Test Drive:2020 Toyota Supra

Ron Sessions | May 15, 2019

Introduction

The Toyota Supra is back after a two-decade-long hiatus, one that’s seen the brand become a leader in hybrid-electric cars and its midsize RAV4 SUV assume the mantle of Toyota’s best-selling vehicle. An all-new fifth-generation version of Toyota’s iconic two-seat sports car goes on sale this July. The production version of the low-slung, fat-tired, rear-drive Supra arrives in the U.S. just in time to coincide with a stylized rendition of the Supra body becoming the face of Toyota’s effort in the NASCAR Infinity series.

Run it on Sunday, sell it on Monday?  Well, not exactly. But Toyota is endeavoring to spice up its passenger-car lineup with sharper handling and more expressive design. The all-new 2020 Supra has those qualities in spades.

2020 Toyota GR Supra photo
2020 Toyota GR Supra.--Photo Credit: Toyota

The surprise is that the new Supra shares its engine, drivetrain and basic platform with the also-new BMW Z4 roadster. The two sports cars from these unlikely bedfellows will be assembled by master contract car builder Magna-Steyr in Graz, Austria.  

There will be three Supra models at launch. Including the $930 destination charge, the model lineup includes the base Supra 3.0 at $50,920, the Supra 3.0 Premium at $54,920, and (for the first 1,500 units sold in the U.S. only) the $56,180 Supra Launch Edition. All U.S.-bound models will feature a 3.0-liter inline-six turbocharged engine with an excess of 300 horsepower, albeit one built by BMW.

Officially, it’s called the Gazoo Racing Supra or GR Supra, but few new car buyers outside the Sunbelt Asian road rocket scene are likely familiar with that appellation.

Styling and Design

For those unfamiliar with the new Supra’s back story, the unlikely collaboration with BMW started in 2012, with first discussions between the two occurring right after the introduction of the Scion FR-S/Toyota FT86, Toyota’s sporty car joint venture with Subaru.

Compared to the golden years of sports cars in the 1980s when the Datsun/Nissan Z Car, Mazda RX-7 and Toyota Supra each enjoyed five-digit annual sales, today’s two-seaters sell in much smaller numbers. Yet vehicle development costs can easily top several hundred million dollars for a single new model. So the business case for the sports car linkup made sense.

By the time the Toyota FT-1 concept wowed attendees at the 2014 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the overall shape and messaging of the Supra-to-be were already beginning to form.

The new car would have some 20 years and four generations of Supras sold in the U.S. from 1979 until 1998 to draw design inspiration from. You can see a lot of the 1993-1998 Gen 4 Supra is the 2020 model, from the prominent snorkel-like center grille, long hood and side scallops to the big lift gate spoiler. Toyota also reached all the way back to the limited-production Yamaha-built 2000 GT of 1967 for the new Supra’s distinctive double bubble roof. But the new Supra is definitely not retro. Exterior lighting of the new car is all LED, from the six-lens LED headlamps and daytime driving lamps to the expressive tail lamps—even the backup lamps are LEDs. The Supra will also be the first Toyota available with a matte-finish paintjob.

Toyota product planners wanted a sports car that could go head to head with the Porsche Cayman and Boxster with a short wheelbase for quick turn-in and wide stance for maximum grip. So the wheelbase and overall length of the new Supra are within a fraction of an inch of those of the Porsche pair. The 2020 Supra’s 97.2-inch wheelbase is 4 inches shorter than that of the Toyota 86, 3.2 inches more abbreviated than the last-generation (1998) Supra or current Nissan 370Z and just 2.7 inches longer than that of the diminutive last-gen Toyota MR2. Wider at the back than the front, the new Supra has a wider front and rear track than the current Nissan 370Z. The 2020 Supra’s doors and hood are stamped from aluminum, with a composite rear hatch to shave vehicle weight to less than 3,400 lbs.

Features and Controls

Step over one of the wide door sills (which house stout longitudinal sections to aid structural rigidity) and you’ll be immersed in a modern-looking but functional and driver-focused cabin. The sport-contoured seats are 14-way power-operated, including 4-way lumbar settings and an adjustable backrest width that allows the person in the seat to tighten the side bolsters for spirited back-road or track driving and relax them for comfort on longer interstate slogs. Thanks to the double-bubble roof design, headroom is decent despite a low overall vehicle aero signature.

Between the seats is a generously padded center console with soft side bolsters for knee comfort during hard cornering and attractive-looking genuine carbon-fiber trim. The electronic shifter (a common part with the Z4) falls neatly into hand. There isn’t a lot of storage for small items in the console short of a pair of cup holders and a small tray under the center stack.

The dash itself features an easy-to-read single-meter digital driver display, overall has a low profile to aid forward visibility and has a clean, no-nonsense design. A flat-bottom steering wheel, however, is not part of the program.

The rear hatch opens to a surprising 10.2 cubic feet of cargo space. That’s not enough to load in a pair of golf bags for a day of putting around, but it’s sufficient for a couple’s weekend. While it’s about a third less space than is available under the hatch of a 2019 Corvette coupe, it is more than double that found in the aft end of a Miata.

Other Supra feature highlights include:

  • Dual-zone automatic climate control is standard.
  • Seat coverings are black leather and faux suede in the base Supra 3.0, with full leather standard in higher trims.
  • Rich-looking red leather interior is available only in the Supra Launch Edition.
  • A color head-up display for driving and navigation information is optional.
  • Standard small-diameter leather-wrapped steering wheel with remote audio controls.
  • Keyless smart entry and pushbutton start are standard.
  • Standard garage-door opener, rain-sensing wipers and auto-dimming rearview mirrors.
  • Standard basic cruise control with adaptive all-speed cruise control available in an optional driver-assist package.
  • Power door locks and outside mirrors and auto up/down power side windows are standard.

