Regular readers of this column will think to themselves, “Hey, didn’t a Supra fill this space recently?” Well, yes, one did. But that was an original 2020 model, in Silver, while this is a red-hot (Renaissance Red) 2021. There is a difference. And buyers who waited a year, and didn’t race out and buy the debuting model, will be very thankful.
As with our previous Supra GR, this one earned a lot of camera-phone interludes on the highway, plus several interesting gas station conversations. One young admirer asked if it was fast (very); another woman asked if it was a Ferrari (no, but Toyota’s brass will revel in the thought), and another man raced around the perimeter of the car so many times, marveling at its extroverted shape, that he made me dizzy.
While sales have been slightly slower than Toyota probably expected — due in no small part to COVID’s economic impact — consumer enthusiasm remains constant. The shape is correct for stirring child-like driving fantasies, while the overall performance makes those same dreams a reality for those willing, and able, to push the Supra to its considerable limits. Forgiving and compliant when driven with care, the Supra’s potent powerhouse can quickly put unskilled operators over their head.
Good intro to the 2021 Supra lineup, which now includes the base 2.0-liter turbo-four used by BMW (with 255 hp, and starting at $42,900), as the “top” Supra ($50,900 base price) gets the same horsepower rating as the 3.0-liter twin-scroll turbocharged in-line six cylinder that BMW uses — 382 hp, an increase of 47 hp over last year’s model.
Purists will suggest that some minor program tinkering helped the ’21 Supra reach the new rating, while owners might argue that last year’s car had the same actual output as this new model, but it was rated lower so that BMW could claim some engineering edge over the Supra. Actual dynamometer testing has certified that many Supras actually make over 400 hp, which mimics what automakers did in the 1960s to mask the potential of their hottest cars.
The eight-speed automatic, with manual mode, provides prompt shifts while guttural engine room crescendos accompany each full-throttle gear change. Unlike a V-8 pony car, the Supra is expressive, but not overtly offensive.
Make no mistake, the Supra GR is quick off the line, produces a monster mid-range punch and doesn’t let up until way past…well, let’s just state that the Supra is one very fast sports car.
Back to the Supra’s sales level. It is hard not to think that Toyota might have been a little too ambitious on the Supra’s price point. Yes, the chassis and engine are wonderful and required immense capital expenditures (shared with BMW). The cabin, however, reflects Toyota’s emphasis, even though the instrument panel appears to mirror many BMW products, so some cost saving had to apply.
When shopping for sports cars, buyers can opt for Mazda’s Miata ($27,000-$35,000), Toyota’s or Subaru’s rear-drive BRZ/86 duo ($27,000-$29,000), Nissan’s retiring 370Z ($32,000), or jump up to the Supra, $46,000-$50,000, BMW’s Z4 convertible version for $50,000, Porsche’s 718 Cayman, $58,000, or Chevy’s new C8 Corvette, $60,000, which is blistering all rivals in the showroom.
By adding the lower-priced 2.0-liter engine, still automatic only, yet still a brilliant powertrain, buyers gain access to the Supra for $8,000 less — which takes some of the edge off the current price premium. Anyone thinking of the BRZ/86 twins would be wise to save their pennies for the Supra — the driving experience is a whole lot better.
Standard pieces on the 3.0-model Red Rocket sampled include launch control, adaptive sport suspension with 19-inch 10-spoke wheels, red-painted Brembo brake calipers, Aero-body accents, LED lamps (which are brilliant), 14-way power heated seat w/memory, auto-folding power mirrors, 8.8-inch touchscreen w/navigation, 12-speaker JBL audio, full-color heads-up display, plus some of Toyota’s Safety Sense portfolio. EPA estimates are 22/30 on recommended premium fuel, while the new 2.0-liter powerplant is EPA rated at 25/32 mpg.
The Supra is emotionally rewarding to look at (it gets noticed everywhere) and it is sensually satisfying to operate. The quick, responsive steering, the right-now stopping power of the brakes, plus the nimble, precise handling are all the hallmarks of a complete sports car. Add that dollop of BMW-engineered turbo-power — which never gets old, by the way — and the Supra GR feels like the well-sorted out two-seater that it is.
After two visits in just a few short months, the Supra proved its mettle. Maybe, with the content, the extroverted styling and the lovely motor, the price point is right where it needs to be. Let’s hope buyers start buying more Supras and relearn the fun of driving sports cars.
Next week: My 10 Favorite Vehicles from 2020