After Toyota let the previous generation Supra die in the late 1990s, performance fans of the brand have had to migrate to other sports cars or reconcile that the tiny FR-S/86 coupe was the best that the engineers could produce for pure driving fun. These consumers now have a far better option.
This is the new Supra; Supra GR, technically, which stands for Gazoo Racing and reflects the new attitude about Toyota and its products from President Akio Toyoda, the great-grandson of the founder. Under Toyoda’s leadership, Toyota and Lexus are building more engaging consumer products — ranging from sportier family cars and Supras to more fuel-efficient cars that fit in today’s market.
There are fewer than 10 mainstream (not counting the $200,000 exotics) two-seater sports cars currently in the market. Through the first half of 2020, their combined COVID-affected sales were less than 20,000 units — about the same number of Ford F-series sold last week. Chevy’s new mid-engine Corvette is far and away the top-selling two-seater here, followed by the venerable Mazda Miata, with this new Supra closing the gap fast.
To create a successful, but low-volume halo car like the Supra, Toyota teamed up with BMW, which was working to make a better second-generation Z4 sports car. BMW already had two great turbocharged powertrains in production, plus the eight-speed automatic to manage the power, so Toyota adapted these components to a chassis redefined by their driving intentions, plus it created a sleek, racy body that is eye-candy to traditional sports car fans. BMW kept the drop-top Z4; Toyota went all in on the coupe body only.
With hints of Viper, Ferrari and Porsche (those big rear hips) blended with the original Supra’s themes, plus a heaping dose of the original Cobra Daytona coupes (the double-bubble roof), the Supra is an enticing visual that looks very fast — all of the time — while it looks better in person. Yes, the numerous slots, vents and abstract grilles all do nothing, but they do look exciting — race-car styling for the street. Constant cell phone pursuits on the road were predictable companions during our time together.
There are hints of other sportsters; the wide entrance thresholds are reminiscent of a C4 Corvette. The driver’s bar-graph instrument cluster (Toyota) will remind some of the ill-fated Honda S-2000. And the gun-slit windows all around will make Miata owners remember what it’s like to drive with the top up.
The interior is at once cozy (intimate) with a small cargo hold under the rear hatch, but also properly designed for the driver. There is padding on the side of the console where your leg will rest. The footbox is actually very roomy (space for that third pedal?) and provides ample room to move your legs back and forth under the steering column — an aspect absent on too many much larger sportsters.
The leather seating was perfect, but suede inserts would provide more grip. The cabin can be very loud, the run-flat performance tires creating quite a din over worn surfaces, plus the cabin prefers window-up operation, as the buffeting can be painful. The color heads-up display helps you monitor extracurricular velocity pursuits, while the BMW infotainment systems are intuitive if overwrought with multiple steps for simple inputs.
But how does it drive? That’s what Supra fans want to know. It is fast, in any sense of the word. Quick from a start, impressive mid-range punch and swift top-end lunge — it performs with no apologies. For 2020 models, the 3.0-liter in-line DOHC six-cylinder engine was rated at 335 hp. For 2021, Toyota reprogrammed the computer so the Supra makes the same output as the Z4 — 382 hp. Dyno tests reveal that both numbers are less than honest; the Supra makes more power than advertised.
The ride is firm, but not harsh. The handling is right now, race-track aggressive. At a commuting pace, the Supra feels quite bored. You become lulled by its potential and daydream about open spaces or a private racetrack.
Toyota has added the base 2.0-liter turbo-motor from the Z4 for this year, a 255-hp dose of entertainment that will provide a lower entrance price. Built in Austria, our Supra started at just under $50,000 and topped out at $56,615 with drive assist package, paint protectant film and the HID display. EPA mileage estimates are 24/31 mpg on recommended premium fuel.
The Supra weighs the same as the older Nissan 370Z, and 20 pounds more than the V-8 powered Corvette. The Supra is 6 inches longer than the Z and 9 inches shorter than the Chevy. Interestingly, the Porsche Cayman — a logical competitor for the Supra — starts at $57,500, while the very similar 370Z starts at only $31,000.
The new Supra checks all of the boxes for loyal fans of this Japanese wonder car. Expect them to pressure Toyota for a manual gearbox, even if few buyers can still drive three-pedal cars.
Next week: Subaru Crosstrek Sport