurgence in the past several years. In addition to the Mazda MX-5 Miata and Toyota GR Supra, there’s the mid-engine Corvette, the second-generation Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86, and the Cayman and Boxster from Porsche. Then there’s the Z, which Nissan brought back to life in 2003 and has gone through several revisions since then. 

The latest version of Nissan’s sports car is known as the 400Z, or just the Z. So, why the distinction, and what does the 400 mean?

A short history of the Z

Nissan’s Z sports car dates back to 1969 when the company launched the Datsun 240Z, according to MotorTrend. It was a bombshell revelation. Until then, Japanese automakers were known for their small, quirky cars. Then all at once, the 240Z debuted as a legitimate world-class sports car offering similar performance to the Porsche 911 at half the cost.

Nissan originally wanted to call the car the Fairlady, which is why some people refer to it as the Fairlady Z. However, Yutaka Katayama, president of Nissan Motors USA, who was widely known as “Mister K,” believed the Fairlady name might not catch on in the U.S. market, so he suggested calling it the 240Z, with the ‘240’ indicating the displacement of the 2.4-liter inline-six cylinder engine. 

The original 240Z gave way to the 260Z, the 280Z, and the 280ZX. Each of these models received more features and a larger displacement engine, with the original inline-6 engine growing from 2.4-liters to 2.6-liters and eventually 2.8-liters. 

In 1983, Nissan totally redesigned the Z car, updating the look for the 1980s and switching from the inline-six to a 3.0-liter V6 engine. Known as the 300ZX, it was the only Z car to feature pop-up headlamps and a digital dashboard. Known internally as the Z31 model, it was larger and more comfortable than the original Z cars. It also offered better performance. However, some people felt the Z car had lost its way and become too soft.

To return the Z to its roots, an all-new Z debuted in 1990. It didn’t scrimp on the luxury features, but more importantly, it silenced its critics with its performance. A new twin-turbo version of the 3.0-liter engine made more than 300 horsepower, giving the Z serious performance. 

In 2003 the Z went back to the basics with a style that reflected the original Z car. It used a 3.5-liter version of Nissan’s V6 and went by the 350Z designation. A restyling with a power bump and a larger, 3.7-liter engine turned the 350Z into the 370Z in 2009. That model soldiered on for twelve years until the launch of the current 400Z.

The 2023 Nissan Z is also known as the 400Z

An overhead shot of yellow and blue 2023 Nissan Z sports car models with a sunset in the background
2023 Nissan Z models | Nissan Motor Corporation

So, why is the 2023 Nissan Z called the 400Z, even though it uses a 3.0-liter engine? Officially, it’s just the Z, according to Nissan, but there are a couple of reasons. 

First, the 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 produces 400 horsepower, so the 400 could reference the horsepower. Additionally, that same engine is also used in the Infiniti Red Sport 400 and Nissan Skyline 400R models. Another reason is that calling it the 300Z might seem like a step back from the 370Z, even though the new Z is a giant leap forward compared to its predecessor. 

Regardless of what you call it, the Nissan Z, 400Z, or even Fairlady Z, it’s a car worthy of the storied Z name. As Car and Driver said in its test, “Nissan has made a Z for the modern era, complete with plenty of throwback styling elements that pay perfect homage to the sports car’s history.” Still, it’s more than just a tribute to the Z’s history because it’s writing the next chapter in the Z car’s story.

2023 Nissan Z specs and pricing 

The new Nissan Z still offers the familiar hallmarks of its predecessors, notably excellent performance at a price below $40,000. It’s a bargain compared to the Toyota Supra and Chevrolet Corvette and offers an impressive level of performance. Boasting 400 horsepower from a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6, it will do 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. It provides a good grip and excellent braking yet is comfortable enough for highway driving, where it will return up to 28 mpg. 

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