Review: 2020 Toyota GR Supra
it’s not every day that a legend returns to the ring to fight once more.
THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Great chassis, fun motor, brand equity
- What’s Bad: Some will lament the obvious BMW connection, fascia not for everyone
So this is it, then, The big one. The test of the year, destination driving and all that. After all, it’s not every day that a legend returns to the ring to fight once more.
It’s been 21 years since the Toyota Supra was available in North America, and 24 years since it was last available in Canada. There are all sorts of reasons why that we won’t get into here, but the bottom line is that Toyota – with a little help from some friends – has got their mojo back and is once again bringing us a rear-wheel driven, front-engined, turbocharged sports car.
The “friends” I speak of are the good folks at BMW, who have donated a bunch of bits to the Supra, including its turbocharged inline-6 engine. That has raised the ire of many Supra fans – and there are many, many, many of those out there – but you know what? Like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson says: IT DOESN’T MATTER. Not to me. This kind of thing happens in varying degrees all over the car industry these days, and has for quite some time – the Chevrolet Corvette/Cadillac XLR; the Jeep Renegade/Fiat 500X; the Fiat 124/Mazda MX-5; the Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86—and if you’re going to let it adversely affect your car-buying choice, well, you may have a hard time doing so. Buying a car, I mean. As I would find throughout my test, the Supra is a car with an identity all its own, even though the infotainment system, the shift lever—heck, even the steering wheel –are all shared with the BMW Z4.
It starts with the looks. At first, I’ll admit that I was a little taken aback when I experienced its launch first-hand at the 2019 North American International Auto Show. It was a bit of a soft launch, of course, as Toyota had been teasing a new Supra in various forms since back in ’07 thereabouts, but still, I couldn’t believe it had made production looking the way it did.
More specifically: I couldn’t believe the front fascia had made production looking the way it did. The snout recalls the uniqueness of the Mercedes-Benz McLaren SLR, while the headlamp lenses either side of it are properly futuristic. Even the double-bubble roof, which I thought would get the axe come production for sure, made it through. Indeed, it’s necessary because those two bumps provide the precious extra headroom required by tall folks like myself, or shorter folks with crash helmets on. Yes, crash helmets: the ”GR” in the Supra’s name stands for “Gazoo Racing”, the group responsible for Toyota’s factory racing efforts from Le Mans to Dakar. This is a car that Toyota thinks will be getting track work, and so the bumps stay.
The rest of the styling package really is quite the thing. The long nose and short rear deck mean the Supra is a lot more compact in-person that you’d think, while the wheels do a good job of grounding the whole affair – as do the massive front cooling ducts — and making it look that much more athletic. This is a car that looks ready to tackle the most technical turns you can throw at it, and probably laugh while doing so. Holy moly, what a look.
While the body is mostly a smooth affair finished in broad panels and bereft of too many cuts or slashes, there are some really cool details if you look closely. Chief among these is the rear fog in the middle of the underbody diffuser that mimics those seen on racecars from various disciplines. It’s a cool effect that’s just a touch aftermarket, but not so much as to be off-putting.
If the rear fog light recalls racing cars, my tester’s yellow paintjob is great in that it evokes the previous fourth-gen Supra perfectly. There were numerous colours available back then, but I know that when I think of the MK IV car, it’s either Super Red or Super Bright Yellow and this car nails the latter to a “T”. Only now, it’s been upgraded from just “Super Bright” to “Nitro”.
We’ve talked about the interior bits borrowed from BMW, but haven’t quite got into the overall ambiance of the cockpit. Put simply, it’s a dark one thanks to dark upholstery and tiny side windows that forced me to slouch a little more in the high-bolstered sport seat in order to properly see out of them. “Snug” is the word of the day in here, and if you’re of taller ilk, you’ll really want to take time to be sure you’ll be able to live with this day-to-day. Then there are the over-the-shoulder blind spots, which are some of the biggest I’ve ever experienced. It was actually nerve-wracking at times entering traffic, so you really do have to proceed with caution.
The look our over that long, curvaceous hood, though? Well, that’s right on the money.
Roof bubbles or no, you sit pretty low, the (slightly overlarge, I must admit) wheel falling nicely into your hands. At this point, in a car like this, I’d usually talk about how easy the gear lever is to reach but it doesn’t really matter in the Supra’s case because at this juncture, a paddle-shifted 8-speed auto is your only choice. There are no future plans to add a manual, either – I suppose you can go with the 86 if you want a sporty Toyota with a manual – although there are already aftermarket companies building manuals for the Supra.
