2021 Toyota Supra 2.0 Review: A Promising Four-Cylinder Weapon that Lacks an Edge
The four-pot Supra gets a lot of things right. But it's missing that X-factor that screams "buy me."
If every wild rumor that spread across Car Internet somehow proved true, everyone who both reads and works at this website would own a Mazda RX-9. That, of course, is sadly not the case. But sometimes our wild fever dreams turn real, and there's no better example of that than the reborn Toyota Supra.
This new Supra has been full of surprises, from its BMW platform and engine to its production in Graz, Austria alongside its brother, the BMW Z4. But quite possibly the biggest surprise is how, for the first time ever, a Supra can be had with a four-cylinder engine designed to slot in below the twin-turbo inline-six that was the reason for the BMW-Toyota joint venture in the first place.
Opting for the 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four saves you 220 pounds over the six, and though pricing hasn't been released as of this writing, presumably several thousand dollars. The result is a machine that's quick, balanced, athletic, comfortable and thoroughly modern.
But I was left wondering what the "killer app" is, so to speak, that would make the Supra 2.0 demand your hard-earned dollars.
The 2021 Toyota GR Supra 2.0, By the Numbers
- Base Price (As Tested): Not Released ($40,000 est.)
- Powertrain: Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder | 8-speed automatic | rear-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 255 horsepower @ 5,000 rpm
- 0-60 MPH: 5.1 seconds
- Torque: 295 pound-feet of torque @ 1,550 rpm
- Passenger Capacity: 2
- Curb Weight: 3,181 pounds
- The Promise: What you love about the Supra 3.0, just lighter.
- The Delivery: It's great, but for a narrow cohort of buyers.
After reporting on the rumors around its development for years, I finally drove the new Supra when it launched last year. It's been strangely polarizing since its debut. Some critics love it, some find it wanting.
Unlike my Drive colleague Jonathon Klein, I actually liked the sports car quite a bit. The parts may be BMW's, but Toyota's engineers did all the tuning where it matters, and I found the end result was something quick, high-tech and fun on the street and the track.
The car's driving experience delivers in ways that its specs on paper cannot, and that's where fans seemed the most disappointed. It's not made in-house by Toyota, with some kind of reborn 2JZ-GTE engine (doing so would've put the car's price tag over $100,000, I've been told) it lacks a back seat, it lacks a manual gearbox and that legendary Japanese reliability is probably going to be in short supply this go around.
I don't care much because I like the Supra a lot. Sports cars are a tough sell these days and we need more of them, especially ones that are a blast to drive. And it seems the turbo-four Supra is meant to fill the very wide gap between the 3.0-liter inline-six car (itself now up to 382 HP) and the smaller, cheaper Toyota 86. It gets a lot right in 2.0 form, but I don't see it winning the day over the car with two additional cylinders.
I'll tackle the important stuff here first by diving into that engine. In short, it's very good. BMW's turbo fours don't get quite as much attention as the M division's thundering V8s, but they offer tons of usable torque, respectably fuel economy and none of the weight penalty. (I've always preferred the 230i to the M240i for those reasons, even if admitting that makes me feel like a bad enthusiast.)
In the Supra, you get lots of low-end grunt, no real turbo lag to speak of and a hard charge up to redline. With just 3,181 pounds on the scales and nearly 300 lb-ft to play with, you have tons of grunt off the line and enough power to get yourself into legal trouble on the highway. Now, it's not the mid-three-second 0-60 mph powerhouse the Supra 3.0 is, but I was genuinely pleased with its quickness and response. I had no trouble keeping up with Porsches, bigger-engined BMWs and several Subaru WRX STIs on a sunny afternoon drive on the Palisades Interstate Parkway, let's just say that.
It doesn't have the manic, harsh, sing-for-your-supper character of the naturally aspirated flat-four in the 86, and indeed it's much, much quicker. It just gets the job done with little drama and works well in something with a wheelbase this small. It's actually got kind of a chill character to it—as spirited as it is composed, but not nearly as hard-edged as many performance cars.
Interestingly, this same motor—in various states of tune—also sees duty in the Mini Cooper, the BMW 7 Series and the Morgan Plus Four. Isn't globalization fun, kids?
But the real star of the show is the Supra's handling. It's been too long since I last drove the 3.0 so I can't say authoritatively how different it feels, but by any measure, the car is noticeably light on its heels, direct, playful and planted. There's effectively no body roll to speak of. And while the steering is admittedly devoid of feel, it's tight and extremely quick. Using BMW's hardware, Toyota's team has crafted one of the best-handling cars on the market right now. It also boasts a vastly better ride quality than most of BMW's own M cars offer these days. I had no issues on New York City's terrible roads, rare for any sports car.
Also, the ZF-sourced eight-speed paddle-shift automatic is basically unimpeachable. Gear changes are quick as a snap and smooth to boot. I found myself using the manual mode even in everyday driving. As far as autos go, it simply doesn't get better than this.
