Our verdict: we test the all-new Toyota GR Supra. Is it worthy?
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The normal protocol is to cling to neutrality and balance; to not let the internet comments or the manufacturer hype shape your view as you slide into the welcoming leather bucket. But sticking to that line becomes difficult when your fingers are wrapped around the steering wheel of, arguably, the most fiercely debated car of the decade.
History books will tell you that the Toyota Supra’s story started 41 years ago. It was an off-shoot of the Celica, which eventually justified it becoming a model of its own in the mid-’80s.
The problem with history books, however, is that they tend to tell stories with a rose-coloured tint. The legacy of the Supra — a legacy that countless bodies fight for on social media — would probably lay forgotten without the string of cheesy Fast movies, the video games, and the tuning community’s gravitational pull to the 2JZ inline six.
I don’t subscribe to the Supra’s existing fandom. That engine is clearly capable of incredible things (something that good friend Ash and his pictured black 515kW Mk4 Supra taught me on the day of our photoshoot), but little else of the Mk4 Supra resonates. It was a heavy, comfy, cruiser — not a world-beating mythical “10 second car”.
Hearing that I’m glad to see it return, therefore, might be a surprise. The industry’s commitment to hybrid and electric cars seems insurmountable for those of us who prefer the unrefined bellow of an internal combustion engine. In this age, nuggets of pure petrol-fuelled excitement like the Supra are worth savouring.
Even if a huge portion of it is borrowed from BMW.
Yes. For those who didn’t get the memo, the new Supra is a closely related sibling to the new BMW Z4 M40i. It’s made in the same Austrian factory and shares the same rear-driven BMW Cluster Architecture (CLAR) modular platform, the same engine (we’ll get to that), and plenty of parts inside.
Indeed, the cabin of the Supra is one of the places where the assault of ‘BMWness’ is at its strongest. The 8.8-inch infotainment system is clearly iDrive BMW. The same goes for the shift-lever, door handles, and most of the switch-gear.
Only the seats, steering wheel, heads-up display, and (possibly?) the digital cluster are Toyota’s work. The dashboard is also Supra-specific but screams BMW — from the tautness of the leather to the air-conditioning interface. It even, in true Toyota fashion, skips on Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
But nobody’s complaining about BMW bits in their Toyota. That exchange reads like a free upgrade, even at a time where Toyota’s interior game is at a peak.
It’s the rest of the transaction that raises eyebrows; starting with the engine.
Toyota claims that the BMW-sourced twin-scroll turbocharged B58 3.0-litre inline six makes 250kW at 5000–6000rpm and 500Nm at 1500–4500rpm (identical to the Z4). But we know that these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt.
A number of Supras have already shown power outputs in the ballpark of 280kW at the crank — a difference too great to simply be chalked up as being part of a mechanical ‘window of tolerance’. Toyota has tweaked and breathed on this engine … and not just for the sake of ‘reliability’ like it’s proudly talked about in the past.
Its platform is more rigid than that of a Lexus LFA, according to Toyota. Weight distribution sits at a perfect 50:50 despite curious proportions — a weedy 2470mm wheelbase juxtaposed by long front and rear overhangs. The front wheels are suspended from the CLAR chassis with double-joint MacPherson struts, and the rears with a multi-link independent system.
On paper, the Supra is clearly positioned nicely alongside cars like the 272kW/465Nm BMW M2 Competition and 220kW/380Nm Porsche 718 Cayman. It out-runs them on price, too, sitting at $99,990 to the Beemer’s $127k and the baby Porker’s $125k.
And, what of the Supra’s Z4 M40i twin? Well it’s priced at $133,800 … a $33,810 premium. Ouch.
Is that that then? Book the street parade, sign on the dotted line, text Vin Diesel —the new Supra is a better BMW than BMW’s own with a healthy discount and handsome looks to boot?
Nope. Not nearly that simple.
The hard and fast world of sports cars naturally leads people to draw Top Trumps–style comparisons. Yes, the Supra plays a competitive game of spec-sheet bingo, but when it comes to comparing it to either of the aforementioned Germans … it’s totally different.
The Cayman is a pointed, agile little thing. The steering wheel feels hard-wired to your brain and the chassis and tyre combination produce more grip and poise than most drivers will know what to do with. The M2 Competition is a definitive brute — flexing its muscles with its shrill old-school N55 engine while the race-inspired suspension digs fissures into the base of your spine.
