For a time, this comparison test looked impossible: a new, modern Nissan Z facing down a reborn Toyota Supra. But here I am, standing in front both cars, resplendent in their respective yellow hues, turbocharged six-cylinder engines humming at idle, having just demolished a challenging mountain road.
What was once thought impossible wasn’t due to logistics or a world-altering health crisis, but rather because neither model seemed fated to even exist. Until relatively recently, the tea leaves of future product planning appeared to tell us that both legendary nameplates – Fairlady Z and Supra – would be confined to history books with their mortal coils sufficiently disposed.
Life without the Supra had begun to feel normal, after the fourth-gen cult hero A80 having ceased production before the start of the new millennium.
Meanwhile, Our Fairlady of Fun’s sixth Z34 generation became one of the oldest models you could buy, staying on sale fore more than a decade.
Its survival beyond the 370Z was tenuous though, and by the mid-2010s it looked like the end of the line was approaching for the fabled Z car, with five decades of royal sports car lineage seeming without an heir.
It was generally accepted that a replacement for the 370Z just wouldn’t happen. Tightening fuel efficiency standards, Nissan’s tightened fiduciary belts, and a seeming lack of market demand for two-door sports cars had everyone assuming a seventh gen Fairlady would live only in the Too Hard Basket.
But survival is the antithesis of doom, and survive the Z did. Four years after we first heard it was in development it is finally here and ticking all the right boxes.
Under the bonnet the VR30DDTT 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 sends 298kW and 475Nm to the rear wheels through either a nine-speed automatic (like that fitted to our tester) or six-speed manual, with an old-school mechanical locking diff to boot.
Electrification? Not here. In the modern age this is decidedly old-school design. By design because the car’s survival demanded it. Reality, that harsh master, meant there was no way for the Z to be a white-sheet project. Concessions needed to be made, with smarts, ingenuity and cunning required to ensure the final product was deemed worthy of production.
It arrives only a couple years after the reborn Supra, which itself has ensured its own survival through divergent means. No amount of scrimping and scrounging of coin was going to allow Toyota to breath fresh life into the nameplate – at least not in a way that would do it justice.
Survival came instead through its well-documented partnership with BMW. Safety in numbers. These different paths to the here and now influence every facet of both the Z and Supra, it is the prevailing wind in their sales. While both fulfill the two-door sports car niche of their predecessors, the end results are distinctly different.
255/35 ZR19 (f); 275/35 ZR19 (r) Michelin Pilot Super Sport
For Toyota, the end result is as sharp a scalpel as you can find for under $100,000.
The GTS we have on test costs $97,000 and delivers a driving experience worth every cent. Last year the car received a mild update that saw the BMW-sourced B58 3.0-litre single turbo engine’s outputs increase to 285kW/500Nm, delivered to the rear wheels via a ZF eight-speed automatic and an electronically locking rear differential.
The entry level GT variant Supra will get you 99.9 per cent of the driving experience of a GTS with an almost 10 per cent saving in the price of entry ($87,000), with the only performance change being a fatter tyre sidewall.
Nissan’s local pricing for the Z undercuts its native rival significantly, with the sole available variant (since the launch special Proto is sold out) costing $73,300.
Dimensionally, both cars are remarkably similar despite their overt styling differences. Where the Z is all creases and retro styling throwbacks, the Supra stretches its metal sinuously over the BMW chassis with curves for days.
Near identical overall lengths are split with the Z using a larger wheelbase, but narrower body and track. This reveals itself in the cabins, with Nissan’s interior feeling spacious and airy compared to the Supra’s slightly cramped confines.
Yet, behind the Z’s seats is 241 litres of boot space, compared to the Supra’s 296 litres.
In terms of fit and finish, the BMW influence pays dividends for Toyota, with a quality of materials that the Z can’t hope to match. You do pay for the privilege, though.
Toyota also has an equipment advantage with the Supra GTS, with features like automatic wipers, wireless phone charging, a head-up display, and even a native navigation system all absent from the Z’s spec sheet. The thing is, the focus inside the Z has been on the things that matter to driving enthusiasts, plus a couple of nice-to-haves like an extra cupholder.
A new digital instrument screen with impressive refresh rates is a highlight, along with the steering wheel which is proportioned to perfection. It is not a coincidence that the tiller shares an identical diameter to that fitted to the R32 GT-R. Good company.
