Twin Test: Toyota 86 Vs Nissan 370Z

Are we crazy?! One is pricier, faster and more powerful than the other – but this isn’t an unfair fight

By Shahzad Sheikh

2013 Nissan 370Z manual vs 2012 Toyota 86 manual

I don’t get it. I’m on the uphill section of a rising mountain road that curls its way up to a tunnel which bores through to the other side. And despite an advantage of around 130bhp and fatter rubber, the white object in my mirror is not shrinking to the anticipated dot on the horizon. In fact it’s clinging on like an obstinate shadow.

This picture is not right at all. Before we had set off on this section, I jokingly told Imthishan that I’d stop and wait for him on the other side of the tunnel. Actually I wasn’t joking. And what’s more, he didn’t think I was either. Because he was looking at my ride.

2013 Nissan 370Z manual vs 2012 Toyota 86 manual

And what a looker it is. Not unfamiliar, not entirely new, but still a sensation to behold. Low slung and sleek, muscular and sexy, tense with intent – and that intent seems to be to take no prisoners.

Plus it’s red, a deep delicious blood red that generates an aura of threat, aided and abetted by those utterly dramatic (new for 2013) 19-inch wheels with their demonesque claw-like spokes, which appear ready to burst out of those engorged wheel arches and rip your entrails out.

2013 Nissan 370Z manual vs 2012 Toyota 86 manual

Toyota 86 trades punches with Nissan 370Z

I return the favour and glance smugly at his pretty little Toyota 86. I’ve decided that it looks like a mini-Maserati GranTurismo. It’s alluring, desirable, but also cute and dovish. I genuinely love the Toyota 86, it’s quite simply one of the best driver’s cars out there, and there’s nothing to touch it at the money.

And whilst money plays a part in this pairing, it’s tenuous part which we’ll come to in a minute. For the moment though it looks like we’re about to throw a cuddly white bunny rabbit before a snarling wolf. Stand back and watch the fur fly.

Except that right now the wolf has been huffing and grunting and is now starting to whimper as the tearaway Toyota actually snaps at its heels scrabbling along after it and squeezing out every ounce of its abilities. What’s worse is that whilst my brow is furrowed, the pursuer seems to be having a ball.

2013 Nissan 370Z manual vs 2012 Toyota 86 manual

In a straight line I would have had him for sure. The figures tell the story: 3.7-litre, V6 with 328bhp and 267lb ft of torque giving a 0-100kph figure of 5.3 seconds and a top speed of 250kph (though seeing over 260 is quite possible – apparently). This is for the Nissan Z car.

By contrast the Toyota has a weedy 2.0-litre flat-four cylinder boxer engine producing around 200bhp with a meagre 151lb ft of torque. On paper it takes a relatively leisurely 7.6 seconds to reach 100kph from rest and only manages 225kph.

Admittedly the 370Z is 250kg heavier, but the added grunt should make up for it. Also it has much wider rubber.

2013 Nissan 370Z manual

Nissan 370Z, a man’s machine

Viewed in isolation the Nissan’s handling is fantastic with positive turn-in and good grip at the rear. At lower speeds it’s a hoot to drive – dump a load of torque on the back wheels and you can easily light them up and slew this way and that at will. It’s powerslide happy.

However that same playful waywardness turns confidence-sapper at speed. It gets down to business when the digits fly-high, with great body control, and the tyre roar alone assures you there’s plenty of rubber to keep you stuck to the road.

2013 Nissan 370Z manual

But the feel drops off and there’s movement, slightly unnerving movement, telegraphing red alert sequences to your self-preservation instincts. Combine that with the phenomenal velocities your periphery vision registers from the instruments and alarm bells ring loud and early with the Z.

To be entirely honest, a better driver than me would be able to wring more out of it, grab it by the scruff of its neck, dig deeper into a well of talent and skill, and make the Z car tango hard just over the knife-edge of its limit – and that driver probably would have had time to update his Facebook status before Imthishan joined him on the other side of the tunnel.

2012 Toyota 86 manual

Toyota 86, everyman’s road rocket

But that’s not me. Nor is it Imthishan. Though this run certainly underlines the sheer brilliance of the humble 86. With less rubber, less power, but bags more feedback and sensitivity to play with, it’s a car that positively invites you to salsa through the esses. Keep that engine right on the boiling point and then just let the excellent chassis guide you: turn-in, slide, correct, move on, don’t lift. Never lift.

