- Lewis Zhuo @lewiszhuo
2021 Toyota GR Supra 3.0 Premium - The Return of Supra?
“It’s not like if you make a good sports car it’s going to sell a lot. That’s not its existence; that’s not how it exists. Every car has its role within the larger scheme of things, and some cars are made for profit. Sports cars raise brand image, create more Toyota fans. We didn’t need to make a lot of profit, but we have to be even, if not a small margin or else we can’t sustain the dips and we’ll get cancelled. And you know, automotive manufacturing is not charity; it’s for profit.”
-Tetsuya Tada, Chief Engineer of the J29 Toyota Supra, in an interview with Hagerty
The Toyota Supra is a name that is recognized by pretty much every car enthusiast, whether it was from the Fast and Furious franchise, or even video games like Need for Speed.
During the late 80’s and early 90’s, the time when many great Japanese sports cars were made, Japan’s economy was booming and largely contributed to the willingness that Japanese auto manufacturers were to take risks and spend millions of R&D money developing sports cars. Sports cars, as we know, don’t usually make up a large portion of a car company's income but it is important in boosting a brand’s reputation, especially in the car enthusiast market.
During this time period was when the Mark III and more importantly, the famous Mark IV was developed. The Mark IV Supra was Toyota’s halo car that offered near supercar levels of performance, but in a more reliable and slightly more affordable package. It is a car that is still talked about and coveted today. The Supra, therefore, was truly a car for showcasing everything that Toyota was technologically capable of. But, largely due to the expense associated with developing and producing the Mark IV, it also sadly marked the end of the Supra line itself, and the Supra ceased production in 2002.
So with that lineage in mind, there were huge expectations that were put on Toyota when they developed the Mark V version of the Supra. This was further amplified with the introduction of the FT-1, the concept car that definitively confirmed that Toyota was, in fact, bringing back the Supra. As time went on, it was later revealed that this would be a joint venture between Toyota and BMW. Some people had concerns, hoping that the Supra would be 100% designed and built by Toyota, but others suggested that this could be the beginning of something great. After all, BMW makes impressive drivers’ cars and maybe Toyota could sprinkle in their legendary reliability.
However, in more recent years, BMW started making cars that were less focused on driver involvement; Toyota on the other hand, started developing fun, soulful alternatives to the German competition in the form of their Lexus F cars.
Knowing this, it was surprising that Toyota decided to let BMW completely take over the manufacturing of the Supra. Subaru and Scion/Toyota fans often debate about whether the BRZ/86/FRS is really a Subaru or a Toyota product. A good argument can be made for both. For example, the original prototype car that Toyota used to sell Subaru on the idea was actually a modified Subaru that Toyota put together. The engine is from Subaru but the transmission is from Toyota, as are many of the electronics inside, such that it’s at least possible to make the claim that the car is a 50/50 collaboration.
With the Supra, I didn’t quite know what to think. When I first stepped in, I adjusted the seats with what I immediately recognized as BMW seat controls. As someone that reviews many different automobiles, you quickly develop a sense of a brand’s identity. Every car company has its own unique feel, including small details like what font they use for lettering and numbers inside the vehicle. Some manufacturers even patent their font because it is that important of a part of their identity. Everything in the Supra, on the other hand, is distinctly from BMW, from the steering wheel, to the gear lever, to even the HVAC controls.
I was starting to worry about what Toyota contributed to the project. The entire car uses BMW parts that are then assembled by BMW (even if it’s through a contracting company in Austria, not Germany).
But then I started driving it. The Supra may be using hardware from someone else but it is calibrated by Toyota’s engineering team, who had a completely different vision of how the Supra should feel vs the Z4 that this car is built alongside of. And, indeed, this might be where Toyota’s contribution is felt most keenly. On top of calibration, Toyota engineers and designers also made significant inputs into the design of the platform itself; specifically, they emphasised the importance of the new Supra as a “pure sports car”. And, lo and behold, the Supra feels so much more engaging than BMWs from recent years, which is something that I often complain about.
The turbocharged 3.0 liter straight 6 is joyous, like it is in every BMW. That’s a great part to keep. The ZF-8 Speed is pretty decent, with fairly fast shifts, even if it decides to be slower during partial throttle inputs. It also does a good job of predicting what gear you need when in full auto mode, regardless of the drive type that’s selected. The brakes are also strong, it requires a little too little effort to press but they bite firmly at the top of the pedal and stop the car very confidently.
The driving position is also fantastic. When I started adjusting my seat, I pulled the steering wheel all the way towards me because that is typically how I have to setup the wheel. In this case, the steering wheel actually came out too far and I had to push it back a little bit. I do have to have the seat basically all the way back, but that’s just because I have poor posture. The position of the steering wheel relative to the pedals, relative to the seat is excellent. Visibility is pretty good looking forward as the dash is not too high up despite sitting so low. The rear ¾ visibility is tough, so make sure to get the option package with blind spot monitoring.
However, the real party piece and surprise of the Supra has to be the steering. I’ve complained about BMW steering for a very long time and the Supra is leaps and bounds better than what BMW puts into even their current M cars. The steering in the Supra is communicative, it’s weighted correctly in all modes and most importantly, there is no dead spot on center. This gives the car a certain edgy feeling that really makes the steering feel direct and responsive. It also means that this whole time, BMW didn’t forget how to make good components that contribute to a sporty, but also engaging driving experience, they just calibrated it incorrectly.
The Supra drives like a Supra should. It offers great comfort with fun driving dynamics. The chassis has great rigidity and feels balanced. The rear end is planted until you don’t want it to be at which point the car can rotate predictably on throttle. It may not be the supercar slayer that it used to be, but it’s also priced within reason for the performance that you get.
The philosophical question becomes, “Is this a real Supra?”. I wondered this endlessly while driving the car, trying to form a definitive conclusion. But I don’t think there is one, because there’s no way to be fair to both car enthusiasts and to Toyota. On one hand, I would’ve loved to see Toyota give it everything they got. This is not out of the question considering the Lexus F cars that they have put out over the years. At the same time, a car that is financially and efficiently developed, that doesn’t cause a manufacturer to lose money, allows for the long term production of a model. Sports cars are always a risk and if that financial risk can be minimized, then it’s more likely that model can be kept in production and also get redesigned for many generations to come. The new Supra may not be the type of car that will be talked about for decades and generations like the Mark IV was, but it’s a car that offers a balance between financial sense for the company as well as appealing to car enthusiasts. That gives it better sustainability, better than just “that one car that Toyota built once upon a time”.
Here’s the call to action for car enthusiasts though. You can’t say you wish Toyota built fun cars again, and then not buy them when they sell a fun car. It doesn’t work that way. Toyota is still a for-profit company at the end of the day and if they take the financial risk by pushing out a fun and sporty vehicle, you can’t just not buy it and then wonder why they stop selling these sporty vehicles. The Supra is here, it exists, and I am extremely happy for that. Having more sports cars on the market is always a good thing.
Here’s to hoping that this is just the beginning.
Full video review: https://youtu.be/tcyB2Lk2eyQ
Turbocharged straight six magnificence
Interior still feels BMW
Wireless CarPlay intermittently drops
Engine: 3.0L Twin-Scroll Single-Turbo DOHC 24-Valve Inline 6-Cylinder
Power: 382 hp @ 5,800 rpm
Torque: 368 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm
Transmission: 8-Speed Automatic
Fuel Economy (City/Highway/Comb.): 22/30/25 MPG
Wheelbase: 97.2 in
Curb Weight: 3,400 lbs
Base Price: $42,990 (2.0)
Price as Tested: $58,255 (3.0 Premium incl. dest.)