After a layoff of almost two decades, one of the most famous and celebrated Japanese performance car nameplates is back. What sounds like very good news indeed has actually been met in some quarters as anything but, because while the Toyota Supras that came before this fifth-generation A90 version were all conceived, born and bred in Japan, this latest model was not. In fact, it’s being built at a contract manufacturing plant in Austria, its engine and interior tech are all borrowed from BMW and beneath its very distinctive exterior, you will find the same platform that underpins that company’s new Z4 roadster.
WHY COLLABORATION IS ESSENTIAL
The Toyota GR Supra, to use its full name, is the result of a collaboration between the Japanese and German manufacturers. Without it, this new model would not have progressed beyond the ‘any other business’ stage of a Toyota board meeting. As the company’s executives tell it, the cost of developing a bespoke sports car is enormous, the profit margins slim and the volumes relatively modest. That means the development costs need to be amortised and shared, and one way of doing that is to buddy up with another car maker.
The result is a Supra with a very strong European flavour, one that many diehard sports car enthusiasts are finding unpalatable. And everybody else? What surely matters most is that the GR Supra is a first-rate sports car.
The platform that underpins both this car and BMW’s Z4 is characterised first and foremost by a wide track and a short wheelbase, which should give either model an inherent, built-in agility. Once the platform had been designed and signed-off, the Toyota and BMW engineers went their separate ways without collaborating on any further development whatsoever. The Japanese team tasked with bringing the Supra to production readiness was the in-house Gazoo Racing outfit, a relatively small and agile group of engineers with specific experience in motorsport and high performance cars. This is Gazoo Racing’s first such project.
A CAR WITHOUT COMPROMISE?
We’re told the Supra is a sports car without compromise, but in truth this is no weekend-only or track day machine. It has been engineered and designed to be comfortable and usable everyday, and as a result the cabin is luxurious rather than spartan, the ride cushioned rather than crashy, and boot space generous rather than non-existent. Apart from the fact it has no rear seats, the new Supra wouldn’t be much more demanding in daily use than a Yaris.
That kind of amenability does have its drawbacks, however, which we’ll come to shortly. Beneath the long bonnet – and shunted as far back as possible in the body to achieve a perfect 50:50 weight distribution – is the BMW-sourced 3.0-litre straight-six turbo engine. It develops 335bhp and 369lb ft of torque, which is enough to slingshot the Supra from a standstill to 62mph in 4.3 seconds and on to a top speed that’s electronically limited to 155mph.
It’s a fine engine, too, with sharp throttle response and a purposeful soundtrack, and just about as much power and torque as you can reasonably deploy on the public highway. There are more characterful engines out there, but compared with the four-cylinder lumps you’ll find in most of the Supra’s rivals, it’s a delight.
NO MANUAL GEARBOX
Another controversial point is the lack of a manual transmission. Instead, the only gearbox option is an eight-speed automatic, which is very smooth and refined in auto mode and just about responsive enough in manual mode (gears can be changed by hand using the steering wheel-mounted paddles). It isn’t perfect, though, mostly because the Porsche 718 Cayman and Alpine A110 that you could buy for the same money both offer faster-shifting and even more responsive dual-clutch transmissions.
Despite all that power, which is sent to the rear axle alone, the Supra generates an incredible amount of traction. Only if you really try will you ever overwhelm the rear tyres, thanks in part to a trick electronically-controlled limited-slip differential. All that traction means the Supra isn’t the least bit intimidating or tricky to drive, even when you’re pressing on. In fact, it’s very good to punt along a winding road. The steering is accurate and perfectly weighted and the basic chassis balance expertly judged, while the suspension (with standard fit adaptive dampers) does an excellent job of marrying taut body control to a level of suppleness that means the car isn’t at all untied by a bumpy road.
IS IT TRULY SPECIAL?
As an everyday sports car, then, the GR Supra is fairly difficult to fault. It’s when you begin to examine it for signs of dynamic greatness that you uncover its flaws. The brakes begin to wilt a little too early with sustained use, for instance, and the pedal is spongier than it should be. And when you really start wringing the car’s neck, the chassis struggles to keep control of the significant 1,500kg mass. True, if the Supra performed more impressively in any of those respects it wouldn’t be so civilised in day-to-day use, but it is also the case that both the 718 Cayman and A110 are sharper, more engaging cars to thread along a hillside road.
The Supra’s cabin has come in for a great deal of criticism, mostly because the infotainment system and much of the switchgear have been lifted from BMW wholesale with no effort whatsoever to disguise their origins. Disappointing, perhaps, but in BMW’s iDrive system the Supra does at least have one of the best multimedia interfaces you’ll find in any car. Elsewhere the material quality is very good, as is the overall sense of integrity. Aside from a high lip and a narrow hatch, meanwhile, the boot is far more useful than you might expect of a two-seat sports car.
For the time being Toyota offers only two trim levels, the Supra 3.0L costing from £52,695 and the Supra 3.0L Pro from £54,000. In the UK only a tiny minority will be lower-spec versions. Both the 3.0L and 3.0L Pro come generously loaded with kit, including Toyota’s Safety+ package that incorporates adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition and automatic high beam, plus a blind spot monitor, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay (but not Android Auto), rain sensing wipers, a rear view camera, heated and electric seats, a tyre pressure monitoring system and LED headlights. On top of that, Pro models also get leather upholstery, an uprated 12-speaker JBL stereo, wireless phone charging and a very useful head-up display.
You only need to consider that enormous list of standard equipment to understand the new Supra is a well-rounded, sophisticated sort of sports car, one that you would happily drive through an urban rush hour on a daily basis, or travel 300 miles in a single sitting in without complaint. One day, Toyota might well remove a little weight from it and stiffen the suspension to make a truly exceptional driver’s car of the new Supra, but for now this fifth-generation model is as broadly capable as any £50,000 sports car, if not quite as thrilling as some.
Price: Toyota Supra from £52,695. As tested in 3.0L Pro specification, £54,000
0-62mph: 4.3 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Fuel economy: 34.5mpg (combined)
TOYOTA SUPRA HISTORY GUIDE
Toyota Supra (A70) – 1978-1981
First introduced in the late 1970s, the Supra was originally a derivative of the Celica rather than a standalone model. That changed with the launch of the ‘A70’ in 1986, which was marketed purely as a Supra and not related in any way to the Celica (which by then had switched to front-wheel drive). This was also the first generation of Supra to adopt turbocharging. Midway through its lifespan power outputs reached as high as 276bhp, making the A70 Supra substantially more powerful than a contemporary Porsche 911 Carrera.
Toyota Supra (A80) – 1993-2002
Far and away the most iconic Supra of the lot, the A80 was made famous by a starring role in the Fast and Furious franchise and the almost limitless tuning potential of its 2JZ engine (still a turbocharged inline six). Power outputs hit 326bhp, only fractionally less than the new Supra offers two decades later.
More Car Reviews
In the market for a used car?
CarGurus makes it easy to find great deals from top-rated dealers. CarGurus compares price, detailed vehicle data and dealer reviews to give each used car a deal rating from great to overpriced, and sorts the best deals first. Find out more and begin your used car search at CarGurus.