By on July 3, 2009

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.]

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39 Comments on “Review: Toyota Supra Single Turbo...”


  • avatar
    rudiger

    Barry Nemwan’s white Challenger from Vanishing Point and Burt Reynolds’ black Trans Am from Smokey and the Bandit, sure, but I don’t think the movie car Steve McQueen is primarily remembered driving in a movie is the Porsche 917K in LeMans…

  • avatar

    Jack, I enjoy reading your review. So…do you think PRI will get a Corolla S and juice it up with a turbo and Brembo brakes? Imagine – 500 HP Corolla…

  • avatar
    Stingray

    but the crappy plastics and uninspired design are pure 1990s Toyota

    What did my eyes just read? Crappy and Toyota together?… stop drinking Kool-Aid…

    /sarcasm.

    Only that it’s better you don’t.

    Of all the cars you have tested from PRI, based on your review, I’d like to drive F355, Elise and… there’s no Corvette.

    When is the Mustang review coming… yeah, I checked their site/fleet.

  • avatar
    N8iveVA

    When this model came out i didn’t find it attractive at all, and after more than 10 years. I still don’t.

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    You’re just lucky that you didn’t run across a poor Japanese kid in an ae86 on Bear Mountain, you would have lost big time.

  • avatar
    dubtee1480

    I don’t think the movie car Steve McQueen is primarily remembered driving in a movie is the Porsche 917K in LeMans…

    The Mustang in Bullitt, that’s what I was thinking too, but looking at the lineup that would have given you and then saying “forget them” and trotting out a Toyota may have been mistaken for having anti-domestic undertones so there you are…

  • avatar
    rpol35

    “but I don’t think the movie car Steve McQueen is primarily remembered driving in a movie is the Porsche 917K in LeMans…”

    rudiger – Right on! I never gave a flip about 60’s Mustangs until I saw Bullit; put that car in a whole new light.

    As for the Supra, I owned a ’90, non-turbo and it was a massive disappointment. Besides the fact that it was so slooooow, it was plagued with electrical demons that several individuals told me were common with those cars as they aged. The issues were all hit and miss that seemed to leave no trace, you know the type you can’t analyse. The workmanship was fair but the quality of the materials was terrible, worst leather seeting surfaces that I ever encountered; it was shot after seven years. The targo top leaked, cruise control gave it up early, front suspension clanked and clunked and no one could figure out why and it got significantly worse gas mileage, on premium no less, than my 5.0 litre LX Mustang. Toyota specific parts (trim, etc.) were frightfully expensive and that was simply because it was a “Supra”. I will admit that it drove and handled well when you could focus on driving and handling an not on the fact that the trasmission was now stuck in overdrive and couldn’t downshift or disengage upon stopping.

    Ditching that beast with its perpetual “ghost in the machine” antics was the most satisfying day of ownership.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    and to think that the right hand drive markets literally have an endless supply of these cars starting from as low as the price of a new nissan versa

  • avatar

    As a said twenty-something enthusiast, I’m obligated to inform you that the quote is

    “This will decimate all.”

    And yes, that is a beautiful Supra…Paul Walker’s…not so much.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    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

    I think that’s intentional on the part of most of the Japanese marques: they didn’t really see the point of making the interior gimmicky for no good reason, hence cars like the Supra and NSX, which are about as user-friendly (and as stylish) as a Camry or Accord.

    I personally don’t have a problem with this. If I have a car that can kill me through a second’s inattention, Camry/Corolla-grade ergonomics are not a bad thing.

  • avatar
    dubtee1480

    I personally don’t have a problem with this. If I have a car that can kill me through a second’s inattention, Camry/Corolla-grade ergonomics are not a bad thing.
    I don’t think it’s the ergonomics and layout he’s knocking but the drab plastics and plain lines. You have have nice dashboards, leather and metal accents, beautiful swooping lines and nice backlighting while maintaining a smart and logical layout. I’m hardly a Toyota fan, but if anyone could (as in they’re perfectly capable of) deliver on this it’s them.