That’s the problem; whilst in the Z I’m quickly getting up to silly speeds and then having to brake to scrub off the potentially life-shortening momentum, the 86’s loud pedal remains mashed to the carpet.

2012 Toyota 86 manual

When I disembark from the Z, I’m sweating. The 86 driver emerges with a grin and a spring in his step – uncharacteristic and quite hard for Imthishan to do actually.

And here’s the shocker – I end up envying him. I know he’s had more fun and I find myself wishing I had been driving the Toyota instead. Yep, at that point I wished I had the cheaper car. Much cheaper car.

2013 Nissan 370Z manual

Pricier, but not by as much 

Actually no, not that much. Not anymore. And that was the point of this rather incongruous comparo. You see the Nissan 370Z has been around since 2009 – sure it’s had a few spec and trim updates, including those wheels and the vertical LED lights at the front for 2013 – but it’s fundamentally unchanged.

So why did we get it out to play? Two reasons – firstly, and most importantly, it was actually our first opportunity to test a manual version of the car. Secondly because it’s always been a car we’ve felt was overpriced – tagged at launch well north of AED200k ($54.5k).

2012 Toyota 86 manual

However Nissan recently reduced its price, quite dramatically, by a third from AED199k to AED139k ($38k). There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that this was purely a knee-jerk reaction to the extraordinary success of the sell-out 86.

Having said that the base manual version is still about AED15,000 more than the top end Toyota 86 auto and the base-to-base price difference is nearly AED45,000. But the Z has the meatier engine, the butch looks, the higher grade interior, plus there’s all those buttons, and toys and a screen, and the stereo is much, much nicer.

2013 Nissan 370Z manual

Why you could buy a Nissan 370Z

So if you’re able to stretch your budget a little further, the Z might now pop up on your radar. It will give you pause for thought and tug you aside as you follow the herd to the Toyota 86 shop – ‘if I have only one meal a day, do my own laundry, and sell a kid – well there’s no rear seat in the Z anyway – then perhaps, just perhaps…’

That manual gearbox too, might prove a temptation, especially with its unique SynchroRev Match system – this basically blips the throttle on down-changes in an automated simulation of heel-and-toeing. Which is somewhat ironic, because the pedals are actually perfectly placed to allow you to practise this driving technique yourself – well you can switch off the system.

2013 Nissan 370Z manual

It works by sensing the position of the gear lever and also by monitoring your speed and driving style, raising the revs as little or as much as might be appropriate. It actually works brilliantly and you end up just leaving the system on.

So the Z is a Japanese muscle car that boasts more straight-line speed, great showroom appeal, neat techno like the Rev-matching, sideways antics on demand, spectacular looks that have aged brilliantly and of course a solid Z-car heritage.

2012 Toyota 86 manual

Why you must buy a Toyota 86

But far from going off to whimper in a corner, the 86 is having none of it and fights back on several levels. As well as being less expensive it’s also cheaper to run, along with its ability to trade blow for blow on a twisty road it also has a more supple ride and better body control, and as if being just as visually enticing wasn’t enough, the 86 boasts rear seats, and a decent boot that can hold up to four wheels with the rear seat-back down.

It’s generally easier to live with and even sounds better on the go, with the Nissan just droning along until it gets into the upper range when it finally delivers some aural personality – it’s never a screamer though, but then it’s a lusty engine with low-down torque, not high-end power.

2012 Toyota 86 manual

Verdict – buy the 86, unless you really want the 370Z, in which case buy that

This amazing little Toyota 86 just seems to win everyone contest and argument thrown at it currently, and it does so emotionally, logically and dynamically. If you’re looking for a great value sports car that’ll rock your world with smiles per miles, look no further. And when it comes to twisty mountain roads, having less power, actually makes it better!

Having said that, if you’re more into muscle, like a bit of lairiness, and boasts the skills of a drifter, then the 370Z is the car for you. And of course, if you’ve always wanted one, but felt it too costly in the past, then it’s simply a no-brainer. Go and pick one up today, because it’s now perfectly priced.

