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.
uch 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.)