  • avatar
    Bridge2far

    Wow. That is one hideous car. I had (thankfully) forgot about them until picture posted above.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    The most interesting thing about the fast and the furious crowd, is how the american domestics completely abandoned the twentysomething hotrodder segment. The Supra, the Skyline, the CRX, even the AE86, are simply put, the hot rods of this day and age. The Supra in particular, is the best Camaro that GM never built. What I find telling, is how there’s no mention of the Mustang or Camaro or Firebird or even Hemi, when it comes to this.

  • avatar

    There are plenty of twenty-somethings still driving SRT-4’s, Camaros, Firebirds, Mustangs, and Cobalt SS’s.

    Just two different crowds.

  • avatar
    mistrernee

    This gen of Supra was stupid expensive, it and the Camaro aren’t even on the same planet. I think it even cost more than a vette in it’s day.

  • avatar
    wsn

    This would have been my first car, if I had started to work at that time. But then, I was only in high school and couldn’t afford the insurance, even if the car was free.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    Ah the MkIV Supra. Toyota’s answer to the 300zx z32 and better in most ways except the looks department. Not really a classic design, it’s stuck in the 90s, but I still like it. I even like the interior http://www.94supra.com/pictures/supra_09.jpg

    Resale values remain incredibly high. You can’t buy one that isn’t salvage for less the $20k. Low mileage turbos still sell for $40k.

    Have yet to have the pleasure of driving one, but have always thought about picking one up if the prices get to a reasonable level. Since they have remained the same for the last 5 years, and they are still making FF movies, doesn’t seem likely.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    dubtee1480: “The Mustang in Bullitt, that’s what I was thinking too, but looking at the lineup that would have given you and then saying “forget them” and trotting out a Toyota may have been mistaken for having anti-domestic undertones so there you are…”I guess Sean Connery and a DB5 in Goldfinger or Michael Caine with a Mini Cooper in The Italian Job could have been mentioned but, unlike the other actors, I don’t think either of them did much (if any) of the actual stunt driving in those movies.

    Perhaps that’s why the McQueen reference was for LeMans and not Bullitt. I think he did much more of his own driving in the former than the latter.

  • avatar
    Brock_Landers

    FD3S RX-7 has the same level simple plastics, than MK4 Supra, only with different interior design. Jack if you want to discuss interiors then first few production years 1st generation Mercedes ML had about the same level materials inside than way cheaper japanese cars. Same thing with W203 C-class. Interior quality comparison myths are hard to brake :)

    But back to the topic… ahh the MK4 Supra, brings back memories from F&F premiere, the whole JDM scene did a nuclear explosion back then :)) I claim that the first F&F was a very good summer movie, with good cast and a very good vibe. It’s still pleasurable to watch. Hearing Live’s Deep Enough and seeing Brian’s F-150 Lightning pull up to order a tuna sandwich, just makes me smile and gives me chills :) Open up a cold Corona and press play on the remote :)

    Supra’s more recent record-setting achievements:
    :)

    http://www.dpccars.com/car-videos-09/03-29-09page-Boost-Logic-Supra-runs-the-Texas-Mile-at-246-2-mph.htm

  • avatar
    GeeDashOff

    The iron block, inline 6, 2JZ engines are amazingly durable, there are some internet examples that are 1000+ HP.

  • avatar
    twotone

    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.

    Twotone

  • avatar

    The Mitsubishi GTO/3000GT VR4 really epitomizes the ill-considered “more is more” engineering philosophy that has subsequently come to blight modern sports cars.

    I was always enticed by the other competitor, the final-generation RX-7, which was gorgeous, fast as hell, lighter and less gimmicky. Unfortunately, those RX-7s are fragile, unreliable, disturbingly thirsty, and very expensive to fix, as well as having a propensity for intimidating tail-happiness (particularly in the wet).

    The Supra always left me cold. The Lexus SC300, which uses essentially the same platform (albeit about five inches longer) and the same base engine, is far better looking and a more attractive proposition. If I were more of a hot rodder, the idea of applying some of the Supra’s hop-up techniques to a SC300 would be very intriguing.

  • avatar
    trefoils

    Well, I had to finally post on this site after this article.

