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2021 Toyota Supra 3.0 first drive review: Better already

A year after its debut, Toyota's reborn sports car gets more power and sharper handling.

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Toyota wasted little time in improving the Supra's performance credentials.
Jon Wong/Roadshow

There was a lot of hoopla surrounding the new Toyota GR Supra when it landed in dealerships last year. It marked the return of the legendary Japanese sports car that was missing in action for two decades. But that's not to say the Supra's rebirth wasn't without its naysayers.

With a chassis and drivetrain shared with BMW Z4, the new Supra left some enthusiasts not seeing it as a "real" Toyota. The fact that it was down on power to its Z4 M40i platform-mate was also a headscratcher. While Toyota can't do much about the German bones now, it has remedied the output quibble for the 2021 model year, and tweaked the chassis for improved handling, too.

Now as powerful as the BMW Z4 M40i

That's right, one year into the fifth-generation Supra's run, it's already getting a drivetrain update. The 335-horsepower 3.0-liter turbocharged I6 is out, replaced by a version making a more respectable 382 hp and 368 pound-feet of torque. Those numbers mean the Supra 3.0 is now armed with the exact same power as the BMW Z4 M40i, which is surely a welcome development... to everyone except those who own a 2020 Supra.

The engine's power and torque curves are also altered, with peak power arriving from 5,800 rpm to 6,500 rpm (previously 5,000 rpm to 6,500 rpm) and peak torque coming in at 1,800 rpm to 5,000 rpm (previously 1,600 rpm to 4,500 rpm). Chiefly responsible for the engine's 47-hp bump are a new dual-branch exhaust manifold and pistons that reduce compression ratio for more consistent combustion in high-boost situations. While peak output isn't available quite as early as before, the Supra's engine is still lively from initial dig, with strong thrust and an angry exhaust note for your listening pleasure all the way to the 6,500-rpm redline.

Unfortunately, there's nothing to report on the transmission front, and that's a total bummer for three-pedal enthusiasts like me. The sole gearbox offering is a ZF-built, eight-speed automatic, but it's still excellent, with rapid, well-timed shifts in auto mode and near-instant response to paddle shift commands in Sport mode. Toyota says the Supra 3.0 rockets to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds, making it two-tenths quicker than last year. That's a believable number with how rapidly the digital speedometer climbs when you stomp hard on the right pedal.

With the uptick in power, EPA-estimated fuel economy does change. Where the 2020 Supra is rated at 24 miles per gallon in the city and 31 mpg on the highway, the 2021 wears 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway ratings. The slight trade-off in efficiency is one I'm willing to live with for the extra muscle, and I'll wager most people shopping for a Supra will, too.

For anyone concerned about fuel economy and bottom-line cost, however, Toyota has you covered. A 2.0-liter turbo-four option also joins the lineup for 2021. You can read about the new base drivetrain with 255 hp and 295 lb-ft of twist in a separate review.

Comparison: 2020 Supra vs. 2021 Supra

2020 Supra 3.0 2021 Supra 2.0 2021 Supra 3.0
Engine 3.0-liter twin-turbo I6 2.0-liter turbo I4 3.0-liter twin-turbo I6
Power 335 hp 255 hp 382 hp
Torque 365 lb-ft 295 lb-ft 368 lb-ft
0-60 mph 4.1 sec. 5.0 sec. 3.9 sec.
Weight 3,397 lbs. 3,181 lbs. 3,400 lbs.
Fuel economy 24 / 31 / 26 mpg TBD 22 / 30 / 25 mpg

Compared with last year's engine, the I6 makes an additional 47 hp.

Jon Wong/Roadshow

Tighter personality

I was mostly impressed by the 2020 Supra's dynamic chops when I reviewed it last year, but Toyota didn't rest on its laurels for 2021. The 3.0 model's chassis tuning undergoes some revisions with new programming for the adaptive dampers, electronic power steering, active rear differential and stability control. Front and rear bump stops and additional aluminum engine compartment bracing are also added to firm up matters.

