Mutt or miracle?
There was a time when Mama and Papa Toyota gave birth to strong, athletic sports cars, starting with the suave 2000GT, sent to boarding school in Coventry and raced by Carroll Shelby. Through the years the family grew to include lithe Celicas, stalwart Supras, even a scrappy rear-drive Corolla GT-S or two. Then something happened, and Mama Toyota found herself unable to conceive sports cars. An impatient Papa Toyota summoned his Fuji concubine, Subaru-san, who gave birth to identical twins—one of which he graciously allowed her to keep. Mama Toyota was furious and forbade Papa Toyota from ever showering his son, 86, with any affection or horsepower. To woo back his betrothed, who desperately wished to birth another great sports car, Papa Toyota hatched a plan to artificially inseminate an auspicious European egg for Mama Toyota to gestate. She’s just given birth, and now the world must determine how this half-breed stacks up against its all-Toyota siblings.
We created this origin-story myth for the joint development of the A90-generation Supra out of frustration when it proved impossible to pin down exactly what roles Toyota and BMW played in the initial design of this new car. The inline-six turbo is obviously all BMW’s—it served as the inspiration for this hook-up in the first place. (“Thy Supras Shall Have I-6 Engines” was chiseled as the forgotten 11th commandment.) Most invisible parts are shared and apparently developed by BMW, if the roundel stickers, engravings, and casting marks are to be believed. The bodywork and the tuning of every tunable element on the Supra was handled by Toyota. We’re told the joint-venture team aimed squarely at Porsche’s 718 range, with BMW targeting the Boxster; Toyota the Cayman.
As for the B58B30M1 engine, although its output roughly equates to that of the European-market BMW Z4 sibling, it does not in fact employ a particle filter in U.S. applications. This begs the question, why not uncork the extra horsepower BMW gets from its filterless U.S. application (tagged B58B30M0)? Chief engineer Tetsuya Tada answers by claiming that balancing the car’s engine and chassis at the Nürburgring led to the 335 hp/365 lb-ft rating. But we find it hard to believe that in this fanboy, numbers-obsessed market segment his team chose to remove 47 horsepower instead of fortifying the chassis to cope with 382 hp. Let’s hope that instead the strategy is to start out conservative and bring a steady stream of higher-output special editions in the years to come.
But let’s return to the essential question at hand: Is this bicontinental cross-breed a “real” Supra?
The striking design may not appeal to everyone, but at least it doesn’t look at all like any BMW and several design cues evince Toyota sports-car DNA: the hatch bustle shape and elements of the headlamp design hark to the previous (A80) Supra, and the side-window shape is pure 2000GT. The proportions are certainly fresh. It’s shorter in length and wider than any of its predecessors, with the cabin set well back behind the requisite long hood. It’s also impressive that the team managed to generate the aero forces required to guarantee stability at the car’s 155-mph-limited (250-km/h) top speed with underbody features and the duckbill shape of the hatch surface, leaving the bodywork refreshingly devoid of external wings, spoilers, skirts, and splitters.
Inside, the 2020 Supra’s overall dash, door panel, and seat designs are unlike the Z4’s, but there’s no mistaking all the BMW switchgear—especially the entire iDrive system, complete with all BMW fonts (changing them would have reduced Tada’s budget for making the car lighter and quicker). Whatever you think of the appearance, the functionality of this interior is hard to fault. All controls are intuitive and within easy reach (Consumer Reports just rated iDrive second to Tesla among automotive user interfaces). The 14-way power seats are quite comfortable and supportive, with side wings that can adjust to hug you tight on a track, then relax for the drive home. And the whole driver’s side of the center console area is padded for taller drivers to brace their right knee against. Nice.
I drew the assignment to test out the new Supra in part because I’m old enough (just) to have been around for the 1993 A80 Supra’s launch. and I drove the 2000GT for MotorTrend Classic in 2005. Let me state right here that the 2020 Supra comes off as less exotic than either of those two. That’s OK. Evolving the A80 Supra Turbo, accounting for inflation, would have produced a low-volume 500-ish-hp car priced in the $75,000 –$85,000 USD range, and the 2000GT’s successor was arguably the Lexus LFA.
That’s not to say that the new Supra doesn’t feel special. All new two-seat coupes are rare and wonderful these days, and this one certainly outperforms all its predecessors. Our database confirms that if the factory-estimated 0–60 time of 4.1 seconds holds up, this new Supra will outperform all previous production Toyotas (a supercharged 2008 Tundra TRD and a 1997 Supra Turbo rank as the quickest we’ve tested at 4.4 and 5.1 seconds to 60 mph, respectively).
