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2020 Toyota Supra Test Drive Review
The Supra returns with better performance than ever before, but it leans heavily on BMW for everything but its exterior styling. Should that matter?
The 2020 Toyota GR Supra is one of the most eagerly anticipated cars of this year. One could argue the all-new, mid-engine Chevrolet Corvette made a bigger splash, but that came seemingly out of nowhere. The hype train for the new Supra left the station back when Toyota’s FT-1 Concept bowed in 2014. And now that it’s back, we’re very excited.
But along the way, certain announcements and press releases arrived, and rumors began of a team-up with BMW for the engine and eventually even the chassis. According to Toyota, it would have cost a billion dollars to develop its own turbocharged inline 6-cylinder engine for the Supra, and BMW happens to be really good at making those. Considering the straight six was a core component of the Supra’s heritage, it was a natural partnership. But for the chassis, too? At some point, when does this stop being a Toyota and instead become just a rebadged and re-skinned BMW? After a 22-year absence in the States, it would have been nice to see a completely homegrown Toyota sports car.
This criticism is not unfounded, especially since this is allegedly such an important car for Toyota. Partnerships like this happen all the time in the industry, but as we’ll explore in the following chapters, seldom is the DNA of one automaker so evident in another’s vehicle. We needed to find out if the Supra’s driving dynamics make up for its controversy, and the only way to get to the heart of this vehicle was on the track.
Look and Feel
As mentioned, the new Supra is a pretty faithful representation of the FT-1 Concept from 2014, but with more realistic proportions. I was never in love with the front end of the FT-1, and frankly, even in production form, it feels a bit too busy. The bulbous nose and fin-like lower front valence are reminiscent of a svelte Mercedes-Benz SLR-McLaren. But the Supra's design would look a lot cleaner if the front end was smoother, if it featured fewer vents, and if it included a high-back spoiler, like on the Mark IV Supra from the 1990s. In fact, such concepts and aftermarket projects are already popping up on the web.
That said, the new Supra looks much better in person than it does in photos. The design appears almost organic in the way the rear fenders flow into the ducktail rear spoiler. And, really, any qualms I may have with the styling are utterly moot when presented to the court of public opinion. People absolutely love this car. In just a week driving the Supra, I was stopped in parking lots and gas stations and honked at on the road. People are excited about this car, and they always say something to the effect of “I had one right after college” or “I loved this car when I was a kid!”
But for a car so important to Toyota, things look distinctively un-Toyota when you slide into the cozy two-passenger cabin. The floating center touchscreen, the shifter, and the rotary-dial controller in the center console are all out of the BMW parts bin. While the 2020 BMW Z4’s interior details might be a bit more upscale, these are distinctly BMW components, including the look and feel of all the digital screens. Toyota changed just enough to ensure the Supra did not look like a new Z4, but it still looks like a BMW.
Toyota offers the Supra in two trims: 3.0 (base) and 3.0 Premium. There is also a Launch Edition, of which Toyota will build 1,500 examples. The base Supra comes standard with 19-inch wheels, Michelin high-performance tires, LED head- and taillights, and remote keyless entry. Inside, the Supra comes standard with 14-way sport bucket seats, push-button start, dual-zone climate control, and Bluetooth and USB connectivity. It also comes with a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system and a suite of driver-assistance features.
Moving to the Premium adds heated leather seats, a 12-speaker JBL sound system, wireless phone charging, wireless Apple CarPlay, and a head-up display. There is only one major option package on the Supra, exclusive to the Premium trim, which includes additional driver-assistance features.
Finally, there’s the Launch Edition, limited to just 1,500 examples. These are the first 1,500 vehicles to roll off the assembly line (which is located in Austria, by the way). It’s basically a Premium trim, available in red, black, or white. It also gets red mirror covers, 19-inch matte black wheels, and red leather upholstery.
Okay, before we can talk about the Supra’s performance, let's talk about the gauntlet set before us. Located in Central Massachusetts, Palmer Motorsports Park has 14 turns cut into a hillside, resulting in more than 500 feet of elevation change. With plenty of switchbacks and undulating turns, it’s the perfect place to wring out a rear-wheel-drive (RWD) sports coupe like the 2020 Toyota GR Supra.
Under the hood lives a 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder engine, set far enough back to yield a perfect 50:50 weight distribution. With the help of a twin-scroll turbo, this engine makes 335 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque. A quick search around the Internet will reveal that some early dyno testing by YouTubers has yielded even higher numbers. And if you’re familiar with BMW inline-six engines, that’s not totally surprising.
An 8-speed automatic transmission routes power to the rear wheels. You can operate it via paddle shifters or a Sport mode, but there is no manual transmission option. And, aside from the BMW/Toyota interior criticisms, that has probably been the biggest source of ire from would-be shoppers. I can count myself among those lamenting the dearth of manual-transmission options in new cars, but for the common sedan or crossover, automatics have become the more efficient option, and thus it’s illogical to offer a manual. For limited-run sports cars, it doesn’t make a ton of financial sense to develop a manual and an automatic variant. Since Toyota went to a completely different automaker for nearly the entire car, developing a manual transmission was just never in the cards.