2013 Nissan 370Z manual vs 2012 Toyota 86 manual

Spec
2012 Toyota 86
Price: AED95,000 ($26k)
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder Boxer, 197bhp @ 7000rpm, 151lb ft @ 3500rpm
Performance: 0-100kph 7.6seconds, 226kph, 7.8L/100km
Transmission: six-speed manual, rear wheel drive
Weight: 1273kg

Spec
2013 Nissan 370Z
Price: AED139,000 ($38k)
Engine: 3.7-litre, V6, 338bhp @ 7000rpm, 267lb ft @ 5200rpm
Performance: 0-100kph 5.3seconds, 250kph, 10.6L/100km
Transmission: six-speed manual, rear wheel drive
Weight: 1525kg

Think I’m wrong? Then tell me below

16 responses to “Twin Test: Toyota 86 Vs Nissan 370Z”

  1. Irakli says:

    I strongly believe the Z has more then 238 hp 🙂

  2. Omar Helmy says:

    What about the Hyundai Genesis Coupe? How would it compare?

  3. Mohannad says:

    It’s not just about the power. With a budget of 95,000 there are lot of hot hatches out there that will give you more kicks than the Toyota and with more practicality and better looks and build quality. I actually feel the Toyota is even little overpriced – a Toyota Zelas will deliver almost the same performance figures of the 86 but still 20 grands cheaper. Performance aside, because it’s in a different range altogether with the 370z, in my opinion the looks of the 86 are not too fantastic. While they’ve done a good job on the interior, but look at the rims for instance compare to those of the 370z – the 86’s rims look like those rims people fit on a Yaris to pimp it. 370z all the way, because it has a Porsche Cayman performance, good looks and build quality for the budget, and let’s not forget that the Z has always been a motorsport icon.

  4. Ranzen says:

    Totally Disagree with Mohannad!, sure there are alot of hot hatches out there , but they do not deliver the same kicks as the 86 , thats for sure, most are front wheel drive, hatch backs, grocery getters, the 86 was designed to be a rear wheel drive sports car.
    over priced?…. i dont think so, its well affordable, priced in between WRXs and the Z. its well priced for what you get.
    comparing it to a Toyota Zelas…… really….. the zelas is 30kw less on power, heavier, ugly, and front wheel drive family car. not even close to comparing…. while we are on the topic of comparisons… the 86 has been compared to the cayman, and even quoted to be much better and out corners , out performs the cayman.
    i hear you talk about the rims…sure the Z is bigger . but the 86s take design cues from the old school Japanese “Watanabe” rim , which is a popular old school rim.
    The 86 is based of many years of motorsport icons from toyota. it utilizes the same side window profile as that of the 1967 2000GT.
    the engine philosophy is shared with the Toyota Sports 800, Toyota’s first sports car which used a boxer engine.
    The name “86” pays homage to Toyota’s AE86, a motor sport icon.
    years ago when the 86 was just a concept drawing , i told my self i would do what ever it takes to get one…. and in january 2013…. i made that happen… and never looked back.
    -Peace out

  5. ronman says:

    i think in such tests a power to weight ratio should be included as that levels the playing field in many cases.

  6. Pretesh says:

    This write-up makes no sense.
    The two cars are not even comparable. The Toyota is a lil teenager toy while the Z is truely an entry level sports car. Quality, Performace, Looks, Appeal and heritage……Z takes it hands down.
    Pit the Z up against the Porsche Caymann for a more interesting read.
    Oh, I have driven both the cars (86 and Z) but I now own the 370Z. Thats should say it all.

  7. Brian says:

    I also tested both before buying the Z, although I was cross-shopping a second hand 370Z Touring+Sport against a new 86 GTS so the prices were much closer. I do still sometimes wonder though; what if I’d bought the 86? I probably would have if it was at least 50kW more powerful and had a wheel and tyre package oriented towards grip rather than simply being loose. Most of my driving is on public roads, and drifting on public roads is for dickheads.

    The noises in the Z’s cabin are the wrong way around – all road and little exhaust – but I found the 86’s “noise pipe” into the cabin to be a bit of a wank, even if it does mean the car doesn’t have to be outwardly loud which is a plus. The Z is a nice place to sit while the 86’s interior almost feels like an afterthought.

    Now that Toyota has sorted out its supply issues the 86 is common as muck too, so it’ll make a brilliant weekend car in a few years time when the second hand market for the car crashes. The Z on the other hand is pretty uncommon as a result of Nissan’s ridiculous pricing policies outside the US, and something just a little different. I think they project different images too but I’ll avoid going too far into badge snobbery territory; I’d happily own both but the Z won me over.

  8. Johnny K says:

    I’m stateside and have actually been considering acquiring my racing license.

