Introduction: A nervous first dance
Kirby meets an old flame; tries not to get burnt during the introduction
- Price as tested: $85,036
- This month: 397km @ 9.1L/100km
I have an odd relationship with the Toyota Supra. I’m a massive fan of the JDM icon, but the first time I drove one it bit me, hard.
You see, as a uni student I had a mate, Keeley, who was renowned for owning powerful modified cars – like a MkIV Supra aerotop that deployed nearly 600kW to tortured rear tyres.
Keeley threw me the keys to his pride and joy at a local track cruise as a birthday gift. But, foolishly, on my ‘warm up’ lap I planted the throttle only to experience an aeon of turbo lag.
When the volleyball-sized turbo finally did spool up, the tyres were as hapless as a watermelon hit by an anvil, and my unprepared and overconfident ass became a mere passenger as the car veered off-track.
No damage was done, and the friendship remained intact. Thick black skid marks that turn hard left into the dusty infield of Queensland Raceway is all that remains as a monument to my foolishness.
Now, with another decade of driving sensibility drilled into my brain, I find myself standing in front of another Supra. This time it’s the reborn MkV Supra GR in base GT guise, ‘mine’ for three months.
Priced at $84,536, the GT is $10K cheaper than the flagship GTS and, by my logic, the smarter choice.
You aren’t missing ten grand’s worth of performance, with both variants fitted with the same 250kW/500Nm tune from the BMW-sourced B58 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six.
The only option fitted to our long-termer is premium paint at $500. Dubbed ‘Goodwood Grey’ (all the Supra’s colours are named after iconic race tracks), the hue pops nicely in the sun.
Each corner is kept up by 18-inch wheels (down from 19s on the GTS) wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber (255/40 up front and 275/40 at the rear).
My cheaper variant does without a head-up display, larger rear brakes, the 12-speaker JBL sound system, and the ability to option certain seat trims. Fair trade, by my calculations.
A sports car deserves a proper introduction, so I mapped out 148km of my personal favourite driving roads to start the relationship.
Before I departed, I received a message that brought that original Supra encounter front of mind. It was Dep Ed Enright, who cautioned that on certain weight transfers, the Supra’s rear end can get particularly squirrelly.
Then I recalled during COTY testing when the Supra ripped a skid that could have earned it an automatic entry to Summernats with launch control still engaged.
In the name of preserving of Toyota’s sculpted metalwork, and my career, a ten-tenths blast straight out of the gate wasn’t going to happen.
I needn’t have worried, as the Supra and I gelled instantly. Both driver and car relished the flowing, cambered corners of Gembrook-Launching Place road. It was here that I quickly learned of the Supra’s eager turn-in, the nose flowing into bends smoothly thanks to a wonderfully planted front-end.
Then came Reefton Spur and a switch to sport mode. Here I was educated on the eight-speed automatic’s whip-crisp upshifts. Toyota deliberately opted for shorter gearing with the Supra, making it well-suited to this tight and twisting route.
Past Lake Mountain, we descended toward Marysville with the windows down. If it’s an auditory delight you’re after, the Supra delivers. The exhaust’s pops and crackles are joined by whistles and hisses from the turbocharger in a fascinating mechanical duet.
My love affair with this Japanese icon was well and truly reignited. Lockdown restrictions have so far scuppered a repeat trip. Yet, just as when Keeley passed me the keys to his aerotop, the MkV Supra fills me with an ‘I can’t believe I’m driving this’ wonder every time I slip into the cockpit.
My lockdown comes with a rapid silver lining – I’ll be keeping it on the black-top this time around.
Update #2: An unlikely hero
Despite the Supra having its wings temporarily clipped, Kirby finds it still soars
- This month: 254km @ 11.3L/100km
Of everything I thought I’d be assessing on a regular basis, the Supra’s suitability as a grocery getter wasn’t high up the priority list.
