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2023 Toyota GR Supra Manual vs. Nissan Z Manual: Greatest Hits

Apr 02, 2024

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We don't know what it is about rock bands, but it seems like the more successful they are and the longer they've been together, the worse their new albums get. We, for instance, love the band AC/DC, but frankly 2020's Power Up can't hold a candle to 1978's Powerage. That's not to say we don't enjoy the new tunes, but that special sauce—the edge, the sense of innovation—that made the earlier stuff so magical is missing.

Automakers often have the same problem as their own icons age. Some manufacturers, namely Chevrolet with the Corvette and Porsche with the 911, have managed to keep their offerings fresh by continually pushing the design and performance envelopes, but others seem to struggle with bottling what made their earlier efforts so successful. Two automakers that have recently given a pair of their own rock stars new life are Nissan and Toyota. After a hiatus, the 2023 Nissan Z and 2023 Toyota GR Supra are back making music, aiming to capture the magic of their earlier recordings in a contemporary package. We've already compared the automatic-transmission versions of the new Z and Supra (a battle the Supra won), but now that the Toyota's long-awaited manual is available, it's worth seeing if stick shifts improve both Japanese sports cars—all while giving the Nissan a shot at redemption in the process.

As far as greatest hits go, both the new Z and GR Supra follow the blueprints of their predecessors: a six-cylinder engine under an elongated hood, a compact driver-focused cab in the middle, and a short rear deck over the driven wheels.

Actually, the Nissan follows the exact blueprint of its predecessor. As we suspected when the concept was first revealed, the new 2023 Z rides on an updated version of Nissan's FM platform—a rear-drive architecture that first appeared underneath the 2003 Nissan 350Z and its Infiniti cousins. Like the 350Z and subsequent 370Z, the new Z shares its powertrain with Infiniti, a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 that makes a healthy 400 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque on 93 octane. (Nissan recommends those in states without 93 get familiar with octane booster.) It's paired with an updated six-speed manual—now capable of no-lift shifts—and drives a set of Bridgestone-shod 19-inch wheels in back via a mechanical limited-slip differential.

The new 2023 GR Supra has a tougher act to follow than the Z does. The A80 Supra last appeared in a comparison test against the Z as part of our Japanese supercar shootout in our July 1993 issue. Despite the 1993 Supra Turbo facing off against giants like the Nissan 300ZX (coming off a MotorTrend Import Car of the Year win), Acura NSX, Mazda RX-7, and Mitsubishi 3000GT VR-4, we wasted no time and crowned it the winner in the story's introduction. "The unqualified winner on the test and racetracks: the Toyota Supra Turbo. Save for top speed, the Supra Turbo topped every major objective performance category. When asked which we'd choose it as our only daily driver, the Toyota earned a comfortable first place and also won our subjective Fun-Factor poll," we wrote.

We made much of the old Supra's shared lineage with the then-hot Lexus SC300, much like today you won't read a GR Supra review without a mention of the BMW Z4 hiding underneath. Yes, yes, you know the story by now—while Nissan engineers were hard at work re-engineering a 20-year-old platform for the '20s, Toyota bought into the Z4 program. BMW would engineer, power, and build the GR Supra alongside the Z4 in Germany and Austria, and Toyota would design and tune the car to its liking. The result is a two-door fastback sporting a 3.0-liter turbocharged I-6 making 382 hp and 368 lb-ft of torque. The engine is paired with a six-speed manual and a host of performance goodies, including electronically adjustable dampers.

As difficult as that arrangement may be for Toyota diehards to explain, it's undoubtedly proven beneficial for enthusiasts as a whole. The new Supra is lighter, more powerful, and a better handler than even the most potent A80 Supra ever was. And in every performance metric we measure, it bests the new Z, too. You can get the full breakdown in the chart below, but the major highlights are the 0-60-mph, quarter-mile, and figure-eight results. The Nissan, despite a launch-control function, struggles to put its power down, stepping out and hopping as it leaves the line, resulting in a 4.9-second 0-60 run. For its part, the Toyota likes to be finessed; our 4.3-second time was the result of gently slipping the clutch and slow, purposeful shifts. Despite its power advantage, the Z can't make up lost ground in the quarter mile, either; it takes 13.5 seconds for it to cross the finish line at 105.3 mph, while the Supra gets there in 12.8 seconds at 114.0 mph.

It's worth quickly pausing here to note that if straight-line numbers are what you care most about, the automatic versions of both cars are significantly quicker than their manual counterparts. The manual Supra is the quickest around our figure eight, however; it lapped the course in 23.7 seconds averaging 0.82 g, while the 177-pound-heavier manual Z lapped it in 25.3 seconds at 0.74 g—three-tenths of a second slower than the last auto-equipped Z we tested.

