The 2020 Toyota Supra is a true driver's car
Contentiously named and controversially styled, the new Supra might split opinions on the net, but its performance on tarmac is clearly impressive.
What's in a name? A lot, quite frankly – history, passion, memories. With so much riding on a name, you'd expect car companies to take such things into account when resurrecting classic model names as is becoming fashionable these days, but few, it seems, actually are taking it seriously.
Sure, the return of muscle cars like the Camaro, Challenger, and Charger over the past decade have been well-received and pay homage to the names' pasts, but when companies totally lose track and end up doing things like Mitsubishi plastering the Eclipse name on the back of a softcore CUV and Chevrolet in the States doing the same thing with the Blazer badge, it makes you wonder if some names should be relegated to the history books so as not to tarnish them.
Perhaps that's why the return of the Toyota Supra has been so polarising, especially when you're talking about a name this iconic. With most associating the name with the Mk4 model most famously driven by the late Paul Walker's character Brian in The Fast and the Furious, the 2JZ-engined bewinged tuner car hero became a screen icon, and the hype surrounding it because of the success of this film franchise no doubt contributed in a big way to its return.
But with the A80 Supra representing the best of an era that could no longer exist – no one is really making strong but heavy iron-block engines or putting wings that big on cars anymore, especially not Toyota – one must consider that the A90 pipe dream most had of a return of the 2JZ is beyond unrealistic, and that the Supra name would need to move forward, while still remaining true to its roots. And that is a hard task.
Made harder still is the fact that Toyota, even as one of the largest car companies in the world, didn't have the resources or the budget to build a sports car on a devoted platform with an all-new engine, and even if they did, it would have taken years to develop to a point at which everything had been approved internally and by worldwide governing bodies.
That's why, needing a straight-six engine and a rear-wheel drive platform to do the Supra name as much justice as possible, Toyota turned to BMW, who've stuck with straight-sixes through a time when they became less fashionable, with the decision being made to build the Supra alongside an all-new Z4, with the two sharing drivetrains and underpinnings and to be built alongside each other by Magna Steyr in Austria, but to be developed and tuned totally individually to ensure each car had its own unique character.
While the internet screamed and shouted about how putting a BMW engine in a Supra was sacrilege and it would never be as good as the 2JZ-powered Mk4 because it's 'just a BMW', but to those in the know, this was all a good thing. The straight-six engine that was to be employed is notably tuner-friendly and can make a lot of power reliably with few changes, and also, in order to complain about parts-sharing on this level, I can't say I view Toyota outsourcing to BMW is exactly what you'd call a downgrade.
The other reason I personally wasn't worried is because earlier this year I drove the new Z4 to review for another publication and I went away remarkably impressed. It looked great, rode well, and handled tightly, and aside from a few rigidity issues that could be felt which are inherent of a convertible design, it seemed like the perfect platform for the new Supra to build upon and make even better with its hardtop construction.
And that brings us to the stunning bright yellow machine you see here. Officially named the Toyota GR Supra – the GR standing for Gazoo Racing, Toyota's new performance division – it is, indeed, a radical departure on the surface from Supras of the past. It's shorter, wider, has only two seats rather than four, and looks far more akin to the complex FT-1 concept car than the sleek Grand Tourer the Supra was best known for being.
Although I didn't exactly fall for its looks when the car's final design first leaked ahead of its Detroit unveiling at the beginning of this year, in the flesh, and particularly in a proper colour like this, I think it looks absolutely fantastic. It's an undeniable head-turner and conversation starter – within what was quite literally 10 seconds of picking the car up and parking out the front of where I was staying in Melbourne, where I had to head to get my hands on one, I already had someone come up to me asking umpteen questions.
Refuelling becomes a bit of a nightmare, as the car that broke the internet will also break a petrol station as people constantly take photos and stare. It attracted so much attention, in fact, that I practically had to head over 100km away from Melbourne to Reefton Spur, past Warburton, to find some peace while driving and filming my video review of this thing. It might have been irritating for me given I was trying to do my job, but it is certainly a positive that it garners attention, since it means Toyota has made it a real standout – even more so than the Z4.
With its long bonnet, low and wide stance, and bulbous rear haunches, it's every bit a sporting design, and while the Z4 link is clear in its proportions, it still manages to look distinctly Japanese – an important trait, given the history behind the badge.
On the inside, however, it's exactly like sitting inside a previous-generation BMW, with very little effort made to conceal it. The infotainment system, climate controls, and steering wheel are all taken right from the BMW leftover parts bin, while the indicator stalks, headlight controls, and centre console are more similar to what's found in the Z4. Even the crystal-clear instrument cluster with its central tachometer, while unique to the Supra, still feels very BMW-esque.