I suppose that’s a bit of a shame, but the more I sat (well, slouched, really) in the Supra and considered it, I can see why a high-tech auto like this was always going to be the answer. The Supra is a tech-laden, performance-above-almost-all car and if I’m honest, the fastest way to shift gears is to let the computer do it and that’s just how it is. I guess you could say that since so much of the powertrain is shared with the BMW Z4 which doesn’t get a manual, the Supra would never get one either.
Plus, at the outset, the auto means a better drive at low speeds ‘round town – which is nice because other than that, the Supra is a bit of a bear when confronted with the urban grind. I wouldn’t call the steering ‘light’, it rides firm, it’s not exactly quiet and we’ve talked about the visibility issues. You know what it reminds me of, actually? A Ford Mustang, of all things, which is fitting considering the latest version of that car –the Shelby GT500—is also only available with an auto.
The suspension, however, is firm without feeling brittle or jarring, indicating that much thought was put into the chassis when it comes to damper settings and bushings. You’ll feel the bumps, but not so much that you lose your fillings.
Snugness be darned, the Supra proposition becomes much, much stronger once you’ve freed yourself of the city shackles and hit the open road, preferably one with more turns than you can count.
It starts with the acceleration, however, which is robust to the point I had the Supra’s tail wagging on tip in way more than I’d expected, what with its 275-section Michelin Pilot Sport rear rubber; the fronts are no slouch either, measuring 255 mm. After that, though, it’s an almost lag-free slug of power sent your way as you hold on tight to keep it all in check. It’s properly fast, this, and I can only imagine what will happen once they decide to add more power. Which, as sure as the day you’re born, they will do; after all, they’ve already done a “Supra TRD” concept.
You can thank that sticky rubber for the precision turn-in the Supra GR returns. You turn that wheel and though the real estate ahead of you is long, the nose follows suit lickety-split. It is an electronically-boosted set-up, though, so some may take issue – as I did – with what the tires report back to you through that big wheel.
Indeed, it was the feel through the seat of my pants that really did it for me; you sit low and since you’re quite far back in the chassis, you really get a good feel of what’s going on in and around the rear axle. You can tell when rear grip starts to slip through minute details that are sent your way – subtle camber changes, changes in the tarmac, the occasional greasy spot here and there—and the responsive steering allows for quick adjustments to keep things on the straight and narrow. It requires your attention, this car, but sports cars like this should and I wouldn’t want to be robbed of the effort required to make the marriage between car and driver work.
It’s a very robust-feeling thing, though, this Supra. It’s about as far on the performance-car scale as you can get from its 86 sibling; that car’s all about keeping things as light as possible as that’s how you’re going to get the performance there – it won’t necessarily be from the engine because, at 205 hp, it’s not exactly a power maven.
At 335 hp and 365 lb-ft, though, power is more the word of the day when it comes to the Supra, those extra ponies more than making up for the extra 300-odd kg it weighs over the 86. You do feel the weight but in a good, quality way. Not in an anchor-like way and I thank it for that. Weight can manifest itself in a number of ways, not all bad and – like the Mustang – the Supra nails it on the open road.
That being said: while I had fun with the car on my usual test routes, this was one that I really wanted to take to the track. I wanted to see if those damper and spring settings responded to track work as well as they did to road work.
Luckily, I was given the chance to have a go in one on the Driver Development Track (DDT) at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and put simply, it didn’t disappoint.
The DDT is well-sighted, meaning you’re given the chance to really concentrate on clipping the apexes and hitting your turn exits and you want your car to be ready to take that trip with you. The Supra has seen plenty of track testing and it shines here, doing precisely what you ask of it. Even though the speeds are higher and the road surface smoother in this scenario, the car remained communicative and responsive, proof that you don’t need the ruts and heaves of a public road to know what’s going on beneath you.
As my lap count increased I was provided the confidence – in a very short time, it has to be said – to push it just a little bit more, just a little bit more… Indeed, it’s often the case where stepping on to the track can actually have an adverse effect and make you a little more tentative behind the wheel, because the car may not quite be telling you enough about its intentions. That’s not the case with the Supra. This is a sports car with a finely-tuned chassis and well-matched engine/transmission combo that’s just right for providing the performance that the name and pedigree promises. It’s a fantastic bit of kit, this, and a good demonstration of the kind of performance Toyota can provide when they think strategically.
2020 Toyota Supra GR
Body style: 2-seat sports coupe
Drive method: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive
Engine: 3.0L twin-turbo inline-6 cylinder; 335 hp @ 5,000 rpm; Torque: 365 lb-ft @ 1,600-4,500 rpm
Cargo capacity: 290L
Fuel Economy: 9.8/7.6/9.0 L/100 km city/highway/combined
Observed fuel economy: 12.3L/100 km
Price: $65,245 as tested
Website: Toyota Supra