2023 Nissan Z vs. 2022 Toyota GR Supra Comparison Test: The ’80s Are Calling

 In a fight of performance and nostalgia, we set these two Japanese sports cars against one other

The 1980s have returned, baby! Kate Bush is still sprinting up a hill, people are wearing Oakley sunglasses humorously, Hyundai produced a concept car that looks exactly like the never-was DeLorean Group B race car, and Top Gun: Maverick was the summer’s huge movie office smash. Our collective subliminal enthusiasm for all things ’80s now extends into MotorTrend’s pages, where we face the new-for-2023 Nissan Z against a 2022 Toyota GR Supra, two Japanese sports cars that formerly roamed our streets.

Surprisingly, Toyota does not produce the Supra; BMW, the project’s partner, does. The new Supra is essentially a hardtop version of the very nice BMW Z4. Apart from the body panels, there isn’t much Toyota about the car other than tuning. The new Z—Nissan deleted the numeral element of the name—is a greatest-hits compilation of Nissan and Infiniti components. For example, the FM chassis. The key issues: Is the Z merely a nostalgia play, playing on the emotions and wallets of Generations X and Y? Is there something else going on? Is it on par with the Supra?

First impression: Both automobiles may be more visually appealing than their predecessors. The 2014 Toyota FT-1 concept, which previewed the design of the ultimate production Supra, was stunning, but it had to be downsized to accommodate the Z4’s flaws. The resulting automobile is out of proportion. That’s a clever way of stating the Supra has a stumpy appearance.

Meanwhile, the Nissan’s design may leave you perplexed. The front appearance clearly pays homage to the original 240Z from 1970, but the rear is inspired by the R32, which debuted for the 1990 model year. It could work if you’ve never spent any time learning any of those ancient Z’s, but it’s all a bit jumbled. Furthermore, the precisely rectangular grille is unusual, and certain angles are simply terrible. Others are excellent, but during this comparative test, it was simple to identify a new unpleasant viewing angle, such as the weird lines on the hood. Or the headlights, which are reminiscent of Roz’s spectacles from Monsters, Inc.

Overall, the Toyota wins in terms of appearance, with the proviso that it might look much better if scaled up a size or two.

Things turn around inside the autos. Right down to the trunk release, the Supra is practically a BMW. It has a minimalist, black abyss of a cockpit, like many BMWs. The Nissan’s interior is at least entertaining. “The analogue boost and turbo gauges seem like true Fast and Furious tuner goods,” MT employee Duncan Brady, my comparison-test co-driver who wasn’t even born in the 1980s, commented. “The large infotainment and instrument-cluster screens make a half-hearted attempt at modernism.” Good work. He also despised the Supra’s shift paddles, saying, “These stink.” We both preferred the long, metal paddles of the Z.

Oh, and while both the Nissan and Toyota may now be obtained with a manual gearbox, there was no manual Supra available to us when we conducted this test. So we decided with automatic transmissions, a ZF-sourced eight-speed in the Toyota and a Nissan-sourced nine-speed.

You’d never guess it by appearance, but the Supra is 0.1 inch longer and 0.4 inch broader than the Z. The Z, on the other hand, is 0.9 inch taller, giving it the appearance of a bigger vehicle. The Nissan weighs 3,597 pounds more than the Toyota, a very considerable differential. More importantly, the Z’s front wheels support 57 percent of its weight, but the Supra’s front wheels support only 52 percent of its weight. Both cars feature 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder engines, but the Nissan has two turbochargers—one for each half of its V-6, while the Supra’s straight-six only has one.

The extra turbo allows the Z to outperform the Supra by 400 horsepower to 382. However, the Toyota has higher torque, 368 lb-ft against 350. One caveat: Ever since we first drove a Supra, we’ve had a sneaking suspicion that the engine delivers more power than stated. Perhaps there is a dyno chart (or three) floating around the internet that verifies our thoughts.

In our instrumented testing, the Toyota reached 60 mph in 4.0 seconds, 0.3 second faster than the Nissan. The Supra is lighter and more nimble, and the quarter mile is the true horsepower test. What do you think? Toyota maintained its advantage at the 1,320-foot mark, finishing the distance in 12.3 seconds at 114.7 mph vs 12.9 seconds at 107.6 mph. We should also add that we got the Z’s figures by utilising an octane booster because California’s “premium” gasoline is only 91 octane, and Nissan advised us to do so.

Consider the trap speed to get an understanding of why we believe the Supra’s engine is underrated: The automobile went 7.1 mph quicker while weighing only 0.1 pound per horsepower less.

When it came time to stop, the Toyota demonstrated that it has far better brakes in terms of both performance and feel. The Supra came to a halt from 60 mph in 101 feet, while the Nissan came to a stop in 111 feet. The brake pedal on the Z is also difficult to modulate, since it feels slightly wooden and makes it difficult to know where you are in respect to ABS activation.