That might sound like a complaint, but trust me, it isn't. For one, the interior feels distinctly different overall to that of the Z4 – it's smaller and tighter, cocooning you, the driver, more than BMW's more relaxed drop-top. It's also a good thing because everything feels distinctly high-quality, as you'd expect from BMW. Overly Germanic, yes, but far from a bad thing in my eyes at least.
The very supportive Alcantara-clad bucket seats and JBL audio system in my GTS tester are bespoke to the Supra, so that does change things up quite a bit. The boot seems a bit wider than the Z4's, too, although it is shorter and has a far smaller opening, not that anyone gives a rat's about that because this is a sports car, and all anyone actually cares about is the way it drives.
Without wanting to spoil too much already, it's absolutely brilliant, if you ask me. But with a 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six making 250kW and 500Nm under the bonnet, which is hooked up to probably the best torque converter automatic transmission in the world, the ZF eight-speed, and rear-wheel drive with a tight limited-slip differential, how could it not be an absolute blast?
It's an absolute peach of an engine, this modified B58 six-pot. It makes a fantastic noise, feels creamy smooth, and is incredibly responsive for a turbocharged engine, and that's not to mention that its an absolute firecracker.
Actually, firecracker doesn't really do it justice, because it's more akin to a Saturn V rocket. While smooth and docile around town in a very BMW-like manner, simply put it into Sport mode – the only drive mode it has aside from normal because there's no need to complicate things in a car like this – and it performs explosively.
Off the line, a hint of wheelspin is detectable before it hooks up and slingshots you forward, sending you from 0-100km/h in just 4.4 seconds, and combined with the strong braking performance, you can truly get from corner to corner at a truly rapid pace. With a wide spread of peak torque from 1600-4500rpm and peak power from 5000-6500rpm after that, it has a certain elastic quality to the way it keeps building speed rapidly but steadily throughout the rev range.
But not only is it a gun in a straight line, its an ace through the corners, too – hardly a surprise with the now-famed Tetsuya Tada, who was instrumental in developing the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ, in charge of the project. If big smoky drifts are your thing, turn off the traction control and it will happily oblige, with its sharp throttle response and quick but heavy and precise steering making it incredibly easy to induce and control oversteer.
If precision is more your thing, however, leave the traction control on – it never feels too intrusive and will still allow for minor, desirable amounts of slip, as project leader Tada-san did cut his teeth originally developing ABS and traction control systems, after all – and it feels katana sharp, carving corners with unreasonable precision. I promise you I'm not over-exaggerating when I say that it's one of the most dialled-in and driver-focused cars I've driven in quite a while, as few cars do exactly what you want them to do with as little resistance as the Supra.
There's no doubt that the ride – especially in Sport mode – is incredibly firm, with it definitely throwing punches back at road imperfections rather than ironing them out, yet despite it feeling distinctly sporty, it handles driving long distances on freeways and smoother country roads incredibly well, more than likely due to the very comfortable and supportive seats, with it displaying enough of the Grand Tourer DNA of its predecessor not to feel like the most radical departure in the world.
But make no mistake, this new Supra is a sports car first and foremost. It's an automotive scalpel – a razor-sharp precision instrument – and one of the most rewarding drives out there.
When you're getting this sort of performance, you can expect to have to pay for it, however, and the Supra certainly doesn't come cheaply at all. Pricing starts at $84,900 for the base GT before on-road costs, which steps up significantly to $94,900 for the GTS tested here, and with the additions of the $2500 Alcantara interior, $520 Silverstone Yellow paintwork, and state-dependant on-road costs in is easily pushing over $100,000.
While that is a lot of money for a Toyota, that isn't all that much for a hot BMW, which this is underneath, as the Z4 M40i it's based on retails for a steep $124,900. What's more, the Supra comes with Toyota's standard five-year unlimited kilometre warranty and capped-price servicing at just $380 a pop despite the BMW engine, while the Z4 has to make do with just three years coverage and no such affordable servicing deal.
Although I'm not sure that it's truly a six-digit car at the end of the day, there's no doubt that it drives, performs, looks, and feels like a premium product, and if viewed as a discount BMW that lacks little of the real-deal item and comes with a much better warranty, or if looked at as one of the best driver's cars Toyota has ever made, it actually starts to make a bit of sense. Unfortunately, regardless of whether you view the price as reasonable or not, you'll be waiting a while to get your backside in the seat of one, as Aussie stocks are currently depleted for the entire year, and over 5000 customers have expressed interest in purchasing one, despite just 300 cars being offered for 2019.
But if you're unfazed by the high price point and long wait time and simply want to get yourself one of the finest sports cars out there right now whenever you can, I honestly don't think you could get much better than the Supra at this sort of price point. It's a remarkably good car – quite possibly the best I've driven all year – and I could not recommend it enough. I promise the wait will be worth it.
This article originally appeared on drivesection.com on December 10, 2019. The car for this review was provided by Toyota Australia for four days. All noted pricing figures are in Australian dollars.