Let’s answer the most obvious question first. No, the new Toyota GR Supra is not just a BMW in a Japanese tracksuit. Many of the ingredients may be similar, but Toyota’s sports car guru, chief engineer Tetsuya Tada, and his team have created a car that is both unique and extremely enjoyable to drive.
A quick recap if you’ve been living under a rock. In May 2012 Toyota and BMW first met to discuss the possibility of a joint sports car venture. After many meetings and a couple of false starts, the decision was made to collaborate on the new A90 Supra and BMW Z4. The two cars share their basic platform, powertrains, electronic architecture and are built side-by-side in Graz, Austria by Magna Steyr.
The Supra is slightly longer, narrower and lower in height than its BMW opposite number, the Z4 M40i, and at 1495kg carries a 40kg weight advantage. Where the two differ most is in price tag. Whereas the Z4 will set you back $124,900, the GR Supra GT starts at $84,900 with the GTS another $10K upstream at $94,900.
Both use a 250kW/500Nm 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six for a claimed 0-100km/h of 4.3sec, an eight-speed automatic, adaptive dampers and an electronically controlled limited-slip diff, but the GTS adds 19-inch wheels (GT 18s), larger rear brake rotors, sports pedals, a head-up display, 12-speaker JBL stereo and the option of Alcantara upholstery and matte grey paint.
The GT isn’t exactly Spartan, with heated eight-way adjustable electric seats, keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, a 10-speaker stereo, sat-nav, carbon fibre-look trim, auto LED headlights, 8.8-inch digital instrument display, reversing camera, tyre pressure monitoring and a plethora of safety equipment, including active cruise, lane departure alert, automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
MOTOR opinion: The GR Supra was never going to be affordable
But enough with the specs. The only thing that really matters with the new Supra – as with any sports car – is it how it drives and, happily, the A90 heartily delivers in this regard. The B58 3.0-litre turbo six is a key contributor; yes, it’s instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with modern BMWs but Toyota could’ve spent tens of millions on a new engine (and plant to build it in) and still not made one as good as this.
Overseas dyno videos suggest the quoted 250kW/500Nm is wildly pessimistic and the local bum dyno agrees. This is a very fast car, clocking more than 230km/h down Phillip Island’s main straight and offering a serious shove in the back regardless of speed or gear thanks to its bulk torque.
The gearing is very short and tightly packed – 2nd is done by 80km/h, 3rd runs to 121km/h and fourth 152km/h – so you’re often a gear higher than usual but the throttle response and acceleration remains excellent.
As does the soundtrack. Sadly, as is often the case these days, the noise is best enjoyed from outside, but from the cabin there’s still a smooth straight-six note to appreciate and backing off the throttle in Sport mode unleashes all manner of exhaust theatrics, from subtle pops and burbles to thunderous booms and staccato machine-gun fire.
Helpfully, drivers can individually tailor the engine, gearbox, suspension and steering setting choosing between Normal and Sport. Switching the powertrain to Sport is a no-brainer, injecting it with a welcome shot of adrenaline, but doing the same for the suspension on-road is ill-advised, introducing a level of stiffness and absolute body control that the nicely-judged standard setting doesn’t need.
Sport steering adds weight and effort for no reward and is therefore unnecessary, particularly as the normal mode is excellent, offering feedback and communication through the Toyota-specified thin-rimmed, 373mm diameter wheel that no modern BMW owner would recognise. It’s not as good as the 86, but it’s most easily identifiable difference between Toyota and BMW’s engineering philosophies.
Toyota says two measurements are key to the Supra’s handling: the wheelbase-to-track ratio is a “golden”1.55:1 (it’s not clear who has decided this is the ideal measurement, but we’ll push on) and pushing the centre of gravity as low as possible. Sounds easy, but Toyota has a list of 2000 criteria each new car must meet, some of which are not conducive to making a sports car.
For example, one of them is that the running ground clearance must be 130mm – the Supra’s is just 119mm. It’s one of a number of rules that Tada-san broke (with permission) in his attempt to make the ideal sports car.
The hard work paid off – the Supra is balanced and grippy yet agile and adjustable. Through Phillip Island’s fast, flowing sweeps measured inputs are required not to upset the car and its relative softness means the weight takes a moment to settle, but once it does the specially developed Michelin Pilot Super Sports dig into the tarmac and the body roll makes the limit more of a slope than a sharp edge.
Oversteer arrives and needs to be caught quickly, but if you’ve got the skills the A90 is happy to play drift car. If you don’t the ESP is extremely well calibrated, lenient in its operation and subtle in its intervention.
On the road the traction-to-power ratio is such that it’s not throttle-steerable in the manner of, say, an M2 Competition, yet so tenacious is the front end that it doesn’t need the help. The nose goes exactly where you point it, refusing to wash wide even on track unless you’ve been drastically optimistic with your corner speed.
Only the brakes really stand out as needing improvement. While they hold up admirably on track, the dead, wooden feel during heavy braking applications on the road doesn’t inspire confidence, particularly as the gearbox often isn’t overly keen to downshift when requested. The ride is also quite firm and there’s plenty of road noise.
Inside is where the BMW influence makes itself most known with the infotainment and major switchgear a straight lift – how much that matters will probably depend on the individual buyer, but will anyone complain about finding BMW bits in a Toyota? There’s a paucity of storage space in the cabin and three-quarter vision is horrendous, but on the plus side the driving position is widely adjustable, the seats are supportive and iDrive is easy enough to navigate.
It’s difficult to know what to compare the new Supra to, so instead let’s just celebrate it for what it is. It’s a fast, entertaining, premium rear-drive coupe with a price tag well south of six figures and there aren’t many of those around, especially if you don’t buy into the Mustang/Camaro vibe. Perhaps it bothers you that an icon like the Supra shares so much with another manufacturer, but the other option is that it doesn’t exist, and I for one am very glad it does.
All about the drive on MOTOR reviews
2019 TOYOTA GR SUPRA SPECS
Engine: 2998cc inline-6cyl, DOHC, 24v, turbo
Power: 250kW @ 5000-6500rpm
Torque: 500Nm @ 1600-4500rpm
0-100km/h: 4.3sec (claimed)
Price: $84,900 (GT); $94,900 (GTS)
Like: Great engine; agile, entertaining handling; GT has plenty of kit
Dislike: Brake feel; firm ride; road noise; slow downshifts
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars