The verdict: The Supra pushes all the right buttons for fun: eager powertrain, crisp handling and grin-inducing exhaust.
Versus the competition: Its unique tuning gives the Supra a leg up on its close relative, the BMW Z4, making it sharper and more fun to drive than that roadster.
Finally, after many years and countless pleas from enthusiasts, the Supra is back for the 2020 model year, putting a two-seat sports car back in Toyota’s lineup. It’s officially the GR Supra (GR stands for Gazoo Racing), but I’m going to go with just “Supra” for simplicity.
This is the fifth generation of the Supra but the first sold in the U.S. since 1998. Absence seems to have made many hearts grow fonder; during my four-day stint with the car, at least half a dozen folks (mostly driving other import cars) pulled up next to me on the freeway with a honk and a thumbs up — along with a phone out to take a video, of course.
I never drove an older Supra, so I came to the new one with fresh eyes, but I do understand the weight of expectations attached to the Supra name. The old car was a tuner legend, immortalized in movies and in posters on the walls of Japanese-car fans for many years. It has a lot to live up to, and the early news about the Supra’s development left me with a few nagging questions.
Same-Same, But Different
Much like Toyota’s other sports car, the 86, the Supra comes as the result of a collaboration — this time with BMW, which uses the same hardware to underpin its Z4 roadster, which was redesigned for 2019. Sports cars aren’t the moneymakers they used to be, so companies justify them (from a budgetary standpoint) by working with someone else and sharing costs In this case, though, I’m not sure anyone was prepared for how much commonality that would entail.
The Supra and the Z4 share the same platform, powertrain, suspension components and a whole slew of interior parts; you’ll find the BMW typeface on the Supra’s gearshift, dials and multimedia system. I spoke with Toyota engineers before driving the Supra, and they assured me their car would be different from the BMW — even though, after crawling underneath it, I saw BMW logos on the struts.
In some ways, this car serves as a litmus test for the power of tuning: How different can you make two vehicles that have many of the same mechanical parts? The answer, it turns out, is quite a bit different — thankfully, because while the Z4 is a fun roadster, it has more of a touring focus and gets shy at the limits. The BMW just isn’t sharp enough to be what the Supra needs to be. But after getting behind the wheel of the Toyota, my concerns quickly washed away — the Supra is pure sports car.
Under the hood lies a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine that produces 335 horsepower and 365 pounds-feet of torque. The engine is sourced from BMW, which is important: BMW has been known to underrate the power of its engines, and in the Supra, that definitely feels the case. If I had to put a number on it (unscientifically), it feels more like 380-390 hp, and it pours on very quickly.
In what may be a sticking point, the rear-wheel-drive Supra is offered only with an eight-speed automatic transmission — no manual. It won’t be a consolation to all, but the automatic is very good. There’s also a good amount of space between Normal and Sport driving modes. In Normal, the Supra is pretty docile and the powertrain remains calm for day-to-day driving. But jam it into Sport and the character changes completely: The transmission holds on to gears like a dog to a bone. The sharpened throttle response is welcome, as well.
Also a highlight of the powertrain: its sounds. The Supra makes a bit of noise in Normal, but flip it into Sport and it really unleashes the exhaust. When driving hard, the car makes a soundtrack to match, with a delightful growl while you’re on the gas, loud blips on shifts and all sorts of pops when you lift off the accelerator. (Apologies to my neighbors.)
It also bears mentioning that the Supra has pretty good fuel economy figures: 24/31/26 mpg city/highway/combined, though I didn’t come close to reaching that (I averaged around 18 mpg). It turns out that accelerating hard just to listen to the exhaust isn’t good for your gas mileage, but I regret nothing.
Steering, Suspension Sharpened
The Supra’s steering is what I was most concerned about, given the Z4’s shortcomings in that area. But give Toyota credit: For a car with similar hardware, it feels a lot different, and that was a necessary change. The steering feels great, with a good amount of weight — but not so much that it feels cumbersome — and, most important, a decent amount of feedback. Initial turn-in is sharp. A quick turn of the wheel results in an equally quick dive of the nose, and with the excellent grip from the Michelin Pilot Super Sport summer tires, the Supra feels sticky and agile.
An adaptive suspension is standard, purported to stiffen the car up when in Sport mode. I didn’t actually notice much suspension difference between Sport and Normal, and the same thing could be said for the steering, which adds a hair of weight in Sport but doesn’t feel fundamentally altered. The Supra rides well on the road (if a bit noisily) while still feeling tight enough for canyon duty, and that’s a tough balance to strike. The suspension seems to have a touch of body roll built into it — something I like in this instance because it doesn’t feel like it unbalances the car. The Supra has 50/50 weight distribution, and even though you can feel the suspension loading up in corners, it does so predictably and without any suddenness that might upset the car’s balance.
If the suspension were any stiffer, I think it would be too jolting for day-to-day use, especially over imperfect roads. As is, the Supra seems to strike a good balance between day-to-day drivability and canyon carving. The exception to this might be on the track: In our First Drive of the Supra, Mike Hanley said that in that environment, the suspension would be better if it were locked down a little more. That’s something to watch out for if you have track-day aspirations.
Up and Down, Down Interior
The cabin is pretty snug, though having dome bubbles in the roof above each seat helps with headroom, and it allowed me to fit in there with a helmet on. I’m just under 6 feet tall, but I had folks a few inches taller than that hop in the driver’s seat, and they fit with the seat lowered and slid back. What’s problematic for taller drivers is visibility, as the top of the windshield is pretty low. When your head gets up near the headliner, it’s hard to see forward, meaning taller folks will have to drop their heads down to see ahead. There’s also a car-sized blind spot on the passenger side, making the optional blind spot monitor nearly a must-have feature.
Other quirks: Apple CarPlay yes, Android Auto no. Though this is a BMW-sourced multimedia system, the good news is Apple CarPlay won’t require BMW’s subscription service; you get it standard with the larger 8.8-inch touchscreen (which is standard on the Supra 3.0 Premium) and it’s available in a package on the base model. There’s a dial for navigating the car’s myriad menus, which can be cumbersome, but it becomes easier once you figure out where everything is. The screen is better used as a touchscreen, but its position on the dash makes it hard to reach, so you end up using the dial a lot more.
Pricing and Value
The vehicle I tested was a Launch Edition Supra, of which Toyota is producing only 1,500, so it might be hard to get a hand on. Those versions start at $56,180 (all prices include destination charges), and my test vehicle added a Driver Assist Package ($1,195), which includes adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitors and parking sensors. Given the Supra’s visibility issues, I think this is a good addition to whatever Supra you’re considering (it’s available on all trim levels).
Other trims are the 3.0 (the base model) and the 3.0 Premium. The 3.0 starts at $50,920, while the 3.0 Premium jumps up to $54,920 (with the larger 8.8-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, navigation, a wireless charger, a head-up display and a JBL premium audio system). Base models can get the premium audio system, Apple CarPlay, navigation and the larger screen for $2,460.
The competitive landscape in this price range is a bit varied. The Supra mostly goes up against the Z4 and its counterparts, the Mercedes-Benz SLC300 and the Audi TT. It could also be compared to the Chevrolet Corvette (which starts around $6,000 more) and the top trim levels of the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro. But those cars focus more on muscle (and V-8 engines), in stark contrast to the Supra’s agility and lightness.
What I’ll remember most about the new Supra was how it made me feel: joyful. It absolutely fulfills the promise of a sports car, and it’s incredibly rewarding to drive. Everything about it — the burly exhaust, the feel of the steering, and the responsiveness and raw power of the drivetrain — will put a smile on your face when you’re behind the wheel.
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