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Mustang versus Camaro. Evo versus STI. Accord versus Camry. These are all great automotive rivalries that made each combatant better for the experience. Now, at long last, we can pit the 2022 Toyota Supra against the 2023 Nissan Z, a battle some three decades in the making. Sort of.
In one way, this is a Nissan proxy war with BMW instead of Toyota, since the Supra is based on the BMW Z4 roadster (perhaps we should call it the Zupra). Meanwhile, the Nissan Z isn’t really an all-new sports coupe since it shares much of its chassis with the sixth-generation 370Z that dates back to 2009. If you think of this prizefight as “Ringer vs. Retiree,” it doesn’t seem quite fair. And it isn’t. But this is the matchup that people want to see, and who are we to deny them?
To continue the boxing parlance, let’s run down the tale of the tape. The 2023 Nissan Z is a mere 0.1 inch shorter nose to tail than the Supra. The Z is narrower by 0.4 inch but is taller by 0.9 inch. A bigger difference is found in the wheelbase, where the Nissan measures 100.4 inches to the Toyota’s 97.2 inches. The Z’s twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 is rated at 400 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. The Supra’s (BMW-supplied) turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six rings in with 382 horses and 368 pound-feet.
Now comes the all-important weigh-in. No emaciated championship fighters, these two-seaters arrived topped off with premium unleaded. The Z packed on almost 200 pounds in its three-year retirement and tips the scales at 3507 pounds. The Supra is lighter, weighing only 3382 pounds—but it’s not just the mass, it’s where it’s placed. The Z has 56.4 percent of its weight on the front tires, compared to the Supra’s more favorable 51.7 percent. It’s clear the Supra has a reach advantage as we head into the ring.
The Nissan Z in its base Sport trim starts at $41,015, while the entry-level Supra 2.0 will set you back $44,565. That price gap is especially concerning when you realize the latter is the tab for the 255-hp four-cylinder Supra. Upgrading to the Supra 3.0 with the six-cylinder will cost you $52,915. That’s comparable to the Z’s top Performance trim, which arrived carrying an as-tested price of $53,610 with Passion Red paint, illuminated door sills, and some floormats. The Supra in 3.0 Premium trim with the Driver Assistance package was $57,260.
Nissan Z Performance
Highs: Engaging manual transmission, twin-turbo V-6 is willing and able, less cash outlay.
Lows: Tires are easily overwhelmed, outdated interior with disappointing materials, shallow trunk space.
Toyota GR Supra 3.0 Premium
Highs: Superb suspension tuning, pleasant ride quality, potent inline-six.
Lows: Wince-inducing exterior styling, small cargo area, infotainment could be more intuitive.
In testing, the six-speed-manual Z reaches 60 mph in a respectable 4.5 seconds. The Supra and its eight-speed automatic get there in 3.7 seconds. The gap stays consistent at the end of the quarter-mile, where the Z arrives after 13.0 seconds at 111 mph, compared to the Supra’s 12.2-second run at 114 mph. Both vehicles benefit from launch control, though the Supra’s manages wheelspin better.
Braking also favors the Supra, which comes to a stop from 70 mph in 147 feet. The Z needs 166 feet. Circling the skidpad, the Supra pulls 1.00 g on its Michelin Pilot Sports while the Z manages 0.93 g on Bridgestone Potenza S007s. Replacing those Bridgestones would certainly improve the Z’s performance, and considering the Nissan costs $3650 less than the Supra, perhaps that would take the sting out of paying for a new set of tires. Round one goes to the Supra.
The Supra is a playful and willing companion on tight, technical roads, with a sharpness and precision that encourages you to drive it incrementally harder. The suspension tuning is particularly inspiring on a section of undulating left-right kinks, as the springs rebound with choreographed precision over slight crests into the next bend. Into the next turn, and the next, and so on it goes until the road finally straightens and we’re left giggling with childlike glee.
On the same roads, the Z doesn’t instill the same kind of confidence as the Supra. A lot of this can be attributed to the less capable tires that howl wildly when cornering. This is especially true on steep downhill sections where the front contact patches surrender their tenuous grip. At least the tire noise telegraphs that the Z will ignore your next request by running wide through the turn.
Don’t think that the Z is ready to throw in the towel, though. It has three pedals and a stick to score points with the judges. That’s something the Supra won’t have until the 2023 model year, and it’s one of the best ways to get drivers fully engaged. The Z has automatic rev-matching to eliminate inelegant downshifts, and it works incredibly well, but we prefer the traditional heel-toe two-step, and thankfully you can switch off the auto-helper with the long-press of a single button. As pleasing as dancing on the pedals and rowing through the gears is, this type of fan service isn’t enough to pull the Z over the top.
Both the Supra and Z suspensions are tuned for performance, but neither is punishing in its stiffness. The Supra benefits from adaptive dampers, allowing it to be a bit more compliant on one end and firmer on the other. As far as seat comfort goes, both offer an appropriate amount of cushioning, but not so much as to over-isolate your butt from the road. The Supra does provide more lumbar support and power adjustments, though.
The Supra continues to land punches when it comes to the interior, with a more modern cabin courtesy of BMW. Much of the Z’s dash has been reworked to accommodate a larger infotainment touchscreen, digital instrument panel, and new steering wheel, but there are plenty of disappointing carryover elements throughout. The center console is almost the same as it was a decade ago, with an overabundance of hard, flimsy plastic and large antiquated buttons pulled from a parts bin. Neither of these coupes have much in the way of cargo space, with the Nissan providing a shallow seven cubic feet of capacity compared to 10 for the Supra.
It became clear very early in the drive that the Nissan Z’s return to the arena wouldn’t end in a career-defining victory. That’s not to say it should have stayed retired, though. This is the best version in the Z’s storied history, but the Toyota GR Supra simply outmatches it. While styling may be subjective, resistance to the Supra’s exterior design may be enough to drive some shoppers to the Z, however.
In every other way, the Supra wins the bout as the superior sports car. As much as the Z is better than the 370Z it replaces, it’s more of a “sporty” car compared to the Supra. Perhaps a future higher-performing Nismo Z could help even the scorecards, but it’s unlikely that will correct the interior missteps. To wrap it all up in a final boxing metaphor, the Z is swinging wildly hoping for a lucky knockout, while the Supra confidently lands unanswered precision strikes.
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