On the road, the Supra feels as eager as before with quick turn-in response, high grip levels on the staggered 19-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires and loads of stopping muscle from the four-piston front Brembo brakes. And if you feel like hanging the rear end out, that's easy to do in a controlled manner, too. But last year I noted some initial body lean at corner entry that's mostly snuffed out in the 2021 Supra. Lightly weighted steering was also something I complained about, but that too is remedied in the latest car.

No doubt the Supra is a well-balanced and massively playful car to drive hard, though it's also not too shabby as an around-town runner. Leave the car in Normal mode and the more forgiving suspension damping, lighter steering and less high-strung drivetrain performance make it comfortable enough for daily life. And with a serviceable 10.2 cubic-feet of space in the trunk, I'd have no reservations about taking the Supra on a road trip with another person and luggage.

The best view of the fifth-generation Supra.

Jon Wong/Roadshow

Special-edition style

When it comes to design, I still like the new Supra, but I'm not in love with it. Designers drawing inspiration from the fourth-gen car up front is a wise decision. The rear three-quarter view remains the best vantage, with the curvy haunches and integrated spoiler that again borrows from old Supras. I still don't mind the faux vents in the hood and doors, either, if they become functional fixtures in hotter variants down the line. If that doesn't happen, though, I'll happily join the hordes of people on the Internet hating on them.

For additional visual kick, Toyota will offer a new limited-edition Supra A91 Edition for 2021. Based off the Supra 3.0, A91 cars sport special carbon fiber mirror caps, C-pillar graphics, a carbon fiber rear lip spoiler, matte black wheels and come in Nocturnal (black) or exclusive Refraction (blue) paint choices. Inside, the black Alcantara interior features contrasting blue touches, special trunk mat and key fob covers. Production of the A91 Editions is capped at 1,000 units.

The two-seat cabin is unchanged in non-A91 Edition cars. The leather buckets in my 3.0 Premium test car are comfy and supportive, there's a generous amount of headroom, and the materials and switchgear all courtesy of BMW, and of great quality. However, the low door openings remain an annoyance that might cause taller folks to bonk their noggins when getting in and out of the Supra.

Supra Command will run Apple CarPlay, but not Android Auto.

Jon Wong/Roadshow

Tech courtesy of BMW, too

If you hate BMW's iDrive infotainment system, then you're going to have a cow about Supra Command, because it's essentially iDrive. For 2021, Toyota drops the 6.5-inch screen previously found on base-level Supras and makes the 8.8-inch touchscreen standard across the board. With the touchscreen and center controller, it features navigation with real-time traffic, a 12-speaker JBL audio system, satellite radio and Bluetooth in my 3.0 Premium tester. Since iDrive has been around for ages, it's well sorted -- it's intuitive to work through and pages between menu screens briskly.

Like iDrive, Supra Command is Apple CarPlay-capable. But unlike iDrive, which has Android Auto capabilities coming soon, Toyota says this smartphone-mirroring tech will not be coming to the 2021 Supra. To charge up electronics, the Supra 3.0 Premium comes with a wireless charge pad that kept my Samsung Galaxy phone happy, USB port and 12-volt outlet at the front of the center console, which is enough for a two-seater.

The standard active driving assist system, installed on all Supras, includes forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, an aggressive lane-keep assist system and automatic high beams. Those who spring for an optional Driver Assist Package available on 3.0 Premium and A91 Edition cars will also get adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and parking sensors.

If you want a 2021 Supra 3.0, make sure to be at the Toyota dealer in late June.

Jon Wong/Roadshow

A better Supra coming soon

Like everything in the world, the global pandemic caused some disruptions to the launch of the 2021 Toyota Supra. Prior to the production plant being shuttered in Austria, Toyota says roughly 400 examples of the 2021 Supra 3.0 made it to the US, and they'll go on sale at the end of June. Once those are spoken for, anyone else interested in a six-cylinder 2021 Supra will have to wait until mid-August.

Pricing details on the 2021 Supra 3.0 aren't available yet, but a small increase from the 2020 model's $49,990 base price, not including $955 for destination, wouldn't be shocking for the additional power and sharper handling.

Now one can't help but wonder what Toyota is cooking up for the 2022 Supra. Company executives have acknowledged that more Supra happenings are in the works. Here's hoping that a hard-core performance model and manual transmission are part of whatever they are cooking up.

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