Can Toyota’s first half-breed be tuned to beat its latest one?
For some, the 2020 Toyota GR Supra’s $50,380 USD base price is as tough to swallow as all those BMW roundels cast in, engraved on, or stuck to its myriad hidden parts. Why not buy an 86 and spend half of the cost savings waking up its snoozy Subie motor? After all, the sweet-handling 86 is also rear-drive, it starts out weighing at least 500 pounds (227 kg) less than the Supra, and it can be had with a manual transmission. And if you started out with a new 2020 Toyota 86 Hakone edition, that gorgeous green paint and dressy two-tone black and tan Alcantara interior might even help close the luxury gap a little bit.
The Starting Point
Hakone pricing hasn’t been set yet, but a current GT model with special paint and a six-speed manual transmission starts at $30,110 USD, so let’s assume you can get a Hakone for around $31,000 USD out the door. Although the Supra only comes with an automatic, it’s an awesome paddle-shiftable ZF unit with lightning-quick shifts, terrific sport-mode shift strategy, and close gear spacing. The 86’s six-speed automatic is older, slower-shifting, less intelligent, and selecting it would rob the already slightly anemic 2.0-liter boxer of 5 precious hp and lb-ft. So you have to start with the snickety-shifting stick.
Three Ways to Add Power
Because the notion that “this engine could use a bit more power” is almost as universally held as that of the Earth being round, quite a tuner market for it has sprung up. Power-adding options range from engine-controller reflash chips (which add no weight) to superchargers to turbochargers that typically add 50 to 100 pounds (23 to 45 kg). With the stock engine developing 12.5:1 compression, boost levels need to remain pretty modest if you don’t want to blow up the engine on a pink-slip run. Some supercharging and turbocharging kits include intercoolers (cheaper, lower-powered ones don’t), and many offer the choice of a software tuning kit that can supposedly deliver CARB compliance and/or optimize for locally available fuel octane levels. Those making higher horsepower claims frequently require replacing the fuel injectors and fuel pump; those making mega-muscle-car power claims tend to require expensive reinforcement of the engine block and internals.
Chip solutions include reflashes of the original controller (which can be detected by the dealer, so if under warranty, beware) and replacement or piggyback ECUs that may allow you to plug the stock box back in for dealer visits. These promise modest performance increases in the 10–18 rear-wheel horsepower range—a bit more if the system includes conversion for E85 fuel use. Prices are also modest, typically ranging well below $1,000 USD.
A supercharger robs a bit of crankshaft horsepower and spends it making boost, so as to cram extra air down this engine’s eight little throats. We found both centrifugal models (employing turbines like those in a turbocharger) and Roots-type blowers (twin-screw, usually Eaton TVS, like on GM’s supercharged small-blocks). Most of these kits can be tuned to operate on 91- or 93-octane gasoline, and some offer tuning for E85. On gasoline, rear-wheel horsepower and torque ratings typically range from 240 to 290 hp and 186 to 246 lb-ft. If you want 300-plus horsepower, you’ll probably need the E85 tuning. Pricing generally comes in around the $5,000 USD mark for most before installation, which is typically rated at 6 hours or less.
Turbochargers use exhaust flow to spin the turbine, which adds a bit of backpressure but still ends up being more efficient than crank-driven superchargers. The downside is that they can be slower to spool up. Turbo kits are available from as little as $1,700 to over $5,000 USD. The safest, most legit power and torque claims run in the same range as the superchargers above, though you can find claims up in the 400–500 hp range if you’re willing to pull the engine and really go through it.
Would You End Up With a Bargain Supra?
Back in 2013, the MotorTrend channel’s Ignition program tested a Crawford Performance turbocharged Subaru BRZ that claimed to produce 400-plus hp and 550 lb-ft. This kit requires a Crawford-built short-block ($5,550 USD for the part), so the build cost is way greater and the fully assembled price is closing in on the cost of a Supra. Even so, it ran a 4.4-second 0–60 time and a 12.8-second, 116.8-mph (188-km/h) quarter mile. Back out the time required for one, possibly two manual shifts to 60 mph, and that Crawford BRZ was clearly pulling as hard or harder than the Supra (for which Toyota claims a 4.1-second 0–60 time). That suggests that the gentler, less extreme, cheaper-to-install, less-hazardous-to-engine-longevity packages producing fewer than 300 hp—you know, the ones that also preserve some semblance of factory drivability—have little or no chance at matching the Supra for acceleration. Even if that’s the performance you crave, understand that you’ll still be doing without the 14-way seats with variable lateral support, the rich-sounding 10- or 12-speaker stereo systems, the iDrive infotainment system, and a lot more creature comforts that separate the Supra from an 86—all of which would be tough to add on the aftermarket without blowing past the Supra’s price. Maybe the Supra’s a bargain after all.
Want more Supra? Check these out:
- 2020 Toyota Supra First Drive: Automotive Husbandry
- 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