A fast and competent sports car, but short on that final element of engagement that defines a great driver’s car
|Strong performance, well-judged ride and handling|
|Not as engaging as we’d like, no manual gearbox option|
Of the many Japanese cars to have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent years, the Toyota Supra has been among the highest-profile. Riding the crest of a wave which has seen Nissan Skyline GT-Rs and Honda NSXs rocket in value – not to mention the floodgates opening as models pass the 25-year-old mark that makes them legal for importation to the enormous US market – the market for the 1990s A80-generation Supra in particular has never been stronger.
Seems like the perfect time then for Toyota to launch a new, A90-generation Supra. Introduced in 2019, the new model shares several cues with its immediate predecessor, from swooping styling to a turbocharged in-line six powering the rear wheels. But the difficulty and expense of bringing such a car to market in the 21st century means the car hides a badly kept secret: underneath, it’s a BMW.
The use of BMW Z4 underpinnings has caused consternation among enthusiasts, but there are solid reasons for doing so – not least BMW’s expertise with Toyota’s preferred rear-drive, straight-six configuration. At any rate, Toyota’s car is a coupe to the BMW’s roadster set-up, and the two cars feature different chassis settings to try to differentiate them further.
Whether it’s really a Supra or not matters less than how it drives, however, and on this point the car is a success – to a point. As our four-star rating indicates, the Supra is good, and can compete on even terms, where it matters, with other cars around its price point.
What it can’t do, that many rivals can, is offer any truly outstanding characteristics that elevate it beyond merely good and into the realms of the very best. Given ever-changing industry regulations are making cars such as the Supra ever less viable, we hope Toyota still has one or two things up its sleeve to extract the car’s full potential in the future.
Prices, specs and rivals
The Supra is available in two grades – the regular model at $73,688 and the Supra Pro at $75,000. Both use the same 3-litre straight-six powertrain.
All Supras get LED headlights, a limited-slip differential, a suite of safety systems, adaptive cruise and an 8.8-inch media screen, but the Pro adds features such as a head-up display, a JBL Premium sound system with 12 speakers (to the normal car’s 10) and leather rather than Alcantara seats. Two solid colours are offered (yellow and red, so it’s nice to see a manufacturer offering bright shades), with the various metallic hues adding $1000 to the price.
The circa-fifty grand price point puts the Supra among some tough competition though. Most obvious is a BMW, but not the Z4 you’d expect. Instead, $71,912 gets BMW’s best effort at a sports car in this sector, the M2 Competition. Not only does it have a sharper edge to its proper M engine and dynamics, but unlike the Supra, it offers a manual gearbox, and the practicality of rear seats. When we tested the pair in 2019, the BMW emerged the victor.
The BMW isn’t a true sports car shape though, so that might lead you down a different path, such as the $72,793 Porsche Cayman T, or the $65,591-and-up Alpine A110. Both use only four-cylinder engines, but both are also lighter than the Supra, with more engaging dynamics, arguably more attractive styling, and the Porsche once again can be specified with a manual gearbox. The Porsche’s flat-four does blot its copybook, but both it and the Alpine are fantastic driver’s cars and a joy to use every day.
Engine, gearbox and technical highlights
A straight-six engine was on Toyota’s list of must-haves for the new Supra. It’s been a feature of the model in every generation, and unlike Nissan with its Z-cars or GT-Rs, a move to a V6 was a non-starter, despite Toyota’s range having several options.
This is, at least publicly, part of the reason BMW was chosen as a partner in development of the Supra. And that’s why the Supra’s 3-litre in-line six is BMW’s B58 unit, as seen not just in the latest Z4 but also in various states of tune in everything from 3-series to 8-series, and even the Morgan Plus Six.
In the Supra it makes 335bhp from 5000 to 6500rpm, and 369lb ft from 1600 to 4500rpm. Overseas versions will soon be getting an even more potent variant with 382bhp, though the internet would have you believe the Supra is conservatively quoted anyway, so who’s really counting? The engine uses variable valve control and variable camshaft timing, a single, twin-scroll turbocharger, and direct injection.
The transmission is an eight-speed automatic. Yep, the ubiquitous ZF unit, and controlled via a fairly familiar lever in the Supra’s cabin too. No manual is offered, nor even promised as yet.
A look at the styling alone shows that Toyota went its own way with the car’s structure even if the underpinnings are BMW-sourced, and it was the Japanese company that was apparently sensible for angling the project towards being a proper sports car rather than a mini-GT – something that could easily have happened, judging by the direction of BMW’s Z4 until this latest generation.
Toyota also says the two companies went their own way with chassis development once the basics – MacPherson struts up front, five-link rear, electrically assisted rack and pinion – had been decided upon. The Supra runs 19-inch wheels front and rear, with 255/35 and 275/35 Michelin Pilot Super Sports front and rear. Dampers are adaptive, and BMW-sourced, but tuned to Toyota’s own specifications. That’s essentially the Supra’s make-up in a nutshell: BMW parts, Toyota tuning.
Performance and 0-100 time
Like its predecessor, the current Supra will quickly develop a reputation for straight-line speed. Its 1495kg kerb weight is hardly flyweight, but 275-section rear tyres make for good traction and the car whips to 100kph in 4.3sec – six-tenths quicker than the 0-96kph time quoted of the old Supra Turbo with a manual ’box, for reference. Top speed is electronically limited to 250kph.
The way it goes about achieving that speed feels… well, quite BMW-like. There are worse engines to listen to than a straight-six, even a turbocharged one, but the engine and transmission’s character are both very BMW, whether mooching around at low speed or gunning it through the gears.
