The all-new Toyota Supra isn’t the Supra of old, it’s the result of joint development between Toyota and BMW. Should Supra fans be sad?
There’s a sticker on the door of the new Toyota Supra that says, ‘Made by BMW Toyota Supra’. That ain’t no revelation because it’s very well known the new Supra is a joint development between BMW and Toyota.
And that partnership just about melted the Internet with Toyota’s decision to resurrect the Supra via a shared platform both derided and praised in equal measure. But, if you look at it objectively the decision is a reasonable one.
Let Uncle Isaac explain why.
You see, BMW needed a new Z4 and Toyota was desperate for a new Supra. And, because building sports cars is expensive (and you don’t sell too many to recoup your investment) it makes sense to work with another brand to get what you want. And this isn’t the first time Toyota has done this. Remember the 86? That was pretty much all Subaru’s handiwork. And the Toyota Lexcen…but that was just a badge swap rather than an engineering jobbie.
The other reason the execs thought things would work out was because the two vehicles are trying to be different things to different people. One’s a drop top and the other’s a hard-headed sports car cum gran tourer. I mean, someone umming and ahhing over a Z4 isn’t also going to have a Supra on their shopping list.
So, let’s all agree to move away from the whole Z4/Supra debate and take a look at this thing for what it is.
So, what is the Toyota Supra?
Nearly got me there…remember, I said we were going to walk away from the debate about parentage. For now.
Kicking off in 1978 as the Celica Supra, the Supra as a vehicle was intended to take the fight to the Datsun Z cars that were dominating sales in both the US and Japan. Their combination of sports car agility and mile-munching ability and budget-friendly price tag had the market in its hand. Until the Supra arrived.
But Toyota’s appetite had been whet back in the late 1960s when it produced the 2000GT which is easily one of the most stunning machines ever created. Only 351 coupes were crafted but they made their mark around the world after appearing in You Only Live Twice. And it was even raced by Carroll Shelby’s outfit in the US finishing third and fourth in the SCCA’s C-Production class.
But it was the Celica Supra, a long-wheelbase version of the Celica and designed in the US. It was an instant hit. The second-generation Supra was again a long-wheelbase version of the Celica but boasted a unique front end design and a rear suspension setup that was different from the Celica.
Then in 1986 the two models completely parted ways when the Celica became a tail dragger while the Supra remained rear drive. This third-generation Supra was what really kick-started the Supra legend thanks to the turbo motor (a naturally aspirated model was still available) and the standard Sport Package which included a limited-slip differential and the Toyota Electronically Modulated Suspension (TEMS). The system electronically adjusted the gas-filled shock absorbers automatically to soft, medium and firm settings in response to road conditions, steering angle, vehicle speed and braking. The driver could choose between “Normal” or “Sport” modes, each following different programs to cycle through the three settings.
The fourth-generation Supra arrived in the 1990s boasting a twin-turbo engine and supercar looks…and performance, able to get to 96km/h in 4.6 seconds. It was faster than the twice-the-price Porsche 911 GTS. But emissions laws caught up with it and Toyota decided it couldn’t keep going and still meet regulations, so the pin was pulled in 1989. But, thanks to 2001’s The Fast and the Furious film, tuners started climbing over broken glass to get their hands on old Supras.
The Supra became a legend. A legend that Toyota had no plans to resurrect. That was until Toyota’s US design team decided to model up the FT-1 concept car…going a step further the designers got on the phone to Polyphony Studio and asked if the Gran Turismo makers could squeeze the FT-1 into the game. They did and they let My Toyoda have a virtual crack at the thing. He virtually lapped the Fuji Speedway faster than he could his real-world Lexus LFA and he was sold. The Supra needed to be resurrected. They decided to call BMW (because where else do you go if you’re after an inline six-cylinder engine – and the Supra couldn’t be powered by anything else) and the rest is history.
What’s the Supra like to drive?
Well, before you can drive it you’ve got to get inside and if you’re a taller person, like me, well there’s no dignified way to do it. You place your legs in first and then try and slide in without banging your head on the door frame. And don’t even get me started on how you get out of the thing…I flitted between falling out onto my hands and dragging myself like a wounded soldier, or the slightly more energetic way of scrunching my legs up and swinging one of them out while I lay over the centre console and then spring out…either way, I looked like a tit getting in and out. More on the interior later in the review.
So, sort of, the new Supra is just like its forebears in that it still runs a six-cylinder engine…only this time it’s a 3.0-litre turbocharged straight six engine making 250kW and 500Nm of torque. Yes, it’s a BMW engine and the eight-speed automatic hanging off the back is a BMW transmission too. But, don’t get your knickers in a knot about that because once you plant your foot on the throttle and start hurtling towards the horizon you’re unlikely to give two hoots where the engine came from.
And the new Supra is quick. It’ll get to 100km/h in a claimed 4.3 seconds. Like the third-generation Supra, the new one has adaptive dampers and a limited-slip differential. Find the right stretch of road and you can really start to lean on the Supra and get it to show itself as a sports car but across our test roads which are a mix of super smooth bitumen, flowing bends and patchworked stuff with tight twisting corners that test a chassis to its limits we could only ever get glimpses of the Supra. Yep, give it a boot full on a straight section of road and it goes like a scalded cat. But tip it into a lumpy corner and you’ll be skipping and hopping as it tries to muscle its way around the corner. It’s an unforgiving setup, see.
