2020 Toyota GR Supra First Drive - To Enjoy Properly, Ignore the Context

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey

The howling denizens of the Internet may not be a representative sample of real life, but they are loud nonetheless, and they’ve seemingly had it in for the Toyota Supra since the wraps came off.

It’s too much a BMW, they say. It doesn’t feel like a real Supra, thanks to all those German parts underneath. Others (understandably) whined about teaser fatigue, or complained about the car’s styling.

While subjective complaints about a car’s looks are understandable, and while I understand the complaints about the new Supra not being Toyota enough (I did ask for a percentage breakdown of Toyota/BMW parts content; the company politely declined to comment), all of the noise ignored one thing – what it’s like to actually drive the damn thing.

That’s what will likely matter most to those who will drop over 50 large on this car.

Oh, that “GR” stands for Gazoo Racing, but everyone is just gonna call it Supra.

(Full disclosure: Toyota flew me to Virginia, put me in a hotel room that’s larger than some studio apartments in New York City, and fed me several meals. The company also turned me loose on track at Summit Point and offered a water bottle and Michelin, which provides the car’s tires, offered a visor.)

My report may not placate the screaming masses, but then, nothing likely will. It’s the Internet, after all. But for those forum-dwellers who actually care, I can say that when the flag drops and the bullshit stops, the Supra is quite delightful.

On road, drive mode set to normal, the Supra is docile enough for daily driving, but the 335 horsepower and 365 lb-ft of torque from the BMW-sourced twin-scroll turbo 3.0-liter inline-six is just a flick of the throttle away. Switch things to Sport mode, and the 8-speed automatic transmission holds lower gears like a champ, and the exhaust suddenly comes alive with cracks, burbles, and backfires that were merely hinted at moments before.

On track, the Supra’s electric power steering felt a bit light, but that turned out to be a good thing on a modified version of the Shenandoah Circuit at Summit Point, which has a section that requires a quick left-right-left maneuver. It was also easy to make mid-corner corrections.

Toyota emphasized the Supra’s 50/50 weight distribution and reminded us that balance was the goal. The end result is a car that will let you wag the tail, but is also easily catchable. I encountered oversteer a handful of times (my track runs were in Sport mode, and I usually left the safety nannies on, although I did one run with traction control off) and it was never of the snap variety. One time, the slide was so gentle that it took me a second to notice and adjust.

Understeer did occur on one or two occasions in which I braked a bit too late coming into a tight corner – not surprising, as all the weight is transferred to the front in that scenario. Generally, though, the Supra was as balanced as advertised, and easy enough to control. You can even adjust the line with the throttle with ease.

The front suspension is a double-joint type MacPherson strut setup, while out back it’s a multi-link setup with five-arm construction. The Supra has adaptive dampers as standard. Toyota used an aluminum hood and doors to keep weight down, but the car still weighs 3,397 pounds – more than some versions of the Honda Accord.

Power came on boil almost immediately, and the brakes never offered up any fade as the day went along, although the fronts were smoking after I pitted following one session.

The noise made by an upshift at full zoot is almost worth the price of admission alone. I did find a shady spot on a public road where I could mat the throttle without pissing off the neighbors – or the West Virginia police – and the Supra scooted away from rest with the kind of acceleration that makes you grin, while displaying more than a little tail wag.

Supra looked better in person than in photos – the double-bubble roof reminded me a bit of the old Dodge Viper coupe, and the nose, apparently inspired by F1 cars, looks much more coherent up close. It’s a head-turning car, in a good way. Worth noting: Most of the aero bits (such as the cooling ducts) are cosmetic, not functional.

The interior, however, is a different story. It’s pure BMW. Photo comparisons show that it’s not the same layout as that of the Z4 (upon which the Supra shares much of its bones), but it’s all Bimmer nonetheless. The infotainment controls are basically iDrive, the buttons are all Teutonic. Even the steering wheel, which bears a Toyota badge (of course), is clearly borrowed from BMW. So is the shifter. Adding insult to injury, the nav/infotainment system is tacked atop the dash. I did, however, appreciate the driver’s knee pad – it makes track driving more comfortable. No more banging one’s knee during left-hand cornering.

It’s not a bad cabin, and it’s comfortable – the seats are snug enough for track driving without sacrificing on-road comfort – and it’s understandable, from an economics perspective, why Toyota would simply use the BMW trappings. But I get why some folks cried foul: It doesn’t feel very Toyota/Supra to use another OEM’s interior controls.