These updates mean there are clear carry-over items from the 370Z spread throughout the cabin. But ask yourself, why should Nissan change the door handles? Who really cares? Not us. Money saved.
Interior accoutrement aside, there is a clear different in intent between the Z and Supra.
Leveraging its BMW link, the Supra is an out-and-out sports car that prioritises dynamic thrills above all else. It is a potent driving weapon that in the right hands is one of the quickest A-to-B cars in the real-world on the market.
Its outputs are right in the sweet spot of useability, with a vast torque band that thrusts you back into the seat on full throttle applications. The ZF gearbox is intelligent in its calibration when left in automatic, shifting through the gears to match your driving.
Flick into manual mode and ratio changes remain crisp, with a closer stack of ratios compared to the Z. There is a real meat to the steering, giving the car a muscular feel in your hands, though feedback is a tad muted on texture-heavy roads.
What the Supra does best is chassis balance, with the car feeling like a finely crafted tool. It dances on your command, with supreme body control allowing the driver to shift weight swiftly without upsetting the car.
The trade-off is a suspension tune that sits distinctly on the firmer end of the spectrum even in its softest damper modes. While not overly crashy, the Supra doesn’t breath and settle over bumps, with every movement felt in the cabin.
An issue that will plague the Supra in the eyes of some buyers is one that strikes to the very reason it was able to survive. While Toyota had plenty of input, the chassis is one that didn’t originate in Japan – hell, the entire car is assembled in Austria.
Similarly, the drivetrain is distinctly Bavarian. We are happy to overlook these things for the sheer fact the end result is incredibly compelling in its ability as a driver’s car. Can you do the same?
Where the Supra’s dynamics are refined to a sharp point, Nissan has rounded the Z’s edges to make it a more malleable daily proposition with serious touring credentials.
Eschewing tradition of generations getting progressively stiffer as they age, Nissan says it has slackened the damping on the RZ34 compared to its Z34 predecessor to the tune of 20 per cent.
There is ample vertical movement in the Z’s suspension, which can be initially disconcerting. However, take the time to key into its more pronounced movements and you discover a car that is a willing participant when driving enthusiastically.
The mechanical locking diff in that comes standard the Z means the V6’s potent power is delivered with impressive predictability. It is a transfer of grunt to thrust that this engine has been crying out for ever since its dour use in the InfinitiQ50 and Q60 Red Sport twins, which usurped the VZ Commodore as the single pegger king of the road.
The peach of an engine is letdown somewhat by two factors, the first being a dour exhaust note. Toyota’s aural offering has greater variation in tone and tenor, with authentic burbles sprinkled throughout, while the Z is more anodyne and one-note.
What it lacks in exhaust dramatics, the Z more than makes up for with a howling induction noise at full throttle that sounds that is cyclonic in its ferocity.
The second letdown in the drivetrain is the gearbox. Borrowed from Mercedes-Benz, the nine-speed automatic slurs nicely around town, but doesn’t have the required logic in its calibration for a proper mountain road.
It will often fail to read the situation properly, either moving to a higher ratio too early during gradual throttle applications at corner exit, or not shift down appropriately on entry. Greater rewards are found selecting gears manually.
Not only is the Z’s steering wheel wonderfully designed, but it is also well judged in its weight. There is a small dead zone just off centre, but it has a smooth arc that sidesteps unnecessary neurosis and freneticism.
It communicates front axle loads and grip levels clearly, aided by a double wishbone front suspension set-up that is a clear boon compared to the Supra’s struts.
Perhaps the greatest indicator of how the Supra and Z differ in their interpretation of a modern sports car can be found in their respective rubber. Fitted to the Supra is Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber. A fantastic performance-orientated tyre that provides a clear road-holding advantage the Supra takes full advantage of.
On a warm and dry road, the confidence provided by the rubber fitted to the Toyota cannot be understated. Push, push, push and push a little more. Still the tyre’s tacky compound hooks its claws into the aggregate. It’s a stark contrast Z that makes do with Bridgestone Potenza S007 rubber.
The Bridgestone is more focused on everyday driving with the occasional hard and fast blast. While no slouch in its grip levels, it more readily rolls onto its sidewall, and relinquishes a firm hold on the tarmac at a lower threshold than the Michelin.
