Review: Toyota Supra Single Turbo

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

Forget Kowalski’s white Challenger, forget Steve McQueen’s Porsche 917K, forget Burt Reynolds’ Trans Am. There’s one movie car that really matters to the twentysomething car enthusiast, and I’m driving a nearly perfect example at full boost up a winding road. After less than ten minutes, my passenger is tired of me rapid-firing quotes at her: “I owe you a ten-second car.” “This will dominate all.” “There’s all kinds of family, Brian, and that’s a choice you’re going to have to make.” Each time I floor the accelerator, there’s almost enough time to spit out another one of Dominic Toretto’s outstanding phrases (“I’M IN YOUR FACE!”) before the boost spools. When it does . . . watch out.

The Toyota Supra started life as a long-nose variant of the four-cylinder Celica, but by the fourth and final generation it had become a platform relative to Toyota’s rear-wheel-drive home-market midsizers and the Lexus SC. The “MkIV” Supra arrived in the United States just in time for the collapse of the Japanese performance market, and although it was probably a better car than the competing RX-7 and 300ZX Twin Turbo, it never sold in significant numbers. A ten-thousand-dollar price cut in the final year of North American sales did virtually nothing to revive the car’s fortunes, so the big Supra became a home-market delicacy for its final four years.

As fate would have it, the Supra was discontinued in this country just before the swelling import performance scene made it a hot commodity. Buyers lucky enough to purchase lightly-used examples before the “Supra craze” hit were often able to put over a hundred thousand miles on them and resell the cars at a profit. An entire community developed around the car, with modified versions reaching the fabled thousand-horsepower mark. The selection of a Supra as the “hero car” of The Fast and the Furious simply put the icing on the cake.

Simply showing up at any street-racer gathering in a modified Supra is enough to guarantee superstar status, but as I boot the big Toyota up the side of Bear Mountain, the sixty-seven-millimeter single turbo whistling like a tornado heard from a distance, there’s nobody to admire us but the occasional terrified squirrel. PRI, the owners of this particular example, claim six hundred and fifty horsepower at the crank, and the swelling rush with which the black Supra flings itself down each straight lends credence to the claim.

Even with Tein dampers and TRD swaybars, it rides fairly well, with some big, lolling body motions on corner entry and a little squiggle as the boost hits on exit. I’m breaking my personal rule and using heavy left-foot braking to keep the boost up. It’s an old trick, attributed to Mark Donohue, but it keeps the turbo spinning in the midcorner. Unfortunately, it puts heat in the aftermarket brakes, which are already soggy from the effort of hauling this big wagon down from the kind of straight-line speed it’s possible to accomplish with twice the stock level of power. Fortunately, before the pedal can sink all the way to the floor we’re off Bear Mountain and onto some nice straight freeways.

Supras are drawn to freeway racing as swallows are drawn to Capistrano, but we don’t have any of the natural predators or prey which inhabit that universe. No Hayabusas, no Z06 Corvettes, no Procharged Trans Ams, no silver-and-blue R34 Skylines. So I rolled up next to a grey Camry, beeped my horn three times, then left the elderly driver of said fellow Toyota utterly confused as I blasted away to triple digits. At go-to-jail speeds, the Supra is eerily composed, and there’s a hilarious contrast between the utterly prosaic Corolla-esque interior and the Millennium Falcon warp of the oncoming road.

Oh, that interior. Toyota’s crusade to make every car they sell miserable inside did not stop at the gates of Supra City, you see. PRI’s done their best to rehab the Supra’s cockpit, installing new carpet and upgraded seats, but the crappy plastics and uninspired design are pure 1990s Toyota. Sit in this car and then climb into the sexy, inviting interior of a 1993 RX-7, and you’ll understand why dealers had trouble moving the metal. It just doesn’t feel very special.

And that, in the end, is the fundamental problem with the Supra. It’s a big, bland car that just happens to go very fast. PRI’s variant goes faster—much faster—so if you’re looking that that ten-second Supra experience, this is the way to get it. From the big intercooler to the monster rear wing, PRI’s Supra is Fast and Furious. If you’re a fan of that genre, this is a car not to be missed. If you aren’t, but still want that Millennium Falcon hyperspace experience, I suggest a snake on a plain. If you get my drift.

[ Performance Rental International provided the vehicle reviewed, insurance and a tank of gas.]

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

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  • Dolorean23 Dolorean23 on Jul 14, 2009
    I drove the top three Japanese sports coupe of that day — Toyota Supra Turbo, Nissan 300Z and Mitsubishi 3000 VR4. The Toyota struck me as a capable car, but without a spirit or soul. The Mits was OK, but the 4WD made it too heavy with too much technology. The Nissan was the best of the lot. I just wished Nissan sold the 2+2 Turbo in the US as they did in other markets. Amen brother. However, my '86 300ZX 2+2 wasn't a turbo but according to the manual and the Nissan dealership, one could've have purchased the 3.0L single turbo. In fact, when my engine blew up at 285K, I was quoted $3500 to replace it with a turbo V6. Question then. Are cars only cool (from a Movie perspective) from the Baby boomer era fast forwarding to Gen Y? Skipping an entire generation in between? The only examples I could think of was John Candy's turbo charged LeBaron Convertible in P,T,and A and Michael Douglas' Mustang GT Convertible in Basic Instinct.
  • Mr. Gray Mr. Gray on Nov 16, 2009

    Oh, the beautiful Supra... it's a reminder that Toyota now only appeals to church-going soccer moms and their gay boyfriends. Remember also the AE86, the Celica, and the MR2? Toyota, you used to be cool. What happened? Okay, I know what happened, but it's still depressing...

  • MaintenanceCosts "But your author does wonder what the maintenance routine is going to be like on an Italian-German supercar that plays host to a high-revving engine, battery pack, and several electric motors."Probably not much different from the maintenance routine of any other Italian-German supercar with a high-revving engine.
  • 28-Cars-Later "The unions" need to not be the UAW and maybe there's a shot. Maybe.
  • 2manyvettes I had a Cougar of similar vintage that I bought from my late mother in law. It did not suffer the issues mentioned in this article, but being a Minnesota car it did have some weird issues, like a rusted brake line.(!) I do not remember the mileage of the vehicle, but it left my driveway when the transmission started making unwelcome noises. I traded it for a much newer Ford Fusion that served my daughter well until she finished college.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Couple of questions: 1) who will be the service partner for these when Rivian goes Tits Up? 2) What happens with software/operating system support when Rivia goes Tits Up? 3) What happens to the lease when Rivian goes Tits up?
  • Richard I loved these cars, I was blessed to own three. My first a red beauty 86. My second was an 87, 2+2, with digital everything. My third an 87, it had been ridden pretty hard when I got it but it served me well for several years. The first two I loved so much. Unfortunately they had fuel injection issue causing them to basically burst into flames. My son was with me at 10 years old when first one went up. I'm holding no grudges. Nissan gave me 1600$ for first one after jumping thru hoops for 3 years. I didn't bother trying with the second. Just wondering if anyone else had similar experience. I still love those cars.