    I’ve bought my Supra Turbo in 1999 (pre-Fast and Furious) for 25k. Which was a damn good price at the time, as it only had 36k miles. Could’ve have sold it after the movie for more, but decided to keep it.

    I really like the car. Looks are subjective, but I like the way it looks, mostly stock (not riced out like many examples out there today).

    The car has been dead reliable in all aspects. I’m still on the stock turbos, going on 10 years and 140k miles. The car pulls as hard as it did when I first got it. Of course, with any turbo car, must keep an eye out for leaking or cracked vacuum hoses.

    The tranny and engine are remarkably over-engineered and stout. The gears in the tranny are big and heavy and take a lot of power.

    The interior never struck me as poor quality. It is plain and utilitarian, not unlike the NSX, as mentioned above. However, remember that the Supra came out as a 1993.5 model and was essentially unchanged throughout it’s life up to the last year of 1998. You’re looking at an interior that was designed according to 1993 standards. However, no doubt that Toyota (and Lexus especially) have greatly improved interior quality, fit, and feel since then.

    The car’s biggest drawback is weight. At the time, it was fairly heavy among it’s Japanese brethren, but superseded by the piggy 3000gt. Nowadays, the heavy weight doesn’t seem so egregious, as modern cars have gotten fatter.

    The stock brakes are fantastic and held Car and Driver’s record for 70-0 stopping distance in 1997 and for a few years. Again though, with the weight, most road racers add additional cooling for the front brakes via ducts or other means.

    Not a perfect car, and may not be for everyone, but overall I consider it a great ’90s sports car (and certainly a high point for toyota in terms of sports cars and driving capability). I enjoy driving it and working on it, and that’s really what matters.

  • avatar
    diekaste

    These cars IMHO had one on the finest inline 6’s since MB’s 2.6 liter plant. I would have liked to have seen a longer review however. BTW did this bad boy require methnol injection?

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    I’ll take your modded Supra and raise you a modded Grand National. That car deserved better than being in a Fast and Furious sequel.

  • avatar

    Please don’t tell anyone about Bear Mountain State Park….It’s MY playground.

    These guys can occasionally be heard on MURS channel 5 in the Hudson valley when they do a big car drive.

  • avatar
    Jeff Puthuff

    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.

    I must be goofy tired but this made me ROTFL. Thanks, Jack!

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    “If I were more of a hot rodder, the idea of applying some of the Supra’s hop-up techniques to a SC300 would be very intriguing.”

    Google ‘Toyota Soarer’. The Soarer/SC came with a 2.5L version of the Supra TT engine in Japan, and the full 3-liter is almost a bolt-in. That 2.5L also showed up in some Toyota Mark II’s (which we knew, sans turbo mills, as the Cressida).

    The 2JZ itself is the stuff of legend, rightly so considering it can match the output of the Corvette ZR1 on half the displacement, and without taking off the valve cover. They’ve been stuffed into just about anything worth driving with one, even S2000s and AE86s.

  • avatar
    walksatnight

    Color me Kowalski. Can’t turn, Can’t stop, horrible build quality and yet the beauty of the 1970 Challenger does the trick for me for movie rides.

    Followed by the Hemicuda from the Phantasm flic’s, the Men In Black dudes Charger in Bullitt and I’ll throw in McGarrett’s wheel squealing Mercury from Hawaii Five-O.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    The Supra, the Skyline, the CRX, even the AE86, are simply put, the hot rods of this day and age.

    Those Corolla GTS’ are good cars, but they’re anything but hot rods. Don’t be fooled by the adventures of Takumi Fujiwra, tofu deliveryman extraordinaire. The amount of money you’ll dump in one of them to get it to tangle with a stock supra is more than enough to justify selling it outright and buying a supra instead.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    walksatnight: “Color me Kowalski. Can’t turn, Can’t stop, horrible build quality and yet the beauty of the 1970 Challenger does the trick for me for movie rides.”I have no idea how many Challengers were sold due to what was essentially an extended, 90-minute Dodge commercial, but I would venture to guess that Chrysler got their money’s worth for the cars they provided to make Vanishing Point.

