2020 Toyota Supra Review: What Toyota’s Engineers Didn’t Get Right
Toyota said it calibrated the GR Supra to its own specifications. It feels like those specs are wrong.
The long-awaited revival of the Toyota Supra came with almost everything the Supra-stands could've wanted: a turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine, rear-wheel drive and a beautifully executed exterior. (No manual, though.) Even the hordes of people complaining online about the car's BMW motor and platform couldn't dampen the feeling that the Supra's return was something to be joyously celebrated. As other manufacturers axe their sports car programs, Toyota was doubling down on fun.
Early reports from colleagues bolstered my hope that Toyota got the recipe right. That Akio Toyoda, Toyota’s CEO and chief enthusiast, and Tetsuya Tada, the Supra’s chief engineer who’s a righteously good driver, imbued their legendary attention to detail and never-ending sporting credentials into the German portions of the Supra that Toyota could tune. The sports car world was laid at Toyota’s feet, ready to be conquered by the returning legend.
Now I've flogged it through my favorite mountains and spanked its tuchus all over Southern California, rapidly draining the 91-octane in its fuel tank. My little notebook contains observations about its staggering speed, assuredly underrated performance figures, stunning in-real-life looks and superb exhaust note. But it also contains a CVS receipt's worth of steering problems, suspension issues and an array of tuning concerns that outnumber all the good parts.
I really wanted to love the 2020 Toyota GR Supra. Instead, I find it wanting.
The 2020 Toyota GR Supra, By the Numbers
- Base Price (As Tested): $49,990
- Powertrain: Turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder | 8-speed automatic | rear-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 335 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque: 365 pound-feet of torque @ 1,450-4,000 rpm
- Passenger Capacity: 2
- Curb Weight: 3,397 pounds
- The Promise: The return of a legend.
- The Delivery: A compromised sports car that still needs a lot of work.
Though Supra purists will say otherwise, the union between BMW and Toyota in the car’s development was the right move for Toyota to amortize the cost of its development. The sports car market isn't what it used to be anymore. Costs have to be cut where they can. The move kept the Supra in a respectable price range and not totally out of reach. Fifty large is still expensive, but it's not like it's a McLaren.
Toyota’s decision to go heavy on BMW hardware, including the turbo 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine, was also correct. Like most Bimmer modern engines, the Teutonic heart proves to be underrated; there's clearly more than the quoted 335 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque to enjoy out on the open road. (Newer ones are rated at 382 HP, by the way.)
In keeping with Supra tradition, that power is sent solely to the rear wheels, though instead of the enthusiast-requested manual transmission, an eight-speed automatic was selected. It's doubly tragic when you remember that BMW actually has a manual transmission that works with this motor.
The rest of the car’s breakdown reads similarly German, with the entirety of the adaptive suspension, Brembo brakes, infotainment and electronic driving nannies and drivetrain lifted from prior or forthcoming BMWs. The only things not designed near the Rhine are the seats, the gauge cluster, its exhaust character and the Supra’s stunning good looks, which translate far better in person than in online photo galleries, especially in this car’s Nitro Yellow chroma. Of course, Toyota also tweaked those carryover systems as much as it could around the edges.
By modern standards, the Supra’s interior is uncomplicated. The gauge cluster has a central tachometer with an integrated TFT display that relays the car’s data like speed, engine temperature, nav and audio functions, while the BMW infotainment screen mounted atop the dash lets you really dive into the Supra’s settings. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are supported and free for the first four years, after those are up, then you’ll have to pay a subscription fee—that’s a pretty miserly thing to do, Toyota and BMW.
Above all else, Toyota nailed the seats and seating position. With the driver’s bucket seat all the way to the floor and the ability to telescope and angle the steering wheel, you couldn’t ask for more. Likewise, they keep your butt firmly between its bolsters for high-speed shenanigans, yet they remain comfortable enough for a four-hour Vegas run. They’re confidence boosters too, egging drivers on until you're really pushing the envelope.
That’s also, unfortunately, where the Supra starts to fall apart.
The engine, transmission and chassis aren’t the problems here, as the drivetrain’s energy comes on in one tidal wave of torque. No turbo lag here. Upshifting through the gears is righteously quick and downshifts, though somewhat slower, are never left hanging. Notably, the center console-mounted shifter seems to respond quicker to an up/down slap than the paddles. But what Toyota really needs to take a look at is the Supra’s differential, suspension, steering and maybe even its tire selection.
Immediately apparent is that there’s no consistent breaking point for traction at the car’s rear, and thus no predictability in its handling. On one run, it gave up at a certain steering angle and speed. Those parameters kept changing as I went on—sometimes the differential could keep the car planted, while the tires broke loose elsewhere in nearly identical conditions. After a number of hours behind the wheel, I can say it feels like a multilayered issue involving the suspension alignment—chiefly the Supra’s camber—the e-diff’s locking settings, and how each plays into the temperature of the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires.
Unlike mechanical units, the e-differential never feels like it's fully confident in doling out torque, and there's no set point where it really starts trying. Power gets pushed to each rear wheel in unequal measure—and not in the good, torque-vectoring way. I entered a few corners hot and stabbed at the throttle to provoke oversteer, yet I never got the same reaction. The suspension geometry also feels off; handling is beyond sticky once you heat up the Super Sport tires, but getting to that point takes forever.
A recent video from Manthey Racing revealed that their particular Supra came from the factory with some odd toe and camber angles and generally poor alignment. Having not taken the Supra to a shop to test that—we’re still limiting our interaction with others—these issues might explain my own, anecdotal findings.
Since it takes a long time to warm up those fancy tires, you're dealing with slightly-compromised handling most of the time. The car is particularly prone to understeer. Even midway through a semi-spicy drive on one of my favorite roads, a stretch that’d put heat into most other sports cars’ tires within the first mile or so, the Supra just wouldn’t hold the line through a fast turn, acting like some petulant child refusing a parent’s request.
Have you ever held a whole dead trout in your hands and flapped it around like it was a pool noodle? That’s about as alive as the Supra’s till. To call the steering numb would be to insult one of Linkin Park’s best tracks. I’ll merely say that whoever thought this was acceptable should be slapped with that trout.
I ran the car up and down my test route again and again, hoping the Supra and I would just click. I kept holding onto the belief that maybe if I got everything really warm, the car’s dynamics would come together and reveal the sports car everyone wrote about in their first reviews. Up and down and up the mountain I went, eager to put more miles on the car and come away with a grin. But the grin never came.
And as a side-note, the Supra has one of the worst cases of wind-buffeting I've ever experienced. Driving above 40mph with both windows down, as anyone is wont to do on a nice day, and you'll feel as if you're two feet from the bass amps at a Skrillex concert listening to all the whubs.
Toyota did a lot right with the Supra. The looks, the power, the presence and the name tell the world that Toyota isn’t just a company that makes beige family sedans, eco-friendly Prii and the unkillable Tacoma pickup. This is a company that desperately wants to deliver the enthusiasm of its 1990s lineup and appear young and vibrant again.
But somewhere between the decision of reviving the Supra nameplate, partnering up with BMW, building the car with Magna-Steyr, and putting it on sale, something went wrong in the recipe.
I don’t think there’s anything fundamentally broken about the Supra, as some have suggested. Underneath the top-notch styling and fabulous engine and chassis, there’s a great car yearning to dice up the world’s racetracks and roads. That car just won’t appear until the suspension and e-diff tuning get a thorough revision. The 2020 Toyota GR Supra is fixable, but until Tada-san rectifies these issues, this is most definitely not the sports car we were promised.
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