Toyota has worked to give the car some aural character, and in the sportier driving modes there are the obligatory crackles when backing off the throttle. And seat-of-the-pants it feels comfortably as quick as the 0-100kph time suggests, punching hard from very few revs and the acceleration never really tailing off until you bump into the limiter. It responds well in-gear too, taking off with the merest hint of throttle input.
Perhaps it’s a symptom of the low-set driving position or the minimal glass area but it seems to accentuate the car’s performance too – there’s a proper muscle car vibe. It’s a shame, though, that there’s not a manual transmission to add to that feeling.
It’s one of several areas the car feels short on interaction, as good though the ZF is, it’s not as sharp as the dual-clutch ’boxes offered elsewhere, and the process of switching the car into sport mode, knocking the gear shifter into manual and then changing down half a dozen gears just to wake everything up feels neither efficient, nor fun or interactive.
Ride and handling
Front-engined, rear-drive, and low-slung – the Supra is the traditional sports car layout, and Toyota claims the centre of gravity is low too. Throw in a decent hit of power to the rear wheels and you have the makings of an entertaining driver’s car, and to a degree that’s exactly what you get.
If the drivetrain feels BMW-like, then there’s definitely a different character to the chassis. It starts with the steering, which is lighter than that of equivalent BMWs, with less of that ‘gloopy’ feeling that pervades many of the German brand’s cars.
The response is good too and there’s fairly natural weighting as you wind on lock, but one thing missing, at least at road-going speeds, is any real information. This improves on a circuit – it’s clearly a steering set-up that responds well when there’s some load going through it – but does leave the Supra’s front end feeling slightly aloof on the road.
You won’t have to worry too much as it’s not a car short of front-end bite. You can occasionally feel the car’s weight, usually when a quick direction change is required, but there’s plenty of grip to exploit and good mid-corner balance. On dry roads at least the Supra feels progressive on the throttle, though the BMW six’s rapid build-up of torque means on greasy or wetter surfaces it’s not difficult to break traction, something the steering is quick enough to deal with.
One of the more surprising aspects of the Supra’s dynamics is its mature ride quality, which takes the edge off sharper bumps but offers plenty of control over larger undulations. The structure feels particularly stiff too, so (not unlike recent BMWs) there’s a real sense of integrity to the car, and supportive, comfortable seats and a cabin relatively well-insulated from road and wind noise makes the Supra an adept cruiser as well as an accomplished handler.
All we’d really ask for is that extra element of interaction missing from more talkative steering and a more engaging power plant and transmission. In a class with offerings as strong as the BMW M2 Competition, Alpine A110 and Porsche 718 Cayman, those elements really matter.
L/100km and running costs
Big performance no longer comes with the consumption penalties it used to, at least not on paper. With a WLTP combined figure of 8.2L/100km the Supra promises decent cruising economy, though we’ve not yet driven a car over a long enough distance to know how realistic that might be in the real world.
Tyre-wise, a pair of front Michelin Pilot Super Sports in 255/35 ZR19 is just over $450, fully fitted and delivered from Blackcircles. A pair of 275/35 ZR19 rears tips over the $560 mark, though if you wanted something less extreme – Pilot Sport 4 Ss, for instance – both fronts and rears are a little less than Super Sports, and while outright grip is lower, should be useable in a wider range of weathers and temperatures.
Interior and tech
Stepping into the Supra undoubtedly feels special. The seating position is low-slung, with a fantastic view out through the low windscreen line and over a long, curvaceous bonnet. It feels like you’re sitting over the rear axle too, which is always an interesting attribute, while quality levels feel high.
It doesn’t half feel gloomy though. If the Supra is a Japanese car with BMW underpinnings, built in Austria, then its interior design sensibilities are American – specifically 1920s-era Henry Ford. Black is your only choice here, and with those small windows means there’s not a lot of natural light in here.
It’s not long before you start playing ‘spot the BMW bits’ either. The steering wheel looks like one of BMW’s older designs, the gear selector is very obviously a BMW-sourced component, and the minor switchgear and central infotainment screen are straight out of the parts bin too. Even Toyota’s stalwart 1980s-style LCD clock is nowhere to be found…
The overall shape of the dashboard is pleasing enough though, and the instrument cluster is more unique. We’ve found its tachometer needle a little difficult to see, but otherwise it’s all clear enough. The seats are great too, both supportive (particularly in the standard car with grippy Alcantara) and comfortable.
Because the tech is BMW-sourced though, there’s very little to complain about here. The iDrive-style controller is effective, the shortcut buttons useful, and the menus easy to navigate. For that matter, the physical controls for the heating and ventilation are similarly useful.
Whatever Toyota has or hasn’t changed under the skin, the Supra’s skin itself is every bit a Toyota design, and an original one at that. There’s little here to visually connect the Supra to Toyota’s other sports car, the GT86, and beyond a slightly bulbous nose that Toyota has applied recently to other models in the range, the design is entirely fresh.
Whether it’s successful or not depends on your view of all the scoops and slats – many of which are non-functional, at least on the road car – and the car’s exaggerated curves. View the car from a low angle and it’s quite appealing, with a taut shape and some interesting details, such as the ducktail spoiler at the back. From higher angles there can appear to be a little too much metal, though you’ll get a good view of the Zagato-like double-bubble effect to the roof.
It has proper front-engined, rear-drive proportions anyway, and while it might share its platform with the current BMW Z4, it’s the first-generation Z4 Coupe that comes to mind in the long bonnet and short cabin. It looks squat and wide, too, which is rarely a bad thing for sports coupes.
Perhaps the least appealing aspect is the design of the wheels. Their spindly, polished spokes and spray-on tyres look too ornate. Hopefully, given the Supra’s history as a darling of the tuner scene (and the fact Toyota has engineered parts of the car to be easily modified), few will remain on their factory wheels.
This article originally appeared at evo.co.uk
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