Would You Rather: Ford Mustang vs Nissan Z

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

The rivalry between Japanese and domestic automobiles was fairly intense. American muscle had fallen off and arguably failed to regain its swagger until the 1990s. While things have improved, we’re now confronting a situation where the 2024 Ford Mustang GT is running out of local rivals — so we have decided to pit it against the 2024 Nissan Z.

This was originally going to be a match up between the Nissan Z and Toyota Supra. But I’ve yet to drive the latter and have been told by just about everyone with some seat time that it’s the superior driver's car and the specs seem to back this up. Considering this series is supposed to be about making difficult choices, the concept was scrapped due to how ugly the Supra is.

Instead, we have two vehicles that are much less intensely styled and actually seem to care a little more about their own pedigree. While it may not sell like an F-Series pickup, Ford knows that the Mustang is an American icon and has done what it can to maintain its historic image as a pony car. Meanwhile, Nissan is trying to incorporate elements of past Z Cars to create an automotive amalgam.

This includes going back to using a twin-turbocharged, 3.0-liter V6 engine. The VR30DDTT churns out a healthy 400 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 350 lb-ft of torque at 1600 rpm. Ford has similarly opted to keep around the 5.0-liter V8. However, Blue Oval have managed to massage a whopping 486 hp at 7,250 rpm and 418 lb-ft at 4,900 rpm. Both cars play host to aluminum blocks and heads.

While this would seem to give the Mustang a massive advantage in every category other than fuel economy, acceleration between the two is closer than you might expect from a dead stop. When both vehicles are equipped with a 6-speed manual, 0-60 mph comes slightly faster at 4.2 seconds. The Nissan is capable of covering the same amount of ground in 4.5 seconds. However, the distance between them begins to grow as speed increases.

Each can be had with a six-speed manual or an automatic that improves acceleration — 10 speeds for the Mustang, nine for the Z. Both coupes are rear drive only.

The Ford benefits from having port and direct injection, while the Nissan only uses direct. You may find replacing an extra set of sprayers on a vehicle that already has two extra cylinders a hassle. But I’d rather deal with that once or twice rather than having to worry about carbon deposits on the valves on the regular.

Suspensions are both upgrades from the base model. Both cars have a fully independent front and rear suspension with a strut front suspension and a multi-link rear suspension. Ford gets the bigger brakes (15.4-inch vented disc in the front 14.0-inch vented discs in the rear). But it’s also the bigger car and the Nissan Performance seems to stop just fine with its similarly vented discs (14.0 inches front and 13.8 inches rear). But the Sport trim uses rotors that are about an inch smaller.

We mocked the Supra earlier. But exterior designs are highly subjective and neither of the models in contest are unpleasant to look at. Ford has made a lot of changes to the car for 2024. However, the final result actually looks fairly close to the model that came before — just with more hard edges. It’s menacing and quite handsome. That said, the Nissan feels more timeless and I’d put good money down on it being more appreciated a few years down the road.

On the inside, Ford has totally revamped the cabin for the 2024 model year and leaned heavily into relying on screens — with the exception of the HVAC system. While they’re highly customizable and oriented in a way that makes them easier for the driver to use, it’s kind of a shame that this is what Ford spent their development budget on instead of a new chassis. The seats are likewise fine. But having sat in the Recaro seats that come with the Mustang Dark Horse, I’d like something with a bit more bolstering on the GT.

The cabin of the Z feels a little older and the screens are smaller. But you feel a little more planted than in the GT and have access to a few more knobs and buttons. There are even some analog gauge pods sitting atop the dashboard, which help trick you into thinking you’re driving something truly hardcore. The main downside is that the displays from Nissan aren’t quite as crisp and you don’t get a backseat. But you do get the option to add a lot of color, if black isn't your bag.

Nissan has also retained a traditional, mechanical parking brake and Ford has outfitted the GT with what looks like a hybrid between a traditional parking brake and a custom drift brake. In reality, it’s just an electronic switch made into a level. However, one can go into the touchscreen menus to activate a special drift mode that temporarily transforms it into a drift brake. Not having been able to explore this particular feature, I don’t have much to say. It could be glorious. But it is kind of wonky to use as a normal parking brake and I’d rather have the mechanical connection.

As far as road cars are concerned, the Nissan Z makes for an excellent grand tourer. You can confidently push it on a back road and be rewarded. However, those who have taken it on track have said that it begins to stumble when pushed to the absolute limit — with the suspension taking most of the blame. The Mustang has more of a presence on the road and frankly sounds better from inside the cabin. But it feels a bit more squirrely when pushed and you notice a little more interference from the driving aids.

If you want a quick and comfortable car that can eat up miles, neither would be a disappointment. The Mustang feels kind of gimmicky with all its unnecessary features whereas the Z feels more focused, albeit a tad dated and overpriced as you climb the trim ladder. The Sport trim starts at $42,970, while the Mustang GT starts at $46,980 (all prices exclude destination and tax).

That said, anyone doing the occasional track day will probably want to take advantage of one of Ford’s Performance Packages or upgrade to the highly-capable Dark Horse (MSRP $58,935).

Nissan likewise offers a mechanical limited-slip differential via the Performance trim, in addition to the aforementioned brake upgrade and rev matching. But opting into it is pretty expensive at $52,970 and track-day regulars will undoubtedly want the upgrades that come with the ($65,750) Nismo variant of the Z — assuming they’re okay with ditching the manual option.

What say you? Are these two vehicles even in the same ballpark or are the differences in trim simply too vast?

Maybe the real answer is to scrap both and simply buy the EcoBoost Mustang for a comparably breezy $30,920. It can play host to loads of Ford-branded performance upgrades and the stock 2.3-liter turbo pushes out 315 hp and 350 lb-ft. That works out to low 13-second passes in the quarter mile and sufficient to put a smile on most faces.

[Images: Ford; Nissan]

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Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • V16 2025 VW GLI...or 2025 Honda Civic SI? Same target audience, similar price points. Both are rays of sun in the gray world of SUV'S.
  • FreedMike Said this before and I'll say it again: I'm not that exercised about this whole "pay for a subscription" thing, as long as the deal's reasonable. And here's how you make it reasonable: offer it a monthly charge. Let's say that adaptive headlights are a $500 option on this vehicle, and the subscription is $15 a month, or $540 over a three year lease. So you try the feature for a month, and if you like it, you keep it; if you don't, then you discontinue it, like a Netflix subscription. In any case, you didn't get charged $500 up front the feature. That's not a bad deal.In my case, let's say VW offers an over the air chip reflash that gives me another 25 hp. The total price of the upgrade is $1,000 (which is what a reflash would cost you in the aftermarket). If they offered me a one time monthly subscription for $50 to try it out, I'd take it. In other words, maybe the news isn't all bad.
  • 2ACL A good car, but - at least in this configuration -not one that should command a premium. Its qualities just aren't as enduring as those of Honda's contemporary sports cars. For better or worse, this is a formula they remain able to replicate.
  • Jalop1991 I just read that Tesla's profits are WAY down "as the electric vehicle company has faced both more EV competition from established automakers and a slowing of overall EV sales growth." This Cadillac wouldn't help Tesla at all, but the slowing market of EV sales overall means this should be a halo/boutique car. Regardless, yes, they should make it.
  • FreedMike It's just a damn shame that Alfa never conquered its' quality demons in time for the Giulia and Stelvio to hit the market - these are loaded with personality, and we need more product like that.