And that’s even if you back off the dampers and try and make them softer. Sure, it becomes more comfortable on lumpy tarmac but it lacks the fluidity, the balance, or poise…that ‘something’ that makes you smile. And in its softest setting there’s a lot more thump-through than you might expect.
I’m not saying it’s rubbish, so, keep your fingers away from the keyboard, just that it’s not as drivable as it should, nay, could be. But, given time, I reckon Toyota’s engineers can tease more out of the thing, it feels like there’s a great car waiting to get out but I’d go so far as to say that, right now, the Supra only just feels ‘good’.
The steering doesn’t help much either. I’ve heard some complaints about it being too quick but that’s not the problem (not in my opinion)…I think it’s speed and directness are just fine, it’s the lack of feeling and feedback the steering is wrapped in that’s frustrating. On faster flowing corners the steering is fine, but as the corners get tighter and you’re tiptoeing around applying steering lock and power down it can feel like a bit of a guessing game.
And then there’s the transmission. The automatic is not the right transmission for the Supra, it really needs a manual or a rapid-fire dual-clutch jobbie. The shifts are clean but a little too lazy for this sort of weapon and it lacks urgency on downshifts.
And the pedals are a little too dull feeling too, take the brakes, for instance, you’ve got to learn to feel when they’re going to grab as there’s a sponginess in the top of their travel you’ve got to learn to push through. And the same for the throttle which also offers a level of slackness at the top of the travel which means you’ve got to balance between not enough throttle and ‘oops, no, that’s way too much’ throttle.
The traction control is excellent meaning that while it’s easy to get the thing to step out (largely because there’s that lack of communication between car and driver) the electronics are quick to act but gentle in their application. Some systems can grab and seem to hold on for an age, not so the Supra, it’ll grab and guide, like a helping hand rather than a slap on the wrist.
What’s the Supra’s interior like?
On the inside, is where eagle-eyed Toyota fans, or those simply looking to continually trip up the Supra will find the most to munch on. See, inside is where the Supra’s BMW roots are most noticeable.
From the infotainment to steering wheel (not the usual fat-rimmed Bimmer offering) and controls, to the switchgear and the iDrive controller, it’s all been lifted from the Z4. Sure there are some differences, but that’s mainly in what the Z4 offers over the Supra.
But, the thing is, there’s nothing terribly wrong with the BMW gear inside the cabin. Indeed, it’s all very functional and there’s a level of quality to the materials and the finish that you don’t normally get from Toyota. And, when you’re spending $85k and more on a car you expect some quality and creature comforts.
It’s a little disappointing that the infotainment system isn’t BMW’s new gear which is excellent. Instead, you get a still-good older generation system but while some markets get Apple CarPlay we don’t in Australia. And there’s no Android Auto either. These days, and I never thought I’d be writing this in a sports car review, that sort of connectivity is expected as it makes driving while drawing off your smartphone much safer and easier. Moving on.
The seats, as I mentioned earlier, aren’t easy to get into but they’re lovely once you’re in with the right amount of support and comfort in the areas you want it. Indeed, once you’re in the driving position is great and there’s plenty of adjustability to get comfortable behind the wheel.
This is a two-seater vehicle and so while the boot is shallow it offers 290 litres of storage space but you’ll really only get soft bags in the back. And while I’m banging on about the boot, one thing that drives me mental is when vehicles don’t offer a boot release button. The Supra’s boot is opened via a button inside the thing or via the key fob…and that’s crap. Not that it really matters, I guess, in the grand scheme of things the Supra is trying to achieve.
So, the interior is good. Sure it would have been nice for a little more of the level of effort that went into the exterior to have dribbled inside. And one thing a mate of mine who’s been dreaming about Supras his whole life said when I let him slide behind the wheel was that this new one lacks that cockpit-life feel of the old car… that the driver is the most important thing about the car.
The must-know but boring stuff about the Supra
Right now there are only two versions of the Supra but we know the four-cylinder is coming and it’s likely we’ll see more performance-oriented iterations down the track too. The entry GT is priced from $84,900 plus on-road costs while the GTS sells for $10k more at $94,900 plus on-roads. To be fair, having spent time in both variants, I’d save the $10 grand and get the GT…there’s not enough extra in the GTS to warrant the hike, although the head-up display it offers is cool. The GT rides on 18s and the GTS on 19s and I reckon the ride is better in the GT.
In terms of safety, there’s no official safety rating for the Supra but it’s loaded with driver assistance gear like seven airbags, blind spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, rear view camera, front, clearance and rear parking sensors with rear end collision warning (RECW), and tyre pressure monitor, active cruise control (ACC), front collision warning with brake function and daytime pedestrian and daytime cyclist detection, lane departure alert, speed limit info (SLI) and active speed limiter.
2020 Toyota GR Supra Specifications
Price From $84,900+ORC Warranty five years, unlimited kilometres Service Schedule 12 months or 15,000km Safety Not Tested Engine 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder turbocharged petrol Power 250kW at 6500rpm Warranty 500Nm at 1600-4500rpm Transmission eight-speed automatic Dimensions 4379mm long 1854mm wide 1292mm high 2470mm wheelbase Weight 1495kg (kerb) Boot Space 290L Fuel Tank 52 litres Rating 91RON Thirst 7.7L/100km claimed combined