In comparison, the Supra’s brake feel is excellent: you can simply disable the ABS and still get maximum braking. The Supra also outperformed the Z in terms of roadholding, pulling 1.04 g (average) on the skidpad vs 0.92 g. All of this adds up to a significant difference between the two cars in our figure-eight test: 25.0 seconds for the Nissan and 23.8 seconds for the Toyota. A delta greater than 1.0 second implies that these vehicles belong to separate performance classes.

The magnificently slippery and demanding Angeles Crest Highway in Southern California may not represent the “real world” to the majority of people who buy these vehicles, but it’s a lovely, traffic-free route where we were able to thoroughly investigate these two iconic names. And when I say “pleasant,” I mean “yeehaw!”

My impressions of both vehicles were similar to what our test crew uncovered at the track, but Brady had a different impression.

“The solidity of this Nissan platform impresses me—enough grip and control over midcorner pavement flaws to keep me pushing without fear of punishment,” he remarked. “The body shifts a little but never seems out of place. Turn-in isn’t razor crisp, but it’s a true Japanese steak knife (blame the tyres), and the rear differential can transfer the power of this new engine to the ground without shoving you sideways. However, Nissan’s decision to include the old car’s massive traction control button and mechanical e-brake means there’s lots of fun to be had if you look for it.”

I couldn’t believe how much the Z wiggled under braking, especially when compared to the Supra. Even a little pedal jab resulted in a rolling wave of chassis instability. As Brady stated (and our track testing confirmed), the Nissan just had less grip than the Toyota. Finally, you have a car that doesn’t hug the road very well and shimmies under braking, and it lacks confidence. Better suspension damping and tyres would almost certainly help here, but in a comparison test, a car’s flaws get exaggerated since you can always jump back into the other car and appreciate its superior performance.

You won’t notice this about the Nissan during a typical real-world test drive, but the Z struggles near its limitations.

On the bright side, the twin-turbo V-6 truly comes alive as the rpm rise, lending the car a welcome dose of personality. The Nissan isn’t as fast or as snappy as the Supra, but its engine is fun to drive and feels strong after it hits 5,000 rpm. However, the nine-speed transmission falls well short of the Supra’s eight-speed. “I was only impressed with the Nissan gearbox because I hadn’t yet driven the ‘BMW Toyota,'” Brady explained. “The ZF eight-speed is the superior option; it feels as rapid as some dual-clutch autos and has remarkable low-speed smoothness.”

When it comes to torque-converter automatics, this transmission simply cannot be topped. However, if Nissan took the effort to rewrite the first 20% or so of the throttle map, the Z’s twin-turbo V-6 feels capable of being alive at all times rather than just while in the upper rpm range.

What about the Toyota Supra? It’s not flawless, but it’s a lot of fun to drive. With a stronger transmission, sharper steering, better brakes, and less weight to contend with, the faster Supra emerges as the better driver’s vehicle. “Without a doubt, the Supra is the car I’d take to the track,” Brady remarked. To his point, even if everything else is equal, the Toyota’s stronger suspension damping absorbs a bump almost instantly, but the Z seems like the springs and shocks are still bouncing from the previous jolt as you approach the next one. When you consider the platform is two decades old, it’s natural to think the Nissan’s unibody is more flexible than the Toyota’s.

Hopefully, Nissan will remedy this issue when the NISMO model is released. Extra bracing will be appreciated, but even so, the Z may be carrying too much weight on its front tyres.

Overall, the Toyota Supra outperforms the somewhat less costly Nissan Z in this category. We could point out that the Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE is less expensive and far more enjoyable to drive than either (plus it’s faster in the quarter mile), but let’s focus on the nostalgia prize. Both the Z and the Supra suffer from their respective manufactures’ lack of focus. This is clear in the BMW-built Supra, but less so in the Z until you try to drive it like a modern vehicle and discover it has some vintage pieces. It’s tempting to add something nice here like, “Because these are nostalgia machines, an outdated platform is OK.”

But no. Instead, congratulate the GR Supra on winning this comparative test while criticising both Nissan and Toyota. Each individual can and should do better. Otherwise, when nostalgia for the 2020s hits in 30 years, our professional descendants will be writing about the sports vehicles of two different companies.

2ND PLACE: NISSAN Z 2023

Pros:

A classic nameplate endures.

Engine revving

There is still a handbrake lever.

Cons:

Nose-heavy

Brakes

Control of the body

Although there is no such thing as a bad new modern sports car, we expected better dynamics from an icon like the Z.

FIRST PLACE: TOYOTA GR SUPRA 2022

Pros:

Handling precision

outperforms its weight

contemporary chassis

Cons:

Disproportionate appearances

A little costly

Not a genuine Toyota.

Verdict: A good and enjoyable German sports vehicle that we wish were a real Japanese sports car.

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