For now, we’re going to focus on the car itself — the layer that ultimately matters most to those who might actually buy the thing. Putting aside (but not forgetting) its history and development, the 2020 Supra is an exceptional car: a rear-drive, two-seat sports car, which as chief engineer Tetsuya Tada explains, is defined by specific diminutive dimensions and an emphasis on performance and handling. That spurred the creation of the unique Supra/Z4 platform in the first place (rather than adapting an existing platform), and made it necessary to adapt/shrink the well-received ZT-1 concept’s look.
Its wheelbase (97.2 inches) and length (172.5) are virtually identical to a Porsche 718 Cayman’s — but its width and track are more than 2 inches wider. Like that car and unlike past Supras, it seats only two, albeit with sufficient space for someone taller than 6 feet. Its narrow cargo area can handle weekend getaway luggage, but isn’t nearly as capacious as a Corvette (or an A80 Supra).
You can feel the Supra’s size (or lack thereof) from the driver seat. The beltline is high, the greenhouse short and the clamshell hood stretches out before you, but it doesn’t overwhelm as similar long-hood/short-deck cars like a Mercedes-AMG GT can. It’s also balanced, with a 50:50 weight distribution that’s pretty much written into anything with Bavarian DNA, and possesses an eagerness to turn in smartly and rotate around you. Through longer arcing turns, you can feel what the car is doing through the seat of your pants and can steer with the responsive throttle. Along those lines, you can wag its tail and slide a bit when in Sport mode and with the traction control off. Shut stability control off and it’s possible to easily coerce and then hold a full-blown smoky slide, which is something chief test driver Herwig Daenens is obviously quite fond of.
We know, we went on several hot laps around West Virginia’s Summit Point Motorsports Park in the passenger seat with him. He smiled a lot. Being controllable at the limit and free from snap oversteer were priorities for both Daenens and Tada, who exclusively determined the Supra’s suspension tuning, steering feel and body rigidity. This is their baby, this is the way they want their sports cars to behave.
Their baby, though? What about all that BMW DNA? To quickly recall the car’s development, as described by Tada, once he and the BMW team decided to build a sports car — one a coupe, the other a convertible — they bashed together a new basic platform using a hacked up 2 Series. The BMW parts bin would be almost exclusively used for both cars. Once they settled on that platform, the teams split up to finish development, do their own tuning of various components and allow their respective design teams to create/adapt looks for them. Tada insists it was a clean break and that the goal was to not influence each other’s creation. While the teams in Germany and Japan would share information about certain problem-solving improvements, Tada said he took some suggestions (one resulting in improved NVH) and ignored many others (exhaust exuberance). When asked about differences with the Z4, he flatly stated, “I have no idea how they tuned their car,” but noted that after driving it he was impressed.
We feel similarly about the Supra, but to be perfectly honest, Summit Point isn’t exactly an ideal track for the Supra as it’s a little too slow and technical. A big part of that is the variable assist and variable ratio electric power steering. At slower speeds as at Summit Point, it’s very light regardless of drive setting (Normal or Sport), which isn’t inherently a problem, but in this case contributes to a sense of isolation between the steering wheel and tires. That particular attribute is common in modern BMWs, which perhaps speaks to the componentry used as opposed to the way it’s tuned. The fixed-ratio steering of a Toyota 86, also on hand at the track, provides extra heft and feel at such low speeds by contrast.
However, the Supra’s full range of talents emerged when we took it out to the countryside surrounding Summit Point. North of about 45 mph, steering weight increases and it’s particularly tight on-center. It also feels nothing like a BMW, which is a statement of fact as opposed to a judgment for better or worse. Through that tightness on center, it turns in quickly, and provides a greater sense of confidence than it does at lower speeds. It’s quite good. There’s also a discernible difference in effort between Normal and Sport mode.
This preference for higher speeds and winding roads makes sense, as it was extensively tested at the Nürburgring (a requirement for its GR middle initials) with its massive speeds and hardcore demands. However, it was also developed in the Swiss Alps where it faced the sort of broken pavement and mid-corner upheavals typical of any mountain road that can easily upset a suspension tuned for glass-smooth pavement. To deal with this, Tada explains, they made the chassis as rigid as possible and added compliance to the suspension (double-joint MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear). The Supra’s Toyota-tuned adaptive dampers help as well.
This setup has benefits and drawbacks. The Supra has sensational ride quality — something Tada insists is a happy byproduct of the compliant suspension and adaptive dampers. It sops up broken pavement that would make traveling in other sports cars rapidly tiresome. Its dimensions and chief engineer may say it’s not a GT car, but its ride quality certainly does a good impression of one.
