Toyota's new Supra Turbo is a touring car with mortifying performance and the ability to take away everything. Your breath. Life's priorities. Maybe your state's permission to operate a motor vehicle. Would that sales perform as strongly.
But if any car is marked for dubious times, it is the belated 1993 Supra, which this month enters a crowded market for high-performance Japanese coupes that are stumbling like never before. Nissan started our high-technology habit with the 1990
300ZX and its optional twin turbochargers, four-wheel steering and penchant for crushing most things that tried sneaking alongside. Then came Mitsubishi's 3000GT VR-4. Also double-blown with four-wheel steering. Heavy, flat, wickedly and comfortably
fast. And last year, after several seasons of checking to the raiser, Mazda hoisted the stakes with the new RX-7 that is less sports car, more rotary-engined race car in street aluminum. These are fine, 150 m.p.h. vehicles with an eerie knack of
making such speed feel like 80 m.p.h. All will blast from rest to 60 m.p.h. in about 5 seconds. They are silken in traffic, forgive gross mishandling and are as solid as the Pyramids. But sales are in quicksand. There's the recession, of
course. Also, production typically remains ahead of demand when one is building $35,000 cars that only carry two people. A greening conscience is growing, opposed to impractical cars and impossible speeds. Other, more subtle forces are working
against these Asian cars. They have the power but not the bare-knuckle spirit of say, Ferrari or Corvette. They do everything impossibly well, which as a human trait can be downright irritating. And Detroit's vastly improved products have started to
turn the imported tide. Hence an essential truth: Although the Supra Turbo brings something to the table, success these days usually goes to those who bring a new table. * The Supra's looks--muscular from most angles, certainly
distinctive from head-on and dead astern thanks to radical light clusters--are a pastiche. It borrows from Honda's Prelude in the side windows and the noticeable hunch of the silhouette carries some incestuous touches of Paseo, Celica and the MR-2.
But those lights are original, innovative and quite grand. Up front, on each corner, are bull's-eyes three abreast--one for high beam, one for low, the third a fog buster. Out back, on each corner, four softballs abreast and in snooker ball
colors--two reds for brake and night running, one white for a backup light, one amber for a turn signal. Some Supras may be seen with an optional rear wing that is high, wide, arching, and as peculiar as a bald guy combing his hair sideways. Look
the other way should one pass. Or wear garlic. Overall, it is not an ugly look. But attractive only in patches. The interior of our leather-lined test car was likeab
le although barely three-star accommodations for a vehicle costing more than a small BMW or mini-Mercedes. It has a distinct cockpit feel with the center console canted toward the driver and all dials and controls set on the operating side. Three
large analog gauges tell speed, engine revolutions, cylinder head heat and fuel--but whatever might be stirring and hissing inside the oil pan remains an unmonitored mystery. Not that the lack of an oil pressure gauge is much of a problem. Those who
have experienced blockages or pump failure say the initial symptom is not a descending needle but a car's noticeable reluctance to accelerate. With appropriate screeching noises. The instrument hood definitely is overambitious, reaching out and over
the gauges until they are interred. Remember last winter and peering from beneath the parka with the XXL hood? Driver and passenger have air bags. Seats are beautifully bolstered and contoured without reducing the
comfort factor. There's a long, broad, full-sole dead pedal for long-distance leg resting. And the gear shift--short, chubby, immediately to right hand and with a short throw that's more of a flip--is a new, very high standard for manual operation.
* Occupants will find their compartment roomy, bearing in mind the tight, performance purpose of the car. But underneath the hatchback is a trunk that is no more than a deep tray. Inexcusable. Rear seating? Padded ringers of the real
thing added to stifle curmudgeons who always note the social selfishness--to say nothing of the emotional and physical strain on growing kids--of paying such big bucks for a two-seater. This fourth-generation Supra comes in two body
styles--hatchback and a "Sport Roof" featuring a detachable aluminum panel for the Targa look. Two engines are available--a normally aspirated, twin-cam, 3.0-liter, 24-valve inline six delivering 220 horsepower. That's 20 more horsepower than last
year. Top of the performance line is the same engine mated to twin-sequential turbochargers. That improves the oomph to a class-leading 320 horsepower without dropping the car into the expensive gas-guzzler tax bracket. The standard Supra
comes with a choice of five-speed manual ora four-speed, electronically smoothed automatic transmission. The Supra Turbo is available with automatic or a six-speed manual that admits the car to the selected ranks of Corvette, Porsche, Viper,Z28 and
Firebird. Prices range from $34,000 to $40,000 for a goody-stuffed Supra Turbo. Although the high-end car includes anti-lock brakes, traction control, air bags, limited slip differential, power seats, air conditioning and other niceties as standard
equipment, the final cost will stir a few gulps. * The undisputed raison d'etre for the Supra Turbo is performance. Long before the first pencil hit a designer's pad, it was decreed that only the addition of a roll-cage, five-point safety
harness and fire extinguisher would separate street Turbos from a weekend of club racing. To that end, engineers did what engineers have been doing since cars first went wheel-to-wheel: Improve engine efficiency by reducing the weight it must pull.
Weight watchers met 950 times over two years and no excess was left unturned. A chic dual exhaust system was dumped for a single pipe. Adjustable shock absorbers and a telescopic steering wheel were vetoed as too heavy. If competing components were
of matching quality, the nod went to the supplier with the lighter. Hollow bolt heads were chosen over solid. The fuel tank is plastic and the hood aluminum. Even carpets have hollow fibers. Despite the additions of air bags and 17-inch wheels and
tires, the 1993 Toyota Supra is 260 pounds lighter than last year. Performance is equally surprising. The car accelerates quicker than anything by Mitsubishi, Mazda and
Nissan--even quicker than a base Corvette. It is faster than a Camaro Z28, a Mercedes 500SL or Jaguar XJS. The power is with twin turbochargers functioning in sequence. One looks after lower speeds and initial gears with the second starting to puff
its cheeks at 3,000 rpm. In fourth gear, with both turbochargers at full blow, car and driver are cannonballs and the Supra suddenly is quite illegal. The car sticks well on its broad Bridgestones, balance is faithful and hammering the brakes will
bulge the veins in anyone's neck. It is a thrill and a pleasure to drive because the Supra Turbo is one of those rare cars that educate while they excite. There are no tricks up its sleeve. If overcooked it does exactly what you were taught in
Performance Driving 101 and will raise spectators' eyebrows long before elevating a driver's blood pressure. Still, there's more to a car than its dynamism. The Supra Turbo was built for an enthusiastic clique,no
the majority of young marrieds whose passions remain rooted in the Donnelly Directory War. So is the standard Supra a force or just a face in the crowd? Does this car say anything about its owner? Is it as luxurious as its price suggests? Are we
going to respect it in the morning? Toyota already had all those answers--at about the same price--in the prestigious Lexus SC300. 1993 Toyota Supra Turbo The Good Rocket-sled performance. Daring treatment of lights. Secure, balanced
handling. The Bad Bitty styling borrowed from many others. No trunk space, minimal rear seating. Pricey enough to be a Lexus. The Ugly The competition it faces. Cost Base: $39,900 As tested, $42,085. Includes dual air bags, leather
upholstery, anti-lock brakes, alloy wheels, cruise control, air conditioning and alarm system. Engine 3.0 liter, 24 valve, inline six developing 320 horsepower. Type Front-engine, rear-drive, 2+2 touring coupe. Performance 0-60
m.p.h., as tested, 5 seconds. Top speed, estimated, 156 m.p.h. Fuel consumption, EPA city and highway, 17 and 23 m.p.g. Curb Weight 3,415 pounds.