Safety and Technology

Perhaps the biggest transformation since the last 1998 Supra rolled off the showroom floor is the proliferation of in-car tech and infotainment choices. Standard in the base Supra 3.0 is a 6.5-inch infotainment display and iDrive-like control wheel with a 10-speaker, 205-watt AM/FM radio, SiriusXM, iPod-ready USB 2.0 port and Bluetooth wireless music streaming and hands-free phone capability. Supra 3.0 Premium and the Launch Edition upgrade to an 8.8-inch center display, but not the 10.25-inch screen available in the BMW Z4. The uplevel models also include wireless Apple CarPlay connectivity for cellphone mirroring, imbedded navigation, Supra Connect telematics services for your cellphone, wireless charging for Qi-enabled devices, a color-head-up display and a rich-sounding 12-speaker, 500-watt JBL surround sound system. Android Auto connectivity, however, is not yet available.

There’s a new feature with Supra Connected telematics called “Battery Guard” that lets you know if the car’s battery state of charge is low, handy if the Supra isn’t your everyday wheels.

As with the rest of the Toyota lineup, a comprehensive suite of safety features are standard in the Supra. These include eight airbags, a backup camera, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, automatic high beams and lane departure warning with steering assist. It can be customized in settings. All-on is represented by a green light on the console. You can also selectively choose which systems you want to use.

Optional with all trims is a driver-assist package with full-speed adaptive cruise control, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert and parking sonar assist, a good choice with the Supra’s less-than-optimal rearward visibility.

Driving Impressions

All U.S.-bound 2020 Supras will come with a 335-hp 3.0-liter BMW DOHC inline-six with a twin-scroll turbocharger, variable valve timing and lift, which in the 3397-lb coupe delivers the desired 10:1 weight-to-power ratio. That’s great, but the same 3.0-liter inline-6 turbo in the new BMW Z4 S Drive M40i cranks 382 hp, 14 percent more than that advertised for the Supra with no discernable content to account for the difference other than perhaps, tuning.

Not to worry, as the 2020 Supra will hustle from rest to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds, making it the quickest production Toyota ever. (The Z4 does the deed in 3.9 seconds.)  Part-throttle, low-rpm engine response is immensely satisfying as well. There is no waiting for turbo boost to kick in or revving required to get with the program.

Why a six-cylinder and an inline one at that. There was a time when the inline-six, renowned for smooth operation and sonic harmony, was an underhood staple at many car companies. But in the push to reduce fuel consumption following the Energy Crisis of the 1970s, most inline sixes, including those at Toyota, were replaced by lighter, more compact V6s or smaller-displacement engines altogether. Today, BMW stands as the last major automaker still offering this engine configuration.

Beyond the engaging performance is the sonorous sound of the inline six. This is aided by a dual-mode exhaust that routes exhaust gases through less-baffled pipes when Sport mode is selected and gives delicious-sounding crackles and pops when decelerating from speed or lifting throttle. Driving modes also affect damping rates, steering effort, throttle response and transmission shift mapping.

A ZF 8HP 8-speed automatic also shared with the BMW Z4 is the only transmission available. There is no manual-transmission option. And frankly for most drivers, a manual gearbox won’t be missed as the lightning-quick shifting ZF 8-speed is quicker to speed and so seamless in operation. Paddle shifters give manual control when it’s desired. Or just select Sport Mode on the console-mounted switch and the ZF 8-speed will put the car in the right sequence of gears for spirited driving without you having to sweat it out mid-corner. Launch control allows rocket-sled acceleration; with the car stopped in Drive, step firmly on the footbrake, select launch control, floor the accelerator and a few seconds later release the brake and get pushed back in your seat.

EPA fuel economy estimates for the Supra turbo six are 24 mpg city/31 mpg highway/26 mpg combined.

Aside from piloting the 2020 Supra over some of Virginia’s picturesque but low-posted-speed back roads, Toyota arranged for several hours of track time at West Virginia’s Summit Point Raceway. There, freed of driver’s license-shredding speed-limit enforcement, I was able to experience the new Supra’s supremely balanced handling and 50/50 front/rear weight distribution in the very tight and technical road course laid out.

Toyota’s Gazoo Racing did the suspension tuning for the Supra, selecting spring and damping rates for the standard adaptive shocks to help achieve the car’s neutral handling balance. The car’s variable electric-assist steering proved to be a precision tool at the track, tracking true and straight in the fast sections and rotating the car with surgical skill in the sweepers. An electronic active differential gives flexible lockup during cornering, directing and adjusting drive torque side to side, acting like a torque vectoring system to improve turn-in response while maximizing stability.

The Supra’s meaty 255/35R19 front and 275/35R19 rear Michelin Pilot Super Sport performance tires wrapping 19-inch forged aluminum wheels delivered heroic levels of grip. Equally heroic were the big-inch 4-wheel disc brakes, with Brembo rotors and calipers up front confidently doing the heavy snubs repeatedly with no fade.

Conclusion

Is the SUV/sports car pendulum beginning to swing back the other way just a little? There will be an all-new mid-engine Corvette hitting the streets this year. And a 500-plus horsepower Mustang Shelby GT 500 breaks cover as well.

As Toyota marketing group vice president Ed Laukes points out, “the Supra isn’t a car Toyota needed to make, it’s one they wanted to make.” Some two decades after Toyota stopped selling the last Supra, the newest example is just about guaranteed to bring out the Fast and Furious inner Vin Diesel in all of us.

There are no currently announced plans to bring to the U.S. a 4-cylinder turbo model, available in other markets. And with the Porsche Cayman and Boxster offering only 4-cylinder power, the inline-six-only Supra rationale sounds like a smart move—and a classic one.

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