A Supra in spirit, a thrilling sports car by any other name.
The cash return on nostalgia can't be overestimated. Movies and television helped facilitate the concept of recycled ideas (and we see how well that's worked out), but a similar trend grips the modern auto industry. Automakers have attempted to capitalize on nostalgic sentimentality for years, and the 2020 Toyota Supra is the latest attempt.
But the Supra differs from other nameplates in that it isn't simply nostalgia for nostalgia's sake (looking at you, Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross). This is a genuinely transcendent product, pushing the limits of what's possible in a competitive class, albeit with a platform, engine, and interior borrowed from BMW. For fanboys, the idea of a Bavarian-built Supra (or, Austrian-built, technically) may be a tough sell. But get behind the wheel and the end result is a product that far exceeds any preconceived notions. Haters be damned.
Visually, the new Supra is no throwback. Sure, designers say the ducktail spoiler and double-bubble roof are nods to cars like the iconic fourth-gen Supra and 2000GT, but both claims feel like a stretch. The new Supra looks like a fully modern sports car, with nostalgia tossed mostly to the wayside when it comes to aesthetics.
The FT-1 Concept, which the company debuted in 2014, inspired the Supra’s angular nose and triple-vent grille openings, giving it a distinct head-on look. The side profile stands out as its best angle, revealing details of the many nooks and crannies it borrows (again) from the FT-1. In the rear, dual LED taillights, a central brake light, and dual exhaust tips on either side accentuate the Supra's wide stance. And it is wide, stretching out to 73 inches. For comparison, the Supra’s 86 sibling is 69.9 inches wide, and the Porsche 718 Cayman is 71.5 inches.
Gallery: 2020 Toyota Supra: First Drive
What you fail to see in most photos, though, is that the inlet vents (on the upper mesh on either side of the nose) are fake. The cooling ducts (just underneath the headlights) are fake too. Many of the visual cues aren't even functional. Instead, they merely attempt to give the body a more aggressive look. It feels superficial for a car that's otherwise extremely good looking.
Another glaring concern arises as soon as we open the door. The Supra shares nearly all of its key components with the BMW Z4 on which it's based. The iDrive controller, optional 8.8-inch touchscreen (a 6.5-inch screen is standard), and digital instrument cluster all carry over from the Bavarian brand. But disconnect the two, and this interior is hard to hate.
In typical BMW fashion, the Supra's technology is functional and easy to use. The iDrive display looks clean atop the dash, has crisp graphics, and features smartphone-esque touch responsiveness. On the highway is where we appreciate this cabin the most; the upscale interior and impressive sound deadening make the Supra an extremely comfortable place to sit. BMW parts aside, the Supra's cabin is a tech-focused, comfortable space that exceeds this car’s sub-$50,000 price tag.
The Supra stands out from its BMW brethren with elements like 14-way adjustable bucket seats that securely bolster while comfortably cradle, an optional 12-speaker JBL audio system that sounds fantastic, and some high-quality leather and carbon fiber materials on the dash and center console.
Built around BMW's ubiquitous turbocharged 3.0-liter engine, the Supra's inline-six lineage lives on. What we already love about BMW's inline-six in other applications – immediate power, lots of low-end torque, and eagerness at speed – carries over to the Supra where it puts down 335 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque. The Z4 with the same engine produces 382 hp and 369 lb-ft, although it's slower, taking 4.4 seconds to hit 60.
Between first and third gear, this is car stupid quick. There's a huge burst of power the moment you hit the gas, and all 365 pound-feet of twist arrive at just 1,600 RPM. The ZF eight-speed automatic clicks through the gears, decisively enough, as the Supra sprints to 60 miles per hour in a manufacturer-estimated 4.1 seconds. Based on our butt test, it feels a touch quicker.
The Supra feels a touch quicker than its 4.1-second, manufacturer-estimated sprint to 60 indicates.
The Supra's perfect 50/50 distribution, 3,397-pound curb weight, and BMW-sourced engine are all anyone really talks about. But don't disregard this car’s double-joint McPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension, nor its limited-slip rear differential. Those features are just as important to the Supra's character.
