BMW Bones Are a Boon

2020 Toyota Supra Review: Check Your Judgement At the Door


May 23, 2019 Cars By Photo by Will Sabel Courtney & Toyota
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At long last, the Toyota Supra is back.

Technically, it’s the “Toyota GR Supra” now — the two errant letters standing for “Gazoo Racing,” the new badge found on Toyota’s cars developed in part by the carmaker’s motorsports division. Don’t let that throw you off. You can still just call it the Toyota Supra. (After all, the first and second-gen cars technically went by “Celica Supra,” but you don’t see anyone complaining about the lack of the former name in common discourse.)

This new Supra, at first glance, doesn’t seem much like direct successor to the coupes that wore its name before. Those cars landed somewhere closer to the grand tourer end of the sports car spectrum, like Japanese versions of front-engined V-12 Ferraris with half the cylinders and one-third the price tag. The new one, on the other hand, is a tight little ball of energy, one that manages to be smaller, lighter, and more powerful than the A80-generation, 2JZ-powered Supra made famous in America when Paul and Vin owned a Ferrari F355-driving tool during Act II of The Fast and the Furious.

Video: 2020 Toyota GR Supra Review

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The Good: At the launch event an hour west of Washington, D.C. Supra chief engineer Tetsuya Tada repeatedly described the vehicle as a “pure sports car,” one that — along with its BMW Z4 counterpart — would be focused on knocking down the reigning middleweight sports car champ: the Porsche 718 Cayman and Boxster. To do that, not only did the two carmakers pull from some of the best bits of Bimmer’s parts bin, but it worked with the Bavarians on the chassis hardware and tapped some of the same driving-minded engineers who helped develop the nimble Toyobaru with the folks at Subaru almost a decade ago.

Who It’s For: Supra fanboys and Japanese-performance-car lovers who can get past the Supra’s pan-Eurasian development; enthusiasts looking for an true two-seat sports car at a decent price and aren’t hung up on jalopnerd details like the lack of a manual gearbox or an on-paper power deficit; anyone mad BMW hasn’t built a new version of the M Coupe since 2002.

Watch Out For: The interior’s blatant BMW roots—everything from the steering wheel to the climate controls to the infotainment system are Bimmer bits — are sure to push the buttons of the JDM purists every time they push the car’s buttons. The helium-light electrically-assisted steering may direct the car exactly where you want it to go, but it does so without feeling or feedback. And anyone who prefers driving with the windows down will find the cabin filled with the unpleasant sound and disconcerting pressure of air buffeting about inside without a clean way out of the car. It may seem like a small complaint, but if you find yourself in that group, it just might be a dealbreaker.

Alternatives: Porsche 718 Cayman ($56,900), Chevrolet Corvette Stingray ($55,900), Nissan 370Z Nismo ($45,790), Ford Mustang GT Performance Pack 2 ($43,855)

Review: It’s not hyperbole to say the new Toyota Supra is one of the most eagerly-anticipated cars of 2019. In its roughly two-decade absence, its legend has been given the chance to flower, spreading further every year Toyota chose to revamp its Camrys and Avalons instead of releasing new two-door sports cars into showrooms.

It’d be all but impossible for the 2020 Supra to live up to the sheer tonnage of those weighty expectations. Instead of trying to judge it based on those unrealistic standards, then, it’s better to take a step back and try and view it objectively for what it is, not what many wish it could have been. And by those standards, it’s a dynamite little sports car.

Emphasis very much on the little, by the way. You wouldn’t realize it to look at it, but the new Supra is only about the size of the Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ, with a wheelbase four inches shorter. (It’s two inches wider up front and three inches broader astern, however.) It certainly looks far different from them, though, with a thoroughly alien face in lieu of the BRZ and 86’s generically-handsome mug. The Supra’s not conventionally attractive by any stretch — the rear three-quarter view is clearly its best angle, and even that’s hardly what most would call sexy — but it is eye-grabbing enough to earn a double-take the first few times you see it.

In light of those tidy dimensions, the inline-six’s 335 horsepower don’t seem as wimpy as they might have at first blush. While it’s certainly on the mild side for sports cars with $50,000 price tags, that grouping’s average pony count has certainly been inflated by the Detroit Power Wars that have pushed the Mustang, Camaro, and Challenger models at that price point close to 500 horses. Porsche’s basic 718 twins make do with just 300 horses, and you don’t see many people whining about them being underpowered. (And that’s not even getting into reports that the Supra’s claimed output may be rather, uh, conservative.)

The small wheelbase, active limited-slip differential and readily accessible power — the peak torque of 365 pound-feet comes on at 1,600 rpm and stays flat as Nebraska all the way to 4,500 — make swinging the tail out stunningly easy; the car’s inherent neutral balance, a combination of its near-50/50 weight distribution and suspension setup, makes catching those slides even easier. It’s every bit the drift machine its smaller 86/BRZ siblings are.

