"Where's the wing?'' a co-worker jokingly shouted from across the Orlando Sentinel parking lot as I pulled into a parking space in this week's test car, a gleaming white Toyota Supra. Our test Supra, an excellent but very expensive automobile, is one of those in-your-face cars. It wore an optional wing-like appendage on its rear that seems bigger than anything this side of a 767 jumbo jet. Because the wing is so large, I felt very self-conscious driving the Supra. It seems to scream out: LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME! After driving the Supra for a week, I discovered many people couldn't resist using the wing to start a conversation. (A family member asked if laundry could be hung on it.) Anyway, my colleague has a hip but quirky sense of humor, and I consider him fairly knowledgeable about cars. So I played a little game with him. ''How much do you think this car costs?'' I asked. He gave the Supra the once-over and ventured a guess of $23,000. ''It has a leather interior, CD and cassette player and power everything,'' I said. ''OK, $28,000.'' ''It has a four-wheel independent suspension, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and big, 16 inch tires.'' ''$30,000,'' he said confidently. ''It has a fold down rear seat and the roof comes off.'' ''$38,000.'' ''Close,'' I said, ''but this particular vehicle is priced at $40,000.'' ''Forty thousand dollars for a Toyota?'' he chortled, mildly stunned, definitely surprised and barely able to contain a laugh. No one who I asked to guess at the price all week came anywhere close to the car's actual price. Most people guessed in the $25,000 to $30,000 range. When I said $40,000, they were turned off like a light bulb. No matter how well it drives - and make no mistake, the six-cylinder Supra isa superb car - this Toyota just doesn't look like a $40,000 machine. And without a super high-performance V-8 engine, it doesn't accelerate like one either. Perhaps the Supra's price would not be so high were it not for the volatile relationship between the Japanese yen and the American dollar. Because of currency fluctuations, Japanese automakers have had to increase prices dramatically over the last two years in order to maintain profits on cars they sell in the United States. If I had my heart set on a high-performance Toyota, I would save 15 grand by bypassing the Supra and heading straight for the MR2 Turbo, a sports car that I think will be a future classic. The MR2 Turbo offers exactly the same 6.2 second 0-to-60 mph performance as the Supra. It has an interior that is just as comfortable, and like the Supra, its roof is removable. Not only that, but the MR2 Turbo is a much better-looking machine, a baby Ferrari for all practical purposes. Were the Supra given amore conservative rear wing, a high output V-8 and a massive price cut, it might better be able to compete with such cars as the Pontiac Firebird Formul a, Chevrolet Camaro Z28 and Ford Mustang GT - sports cars which offer powerful eight-cylinder engines and equal or greater performance at about half the price. Toyota feels that the car is priced just where it should be. ''You can't lose sight of the fact that this is the leading edge in its category. The Supra is widely regarded as the benchmark. You can't compare it to 4-year-old cars like the new 300 ZX,'' said Toyota spokesman Xavier Dominiscis in Miami. The new Supra, he added, is priced well below other exotic high-performance sports cars. PERFORMANCE We had the least expensive model of the Supra, which came with the base engine, a double overhead cam and a 24-valve in-line six-cylinder that makes 220 horsepower. This is a strong, silky-smooth engine that delivers excellent six-cylinder performance - provided you keep it revved high - and good fuel economy. The Supra can be ordered with a 320-horsepower, twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter stra ght-six. But that adds another $4,000 or so to the price. Our test car w as equipped with a five-speed manual transmission. Just like the MR2 Turbo, the Supra's shifter takes very little wrist action to move. The shifts are quick and positive, the clutch pedal light and fast. But the Supra lacks the lightning quick response and neck-snapping acceleration you would expect from a $40,000 machine. In comparison, a $20,000 Camaro Z28, with its rumbling 275-horsepower V-8, is much more entertaining to drive. One touch of the accelerator can light up the rear tires. The Supra cruises smoothly and quietly and is a very tame and civilized machine when driven easily. The exhaust is crisp but quiet. HANDLING Stable, agile, quiet and easy to handle, the Supra is a viable competitor to the top-of-the-line string of high-quality Japanese sports cars such as the Mazda RX7, Dodge Stealth/Mitsubishi 3000 GT and Nissan 300 ZX. The Supra's underpinnings include all the requisite high-performance hardware: four-wheel independent suspension with stabilizer bars, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and a vehicle-sensitive power rack-and-pinion steering system. In a way, the Supra's interior complements the suspension system. Some sports cars make you feel claustrophobic. For example, you might not have enough leg or elbow room. But because the Supra's interior is spacious, you feel freer to explore the car's handling abilities. In fast, hard curves, the Supra's body remains very straight. The suspension system is fairly stiff, and when you roll over a bump, you'll hear more noise from the suspension than you would like. But generally, the ride is very refined for a true sports car. The Supra is not tiring on long drives. The steering is easy and quick. The brakes are powerful and responsive, and shifting is no chore. I felt no fatigue after a three-hour road trip. FIT AND FINISH I've said before thatI think Toyota builds the best cars in the world. In fact, Toyota again was among the automakers that scored highest in recent J.D. Power surveys of customer satisfaction and vehicle quality. Even though I don't think the Supra is worth its $40,000 asking price, I can't knock the way the car is assembled. The parts fit with a precise and uniform consistency that you just don't see in most other cars. Starting with the leather seats, our test car proved to be a high-quality machine. The materials, such as the thick, soft padded dash and the attractive matte black console, radiate understated class. This car is free of gimmicky components, such as computer readouts that tell you, for example, how much fuel is left or how far you can go before changing oil. Instead, Toyota outfitted the Supra with many functional high-tech items designed to make driving less stressful. For example, there is a fully automatic air-conditioning system and steering wheel-mounted cruise con trol switches. Most of the controls for the accessories are very user-friendly. The electrically adjustable seats are a bit firm, but they offer good lower-back support. The rear seat, which had no leg room to speak of, was not fit for habitation. So I folded it down and forgot it was there. Our test car came with a full complement of power accessories and Toyota's best radio, an eardrum-puncturing seven-speaker unit with a built-in equalizer. The optional rear wing, which added $420 to the price, was the only thing that subtracted from the overall excellence of the car. Even though it doesn't directly block rear vision, it does distract the driver. I found myself not trusting the mirrors and turning my head to make sure that it was the wing and not another car in the corner of my eye. It's a bit of a chore removing the center roof panel. A special wrench is needed to undo four bolts and a lock. Once they are unfastened, one person can easily lift the roo panel off the car and store it in the specially designed holder located in the rear hatch area. The procedure takes about five minutes. It's hard to say how much world economics has contributed to the Supra's bloated price. Even though the Supra is a fine automobile, it just doesn't compare well with something like a Mitsubishi 3000 GT or Dodge Stealth, vehicles that offers two turbos and all-wheel drive for less. Specifications: 1994 Toyota Supra Base price: $38,000 EPA rating: 18 mpg city/23 mpg highway Price as tested: $40,812 Incentives: None Truett's tip: Even though the new Supra is exceptionally smooth, moderately quick and extremely well-built, its price means that not many people will be able to afford it.
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