New Nissan Z vs. Toyota Supra Head-to-Head: Which Sports Car Revival Wins?

This is not an instrumented test. This one all came down to the vibes.

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New Nissan Z vs. Toyota Supra Head-to-Head: Which Sports Car Revival Wins? © New Nissan Z vs. Toyota Supra Head-to-Head: Which Sports Car Revival Wins?

Contrary to the forecast of my own black and cynical heart, we really do seem to be living through a renaissance of sports cars from Japanese brands. Not only are the Subaru BRZ and Toyota GR86 still around, but they’re better than ever. There’s a Toyota GR Corolla coming. And there’s now an all-new 2023 Nissan Z to compete against the hallowed Toyota GR Supra. Between those two, I suppose it’s only my civic duty to tell you which I thought was the more engaging sports car.

Having spent the weekend in the 3.0-liter, straight-six Supra, it was still living fresh in my neurons when I hopped into the new Z the following Tuesday. On paper, they aren’t that different. Both are front-engined, rear-driven, two-seater, six-cylinder sports cars, making similar power. The one big difference is the Z is offered with a manual transmission; the Supra is not. Yet

But as for the off-paper and more intangible stuff? That little buzz you get at the base of your skull when you fire one of these cars off the line, or when you sweep it through a corner like you’d dust off a chalkboard? Which car did that better? For my purposes here, this wasn’t an instrumented test. This one all came down to the vibes.

2023 Nissan Z Specs

  • Base price (Performance-trim as tested): $41,015 ($53,210)
  • Powertrain: 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 | 6-speed manual or 9-speed automatic | rear-wheel drive
  • Horsepower: 400 @ 6,400 rpm
  • Torque: 350 lb-ft @ 1,600 to 5,200 rpm
  • Seating capacity: 2
  • Cargo capacity: 6.9 cubic feet
  • Curb weight: 3,486 to 3,602 pounds
  • Wheelbase: 100.4 inches
  • Length: 172.4 inches
  • Width: 72.6 inches
  • EPA fuel economy: 
    • Manual: 18 mpg city | 24 highway | 20 combined
    • Automatic: 19 mpg city | 28 highway | 22 combined
  • Quick take: The iconic Z returns, more powerful than ever before, but shines much brighter on backroads than at the track. Except if you’re launching it in a straight line.
  • Score: 8/10

2022 Toyota GR Supra Specs

  • Base price: 
    • 2.0-liter: $44,565
    • 3.0-liter: $52,915
    • 3.0-liter Premium as tested: $57,335
  • Powertrain: 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six | 8-speed automatic | rear-wheel drive
  • Horsepower: 382 @ 5,800-6,500 rpm
  • Torque: 368 lb-ft @ 1,800-5,000 rpm
  • Seating capacity: 2
  • Cargo capacity: 10.2 cubic feet
  • Curb weight: 3,400 pounds (3.0-liter)
  • Wheelbase: 97.2 inches
  • Length: 172.5 inches
  • Width: 73 inches
  • EPA fuel economy:
    • 2.0-liter: 22 mpg city | 30 highway | 25 combined
    • 3.0-liter: 25 mpg city | 32 highway | 28 combined
  • Quick take: The Supra may anger Super evangelists as not being a “real” Supra, but that doesn’t mean it also isn’t a wonderful sports car.
  • Score: 8.5/10

Defining Driver Engagement

It probably comes as no surprise as a Lotus fetishist, but I like petite, lightweight cars that you feel like you’re wearing rather than driving. The Lotus Evora GTs and Porsche 718s of the world. 

There are no stats as to what constitutes driver engagement, no checklist of requirements or limitations. A car’s responsiveness varies from person to person, just like how certain foods taste better to some than others. To me, proper driver engagement means a car feels like an extension of the self: through its tires and suspension, you sniff out the quality of the road; through its steering, you guide the car’s nose like it’s a hunting hound; through its power, you bend spacetime with noise and acceleration for that instant dopamine hit. Any car that can come close to delivering on that is good in my book.

And the More Engaging One Is…

There are hard, objective differences between the Supra and the Z—the Supra costs more, has a slightly shorter wheelbase, and roundly pissed everyone off at launch because it didn’t come with a manual—but if I had to pick a more engaging car between the two, I’d go with the Supra.

Everyone looks at me like I’ve swallowed a fish whole when I say this: with a mixture of incredulity and pity. But I stand by it.

This is not to say the new Z isn’t good, because it is. It’s very good. It’s fast as fuck, it sounds great, and it’s hilarious, hysterical fun to launch as a manual, especially since it’ll happily chirp its tires into third. But it also skirts toward the grand-tourer end of the sports-car spectrum. It’s more comfortable than the Supra, it feels heavier and more substantial, and there’s more of a forgiving lean in its suspension. 

You can get a full rundown of how the new Z drives if you head over to my first drive review. In fact, I encourage it! All in all, I concluded the Z is a very capable sports car that shines best on your favorite Sunday morning road.

I deliberately held off from driving the Supra when it first came out because the discourse exhausted me so, and also because I wanted to be able to evaluate it more objectively—away from all the brazen chatter of an entire industry Weighing In. 

But I’ll tell you what I know. I know that when I took the first highway on-ramp in the Supra—felt the tautness of its steering response, how frenetically fast the rack responded, how the entire chassis snapped to attention like a birch switch—and an involuntary “holy shit” fell out of my mouth, I was in something special. 

Victoria Scott was right when she said the Supra’s steering has very little communication, but the responsiveness and sheer balance made up for that. Paired with the car’s fantastically crisp suspension setup, the Supra was the most midengine-feeling front-engined car I’ve driven. It brought fresh perspective to stale roads, made an adventure park out of them. The glass-smooth wave of inline-six torque was just a bonus. (The difference between 382 horsepower and 400 hp is also completely indistinguishable for those unwilling to leave the pen and paper behind.)

There were drawbacks—glaring ones—of course. The Supra’s Achilles’ heel is its automatic transmission, you all were right about that. Despite its adequate functionality around town, it reduces to a gummy mess when you’re trying to wring some excitement out of it, sticking in the old gear for a breath too long when you’ve demanded a fresh one. 

The brakes had that top-pedal sensitivity I despise, the suspension rode hard, and visibility was ass. If I pulled up to a traffic light and stopped just before the crosswalk, as you’re supposed to, the low roof and small windshield prevented me from seeing the light at all. Be me, the absolute tool craning forward in her seat, nose brushing the steering wheel, just to see that green means go. Stupid!

But the level of driver engagement more than compensated for those little pain points. I’m not sure what made the Supra and the Z like night and day for me. Perhaps it was the fact the Supra is a little lighter than the Z, or maybe that those three-ish fewer inches of wheelbase really do make that much of a difference. 

Whatever the reason, the Supra was resoundingly the twitchier of the two, with the kind of hyped-up, over-caffeinated alertness I look for in a sports car. It fit like a true dance partner, one that challenges you to corner harder, accelerate faster, brake later. It took only the first turn for me to meld with the Supra; I was willing to contort myself—physically, mentally—around the rest of its flaws after that. 

The Z is assuredly the more daily livable of the two. It is more agreeable in every way. Even its looks are less polarizing: simpler and more classical. It will probably age far better. So, the mass-appeal is clear here. I think it’ll gain favor with a lot more people than the Supra ever will.  

But if you’re a sick masochist like me and think driving a sports car should come with a little bit of punishment, choose the one with the funny face.

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