2020 Toyota GR Supra First Drive Review: A BMW Wrapped in a Flashy Toyota Skin
The Supra's BMW roots might upset purists, but it pays off.
It's rare that a new car generates as much anticipation as the 2020 Toyota GR Supra. The return of the Nissan GT-R came close. Since the “Mark IV” Supra Turbo became the star car of The Fast and The Furious, the Supra has been placed on a massive pedestal. The expectations are extraordinarily high.
When the GR Supra was officially unveiled at the 2018 Detroit Auto Show, it left many with mixed feelings. It was no surprise Toyota teamed up with BMW to make the new Supra happen. But to enthusiasts, the new Supra seemed too much like a Munich parts bin special.
So is the new 2020 Supra worth all the hype? I went to West Virginia to test it on a track and find out.
Our convoy of GR Supras and 86 Hakone Editions braved a slightly misty and cloudy journey to Summit Point Motorsports Park. When we arrived, the mid-spring sun burned off the morning fog just in time to reveal a dry Shenandoah Circuit. With 20 tight, undulating turns, this 2.2-mile-long section of the Summit Point Raceway is one of the most technical road courses on the East Coast. It’s a perfect testing ground for the GR Supra’s specification list.
On paper, the Supra is about as ideal as a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive sports coupe can get. Under the long hood lies the same single twin-scroll turbocharged inline-six found in the M340i and the Z4 M40i, but tuned to deliver 335 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque, which lights up at an astonishingly low 1600 rpm. In between, the quickest shifting traditional automatic in the business, yielding a 0-60 time of just 4.1 seconds.
These specs align the new Supra with the earlier ones (except that, maddeningly, there is no manual option). What catapults this model into the 21st century is active independent suspension and Michelin Pilot Super Sports at all four corners, complemented by the Supra’s 50-50 weight distribution, and an active limited-slip differential.
On paper, the GR Supra is clearly designed for fun.
Those of us starting the day in the 86 Hakone Edition got first dibs on the track with the Supras. Stepping into the car isn't easy, particularly if you're 6 feet tall. But once inside, the sport buckets are a snug fit, and the cockpit cocoons you with a functional interior free from any unnecessary distraction. The only bit of annoying tech is BMW’s latest iDrive, reworked to feature Toyota Supra renderings rather than those of its platform mate, the Z4.
But within the first few minutes of driving, you forget that the climate controls and radio switches are from an F30 3-Series. And you forget that all the switchgear appears as if Toyota raided BMW’s parts bins. Once acquainted with the Shenandoah Circuit following a few familiarization laps, we were given free rein to pilot the Supras to their limits at the whims of our skillset. Within the first few laps of getting the tires to sing their song of losing grip, the GR Supra clearly showcased that it is not the sports grand tourer that its predecessors were.
Turn-in is tack-sharp and with that perfect 50-50 weight balance and only 3,400 pounds to hustle around, the Supra dominated the Shenandoah’s 20-plus decreasing radius corners and rolling chicanes like it was a walk in the park. Body roll was minimal in nearly every action on all axis, thanks to electronically adaptive gas-shocks. And the Brembo clamps showed no signs of fading with repeated late braking. Whenever I found myself approaching a corner too hot, transitioning from understeer into a controllable and easily forgiving oversteer was a cinch. All thanks to the Supra’s point-and-shoot front-end and just a jab of the throttle.
Yes, that’s clearly attributed to the Supra’s BMW-sourced roots. But as the Supra’s chief engineer, Tetsuya Tada shared, BMW simply supplied the components, while Toyota was left to tune it all to work in unison. And with his sights set on taking down the Porsche 718 Cayman, the Supra is proof that Tada did his homework. In this class of sports coupes, the Cayman sets the bar and the Supra places itself as a serious contender.
By my fifth lap around the Shenandoah Circuit, not only did I find myself hustling the Supra to triple digit speeds on the straights. But I quickly found myself disabling all the traction nannies and confidently living out all of my Ken Block fantasies. At the end of the test day at Summit Point Raceway, the Supra showed no signs of fatigue, no signs of overuse. It simply took whatever I could throw at it, shrugging it all off as if I was just teasing its potential.
On the way back to the night’s accommodations, the Supra rewarded even more with a shockingly comfortable and composed ride. Given how extraordinarily the Supra performed at the track, you’d think its ride would resemble a similar sensation to sitting on a block of solid granite. But such was not the case, by any stretch of means. Not only did the Supra feel like it could last days at the track, but also the potentially long-distance rides to and from.
Does the 2020 GR Supra fill the big shoes left empty by its predecessor in 1998? After the pent-up anticipation after all of these years, I’m left feeling a little bit bittersweet. Although the Supra’s BMW roots and joint efforts pay off in spades from behind the wheel, I was hoping for a Toyota thoroughbred. It would’ve been much more of a statement for Toyota as a brand if they designed and built its halo car from the ground up on its own. But all things considered, I’m just happy that the Supra is back and making an effort to put Toyota’s recent beige past behind.