But here’s the thing: On a track like Palmer, you don’t miss the manual. Palmer Motorsport Park has a collection of twists, turns, rises, and dips that require you to be supremely focused on braking zones and corner apexes. While a manual might be more engaging for back roads, paddle-shifters really are a tool for the track-focused driver.
And speaking of track-focused, we should address the “GR” in the Toyota GR Supra’s name. It’s short for Gazoo Racing, which is Toyota’s road racing program. It won the 24 Hours of Le Mans the last two years, which is one of the most grueling motorsport events in the world. The “GR” signifies that the Supra has been tuned by Gazoo, and these are the right people to be sorting out any car, even a BMW.
One thing that’s interesting to note is how far back the driver and front passenger sit. The seats are pretty much against the rear wheel well, so the driver actually needs to consider this when timing turns. This might manifest itself more on a track, but even on back roads, it’s apparent.
The 2020 Toyota GR Supra returns fuel economy of 24 mpg city, 31 highway, 26 combined. In a week of combined city and highway driving, we observed fuel economy of 17.1 mpg. I’d like to say that was from our time at the track, but that was actually observed before we even arrived at Palmer. We had the Supra in Sport mode the whole time, which will definitely bring down fuel-economy numbers.
Of course, if the Supra were some 700-horsepower super coupe, its fuel economy would be even worse. And that leads into what I love most about the Supra—it’s not some high-horsepower grand tourer. A true driver’s car doesn’t need that much power, and anything over 500 horsepower is overkill. Frankly, the ideal sports car has something around 350 horsepower and a true focus on cornering abilities. This car delivers that in spades.
Form and Function
Getting into a sports car smoothly always takes a little practice. The first two times I tried getting into the Supra, I slammed my head against the roof. You have to put one foot into the cabin, tilt your body slightly, dip your head, and slide in. It also helps to put a hand on the upper doorjamb when getting in and out.
Once in the Supra, it’s intimate, but not totally cramped. The seat has enough room to adjust, even for my 6-foot-3-inch frame. You get two cupholders, which are set back by your elbow. Be aware of them, or your elbow will inadvertently squish a plastic Starbucks cup on entry or exit.
The Supra’s cabin has tiny storage trays in the doors, behind the cupholders, and in the center console. These aren’t adequate for large items, but luckily, there’s open passage behind the seats into the rear hatch area. That provides 10.2 cubic feet of cargo space, which is good for a few weekend bags.
The Supra comes standard with an infotainment system that is operated via touchscreen or by a rotary dial next to the shifter. There’s no getting around it: This is BMW iDrive. Thankfully, iDrive has gotten much easier to use in recent years, including its base setup, which employs a 6.5-inch screen.
The Premium and Launch Editions get a larger 8.8-inch touchscreen and wireless device charging, which happens in a “holster” so your device won’t go flying during hard cornering. The Premium also gets wireless Apple CarPlay. You connect via Bluetooth, and that’s it—no need for cables.
And while the Supra’s BMW DNA helps with the wireless CarPlay, it does have a potential downside. In a bit of highway robbery, BMW charges its customers $80 a year for CarPlay, and Toyota originally planned to pass that cost on to Supra owners. Keep in mind that Apple CarPlay is free from most major mass-market automakers, including Ford, Chevrolet, Kia, Hyundai, Subaru, and more. Toyota says it will cover the first four years, and then you are on your own. Supra second owners will have plenty of fun contacting BMW to figure out where they need to send a check to keep CarPlay activated.
Standard driver-assistance features include forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning with steering assist, pedestrian detection, automatic high beams, and rain-sensing wipers. These join standard safety features such as a backup camera, traction control, a tire-pressure monitoring system, and front- and side-impact airbags.
The Premium trim adds a head-up display, and all trims are available with a Driver Assist Package. It includes adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and front and rear parking sensors.
Base MSRP for the 2020 Toyota GR Supra is $49,990. A Premium trim starts at $53,990, and the Premium Launch Edition starts at $55,250. Our Premium test model with the Driver Assist Package, floor mats, and destination fee, came in at $56,220.
When you get chassis dynamics and power delivery this right, the result is pure driving joy. All the criticisms out there regarding the Supra’s BMW parts sharing or the nickel-and-diming BMW does for Apple CarPlay simply don’t matter when you are completely and entirely consumed with mastering each turn of a track, especially one as technical as Palmer. But not everyone gets to take the Supra to the track, and on back roads, you will still appreciate all this car provides in terms of driving experience.
But when you do park the car, your heart rate will come down, and you’ll start to notice the BMW parts again. It might seem weird that we’d have a beef with a Toyota that has an engine, chassis, and interior borrowed from a more upscale car brand. And it might be crazy to have this beef, knowing that in doing so, Toyota was able to keep the price of the Supra down. But based on the excitement people had for this car when they approached us, the Supra is special, and it’s supposed to be special to Toyota. I think if the company had put a bit more resources into making the cabin more its own, it would have avoided this whole line of criticism. Thankfully, the drive is so good, it’ll almost make you forget about all that… almost.
From open-wheel racecars to specialty off-road vehicles, George Kennedy has driven it all. A career automotive journalist, George has been a contributor, editor, and/or producer at some of the most respected publications and outlets, including Consumer Reports, the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, Autoblog.com, Hemmings Classic Wheels, BoldRide.com, the Providence Journal, and WheelsTV.
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