2020 Toyota Supra first drive review: Better in (almost) every way

Oh, Supra. We haven't seen this much fan uproar about the rebirth of a beloved Japanese sports car since... well, since the NSX's rebirth, which really wasn't all that long ago. Just like with Honda/Acura's reborn icon, fan passions run deep with Supra, a model that most have only ever touched through a PlayStation controller. The many and myriad reactions to its unveiling this past January at the Detroit Auto Show displays just how strongly people feel about the former Fast & Furious hero.

I was lucky to score an early drive of a camouflaged prototype of the MkV Supra last year, and even then, long before Toyota took the wraps off, I could feel the flames being stoked in Roadshow's comment section. Today, dear readers, it's time to tamp down those fires, because the 2020 Toyota Supra is here, it's good and I don't care that it carries a German heart beating inside a German body. You shouldn't, either. 

Provenance

Let's just go ahead and address this early: From a hardware standpoint, the Toyota Supra is basically a BMW Z4. It shares the same engine, chassis and suspension, plus countless other bits. It's even assembled right alongside the Z4 at Magna Steyr in Austria.

So, yes, the 2020 Toyota Supra has more than a little BMW in it. But if you want to talk DNA, from a genetic standpoint I'm virtually indistinguishable from a mouse. In execution, however, I look rather different -- though I do confess a sincere affinity for cheese.

Similarly, a car's personality comes as much from its tune as it does from its hardware, and Toyota has gone to great lengths to differentiate the Supra from its Bavarian counterpart. During basically the entire development project for the car, for years, Toyota and BMW engineers didn't share notes. To this day the Supra's main development driver hasn't turned a wheel in the new Z4.

The goal was to create a car with a German body and a Japanese soul, though that spirit will be hard to feel when you'll need to grip a BMW-style shifter to back out of every parking space. A distinctly iDrive-style knob sits to the right while the sound coming from the engine carries the same sort of digital augmentation that has lately crept into BMW interiors.

I understand how looking past all that can be difficult, but trust me when I say it's worthwhile. 

The foundation

When you say "Supra" to a car enthusiast, most will immediately envision one specific model: the MkIV Supra Turbo. Manufactured from 1993 until 2002, the Supra's premature departure from the US in 1998 only elevated its status as the ultimate tuner car. Quicker off the showroom floor than many an Italian exotic, the MKIV was nevertheless frequently tweaked to even greater heights of performance -- or, often, deeper depths of undrivability.

It's through that distorted, aftermarket lens that many enthusiasts remember the Supra, but we must go back to the car Toyota actually sold when considering how the new, MkV Supra stacks up. Despite the German parentage, the two cars are far more similar than they are different.

It starts with the engine, a 3.0-liter, turbocharged, inline-six, just like before. Where the old car delivered 321 horsepower, the new one manages 335. Not a massive boost considering the 20 years between, but torque is way up: 365 pound-feet vs. 315 in the old car. Fuel efficiency gets an even bigger boost: The new Supra does 31 miles per gallon on the highway, compared to just 22 in the outgoing car.

(I am fully aware that nobody's buying a Supra for the fuel economy, but given it was emissions that ultimately forced its early exit from the US market, it's nice to know that the new car is much more efficient.)

That engine its in the nose, but a quick look under the hood shows it's been pushed dramatically rearward -- and that's despite the bundle of ugly, black plastic swaddling everything. Indeed, Toyota has managed a perfect 50:50 weight distribution here. At 3,397 pounds, MkV is about 100 pounds lighter than an automatic MkIV Supra Turbo. That's despite the new car having, among its many modern amenities, eight airbags.

2020 Toyota Supra

Who wants rear seats when you can have subwoofers and strut-tower braces?

Toyota

The new Supra is five inches shorter than the MKIV and yet two inches wider, a stance that can only do good things for handling. The new Supra is in fact deceptively small, closer in length to a Toyota 86. Something had to go to deliver this dimensional brevity, and it was the rear seats. Instead, you get a sort of parcel shelf and exposed strut tower brace.

That 365 pound-feet of torque is sent rearward through an eight-speed automatic transmission. The lack of a manual option will be seen as bad news by many, but this is the same ZF unit that performs unobtrusively in many other performance cars and, as I'll detail later, its performance is similarly fine here.

That power is then split by an electronically actuated, clutch-type limited-slip rear differential. That's a long way of saying the car doesn't have to rely on the brakes to keep one wheel from spinning up. The LSD can go from fully open to fully locked in a fraction of a second and it comes standard on every Supra. Adaptive suspension is also standard, as are Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires on 19-inch wheels, which measure a healthy nine-inches wide at the front and 10 inches at the rear.

