Things can seem very different at 200 kilometres an hour, and Toyota’s new Supra is no exception.
Wailing up the back straight at the race track here, the wide floor sills that were a reach to step across were welcome: Apparently, they help make the chassis far more rigid, so more predictable just before the coming right-left S bend. That’s when it was time to stand on the brakes. They’d seemed grabby out on the country lanes to get here, but were now strong and linear.
And – horrors – the paddle-shifters for the eight-speed automatic ZF transmission were also welcome, snicking down three gears in a flash for the tight corner without removing a hand from the wheel or the left foot from the dead pedal.
The lack of a manual clutch on the Supra has been considered a big deal by Toyota purists, who yearn for the glory days of the fine-handling Japanese sports car. Toyota, however, is having none of it – at least, not for now. “Canadians like manual transmissions much more than Americans do, but we have to homologate product for different regions of the world and we’re part of that North American region,” says Stephen Beatty, corporate vice-president for Toyota Canada.
In other words, because there will only be 300 Supras imported to Canada this year, with just a couple available to most dealers, there’s not enough product to offer any variety outside of different colours. Not at this price, anyway.
There hasn’t been a new Supra for more than 20 years, but now Toyota can offer two track-day cars: the $30,000 Toyota 86 and the $65,000, fully-loaded Supra, developed with BMW. Its wheelbase and stance are identical to the drop-top Z4, since they’re built on the same platform and share suspension points, and they’re both powered by a 3.0-litre, turbocharged straight six. The BMW’s engine is tuned for more power, but the Toyota costs at least $10,000 less.
- Base price/as tested: $64,990
- Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-six
- Transmission/drive: 8-speed automatic / RWD
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.9 City, 7.7 Hwy., 8.9 Comb.
- Alternatives: BMW Z4, Genesis G70, Porsche Cayman, Chevrolet Corvette, Audi RS3
When a car has such a long-standing history as the Supra, which dates back 40 years to the original 110-horsepower A40 model, its looks are always going to be contentious. They have to be a combination of old and new. The four previous editions of the Supra weren’t that good looking, either, with pop-up headlights on the second generation and a massive spoiler on the fourth.
This latest model seems like a pretty good approach, however, and even includes a “double-bubble” roof that pays homage to the 2000 GT from 1967. Apparently, those two humps (which aren’t quite so pronounced inside) improve the aerodynamics of the roof; they also stick it a bit to the BMW Z4, which has a convertible cloth top. In other words, if there’s a roof, it might as well be a good one.
Very nice inside, angled toward the driver, as a car like this should be (because who really cares about the passenger)? There are only two colour schemes available, in stitched black or red leather, which is the premium option for American buyers. The central display touch screen seems a bit small at 8.8 inches, but it’s clear and easy to use. And that’s real carbon fibre on the central console around the transmission lever. Not much, because carbon fibre is very expensive, but enough to add a sporty touch.
Yes, it’s fast and fun to drive. On the track, with Sport Mode on to tighten the steering, quicken the shifts and firm up the adaptive suspension, and the baffles opened for a satisfying crackle from the pipes, it barely put a wheel wrong. The back end might slip out – might – but the standard Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires stuck to the hot asphalt with grip to spare. The active differential is electronically controlled, but allows a little more wiggle when set to Sport.
The big question is how it drives compared with the BMW Z4, which has an engine tuned for 382 hp, against the 335 hp of the Supra. On paper, the heavier Z4 is quicker by 0.2 seconds from zero-to-100 km/h (the Supra makes the sprint in 4.3 seconds), but the much closer margins of torque and extra stiffness of the Supra’s coupe chassis mean the two will probably be side to side through the corners. The Supra claims 365 lbs.-ft., while the Z4 claims 368. In practice, the better driver will always win, no matter which of the two cars he or she is driving.
On the road with the drive mode set back to normal, everything settles down, though the suspension is still fairly stiff. It would be better, though, to be able to open the baffles for that throatier sound without giving up the more comfortable ride.
As always, each new year of production brings additional hardware and software to make the drive a little safer and more convenient. The Supra comes with Toyota’s latest “Safety Sense” package of driver’s assistance, which includes better sensors and features such as adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking and active lane guidance.
It also includes Apple CarPlay, but does not include Android Auto. For the 2020 model year, almost all Toyotas will finally have Android Auto as standard, but not the Supra and not the Prius. It also does not include wireless phone charging. That’s unlikely to deter any potential buyers, though.
There’s space for a couple of carry-ons in the back, or maybe one full-size suitcase. Like you really care. What is good is that you can reach back from the cabin into the cargo area behind the seats to access a bag if needed.
The verdict: 9
The new Supra is an exceptional car and bags of fun to drive, both fast and slow. It’s too bad that Canada doesn’t get a cheaper, stripped-down version, as the Americans do, but apparently most buyers want the full-loaded version so that’s just nitpicking. Should you buy it over the Z4? That depends on whether you want a hard or soft roof, and if you want to spend the extra money – a lot of extra money – at the BMW dealership.
The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.
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