    I have really happy fond childhood memories of a 240z my uncle had. So I feel an innate connection with Z cars, but being a fan of the AE86, loving the history of the Sports 800, and a fixation on the 2000GT, and growing up when Supra’s were all the rage; the GT86/FR-S DEFINITELY has my attention.

    Considering that for the same amount of money as a NISMO 370Z; you could purchase a GT86/FR-S, purchase and install a Full Blown Motorsports stage-II turbo kit, a E86 chip tune, a Full Blown Motorsports stage-II FA20 top end supporting up to 700 horsepower, and a Cusco high capacity 2.0 LSD.

    Essentially building a 680 horse (at the rear wheels), maintaining a factory weight of 2746 lbs; reducing the horsepower to weight ratio from a 13.7:1 to respectively a 4.6:1.

    So for around $40k ($38,798 total expense including vehicle purchase), I will have built myself a GT86 that just made Godzilla it’s bitch.

  9. Johnny K says:

    That was short sided; because the Z definitely has the GT86/FR-S on style and from-factory performance.

    A Stillen twin-turbine supercharger kit with a decent chip tune would put the Z on a near even playing field with a built and tuned-to-the-nut GT86/FR-S.

    where the Z has issues is cooling and oiling.

    The VQ37VHR is a beast of a power plant.

    I hear the gripe about Z’s all the time (350 is no exception), that they wind up a little light on oil after a trip to the track or a couple sessions of spirited back road driving.
    Performance engines are by-in-large machined to lower tolerances when cold, so you’re not going to see “peak” performance till around late 3rd gear after a couple of hours of running cold; then it’ll run like it should.

    That’s the big downer of the GT86/FR-S; the machining tolerances are too tight; which would be why if anyone attempted a balls-to-the-wall tuned out GT86/FR-S, I’d highly recommend pro-rating the compression from a 12.5:1 down to a 10.8:1.

    It will cost you some ponies, but it will keep you from grenading you FA20.

    I do know from near personal experience that the VQ37VHR does NOT like forced induction.

    Also Nissan’s VEVTL was engineered in such as fashion the the heads for the VQ37VHR are a self contained unit in and of themselves, and are considered a completely replaceable part by Nissan; and they’ll knock you $2500 a side for replacement heads.

    Hydraulic actuation is cool but it comes at a price.

    I love the Z for what it is however, even Mona Lisa has her cracks.

    I love the Z for its aesthetic appearance, mechanical design is not without flaws, but it’s a Z and a badge respected world wide.

    Even old muscle guys here stateside love the Z.

    My admiration for the GT86/FR-S is for its potential as a sleeper and a bred in the bone contender.

  10. sean kinnane says:

    LOLOLOL…MY STOCK NISSAN 370Z …0-100 in 5.1 secs…toyota 86 as about as quick as a family sedan in Australia…i dont wanna be at a set of lights when a granny mobile is able to keep up…dont care how good it handles on twisty roads…plus the nissan 370 z gets more looks and sexier

  11. Vic says:

    THANK YOU!!! I loved this article. I’ve been shopping for months, trying to decide on a “sporty” car in the 30K range. I love the Z but have read anything I can find on other models of pseudo sports cars. Your post is SO well written and (although antiquated now) is perfectly pertinent to my bibliography. I’m very thankful that I stumbled upon your article!
    Kindest Regards,
    Vic

  12. William4 says:

    Hello, do you allow guest posting on motoringme.com ? 🙂 Please let me know on my e-mail

  13. Mark Howard says:

    I have owned a GTS86 for 4 years and just bought the 370 Nismo.
    The day I drove the 86 out to car lot I had a grin ear to ear, great car to drive but 6 month later your wishing you had another 60-70 kw.
    The 86 drives well but your always ringing the neck of the thing to get any performance and a little depressing when a tradie in a Sv6 ute full of tools leaves you at the lights
    You will catch him at the next round a’bout with some sense of redemption but never full satisfaction.

    The next thing a 86 driver does is buy a set of headers and gets a custom tune, you might gain 15-20 kw and get rid of that torque dip at 4000rpm.
    The grin returns for about another 3 months when again you’re looking for those extra ponies

    With the lease up on the 86 I was looking at the BSZ tsi STI with the brembo brakes but for fun I took a Z Nismo for a drive, I mashed my foot to the ground and I was amazed.
    There is no comparison between these 2 cars they are not in the same post code, the Z is the next level.
    I ended up with the Z, I now feel I have power in reserve and the handling of the Z Nismo is amazing with 0-100 in 5.1 sec

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