The Toyota GR Supra is an enthusiast’s car. There’s no other way to describe it: It has a niche market of those who appreciate sports cars, and who like Toyotas, and who can afford one. It is not merely transportation.
To prove the point, it’s available this year with a six-speed manual transmission, provided you opt for the larger three-litre engine. There’s still an eight-speed automatic for the same $69,000 starting price, which is bound to be quicker and easier around any track, and more comfortable on the commute through city traffic. There’s also a two-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that is not as powerful but lighter, and costs about $11,500 less.
My tester car is the A91-MT edition that’s only available with a manual. It costs an extra $1,630 and is limited to 50 units that will only be sold this model year, with a red strut tower brace, special wheels and distinct interior colours. It’s probably already sold out.
After all, the typical Supra driver is an enthusiast who doesn’t care about city commutes. The car will come into its own on the weekend, and if the intention is to drive swiftly on country roads, or very swiftly on a race track, then the well-balanced Toyota will provide the seat-of-the-pants experience it’s designed for. The stick shift will put a little more control into the hands of the driver, for better or worse – more often than not, the automatic will do a better job, while using less gas, too.
This is sacrilege for a professional driver to admit, of course, but the truth is out there. The eight-speed automatic will shift faster between gears that are more closely aligned, either with the flick of a steering-wheel paddle or just by leaving it to the software to select. Do Formula One drivers use a stick shift? Of course not. They know nothing can beat the few milliseconds it takes for a computer to switch gears.
Having said that, it’s remarkably satisfying to row your way effectively through the gears of a manual transmission, especially one as well put together as in the Supra. It lets the driver feel as if they are a part of the machine itself, not just a supervisor pointing it in the right direction and hitting the throttle or brakes, but actually helping to control that speed.
The Supra’s new gearbox is designed just for the car. Engineers apparently modified an existing transmission, lightening it and strengthening the diaphragm spring. They also created new software to make sure the engine speed is at its peak for maximum available torque when the clutch is released, and to blip the throttle when downshifting for a smoother exchange. This can be turned off, of course, but only the most belligerent Luddite would want to do so.
And wait – there’s more. Those same engineers tweaked the traction control to allow more slippage of the individual rear driving wheels around corners, with even more freewheeling when the “Hairpin+” driving mode is activated. Most important, there’s now an anti-roll program for both the manual and the automatic that kicks in earlier when the suspension is set to its stiffest option. This helps deal with the well-documented problem of the car’s wheels slipping suddenly, with little warning, when pushed to their limits.
I didn’t take the GR Supra onto a track to determine if the issue really is now solved. The fan forums seem optimistic. It’s enough to know that the manual transmission is effective and works really well. All my shifts were smooth – thank you, software – and passengers assumed I was heel-and-toeing it like Fangio. Of course, I was doing nothing of the sort, but I was enjoying the drive.
As gas-powered cars head toward the sunset over the next decade, automatic transmissions shift more quickly, and continuously variable transmissions save more fuel, then manual transmissions will become progressively harder to find. The fact that the Supra’s manual transmission is an especially good one is a bonus for anyone still wanting a leather-wrapped gear knob in the hand, and three pedals down at the feet.
2023 Toyota GR Supra 3.0-litre MT
- Base price/as tested: $69,000/$70,758.70, plus $1,860 for freight and PDI, plus taxes
- Engine: Three-litre turbocharged inline-six, 382 horsepower, 367 lb-ft of torque
- Transmission/drive: Eight-speed automatic or 6-speed manual/rear-wheel drive
- Fuel consumption (litres per 100 kilometres): Automatic: 10.2 city, 7.7 highway, 9.1 combined; Manual: 12.7 city, 8.8 highway, 10.9 combined
- Alternatives: Nissan Z, BMW Z4, BMW M2, Genesis G70, Porsche 718
There’s no doubt the Supra looks fast, with a long hood, wide grille and “double-bubble” roof. The rear spoiler is relatively discreet, unlike the extended spoiler of the previous generation, and apparently it’s quite effective for suppressing body lift.
Those cool, slim windows that look so good from the outside become a curse on the inside if you actually want to look out of them. The driver’s field of vision is limited, so it’s good that the car includes a backup camera and blind-spot monitor as standard equipment. The cabin itself is comfortable and well-finished – similar to the BMW-quality cabin of the Z4 that shares much of the Supra’s technology. And yes, the leather-wrapped shifter knob of the manual transmission is a pleasure to hold.
The Supra is a halo car for Toyota. You can have about as much fun on the street or any track in a 228-horsepower Toyota GR86, which will also give you rear-wheel drive and a manual transmission at half the price, but the Supra is more serious. Toyota claims acceleration from zero to 100 kilometres an hour of 4.4 seconds for the stick shift. The automatic will do the job 0.3 seconds quicker, but try not to think about that.
Toyota’s generous when it comes to driver’s assistance, and the Supra is no exception. Precollision and lane-departure warning with steering assistance is standard, though there’s no dynamic radar cruise control with the stick shift. It does include sonar warnings for front and rear clearance, which aren’t available with the automatic transmission, to protect you from embarrassing crunches against the low concrete berms in parking lots.
A security alarm and immobilizer are standard equipment, but of course, if you have a stick shift, you’ve already protected the car from the vast majority of joyriding thieves who have no idea how to drive it.
There’s 289 litres of room in the trunk. That’s not much, but it’s not so bad when you compare it with other two-seater sports cars. It’s more than twice as large as the trunk in a Mazda MX-5, for example, and big enough for at least a couple of carry-on bags and a pair of jackets. As for storage space in the front, forget about it.
The Supra seems best suited to its new manual transmission. It’s a rewarding drive to shift your own gears and feel a part of such a capable sports car. And if you take it to a track, you can always blame your slower speeds on valuing the purist experience over everything else.