Yes, sports cars must be enjoyable beyond the butter-smooth bitumen and swooping curves of your favourite driving road, but boot apertures and carrying capacities aren’t really their forte.
With Victoria’s strict lockdown measures, the Supra has been mostly grounded at Kirby HQ this month. But that doesn’t mean it has been completely immobile; my partner has to merely begin the sentence “Honey, I think we are out of mi...” and I’ve got the keys in hand.
With a claimed capacity of 290 litres, there’s a surprising amount of room for luggage in the Supra, and even my biggest trips are yet to completely fill the cargo space.
The B58 engine remains as much a pearler around town as it is in the hills, with a fantastic dual character. It’ll happily burble along at a couple thousand revs without any fuss or lurching.
I’m also thankful for the traditional torque-converter automatic, as the low-speed driveability of the Supra is all the better for it. Around town, it slips between ratios subtly, aided by the straight-six’s silky-smooth nature.
I have grown to appreciate the Supra’s diminutive stature. With an overall length of 4381mm, the Supra is shorter than both the Hyundai i30 Fastback N and Ford Focus, meaning it can navigate tight underground garages with ease, and squeeze into tricky parks with no stress.
Vision outward isn’t the best, with the rear three-quarters requiring some neck craning to get a better angle. A 360-degree parking camera would be a welcome addition come mid-life facelift time.
I also have some gripes with the doors. Firstly, they’re huge, meaning getting in and out when parked next to another car makes you look like a slithering eel.
Secondly, while the sloping roofline gives the Supra a stunning silhouette, it also means you’ll inevitably misjudge the entry as you slide into the cabin and slap your temple against the door frame.
Finally, you simply cannot drive above 60km/h with the windows down. If you want to enjoy a crisp spring breeze, you’ll need to put up with severe buffeting at the same time.
Ultimately, though, these are small things, and the Supra has impressed in its unlikely servitude as a carpark hero. If you don’t need to carry more than a single passenger, the Supra would be a perfectly amicable daily driver that’ll earn you plenty of new friends (more on that next month).
Update 3: The fast and the friendly
Kirby and the Supra partake in some community service
Price as tested:$85,036
This month: 399km @ 8.5L/100km
Moments of true joy have been hard to come by in 2020, but the Supra has done its fair share of community service in the last three months, spreading smiles and good energy anywhere it goes.
From the trolley boy who gave me the world’s biggest thumbs-up, to the P-plater who probably had to book a chiropractor’s appointment, given how rapidly he twisted his neck at a set of traffic lights. Wherever I’ve driven this last month I’ve been followed by a glut of stares and second glances.
It’s hard to tell if everyone is as big a fan of the Supra’s flowing organic looks as I am, but you can’t deny Toyota’s sports car cuts a striking figure prowling the streets.
Using BMW systems, Toyota offers one of the most customisable drive mode configurators this side of a Hyundai i30 N. All the usual culprits are available to be tweaked to your liking – steering, suspension, engine, and gearbox.
Separating the engine and transmission is a masterstroke oft missed by other manufacturers. It gives the engine a livelier personality, allowing you to enjoy all the associated pops and crackles from the exhaust without donkey-kick gearshifts at low speed. It’s not quite the high-calibre machine gun audio antics of say, an A45 S, with the Supra’s straight-six having a more muffled tone.
I’m not sure all my neighbours love the Supra’s siren song, but I don’t really care. Any shame I may have felt was wiped completely when a little tacker stopped in his tracks, tugged at his father’s shirt to point at the Supra, then clapped in glee as the exhaust let loose a crisp ‘pop, pop, BANG’ off throttle as I slowed for a roundabout. Onya, kid.
Not everything has been smooth sailing though. After washing the Supra I discovered that water had begun pooling on the plastic boot lip under the rear hatch. Thankfully none had made its way into the boot itself, or underneath the lining, but it was disconcerting to see a decent amount of water had made it between those swooping panels.
