While still equipped with a V6, the all-new 2023 Nissan Z does have twin turbochargers under its hood. So does that mean it can compete with V8 muscle cars now, unlike its predecessors? Well, we’re about to find out through a drag race that also features the Ford Mustang GT and the Dodge Challenger Scat Pack.
This is something every Nissan Z buyer wants to know. The “400Z” engine, borrowed from the Infiniti Q60 Red Sport, has proven itself quite potent. It’s not impossible for a sports car with six cylinders to be faster than a V8 muscle car; you see it all the time with German and Japanese “imports.”
But what about the rest of the powertrain? That’s where the problem is. The Q60 Red Sport is a luxury car with an automatic and AWD, giving it great launches. So is something like a BMW M340i or an Audi S5/RS5, two cars that can punch above their displacement. Meanwhile, this Nissan Z is a 6-speed manual, which we know to be slower than the auto.
To make things fair, the Canadians at Throttle House also used manual-equipped muscle cars. Specifically, we have the Ford Mustang GT with a 5.0-liter V8 rated at 450 horsepower and 410 lb-ft of torque, which is the cheapest car in this race. Meanwhile, that big black boat is a Challenger Scat Pack with the “392” 6.4-liter making 485 horsepower and 475 lb-ft of torque.
Powerful? Yes, but also quite heavy and difficult to launch. Its wheelman Thomas is the best driver of the group, and he’s worried about the Mustang’s top-end performance. Rightfully so, as the Ford takes the quarter-mile victory. All three struggle off the line, after which this turns into a power war.
The Nissan Z does surprisingly well in the rolling race. It’s got a great initial response despite being turbocharged. This is positively shocking to Thomas in the Challenger, the car with the biggest engine and the most torque.
Why the Nissan lost
On paper, the Nissan Z should have a chance. Sure, it makes 50 less horsepower than the Mustang. But it’s lighter, especially if you compare it to the Dodge Challenger. Of course, these aren’t direct competitors, but the muscle car vs. import rivalry is long-lived. And as I’ve said, there are plenty of six-cylinder cars which can beat a Mustang or Challenger.
The Toyota Supra can do a little better against muscle cars, even against something a little more expensive like a Mustang Mach-1. Part of it has to do with the BMW engine, which makes way more than the advertised 382 horsepower. But all the Supra drag races you’ve ever seen featured the automatic, which was standard until recently. This ZF 8-speed is quick.
Hagerty’s “$50,000 question” drag race from May (check it out below) shows you how the Nissan Z automatic is quicker than the manual. That auto is from Mercedes and makes the “400Z” 0.5 of a second quicker over the quarter mile. The same video explains why the manual Z is so quiet.
You might say this is missing the whole point of the new Nissan Z, that it’s a pure sports car meant to be enjoyed with a manual. However, in their previous review, Throttle House noted the car had quiet exhaust, problems with the shifter, and soft GT-like suspension. The Camaro 1LE, they found, is a better track car.