The Supra is neither of these things. It is still very quick — deceptively so, even. From a standstill you’ll hit 100km/h in just over four seconds, a number aided by an impressive ability to put power to the ground. This is thanks in part to the generous 275/35ZR Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres bolted to the rear and reasonably sharp response times from the 8-speed auto.
The wide and early torque window that we noted at the Supra launch earlier this month helps simplify the driving experience. Given that peak torque comes on as early as 1600rpm, the Supra is perfectly happy to be left in third gear while carving up most B-roads.
The transmission, a ZF unit, is potentially the best automatic I’ve sampled in a Toyota or Lexus product in recent times. Compared to the slow and occasionally lurching Lexus-made auto in the RC-F I drove last year, this felt quicker on upshifts and happier to tolerate sudden downshifts.
Although, it’s still less engaging than a manual and much slower than your typical dual-clutch — let alone the PDK unit you’d find in a Cayman. And that offers a clue into what makes the Supra a completely different prospect when bench-marked against any of those German sports cars.
Using the familiar winding sea-side roads of Maraetai and Kaiaua as a backdrop (with a tour of Clevedon and Hunua farmland in between), the Supra told a story of a car chasing versatility instead of raw, emotive driver thrills.
At speed the Supra feels heavy to drive, which is perplexing because the numbers would state the opposite. At 1495kg it isn’t exactly a Lotus Elise, but then again neither is the 1335kg 718 or the surprisingly dense 1550kg M2 Competition.
The reason for the weighty feel is the longitudinal softness of the Supra’s damper and suspension tuning. Plant the throttle, and the Toyota sits down on its rear and the nose goes light. Lateral body-roll feels much more policed, but still places the driving experience quite a ways away from the aforementioned supposed rivals.
Once you get around the way that the Toyota handles its weight, the experience starts to improve. Steering feels quite light at low speeds, but firms up when the world starts rushing by at a faster rate. The short wheelbase can sometimes make the Supra feel twitchy during quick directional changes, but is worth it for how positive mid-corner rotation becomes.
Throw in a platform that lends itself to aiding rotation with the addition of throttle, and you’ve got yourself an enjoyable sports car. But, at the same time, a sports car that would be left in the dust of cars like the Cayman and M2. Those two offer a much grittier, surgical, white-knuckle kind of thrill. The Supra, as fun and fast as it is, feels comparatively compromised.
But, don’t believe everything you read about compromise. While the Supra doesn’t necessarily deliver completely in a purist sports car sense, it’s incredibly friendly to live with.
Yes, it’s only a two seater, but that means the rear hatch is cavernous. You get 290L of storage space (the shape of the boot opening and floor is a little awkward, but a set of golf clubs will slot perfectly down the middle) and a generously sized cabin.
Annoyingly, there’s a quite large hump in the right-hand side of the transmission tunnel, which results in a slightly twisted driving position. And getting in and out is also a mild chore. But thankfully shoulder room and head room inside is ample (the latter being down to the double-bubble roof). Tall people might struggle to squeeze a helmet on, but will be otherwise content.
Steering is light, the engine is quiet in everyday commuting (we got an agreeable 8L/100km out of it on the motorway), and the automatic gearbox that ‘isn’t as sharp as a dual-clutch’ is much more docile and laid back in traffic.
To me, these things place the Supra much closer to something like the Jaguar F-Type than any of the hardened, focused, dedicated sports cars that it inevitably gets paired with. Only, the torquier Supra feels more athletic than the F-Type, and undercuts it by 50 grand.
It’s worth noting too that the Supra turned more heads than any other new car I’ve driven this year — including last month’s McLaren 600LT. A real estate agent in Clevedon even chased me down in his car, just so he could grab a quick photo when I eventually stopped.
Nobody has ever done that for a Cayman.
I’ll put it this way. Those chasing an ultimate sports car with abilities that defy belief should go and buy a Cayman. Want something more emotive? Grab an M2. With my money, I’d go with the value-packed (but slightly dumb) Ford Mustang GT.
But, if you want something that lands almost perfectly straight down the middle — sophisticated in its drivetrain but forgivable enough to drive every single day — the Supra is an excellent candidate. While the way it feels and the way it sounds is quintessentially BMW, the ethos that’s pushed it into a unique no-man’s land between practical GT car and competent sports car is distinctly Toyota.
And, how ironic is that.
2019 Toyota GR Supra
Price: $99,990 (including on-roads)
Pros: Deceptively quick, versatile, decent value, better looking in person
Cons: No manual, struggles for individuality, driver's foot-well