Another issue that has reared its head is cabin noise. While road noise is tolerable around town, a couple of stints on the highway has again reinforced the Supra isn’t cut out for long-distance touring. Even on smooth blends of tarmac, tyre roar is significant. On longer drives this would be a frustrating existence.
It’s a credit to the Supra’s endearing nature that these foibles haven’t dampened my affection. And judging from public reactions, I’m not the only member of the MkV Supra fan club.
Update 4: Clean 'n' go
The last bath for a sports coupe that nailed its Driver-focused brief swimmingly
Price as tested: $85,036
This month: 358km @ 10L/100km
Total: 1408km @ 9.5L/100km
This is it. The final ceremonial wash for every long-termer before returning to its home. A time to reflect on the pros (and cons) of the ownership experience. As I wash the dripping soap suds off the Supra’s flowing, organic curves, I lose myself in silent thought, coming to the conclusion that this is a damn good car, and I’m sad to see it go.
Amid my wistful washing, though, is an elephant in the metaphorical room, and it’s wearing lederhosen and chowing down on some currywurst. The most common criticism levelled at the Supra is its inextricable link to BMW. Those who wield this sword claim that the shared development of the Supra and the Z4 taints the former, preventing it from being a ‘real’ Toyota hero. Yeah, but Toyota could never have justified producing this car without the BMW partnership, and the link only serves to improve the breed.
Not once during my ‘ownership’ of the Supra did the BMW connection bother me; instead it only provided benefits. Jump in a Corolla and tell me the infotainment system is better than what is served up in the Supra. Find me an engine within Toyota’s stable that could fit under the Supra’s bonnet and do justice to the car’s sporting credentials. Don’t worry, I’ll be waiting.
Where the MkV diverges from the path of its predecessors is its nature.
A healthy diet of Fast and Furious films and Gran Turismo games has prompted my generation to forget that the MkIV – despite all its 1000hp tuning potential – wasn’t the sharpest knife in the kitchen when it was first revealed. Stock, it was more of a grand tourer than sports car. The MkV followed perception instead of reality and it’s all the better for it.
A final fang before handing the keys back to Toyota cemented the Supra’s sports car credentials in my mind. I mapped out 135km of some of the best bends around Wheels’ famed COTY road testing loop, culminating in the 41km blast of Grand Ridge Road from Mirboo North to Ellinbank. For those couple of hours on a sunny Sunday afternoon, it was just me, the Supra and brilliant Australian bitumen.
While more expensive than some may like for a Toyota, the Supra provides all the performance you could ever want in the real world.
I remain convinced that the base GT is a smarter choice compared to the more costly GTS – the benefits simply don’t outweigh the extra outlay of cash – but at this price, you are hard pushed to find a more engaging, competent and downright fast set of wheels.
Toyota has dialled in a Goldilocks level of damping into the suspension, allowing the Supra to comply with larger mid-corner bumps, without becoming a wallowing mess, while that silky straight-six engine’s torque curve is as meaty as a rugby union forward, with the Supra coming alive on corner exit to launch you at the next bend. Take the MkV for a proper drive and you will not be disappointed.
This can’t just be a love-in though. I’d be remiss to not note the tiresome road-noise, annoyingly long doors, poor water sealing of the bootlid, lack of sufficient in-cabin storage and sometimes clunky downshifts from the auto transmission around town. But weigh those against the Supra’s benefits and the scales still tip firmly toward the positive.
I didn’t put as many kilometres on the odometer as I would have liked due to Victoria’s lengthy lockdown, but in a way that only cemented my affection for this little silver bullet. During the toughest months of the truly worst year, the Supra was a constant pick-me-up. Even when we were trapped in our 5km bubble, thumbing the Supra’s starter button was a reason to smile. With the freedom to drive wherever, whenever, that smile turned into a gurning, cackling grin. Kudos, Toyota.
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