It’s equally adept at taking clean lines and fast paths through the corners, too, helped by a center of gravity that sits even closer to the pavement than the Toyobaru’s. My drive partner and I cut up a section of empty, wooded Virginia two-lane at speeds capable of sticking with entry-level exotica, and never once did the Supra feel wanting for grip. Nor, in all honestly, did it feel like it needed a manual gearbox; granted, I wouldn’t have turned one down, but the ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic does a spectacular job keeping the engine spinning exactly as fast as you need it to be, whether it’s at 10/10s on the track, 6/10ths on a B-road or 1/10th on the highway.

If there’s a flaw with the drive, it lies with the steering. The wheel itself feels fine in the hands when the car is still, with a meaty rim and nice grips at 9 and 3, but once the car starts moving and you start twirling it, it’s hard not be a little taken aback by how synthetic and light it feels. BMW is occasionally criticized for adding too much artificial weight to the steering, but even fake heft would be an improvement on the Supra. You don’t notice it much when pounding the car down a tight, technical track like Summit Point Motorsports Park, where journalists tested the car, but at everyday speeds, it has all the involvement of a rheostat.

The wheel isn’t alone amongst the interior trimmings in disappointing you. If you guessed that having Bimmer switchgear inside would add a dash of class to this Toyota’s interior, you guessed wrong. It seems like Toyota pulled the cheaper pieces from the German parts bin; the buttons feel like they came from the cheapest 2 Series of 2014, while the shifter seems like a less-attractive prototype of the versions that have made their way across Bimmer lineup. (I had the chance to covertly sit in a Z4 at the Supra launch, and suffice it to say, that BMW’s BMW bits look far nicer than the Toyota’s BMW bits.)

The instrument panel also suffers from a bit of excess plastification, but at least it does so while trying to be distinct. While the gauge cluster is an all-digital 8.8-inch LCD display, a large analog tachometer arc is fixed across the middle of it, like a pillar holding up the hood shading the gauges. (The actual “needle” is digital, though, nestled inside the analog arc when the car is on.) It’s a nice way of highlighting the importance of knowing your engine speed; plenty of great sports cars place the tach front and center, but only the likes of Ferrari and Porsche so far have gone so far as to give it hallowed analog status. Seeing the Supra take a similar course is one more sign the company is taking things seriously.

Still, the overall package is a nice enough place to spend time on street or track. It may not be Lexus-level, but it feels better screwed-together than any Corvette or Mustang you’ll find at any price. The well-bolstered seats hold you snugly in place on the track, but don’t leave your butt numb on a long drive. And the carbon fiber trim spread liberally around the shifter and center console is actual carbon fiber, not some cheap knockoff like you’d find in many mainstream automakers’ sporty rides.

While the new Supra’s cost of entry may seem lofty for a Toyota — it has the third-highest base price of any car in the company’s lineup, behind only the hydrogen-powered Mirai and the massively over-engineered Land Cruiser — the company sends every America-bound copy out the door with plenty of standard equipment. In addition to the twin-turbo six, the limited-slip differential, the adaptive dampers, the Brembo brakes and the 19-inch wheels clad in Michelin Pilot Super Sports, the base model packs a 10-speaker stereo, leather and Alcantara trim, 14-way power seats, automatic emergency braking, and lane departure warning.

And in a refreshing change of pace from the norm, there’s almost no performance advantage to climbing the trim ladder. The extra $4,000 for the Premium trim nets you plenty of nice add-ons — a color head-up display, a 12-speaker JBL stereo, a larger screen for the don’t-call-it-iDrive-even-though-it’s-clearly-iDrive infotainment system, more leather — the only performative change is a slightly larger set of rear brakes. If you just want zoom above all else, the $49,995 base model is all you need.

Verdict: The 2020 Toyota GR Supra is imperfect, yes. People will be disappointed by its power, its transmission, its commonalities with BMW. But none of those things compromise its mission: to be an entertaining sports car.

Ultimately, this Supra is a product of Toyota’s now — looking forward, working with others, endeavoring to add driving fun to the lineup whenever possible — rather than a reflection of Toyota’s yesterday that’s slavishly trying to cash in on nostalgia. Sure, that may stoke short-term fanboy rage…but it winds up resulting in a far better product in the end.

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2020 Toyota GR Supra Specs

Powertrain: Twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-six; eight-speed automatic; rear-wheel-drive
Horsepower: 335
Torque: 365 pound-feet
0-60 MPH: 3.8 seconds (Car and Driver testing)
Roadholding: 1.07 g (C/D)
Top Speed: 155 mph
EPA Fuel Economy: 24 mpg city, 31 mpg highway

Toyota hosted us and provided this product for review.

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