The electronically actuated diff transfers power laterally between the rear wheels – or simply, individual wheel – proactively as the car needs it. Independent wheel braking helps prevents the tires from breaking loose, allowing more speed in the corners, and keeps oversteer to a minimum. Still, these nannies are not over-intrusive and keep the backend lively and fun.
The Supra is solid and comfortable at highway speeds, or on any residential road, really. But in “Sport” mode, it’s is a different animal entirely. The onboard computer flexes its muscles like a bodybuilder, tightening steering input, throttle response, and suspension damping, and transforming the Supra from a relaxed cruiser into a corner-carving machine.
The Supra darts around twisty byways with enthusiasm, carrying speed. Its compact wheelbase, extremely wide track, and sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires give it loads of grip and cornering confidence only a handful of cars can match. Its 86 sibling (itself a rebadged Subaru) actually feels a touch more active at hand, but lacks half the same grip and falls short of the Supra’s nimble cornering technique.
Turn the traction setting to “Track” mode, and those same tight corners (soaking wet, during out test) turn into a hilarious Slip’N Slide. The Supra eagerly spins its tires and the engine howls as the traction light flashes just out of view. But the Supra never feels uncontrollable – only fun as hell.
This car has a bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde complex, though. While the Supra instantly wows us with its ability to tackle corners in one instance, then comfortably cushion imperfections the next, novice driver shouldn’t expect ease-of-use on track. Especially on a tight, twisty circuit like Summit Point where Toyota invited us to try it out.
The Supra has a bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde complex.
Botch the apex, and the Supra lets you know. The coupe tosses around its weight more willingly than tighter track-built road cars, and bucks on exit. Hammer the throttle, and the Supra hangs its ass out, tires chirping, steering wheel dancing in your hand, before the electronic diff and traction control reel you in. Get that same corner right (and we mean perfect), and the Supra rewards you with solid body control, blistering exit speed, and tons of grip from the tires.
The key to mastering this car is speed, notes chief engineer Tetsuya Tada. The Supra's touchy throttle practically forces you to keep your foot in it at all times or face the consequences. Additional downforce, firmer steering, and tighter adaptive dampers come to life at high speeds, but generally lay low at a lesser clip. All this is true of any car, but the Supra is less forgiving.
But intermediate drivers will still have fun with the Supra on the track. Tossing the car around ham-fistedly is a riot. The stamina of the engine pushes the car past 100 miles per hour on Summit Point's shortened back straight (in this case due to cones), but the big four-piston Brembo brake calipers and 13.7-inch rotors provide ample stopping power. Assuming you're able to subdue the Supra's aggressive tail wagging and can live with a lack of brake pedal feedback, it's a more than worthy track day companion.
The Supra is an absolute bargain when you consider its rivals. At $49,990 for the base 3.0 model (before the inevitable dealer markup), the Supra is more affordable than the Porsche Cayman ($55,300), BMW M2 ($58,900), and the Jaguar F-Type ($61,600). The Supra 3.0 Premium starts at $53,990, and packs on a few extra features like the larger 8.8-inch touchscreen display with wireless Apple CarPlay (though, it may cost an annual fee), and an upgraded JBL audio system. Options like adaptive cruise control, lane centering, parking sensors, and blind-spot monitoring can increase the price, but Toyota won't nickel and dime you to death like the BMW with which the Supra shares its platform.
The Supra is an absolute bargain when you consider its rivals.
Even though it doesn’t feel like a direct descendent to the iconic Mark IV, Toyota will still sell a ton of Supras simply because of its namesake. But even if the company went with "Solara" or "Echo," we'd be praising the Supra solely based on its performance merits. It’s seriously fun.
The turbocharged BMW inline-six is a gem. The car's on-road demeanor blends comfort and pleasure seamlessly, and with optional active safety tech, it even appeals to a wider range of consumers. On the track, though the Supra requires some talent to perfect, it's an absolutely entertaining car to toss around aimlessly. At under $50,000 to start, we can’t find many reasons to choose the competition.