The Toyota GR Supra is a divisive car among enthusiasts. Its fans will point to the fact that it’s wild-looking, with similarly wild manners if you know where to look, and all for a price that wouldn’t even get you in the door of a Porsche 718. Detractors can’t get past the fact that it shares a platform with the BMW Z4 and that it’s not available with a manual transmission. Or that it’s not even built in Japan, but alongside the German two-seater in Austria. Some might be tempted to split the difference, labeling the Supra “a land of contrasts.” Well, forget that. I’m here to tell you that the haters are wrong—the Supra is the real deal.
We’ve actually trodden this ground before. When Ars contributor Jim Resnick drove the Supra in 2020, he explained that the realities of the early 21st-century car industry meant that a collaboration was the only way the folks in Toyota’s accounting department would sign off. And he was glad they did.
Even though its turbocharged inline-six cylinder engine was less powerful than when installed in BMW’s Z4, the 2020 Supra was more than quick enough. More than that, it was fun to drive, with crisp handling and a traditional approach to front-engine, rear-wheel-drive vehicle dynamics. Even BMW’s iDrive infotainment, masquerading under the name Supra Command, was a welcome bit of badge engineering.
Resnick was right
Last August, I also spent some time with a Supra and agreed with pretty much every word that Resnick wrote. (I also repeatedly kicked myself for not attending the track-day launch in 2019, held a mere two-hour drive away from me in West Virginia.)
Car enthusiasts of a certain age—certainly middle-aged at this point—will probably use the fourth-generation Supra, introduced in 1993, as the yardstick for this new one. I’ve never driven one of those cars, known to Suprafans as the A80. But I vividly remember reading about it at the time—ironically, in an issue of Autocar that also featured the six-cylinder BMW M3. I remember the Supra more than holding its own in the bench-racing league, with a lot more power than the M3, an attitude toward weight-saving that included hollow carpet fibers, and a simply gigantic rear wing that ticked the right boxes for a 17-year-old me.
The fifth-generation Supra pushes all the right buttons for 40-something me. I adore the Zagato-like double-bubble roof. And the way that Formula 1 cars have influenced the shape of the front aero elements and the reversing light. And its steering wheel, which bucks the trend of ever-fatter rims for one that fits perfectly to hand. I don’t mind that some of the vents are actually fake, or that it only comes with an eight-speed automatic, because it uses the ZF 8HP transmission. The 8HP really is the best transmission in the business, but the Supra is even better in manual mode,as you flick up or down through the gears with the paddle shifters. Supra Command is more pleasant to use than Toyota’s own Entune infotainment, and it was even pretty effective considering the more than 300 horses that need feeding.
2021 brought less power (but also more power)
Model Year 2021 brought quite an update to the Supra. For starters, there’s now a cheaper one, the $42,990 Supra 2.0, which as the name suggests uses a 2.0 L (four-cylinder, turbocharged) engine. It brings 255 hp (190 kW) and 295 lb-ft (400 Nm) to the party, and it’s about 200 lbs (90 kg) lighter. That weight loss mostly comes from the front, so the chassis is balanced even better than before.
I must confess I’m not much of a fan of the Supra 2.0. The fuel efficiency isn’t that much better with the smaller engine, and its steering felt numb and artificial, even in day-to-day driving. Plenty of others have reviewed the car and walked away impressed, though, and I hear it’s a hoot on track.
But MY 2021 also brought a power bump for the Supra 3.0, which now starts at $50,990. It’s a hefty one that puts the Toyota in parity with the Z4, with 382 hp (285 kW) and 368 lb-ft (500 Nm) available through flexing your right foot. Fuel efficiency is little changed at 25 mpg (9.4 l/100 km) combined, with 22 mpg (10.7 l/100 km) in the city and 30 mpg (7.8 l/100 km) on the highway.
Last year’s Supra 3.0 was already A Fast Car™, and the 14 percent power boost is immediately apparent. It rained throughout my time with the 2021 Supra 3.0, and in these conditions the car demanded respect, particularly in Sport mode. The car makes these demands known by doing things like spinning its (summer-tire-shod) rear wheels in fourth gear if you’re brutal with the throttle on a wet highway in winter. (The constant rain is also why the photos in this article are all from Toyota’s press office.)
But you can still have plenty of fun while being respectful, and if you take the Supra to the track, you needn’t even be that. You sit close to the rear axle, and as Resnick wrote, that gives the car predictable handling characteristics. Too much power will break traction at the rear, but it’s easy enough to catch when the car starts to slide. In less enlightened times, someone writing this article might tell you that the Supra will put hairs on your chest, particularly in the context of a legion of anodyne beige driving appliances. However, the hirsuteness of the human torso has little correlation to one’s car control skills, and you don’t need to be a manly man (whatever that entails) to drive a Supra 3.0.
What I will say is that when people tell you they don’t make cars that handled like the old days, point them to one of these. The main difference is that the car also has 21st-century tires, big, effective brakes, and an (optional) suite of advanced driver-assistance systems that make it a great deal safer than one of the old ones.
Listing image by Toyota