The Toyota Supra is the thrilling, high-performance coupe the Japanese brand has long needed, but the end product is divisive as it is impressive
We thought the Nissan Serena E-Power was the most interesting car of 2019 until we drove the Toyota GR Supra.
But while Nissan’s successful entry into the world of hybrids was fascinating for providing a whole new way to solve the hybrid equation, the Supra holds attention because it invites a thoughtful debate on why car buyers spend the way they do.
Automotive platforms are interesting things. They are the modern building blocks of new cars and you can tell much about a car through its platform. While they differ in many things – size, drivetrain, design, packaging, bodystyle – the common threads are usually easy to pick up on.
Then comes the fuzzy, emotional part: Is a Bentley Bentayga worth less because a Volkswagen Touareg has the same platform? Why buy a Volkswagen Passat instead of a Skoda Superb? What about a Kia Cerato versus a Hyundai Avante?
The Japanese have previously avoided this debate because of their plethora of unique platforms, but even that’s changing because of the astronomical cost of automobile development. And you can see what we’re getting at with the Supra, of course.
The Toyota Supra 3.0’s funk-soul brother, the BMW Z4 M40i
The big thing is that it shares a lot with the BMW Z4 – the same platform, the same components, the same engines and gearboxes (both 2.0 and 3.0 models). The only thing truly, uniquely Toyota is the design.
Surprisingly, that Euro-Japanese, same-tech different design thing has actually been done before – Infiniti’s Q30 and QX30 both run on Mercedes MFA platform and have the same drivetrains but it’s less of a problem, because they aren’t super-emotional sports car.
But the Supra has three big advantages in this respect: It’s a coupe, it’s much less expensive than its BMW brother, and Z4s aren’t exactly popular.
The Supra draws eyes far more than the restrained Z4 does. Thanks to its numerous bulges it almost looks like an aerodynamic 1930s streamliner, but it’s also ungainly from some angles.
The best view is the side-silhouette and the rear – all pure muscular ready-to-pounce sports car, with big aggressive aero design on the lower rear end, and a fat integrated spoiler. One has to look at the racing version of the Supra to better understand the design, almost.
While it’s a coupe, the Supra is quite civil around town. The suspension tells you it’s definitely a sports car, but it doesn’t beat your spine into submission with its rear axle, the damping has the same sort of please-drive-me-daily quality the Toyota 86 coupe did.
What it does have – that the 86 didn’t – is plenty of power and torque, more than enough to overwhelm the rear wheels on demand. The 335hp of the 3.0-litre twin-scroll turbo gives the Supra big real-world pace, and the inline six thrum is much more enjoyable than that of an equivalent V6.
The lovely damping is matched by not-quite-fingertip steering precision, perhaps because the tyres on the test car were already rather worn, but also because of the car’s roadster layout – long bonnet, pushed-back cockpit near the rear axle.
And that brings up The Thing: There’s also no getting around the fact that it drives exactly like the Z4 M40i – it sounds like it, goes like it, handles like it, from that slightly nose-distant feeling, even down to the way they squirm and thump in the same way over mid-corner bumps.
The interior, besides the instrument panel and obvious Toyota badge, is immediately recognisable as a BMW’s – simply change ‘BMW’ to ‘Toyota Supra’ in the touchscreen infotainment system, you don’t even have to change the font. It’s a good thing, considering none of Toyota’s infotainment systems have ever come close to BMW’s in functionality and usability.
So what you have is essentially a more comfortable coupe that’s faster than a Z4 M40i but more than S$60k less expensive, and seen that way it makes the Supra a surprisingly rational choice.
But here’s where the matters of the heart come in. If you’re a Japanese car fan weaned on the backstory and legend of the icons of the 90s, you might be a little disappointed with its identical-to-the-Z4 driving experience. Resurrecting a famed badge is fraught with pitfalls, and this is one of them.
Could Toyota have made it hugely different to drive? Given the roadster layout, we think not. The silver lining here is that presumably it would have been too expensive (for both Toyota and the customer) to make a 2+2 coupe based on the Lexus RC platform, and we’d definitely take a Supra like this over the alternative, which is nothing at all.
It brings up questions that are simply too personal, that a potential sports car owner has to answer for themselves: Should Toyota have done more to mask the BMW-ness? Would it really have mattered to the end user? How far from basic layout/platform fundamentals can you make a car behave? Does a Japanese sports car fan even care about the Z4 enough for it to be an issue?
Given chief engineer Tetsuya Tada also intended the Supra as a sort of blank canvas and expects many tuners to make parts for it, here’s our solution: Get the 2.0-litre instead.
In our (Z4) experience, the lighter, more manageable 2.0-litre is easier to push in a more involving and meaningful way to the driver. It’s only a S$20k difference, but you could take all that and spend it on parts to make a Supra that’s truly yours and no one else’s. Not even BMW’s.
Toyota GR Supra 3.0
|Engine||2,998cc, inline 6, turbocharged|
|Power||340hp at 5500-6500rpm|
|Torque||500Nm at 1600-4500rpm|
|VES Band / CO2||C1 / 177g/km|
|Price||S$225,000 without COE|