    In fact, that’s actually how the movie was proposed. Someone asked the director if he could make a low-budget movie around five, white 1970 Challengers that Chrysler was willing to provide, free of charge.

  • avatar

    @ bumpy ii — Oh, I know all about the JDM Soarer. Some of them had four-wheel steering and active suspension, even…lots of toys not sold on the Lexus version. I understand that the Japanese police used twin-turbo 2.5s as pursuit cars for quite a while, too.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    Many years ago, I was lucky enough to play golf with the team leader for the Mk4 Supra, Celica ST205 and Altezza/IS300, one Nobuyuki Katayama. He was in Australia for the launch promotion of the Lexus IS300.

    One of the things that really upset him was the US perversion to modify his car for straight lines via single turbos or other body-kit disasters.

    The car was designed for more than power. The Getrag 6spd manual with the optional Bilstein corners could be hammered around a track very fast and for hours on end.

    The Mk4 was way ahead of it’s time in 1993, and for a time was one of the top 5 fastest production cars you could purchase.

  • avatar
    stevenm

    @ PeteMoran:

    That’s interesting given that Japanese tuners like HKS, JUN, GReddy/Trust, etc, were making Supra monsters in Japan long before the trend started in the US. The same is true with body kits and such. Virtually all the parts to modify a Supra, for a good long while, came almost exclusively from Japan. It was only much later in the car’s history, just about before Toyota pulled the plug on US sales, that US tuners started sticking Garrett and other turbos designed for diesel trucks on the thing and achieving truly ridiculous power levels.

    I’ve always been annoyed by the generally rubbish body kits people tend to throw on the things. The design was clean and elegant, and extremely slippery, as originally intended. I believe a Supra still holds the Texas Mile record at something like 245 mph in a standing mile, on an almost entirely stock body. That the car is stable at those speeds speaks volumes of how well designed and built it is, and if anything, should serve to illustrate just how good a job Toyota’s engineers did.

    15-plus years after the car was released, much less designed, and you can toss twenty grand into the thing and outperform a Veyron. That just blows my mind, and I would think justifies the aftermarket companies who make the bits that make it possible for the car to do that.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ stevenm

    Of course you’re right about the body kits and tuner parts. He didn’t like them either, but he specifically mentioned the US obsession with drag “racing” and how it personally offended him. The Mk4 Supra was designed specifically to “go round corners fast”. Veilside got a special mention as abhorrent (I’d thankfully never heard of them at the time).

    I’d love to know what he is working on these days, but of course I hope it’s the Lexus LF-A.

  • avatar

    @PeteMoran: I think Mr. Katayama may have been kidding himself a bit.

    CAR magazine had a big track test back in 1996 or thereabouts. (The cover, if you’re looking through your collection, read “CHICANED!” and had a group photo.)

    In their testing, which was done with the assistance of various BTCC types, the Supra Turbo was just a touch slower around their road course than a Porsche 993. Given that the 993 of that period

    * had 270hp to play the Supra’s 320

    * had 205mm front tires fitted OEM by Porsche to keep people from inappropriate rotation through promotion of outrageous understeer

    * was a flippin’ air-cooled 911, never the fastest way to get around a track

    …well, the Supra isn’t road-course optimized. It was always a big, heavy car (3468lbs is the most-quoted number) and was never well-suited to trackday duty.

    For the record, and to make my connection with MkIV Supras more explicit, my partner in Green Baron Motorsports, Mark Mitias, is the long-time owner of a Supra Turbo outfitted similarly to the one above, and we have taken the car out to more than a few places. He attended the filming of the first F&F and those of you with frame-by-frame on your DVD players can spot him and his Supra during one of the nose shots of Johnny Tran’s S2000 during the final drag race.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ Jack Baruth

    It wasn’t Katayama making the Top 5 claim, I believe it was a Popular Mechanics automotive article from 1994. I think the list was some Porsche (993?), maybe there was a Ferrari, Nissan GT-R, maybe the Corvette, I can’t remember, but very low volume hand-built “supercars” weren’t counted.

  • avatar
    dolorean23

    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.

  • avatar
    Mr. Gray

    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…

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