This transition is a smooth one, and while we found it happened more frequently to the front tyres, the rear of the Z was more than happy to step out at corner exit with heavy throttle applications. These yaw moments are accentuated by an ESC which allows plenty of lateral movement before intervening.
Pressing the throttle into the firewall, applying opposite lock as the chassis progressively steps into oversteer, you discover there was no need for an all-new architecture for this new Z. While we wouldn’t say no to adaptive dampers, the bones of the Z are still up to the task despite their relative age.
Nissan has designed a sports car that shimmies and shakes but does so in a way that involves you in the process, instead of keeping you at arms lengths. There is ample vertical movement, but we found it settled with purpose instead of suffering prolonged pogoing.
It feels unfair, possibly even cruel, to pick just a single winner between this pair. Just the mere fact that we are here, in 2022, comparing two engaging, fulfilling, and rewarding sports cars from Nissan and Toyota is worth celebrating.
Choosing between them feels personal. It is personal. The companies that manufacture these vehicles had to make core sacrifices, be it fiscal or philosophical, in order to allow the Z and Supra’s continued existence. Those concessions have left indelible marks on the character of both cars, bringing forth a new generation of maturity for their respective storylines.
Which car is right for you will also be a personal choice. Do you want something as focused as possible for the money, or would you prefer a sports car that doesn’t have permanently bruised knuckles?
As for the products themselves, the Supra is faster, has a superior cabin finish, and is easier to key into as a driver. Conversely the Z possesses to us, a more authentic character, greater daily useability, and more scope for post-purchase tweaking.
For the traditionalist, the Z’s lineage is also unblemished. It is pure Nissan. It feels like there is headroom within the Z’s package, and that will have been intentional to allow for an unconfirmed but almost inevitable NISMO version to sit above it in the pecking order.
Perhaps that variant will be better suited to battling the Supra on a twisting mountain road. Which brings us nicely to the crux of the issue. As a sports car, the Z doesn’t quite have the finesse to match Toyota’s reborn hero. Yet, there will be plenty of people that can fit the Nissan into a budget but find the GT Supra a stretch too far.
Nissan’s sports car hero offers genuinely impressive bang for your bucks. Yet, perhaps the biggest compliment that can be given to the Z is that it feels cohesive, considered, and purposeful. A parts bin rearrange it is not.
Driving enthusiasts will enjoy the Z as much as those that simply want a powerful and stylish two-door coupe. The fact that this Z will do both is an achievement on its own.
Clever as Nissan’s development process may be, it proves unable to dethrone the Supra from the sports car throne for now. The Japanese-German hybrid is searing hot, with road holding that can be genuinely shocking at times.
Its on-paper outputs are slightly smaller than the Z, but it uses its eight-speed gearbox to greater affect. You can drive it fast by leaving the automatic to its own devices or by taking control yourself with equal reward.
While we remember the ‘90s as the halcyon days of Japanese performance, these two make a compelling argument that the golden age is now. We are glad to see the legendary nameplates survive, and thrilled to see them thrive.
Toyota Supra GTS
Safety, value and features
Comfort and space
Engine and gearbox
Ride and handling
Toyota Supra GTS: 9.0/10
What we like
Not so much…
Booming road noise
Nissan Z: 8.5/10
What we like
Genuinely useable day-to-day
Fantastic value for money
Not so much…
Could use more focused rubber
Can’t match Supra on interior quality
Lazy gearbox logic
2023 Nissan Z manual v Ford Mustang GT manual… stay tuned!
2023 Nissan Z and Toyota Supra GTS specifications
2023 Nissan Z specifications
2023 Toyota Supra GTS specifications
2-door, 2-seat coupe
2-door, 2-seat coupe
2997cc V6, dohc, 24v, twin-turbo
2998cc inline-6, DOHC, 24v, turbocharged
Bore x Stroke
86 x 86mm
82 x 94.6mm
298kW @ 6400rpm
285kW @ 5800-6500rpm
475Nm @ 1600-5600rpm
500Nm @ 1800-5000rpm
Double-wishbone, coil springs, dampers, anti-roll bar (f); multi-links, coil springs, dampers, anti-roll bar (r)
Struts, adaptive dampers, coils, anti-roll bar (f); multi-links, adaptive dampers, coils, anti-roll bar (r)