What's Not Great
Having said that, I still wish the Supra had even the option of the manual. I hate being that guy. We've lost the fight on manuals in sedans and trucks and everything else; we need to move on. But a two-seat sports car is another animal, and as great as the ZF8 is, rowing your own gears would really put this car over the top.
And as much as I like the 2.0's performance, the engine doesn't offer much in the way of noise. It has a nice (and admittedly artificially augmented) grunt to it, but there'se a dull and industrial quality to it. The exhaust offers some decent pops and bangs here and there, but it's not the wild symphony I remember from the inline-six last year.
Between then and now, I had forgotten how claustrophobic the Supra's cabin can feel, at least at first. It's nowhere near the coffin-like experience you'd get in something like a Miata, but with that low roofline, it's tight and visibility is never great. No one buys a two-seat sports car for spaciousness. But it all feels a bit more snug than rivals, especially those with a small back seat.
Also, the wind buffeting with the windows down is absolutely horrendous. I thought I was alone in this, crazy, nitpicking or some combination of all three, but the problem was so bad it necessitated a whole article in Road & Track. If you need the wind in your face during a drive, maybe get the Z4 and spare your ears.
Sourcing the car from BMW resulted in a very clean and well-laid-out cabin. Between the digital instrument cluster and the controls that still feel driver-centric, the Supra has all the proper trappings of a modern sports car in 2020. The materials feel premium and the cloth/Alcantara seats on my tester offered a great mix of bolstering and driving comfort. I need to road trip in the Supra when the world's a bit more normal.
Also, partnering with BMW meant Toyota got its objectively superior iDrive system, which in recent years has emerged as one of the best infotainment systems on the market. Maybe even the best right now. The graphics are great, menus are pretty intuitive and you have the option of using the touch screen, the steering wheel buttons, your voice and the center click wheel to control various functions. This, at least, is better than anything Toyota or Lexus has to offer.
Opting for the smaller engine means doing without larger 19-inch wheels, larger brakes and more upscale options like a heads-up display, heated seats and standard adaptive cruise control—the Safety and Technology package my tester had is optional on the 2.0.
But like its big brother, the Supra 2.0 still comes nicely equipped with a lot of other standard equipment, including automatic high beams, dual-zone climate control, pedestrian detection, auto stop-start, a lane departure warning system and more. Unlike the brand that made the hardware, Toyota's take doesn't price you into the stratosphere with options. You do get a lot on this car.
Also worth noting: the Sport Mode button. On most cars this is an afterthought, or something that upsets the balance of the vehicle in awkward ways. On the Supra—on both engines, too—it changes the character of the car in positive ways, making it truly come alive. It gets sharper, louder and noticeably more aggressive in steering and throttle response. The latter can be a bit much for in-traffic driving, but in general, you'll want to slam that big button all the time.
Again, I can only estimate the price for now, so that makes sorting out the Supra 2.0's competitors a bit tricky. But a GR Supra 3.0 stars at $49,990; the four-cylinder Z4 is about $14,000 cheaper than its inline-six counterpart. Since $34,000 is too good to be true here too, I think we're fair to assume about $40,000 starting for the Supra 2.0. We'll see if I'm right when pricing is released closer to the on-sale date this summer.
That puts the Supra 2.0 against some tough customers, including the Ford Mustang GT and Chevrolet Camaro SS, both nicely equipped with V8s; the aging but still kickass Subaru WRX STI; any number of more practical and cheaper hot hatchbacks like the Honda Civic Type R; and the current Mazda Miata, which can be had for way less and remains the gold standard of affordable sports cars. That market may be dwindling but it's tougher than ever.
This leads me to my final point. As with any car I test, I asked myself, "Would I buy this?" And the answer is that if I had 40 large to blow on a two-seat sports car—which I don't, and certainly not in this economy—I actually would buy the Supra 2.0. But I came up short on why I'd recommend someone else do the same.
I was attracted to the Supra's looks, its mix of comfort and usable power, its solid tech, its premium feel and its sharp handling. I also love Supras and I like nearly all of BMW's current cars, so I don't particularly care that this car has a weird Austro-German heritage instead of a Japanese one. And while the Supra 3.0 is definitely faster, I think I could live with the performance of the 2.0 without any complaints.
But that appeal feels kind of narrow, doesn't it? There's no one (or several) key, killer factors here that would put the Supra over any of those cars I mentioned. It doesn't have a practical hatch body or one of the last naturally aspirated V8s or an ultralight weight or even a manual gearbox. I can't call it compromised; it's too good for that.
Sports cars often inherently aren't crowd-pleasers. That's the whole point—they're for you, the driver, and not many other people. But if this Supra does please a crowd, I think it's a relatively small one. If it's what you want, however, you won't regret going for it. I don't think I would.