The net result is a car that can hop from zero to 60 mph in just 4.1 seconds and then scream on up to 155 mph before the electronic limiter steps in and slaps the back of your wrist.

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Yes, I do know how fast I was going.

Toyota

On the road

While I wish I could say I explored that limiter in the production Supra, my drive took place mostly in Virginia, a state where the local law has a tendency to skip the wrist slapping and throw people right in jail for speeding. So, I largely used the road portion of the drive as an opportunity to set the cruise control and, well, cruise.

Boring, perhaps, but this is a vital function for the Supra. While it is a sports car, it's meant to be an everyday kind of thing. It must be comfortable and practical and, winding through the scant hills around Virginia, it proved exactly that. My first fear was that the low-profile, 19-inch tires would result in some awful ride quality and road noise. I was pleasantly surprised to find neither in excess.

The suspension, on normal mode, is compliant and the seats soft. Likewise, the exhaust is mellow in the default setting and the transmission sedate. I wouldn't call it a relaxing drive, but with the adaptive cruise and the active lane-keep assist systems enabled, I could definitely see myself covering big miles in a Supra without complaint.

The hatch even swallowed up my video producer's full compliment of gear plus my backpack, and that's saying something. 

This, then, is a great car for hurtling far away with someone special, even if they're not the most efficient of packers. However, despite that on-road prowess, the bulk of Toyota's launch event focused on the Supra's track performance. That's why my destination was Summit Point, a motorsports mecca just over the border of West Virginia.

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Perhaps the Supra's most controversial angle.

Toyota

On the track

Of the many circuits Summit Point Motorsports Park has to offer, Toyota selected Shenendoah, which in my eye is a bit brave. Shenendoah is a remarkably twisty thing, with 22 numbered turns in its full, 2.2-mile configuration. It's also very narrow and rather bumpy with many blind, off-camber sequences.

The version we ran, which skipped much of the longest straight, was spectacular fun in the agile (if underpowered) Toyota 86. For the Supra, though, I think I would have preferred something a little bit bigger -- like Jarama, perhaps, where I did the initial prototype drive. A bigger track would allow the Supra to stretch its legs a bit more and show off the finesse of its suspension. On Shenendoah, the Supra's extra weight and body roll in meant I had to be a lot more patient when hustling through the more busy sequences.

That's not to say the Supra didn't handle the situation with aplomb. The Pilot Super Sports offered oodles of grip on the uneven asphalt and that suspension was never fazed by the imperfections. Supra proved a composed and reassuring partner on a track that demands a lot from both car and driver. 

Likewise, the limited-slip differential put the power down cleanly and likewise seemed aggressive under braking, with the rear feeling very tight in the one hard braking zone at the end of Back Straight.

Braking was my primary concern after driving the prototype last year, and for better or worse, this particular stretch of asphalt at Summit Point didn't challenge the Supra's 13.7-inch front Brembos, nor their four-piston calipers. However, given my colleague Steven Ewing's notes of brake fade when driving the 2019 Z4 at Estoril, I fear that the stoppers may still be the Achilles heel for the Supra. 

Left to its own devices, the eight-speed automatic transmission is a delight.

Toyota

And what about that eight-speed auto? Left to its own devices, the transmission did an acceptable job of picking the right cog for the right corner. It's nowhere near as advanced as Porsche's latest flavor of PDK, which is almost telepathic in its gear selection, and indeed the Toyota occasionally got confused during long, low-speed, steady-state corners. But it mostly did fine -- unless I tried to shift for myself. The transmission responded sluggishly to requests from the wheel-mounted paddles. I quickly learned to ignore them.

But there's one thing that I couldn't ignore, and that was the incredible challenge of actually getting into and out of the Supra with a helmet on. I'm actually starting to get a headache again just thinking about the number of times I bumped my helmet against the door frame squeezing into and out of the Supra during my day at the track. I've driven caged racers with easier ingress and egress. Make it inside, though, and there's impressive headroom, that double-bubble roof serving a real purpose beyond inspiring fond thoughts of the 2000GT coupe. 

The good news is that tall drivers will work in the Supra even with a helmet. The bad news is they'll need to be reasonably flexible and stout of skull.

Perhaps the best news about Supra's on-track performance is that Toyota legitimately wants you to sample it for yourself. Every new Supra purchased this year comes with a membership to NASA (no, not that NASA, this NASA) and a free track day, too. Go get some!