Getting in and out of the cockpit will prove challenging for taller drivers – I constantly whacked my noggin, even before donning a helmet for the track festivities. And there’s not much in-cabin storage. Oh, and there’s no exterior release for the hatch.

If you’re not tired of teasers and/or put off by the Germanic cabin, you can snag a Supra for $49,990 to start, plus the $930 destination fee.

Since all trims are mechanically similar, the biggest differences are comfort, convenience, and cosmetic. The base car comes with Alcantara seats, Bluetooth, and iPod capability, 19-inch wheels (shod with Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires), keyless entry and starting, heated and folding exterior sideview mirrors, LED exterior lighting all around, rain-sensing wipers, active dual exhaust with brushed stainless steel tips, dual-zone climate control, and driver’s knee pad. Premium audio and nav can be added for $2,460. A driver-assist package that includes adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitor, parking sonar, and rear cross-traffic alert is available on the base car (and the other trims) for $1,195.

Standard active safety features include forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, automatic high beams, and lane-departure warning with steering assist.

The next trim up from the base Supra is the Premium trim, which adds a larger infotainment screen, navigation, premium audio, wireless Apple CarPlay support, telematics, wireless cell-phone charging, heated seats, leather seats, and color head-up display.

Toyota is also offering 1,499 Launch Edition models (technically, 1,500, but the first one was already sold at auction). Available in white, black, or red, these cars will have matte black wheels and red mirror caps. White and black cars get a red interior, while red cars get a black interior. Each comes with carbon-fiber accents, and all Launch Edition cars will get a numbered badge signed by Akio Toyoda.

Premium cars will set you back $53,990 before D and D and options, while the Launch Edition, which offers the driver’s assist package as an option, starts at $55,250.

Fuel economy, for those who care, is listed at 24 mpg city/31 mpg highway/26 mpg combined.

Porsche’s Cayman is the obvious target for Supra, but its pricing puts in range of the Corvette Stingray, the Audi S5, and the higher-performance pony cars. Of course, the ‘Vette offers V8 power, while the pony cars also have V8s along with rear seats (sort of) and different missions, so the amount of cross-shopping among these vehicles may be negligible. Other options that Supra buyers may consider include the BMW M240i, the Z4 itself, of course, and the V6 version of the Jaguar F-Type.

I have yet to drive the Cayman, so I can’t tell you if Toyota hit that target, but I can say the Supra is, when stripped of all the noise, a damn good sports car. The BMW interior is a letdown, but that disappointment disappears at speed.

Sure, the A90 generation of Supra isn’t pure Toyota. Thing is, does that matter? I don’t care for iDrive all that much, either, but it’s not like Toyota interiors are sexier or more functional than BMW cabins these days. Not to mention that the inline-six is smooth as silk and provides plenty of punch.

Forget about the complaints from the keyboard warriors. The Supra, judged on its own merits, is a pretty solid two-seat sports car for under $60K (assuming no dealer shenanigans).

The Internet mob takes the L on this one.

[Images © 2019 Tim Healey/TTAC]

Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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  • Zipper69 Zipper69 on May 23, 2019

    It has a color problem. In white/light colors it looks bland and un-Toyota like but put on some dark reds, blues or blacks and it pops and looks pretty wicked. The Beemer connection is certainly no selling point and Toyota may choose to downplay this in publicity..

  • Ponchoman49 Ponchoman49 on May 28, 2019

    Automatic only overpriced barf on wheels with a cheap interior. Whats not to like? The fact that so much of it's lineage is BMW makes my wallet cringe. Proof that Toyota's heart is not in the sports car market judging by how little effort they put into this.

  • Bob65688581 We bought zillions of German cars, despite knowing about WWII slave labor. Refusing to buy something for ideological reasons is foolish.Both the US and the EU have imposed tariffs, so the playing field is level. I'll buy the best price/quality, regardless of nationality.Another interesting question would be "Would you buy one of the many new European moderate-price EVs?" but of course they aren't sold here.Third interesting question: "Why won't Stellantis sell its best products in America?"
  • Freshblather No. Worried there will be malicious executable code built into the cars motherboard that could disable the Chinese cars in the event of hostilities between the west and China.
  • Bd2 Absolutely not - do not want to support a fascist, totalitarian regime.
  • SCE to AUX The original Capri was beautiful. The abomination from the 90s was no Capri, and neither is this.It looks good, but too similar to a Polestar. And what's with the whacked price?
  • Rover Sig Absolutely not. Ever.
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