But the suspension compliance that’s such a benefit on real-world pavement is a detriment on glass-smooth surfaces and the tight switchbacks of Summit Point. There’s just too much body motion. Ultimately, this is not a track car.
It’s not supposed to be, though, at least not in production guise. Tada’s team engineered the Supra to easily accept various modifications to improve its track performance. The sealed “vents” on the hood, doors and rear fascia can be made functional for enhanced cooling and aerodynamic improvements, albeit with some cutting and grinding. An area was left adjacent to the active differential for added cooling. Two vestigial mounting points attached to the front suspension towers are intended for a cross brace that can be added for the higher performance demands of racing or tuners. Similarly, the 2000GT-inspired double bubble roof and A80-inspired lip spoiler provide sufficient downforce for the car as-is (the ZT-1’s pop-up spoiler proved to be unnecessary), but engineers acknowledged that someone at some point for some reason is going to install a wing. To accommodate one, they reinforced the fenders bordering the lightweight, composite hatch that otherwise couldn’t possibly withstand the added downforce.
Tada also wasn’t exactly coy in his suggestion that hotter versions will be coming.
“The Supra you drove today is a birth, it’s the start,” said Tada, pictured below. “But it will grow and evolve,” much like Porsche does with its sports cars. Think the 718 Cayman begetting the Cayman GTS, Cayman T and Cayman GT4.
So far we’ve talked a lot about how the Supra is different from a BMW, but there are obvious massive commonalities. Every Toyota Supra has had an inline-six engine, which Tada considered an essential element. Developing a new inline-six was not feasible, and back in 2012 only one company made one: BMW. There’s more to the collaboration’s genesis than that, but it was certainly a key element.
As such, the GR Supra is only available in the United States with BMW’s new B58 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six. It produces 335 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque, which perhaps not coincidentally falls in between the Z4’s 255-horsepower turbo inline-four and 382-hp version of the same 3.0-liter engine. The Supra claims a 0-60-mph time of 4.1 seconds — the quickest production Toyota ever. A curb weight of 3,387 pounds certainly helps.
Unlike the Supra-specific steering and general driving feel, this engine feels 100% BMW — even considering a Toyota-specific throttle calibration and a sharper exhaust note that’s pleasantly reminiscent of the Lexus LC 500. It’s silky, torque-rich and responsive. It also suitably hammers you into your seat with a ferocity befitting a car called Supra. If you have a beef with this engine, it’ll entirely because of who made it rather than the way it performs. It seems unlikely most sports car buyers will care. Also, since when is a BMW engine a bad thing? It isn’t.
The mandatory eight-speed automatic transmission is similarly excellent in most situations, smartly and smoothly changing gears. Sport mode quickly produces rev-matched downshifts under braking, but there were times when dropping an extra cog beyond what the car selected was ultimately necessary and we ended up using the paddles. An even more aggressive Sport+ setting, not unlike those offered by the Lexus LC, Porsche’s PDK and various Mercedes-AMG models, would make it even better. Adding the option of a manual transmission would make it … well, slower, but also more engaging for the purists.
The BMW collaboration is most noticeable inside. Every button, knob and stalk was plucked from the BMW parts bin, right down to the iDrive electronics interface. The gauges are unique to Supra, but that’s only because the all-digital display allows for a different UI. The hardware is common. Is this a problem? Not really. Due to economies of scale, it would realistically be this or a bunch of switchgear from a Camry.
The seats and overall design are unique to Supra, however, and there are greater visual ties to a Lexus than to the Z4. We should also note the prominent padded leg brace that bridges the gap between center console and control stack. It looks like it would be confining, but it actually does a perfect job of keeping the driver’s right leg in place through turns.
Ultimately, the tie-up with BMW was done to make the Supra reasonably attainable. In today’s dollars, the A80 Supra would’ve been about $80,000, which as the Nissan GT-R shows, isn’t exactly an appealing price point for a sports car without a luxury badge. By contrast, the 2020 GR Supra starts at $50,920, including a $930 destination charge and ample standard equipment. Per the Toyota norm, accident avoidance tech is standard, but consists of BMW technology. A loaded Supra 3.0 Premium would top out at $56,115, which is about what you’d pay for a comparably equipped four-cylinder Z4 or the most basic 300-hp Cayman.
Its price therefore represents great value among the dwindling number of sports cars, but it’s certainly not cheap. Given its happy-byproduct ride quality and reasonably spacious cabin, though, that money isn’t necessarily going to just a weekend toy. Its superb ride means you could drive it to work or take it on a road trip, and its exceptional balance means you’ll have a helluva fun time in the process. Isn’t that more important than history and DNA?