There’s a launch-control feature to aid in achieving that number, and the standard ZF 8HP eight-speed automatic fires off lightning-quick shifts along the way. Engage Sport mode, and the faultless shift programming preselects the right gear for every corner. This mode also opens an exhaust flap, alters the audio-system engine-note enhancer, and orders up a delightful snap-crackle-pop on overrun courtesy of gloriously wasteful fuel injection during the exhaust stroke (fun fact: This is said to be the only Toyota designed with no fuel-economy target).
Supras are not drag-strip cars. They also need to be able to handle the corners, and toward that end the joint team built a strong foundation—the Supra’s torsional rigidity reportedly exceeds that of the Lexus LFA (not to mention the open Z4). The front strut suspension emulates the ‘super strut’ design Toyota launched on its AE92 Corolla in the late-1980s, featuring two separate ball-jointed lower links for reduced camber change and improved steering feel. To assist with chassis tuning, Mr. Tada once again engaged the services of Dutch Nürburgring veteran racer Herwig Daenens, who assisted with the Toyota 86 (née Scion FR-S).
Their goal was to tune for neutral handling with no surprises. “With a snappy car, the customer will experience it once and never drive it hard again,” Daenens explains as he laps Summit Point Motorsports Park outside Washington, D.C. His first hot lap strings together all the tight corners with laser precision and minimal steering heroics. He then gives me a Formula Drift lap or two, with no giant hand-brakes or diff-locks, rolling on the stock Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires inflated to placard specs (38 psi all around, cold). Speaking of differential locks, the Supra’s is infinitely variable and tuned to reduce corner-entry understeer and to maximize corner-exit traction.
When it’s my turn to duck my helmet under the low window opening and buckle in, I am struck by the intimacy of the car and cockpit. It feels as though I’m positioned near the centers of gravity and rotation, making it feel like this little world indeed revolves around me. One nit to pick—the large driver’s side-view mirror obscures the view of an upcoming apex worse than some, and the tallest drivers may be chagrinned to find the seatback tilting forward toward the rear of the seat track’s travel.
We’re instructed not to switch stability control completely off, to trail-brake into the turns, and to roll judiciously onto the throttle. Indeed, all those driving-school techniques provoke textbook responses in the Supra sans drama or surprises. The steering is extremely precise and nicely weighted, though it lacks the intimate communication of the Cayman Toyota is gunning for. Stability intervention is pleasantly surreptitious. And the super-strong Brembo brakes survive lap after lap after lap without fade, even as we all learn to press deeper into each of the closely spaced corners. Then during a later afternoon session, when we’ve probably used up 280 of the tires’ 300 tread-life rating, I even manage to string together a couple of very nice, controllable corner-to-corner drifts. I emerge, sweaty but smiling.
Once the red mist subsides and we take to the country lanes surrounding Summit Point, the car’s Sunday-drive demeanor proves equally delightful. The 12-speaker 500-watt JBL system cranks out the jams, the ride quality in Sport mode is sufficiently compliant to encourage leaving the car in this ‘fun-exhaust’ mode, and when zipping through a series of S-bends with your phone on the Qi wireless charger, a cover and sufficient fencing keep it from flying into the passenger footwell.
So is this miracle of automotive husbandry worthy of the Supra name? Heck, yeah. It reinvents the concept in a guise that make sense for today’s world, and it’s offered at a price ($50,920 USD to start, $57,375 USD fully loaded) that’s a relative bargain when measured against both its predecessor and its Porsche competitor ($58,150, $70,640 USD similarly equipped to the Launch Edition model). If it’s not precisely what you had in mind, the aftermarket is gearing up to help you fix that.
Want more Supra? Check these out:
- 2020 Toyota Supra: Here’s Something You Probably Didn’t Know About its Logo
- Supra Returns! The Inside Story on the 2020 Toyota Supra’s Comeback
- 2020 Toyota Supra Design: From FT-1 Concept to Production
- Toyota Supra History: Looking Back at Toyota’s Sports Car
|2020 Toyota Supra|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door hatchback|
|ENGINE||3.0L/335-hp/365-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 24-valve I-6|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,400 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||172.5 x 73.0 x 50.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.1 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||24/31/26 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||140/109 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.79 lb/mile|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||July 2019|