The late 1990s and 2000s marked a golden era for JDMs, with Toyota and Nissan producing iconic cars. In this era, two standout engines, the RB series and JZ series, gained prominence for their high tuning potential and power retention. Despite their early entry into the market, these engines still remain relevant in today’s JDM scene.
Enthusiasts have long debated the supremacy of these engines, particularly between Toyota’s Supra and Nissan’s Skyline GTR. Nissan introduced the RB series from 1985 to 2004 in response to discontinuing the VG series V6. These four-stroke inline-six engines, ranging from 2.0 to 3.0 liters, include remarkable models like RB20, RB24, RB25, RB26, RB28, and RB30, with RB26 being the standout.
In contrast, the JZ series is more limited, featuring 1JZ and 2JZ trims, both sharing the inline-six configuration, prompting frequent comparisons. While the JZ engines are designed for rear-wheel-drive applications, the 2JZ, powering the iconic Toyota Supra, stands out in the JZ series.
In this article, we aim to resolve the debate by offering a thorough side-by-side comparison of Toyota’s 2JZ and Nissan’s RB26, the most iconic engines from both series.
The RB26, a flagship twin-turbo inline-6 from Nissan, boasts a quoted 276 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque from the factory. In reality, it tends to exceed this figure reaching around 300 horsepower with the boost restrictor removed.
The RB26 is known for its over-square block design, a configuration where the engine’s stroke is longer than its bore. This design enhances high-RPM speed, adding to the engine’s impressive performance. However, the trade-off is evident in its stock form, with low RPM torque being one of RB’s primary drawbacks.
The RB26TT, born from racing roots, incorporates technology that was way ahead of its time. Take, for example, its six individual throttle bodies—one for each cylinder. This results in an instantaneous response when you press the accelerator. Then there’s the four valves per cylinder, a trick that lets the RB26 breathe better by allowing more gas and air into the combustion chamber. And here’s the kicker: a coil on plug ignition system, not common in regular cars of the ’80s. But the RB26 has one, making its ignition more reliable and steady.
The 2JZ, a 3.0-liter inline-6 equipped with twin turbos, delivers an impressive 320 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque. Initially constrained by a 276hp cap due to a 1990s gentleman’s agreement, the 2JZ surpassed this limit, demonstrating the capability to handle nearly three times the factory rating of 276 horsepower.
What sets the 2JZ apart is not just its raw power, but a suite of modern technological elements designed for optimal performance. Pioneering a sequential turbo design, the 2JZ-GTE minimizes turbo lag, a critical advancement in its time. Later versions (except in North America) got an improved system called VVT-i in 1997, improving fuel efficiency and also strengthening the mid-range powerband. Its sturdy construction includes oil-cooled pistons and substantial main bearing journals, ensuring optimal lubrication and balance at high RPMs.
The 2JZ and RB26 share common performance traits due to their similar construction. Both rely on forced induction with twin-turbo setups, although the 2JZ uses sequential turbo technology. This similarity results in comparable driving characteristics, especially at higher RPMs when the RB26 enters boost.
However, the RB26 has lower torque, and similar power characteristics only emerge around 3,000 RPM. The 2JZ and RB26 exhibit very close specific power outputs, generating a similar amount of horsepower per liter of displacement—106.66 hp/l for the 2JZ and 106.15 hp/l for the RB26. Essentially, the RB26 is slightly more efficient, producing only 0.51 less horsepower per liter despite its slightly smaller size. Overall, these two engines are quite similar in terms of efficiency.
As the Skyline GT-R and Supra RZ/Turbo hit the streets, it was evident that their engines had a lot of untapped power. A few hardware tweaks and a well-executed ECU remap could effortlessly push the RB26 to a safe 400 hp—a solid achievement for a late ’80s design. But it doesn’t stop there. Swap out the stock internals, add a bigger turbo, and you’re looking at 600 to 800 hp. With aftermarket block and head combos, it can even soar past 1,000 hp.
On the flip side, the 2JZ takes a different route. With its robust block and internals, minor adjustments can push it up to 800 hp. Throw in some aftermarket upgrades, and it can go beyond an impressive 2,000 hp. Simply put, the 2JZ has a higher power potential, thanks to Toyota going all out on the engineering.
RB26-powered GT-Rs never made it to North America, and only a few were officially sold outside Japan, specifically in right-hand-drive markets. In contrast, Toyota not only sold the 2JZ-GTE-equipped Supra in more countries but also dropped the engine into the Aristo sedan. They also produced plenty of naturally aspirated versions (2JZ-GE) sharing the same block, crankshaft, and forged conrods with the turbocharged sibling. This version was available on various Toyota models, making the 2JZ more accessible than the RB26.
It’s not just about availability; it’s also about cost. Even in its more popular 2JZ-GTE form, it’s cheaper. If you’re thinking of swapping one of these engines into, say, a BMW, you’ll end up paying more for the rarer RB26 and shelling out more for parts to push it beyond a respectable 500 hp. At Jap Division, we make sure availability isn’t a problem as we get our hands on them before it’s too late. Click here to explore your options at Jap Division.
At the end of the day, both the 2JZ and RB26 deserve serious recognition. These engines revolutionized their respective manufacturers and powered some of the most iconic JDM cars ever released. Ultimately, the choice boils down to the factors you prioritize. In terms of engineering and value, the JZ series engines outshine the RB series. However, the rarity of the RB series engines makes them particularly appealing to JDM enthusiasts. Cars equipped with RB series engines are not just rare but also hold greater appeal for fans of Japanese imports, given the limited number that made it beyond Japan. The 2JZ and RB26 are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to JDM engines. Discover more iconic engines and JDMs at Jap Division here.