2020 Toyota Supra

You'd be forgiven for expecting the nav system to speak with a Bavarian accent.

Toyota

Look and feel

I've saved discussion of the Supra's design for last because this is, of course, the most subjective bit. I'll give you my take here in a moment, but I'll start by saying that the 2020 Supra is a dramatically different looking car in person than it is in photos. That long hood and those sharp styling cues somehow conspire to make it look much, much bigger than it is. It's far more petite and subtle in the flesh than what you're seeing here. So, do yourself a favor and go witness one before you digitally write it off.

That said, having spent the better part of a day considering the thing IRL, I will confess to not being a total fan of the way it looks. On the positive side, I really like the shape and its vacuum-sealed appearance. Supra cuts an incredibly purposeful stance, as if Toyota's designers whittled away everything that wasn't needed.

Indeed, the company calls the design process for the Supra "function sculpting," and that's why I can't help but feel disappointed that so many of the car's design elements have no function at all. Fake vents abound on the new Supra, from the front bumper to the rear, hitting the fenders and doors along the way. The black lines are the scars from the plastic surgery required to make the FT-1 concept a reality. They are a shame and, as much as I love the red, I'd probably have to opt for a darker color to hide them. 

On the inside, there's not a lot to dislike, but it's here where the BMW parentage is most readily evident. From the door chime to the shifter to that twisty iDrive knob, it all feels a bit weird. BMW makes a fine interior, and this is nothing short of that, but it doesn't feel particularly Toyota. 

There are a few key elements, though, including the steering wheel, smaller and thinner than your typical Bavarian unit, and the gauge cluster, which is more focused and racier. The seats, too, strike a great balance between comfort and support. 

So many fake vents.

Toyota

Options and pricing

The 2020 Toyota Supra starts at $49,990, plus $930 destination. For that you get what's formally called the Supra 3.0. The next step up is called the 3.0 Premium, starting at $53,990. This replaces the Alcantara seat inserts on the base model with leather, adds a larger, 8.8-inch touchscreen (up from 6.4) and red-painted calipers that, interestingly, wrap around slightly larger discs at the rear (13.6 inches vs. 13.0 on the base 3.0).

Finally, there's the limited Launch Edition, for $55,250. This includes all the goodies of the 3.0 Premium and adds red mirror caps and red, leather interiors on those cars painted either black or white. Red is the third color available for the Launch Edition, but a host of other hues will be available for the regular cars to come

Every car comes with what Toyota calls Supra Safety, including a healthy mix of active safety systems like collision warning, automatic emergency braking and lane departure warning. Step up to the Driver Convenience Package and you get adaptive cruise and full lane-keep assist.

If you want CarPlay, you'll need to either go with the Premium model or opt for the upgraded infotainment system, which comes attached to a 500-watt JBL sound system and a head-up display. Android Auto is tragically not available, and a Toyota representative was mum on whether the company would charge an ongoing fee for continued access to CarPlay, one of the most egregious tack-ons from BMW. I sincerely hope Toyota finds a way around that.

Now, if you think that all sounds a bit spendy you're not wrong, but it's a huge value over what Toyota was charging for the last Supra Turbo here in the US. The base MKIV Turbo in 1998 started at about $40,000, which in today's money is over $62,000. Believe it or not, that was actually a $10,000 discount over the 1996 starting price of $50,000. That's nearly $80,000 in today's money.

Love it or hate it, you certainly can't ignore styling this aggressive. 

Toyota

Wrap-up

Toyota's new Supra is an incredibly divisive car. I get why, but to simply say that it's somehow flawed because it was developed in partnership with BMW ignores the fact that, if not for that partnership, there would be no new Supra at all.

It also ignores the fact that this is a damned fine car. Yes, I believe the styling could be cleaner, but maybe Toyota will take a cue from Chevrolet and make a few quick tweaks for next year. And yes, this car can feel a little too soft and maybe even too refined at times, but Supra historically has been a road-focused sports car and this new one fits quite nicely in that mold, offering far more power, poise and polish than previous generations. And let's not forget more value, too. 

If you want something more raw, don't worry: tuners worldwide are already weaving their magic, and if this first iteration finds good success, racier factory editions will almost surely come. Given the first-year allocation of Supra has already sold out in Japan and in Europe, I'd say Toyota's off to a good start. 


Editors' note: Travel costs related to this feature were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. While Roadshow accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews, all scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms.

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

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