Sometimes the numbers don't tell the whole story when out on the road, but in this case they only confirmed things. Unleashed on some of our favorite stretches of local L.A.-area asphalt, starting on the highways of the San Fernando valley, winding through the twisty Malibu hills, and spitting us out onto the always gorgeous Pacific Coast Highway, it's immediately apparent the Z is from another era. Whether cruising along the coast, shuffling through traffic, or slicing up canyon roads, the Nissan's busy ride, quick but vague steering, and imprecise brake feel make the Z feel unsettled.

"Surface textures that the Supra dispatches uneventfully disturb the Z to a higher degree," associate editor Alex Leanse said, noting the Nissan took much more work to actually enjoy driving. The Z would also likely benefit from stickier tires, smarter stability control tuning, and chassis revisions, given that it would regularly (and without any prodding) oversteer and attempt to swap ends. "Enthusiasts want rear-drive cars they can step out the tail with, but not like this. When the Z oversteers, it's more because of inherent chassis imbalance—an inert feeling up front, and an untrustworthy rear end—not because the driver provokes it."

On a suitably straight road, though, there is some fun to be had in the Z. Its engine can be a touch laggy down low, but once the turbos spool up and the tach swings past 4,000 rpm, the Nissan gets a much-needed kick in the pants and really scoots. The manual itself is good but not great; shift action is suitably mechanical, but the stick doesn't like to be rushed from gate to gate. Clutch pedal feel is great with a short, positive bite, but the pedal box is crowded and pedals spaced such that some drivers felt obligated to use the Nissan's auto rev-match downshifting feature rather than heel-toeing the old-fashioned way.

The GR Supra, on the other hand, is a reminder of how much automotive progress has been made over the past two decades. In comparison to the Nissan, the Toyota feels polished, smooth, and more enjoyable to drive. Like the Nissan, the Supra's steering is quick, but it offers superior road feel (and two levels of steering effort to select), allowing those with slow hands to quell the car's nervousness and focus on the road ahead. The Supra's more symmetrical weight balance (52/48 percent front/rear versus 57/43 percent for the Nissan), more forgiving suspension, and grippier Michelin rubber also work to control the tail-happiness of the car, making it easier for your internal gyroscope to alert you when you're at the car's rather low limits for the class.

The Supra's engine is more enjoyable than the Z's, too. In typical BMW fashion and like the Z's engine, the Supra's inline-six is a touch laggy at the low end, but it pulls hard and linearly once the turbo spools up around 2,000 rpm. The manual transmission isn't quite as good as the Nissan's, though. Like most manual BMWs, the Toyota's shifter has long, somewhat rubbery throws, requiring purposeful rather than quick shifts. Clutch pedal travel is long and somewhat vague, too, though it's easy enough to get used to. More difficult to get used to is the Supra's automatic rev-matching feature, which in typical Germanic fashion can only be turned off in Sport mode. A shame, because the pedals are properly spaced, and the I-6 is responsive enough to make proper heel-toeing enjoyable.

Given that only about $5,000 separates the Z's $53,210 as-tested price from the Supra's $58,865 sticker, the similar fuel economy scores (20 mpg combined for the Z, 21 mpg for the Toyota), and the similar levels of interior comfort, quality, and design, we feel confident deciding this sports car comparison on driving alone.

With the Supra and Z, both automakers have attempted to get the band back together for one more hit record. The Nissan takes the Mötley Crüe approach, for better or worse attempting to milk the original lineup for as long as humanly possible. The Toyota follows in the footsteps of other bands like Kiss, mixing original members with hired guns, capturing the spirit of the magical original thing but not the essence. In this showdown, we'll take the Supra again.

We appreciate that the Z is still with us, but the new one just leaves us missing the old ones even more. The Supra, meanwhile, is more enjoyable to drive, even if it lacks the special sauce that made us love the last one so much.

Verdict: We're glad the Z is still with us, but we wish Nissan paid more than lip service to its legend.

Verdict: A quite capable performer with lots to like, but we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the better driving experiences of (cheaper) cars like the Chevy Camaro SS 1LE, Honda Civic Type R, or even possibly the new 2024 Ford Mustang.

Verdict:Verdict:2023 Nissan Z (Performance) Specifications2023 Toyota GR Supra (3.0 Premium MT) SpecificationsDIMENSIONSACCELERATION TO MPHCONSUMER INFO