2020 Toyota GR Supra – Return of the Dragon

LA CAR gets an e-ticket ride with the latest incarnation of the legendary Toyota Supra thanks to mandatory quarantine and empty freeways. Verdict: It’s a veritable street fighter on wheels.

I was very excited to have a week in the 2020 Toyota GR Supra. I took delivery of the press car three days after L.A. County officials issued the “Safer at Home”-order stopping non-essential activities. If you’re going to start a historic quarantine due to a once in a century global pandemic, you could do a lot worse than getting a new GAZOO Racing Supra in Renaissance Red delivered to your house.

Though my test-drive mileage was limited, the lack of congestion amplified the enjoyment factor exponentially. Empty freeways made for several opportunities to let the Supra stretch its legs and make myself socially-distant from the few cars around me. Miss out on a chance to cruise around in arguably the most anticipated sports car of the year? No way.

Enter the Dragon: This impromptu shoot almost called for me to summon my kung-fu skills.

On the first day with the Supra, I waited until 10 o’clock at night and decided it should be OK to take the Supra around the neighborhood. I donned a mask, gloves, and hopped in — because # YOSO (You only Supra once). My trip around the block turned into a full-fledged jaunt down to Chinatown and DTLA for an impromptu road-test. I almost got jumped as I was taking pictures by the Bruce Lee Statue. Exit the Dragon! (note to self: if the zombie apocalypse comes, best to stay indoors at night.)

Rational decision-making gives way to thrill-seeking in a car this fun. There’s a lot to love in this car. It literally begs to be driven. That being said, if Toyota’s president and head GAZOO Racer were to give me a blank check, I’d have a few ideas for him for the next generation.

But First, Some Context

The much-anticipated 2020 GR Supra went on sale here in the U.S. in July of last year with a heavy dose of fanfare. For those who hold the Supra brand to a lofty standard, ever-building anticipation marked the past decade. Rumors, speculation, and most of all concept cars like the heavenly FT-1 whipped Supra fans into a frenzy.

FT-1 Concept, Photo Courtesy of Toyota
FT-1 Concept, Photo Courtesy of Toyota

Enter the fifth-generation Supra. From the moment it took the stage at the Detroit Auto Show in 2019, it’s grabbed attention and garnered trillions of keystrokes from #fanboys and #haters in internet forums across the globe.It is one of the most polarizing products that I’ve seen launched in recent memory, even more than the similarly-timed roll-out of the C8 Corvette. Usually, “polarizing” is used in automotive reviews because of either some fatal flaw  (generally, in styling) or because of some aspect that upsets the purist fanbase of a specific model.

Unleash the GAZOO Kraken
Unleash the GAZOO Kraken

For the Corvette, it’s that the wizards at GM decided to go against the grain and move the engine midship. For the Supra, it’s that Toyota chose to co-develop it with the BMW. The former improves handling potential. The latter enhances the business case for expanding Toyota’s product line. If you know the corporate world, you understand that fanboy passion alone doesn’t keep the lights on.

The Supra’s 3.0L turbocharged inline 6
The Supra’s 3.0L turbocharged inline 6

The Supra and Z4 share the same fundamental underpinnings, are built in the same Austrian plant by Magna Steyr, and beat with the same heart — a BMW in-line six. Some decried this as heresy, and if you’re interested in joining in the debate, you’ll have no shortage of forums to peruse and troll as you like.

Another word comes to mind when discussing the Supra: legendary. If you are at the intersection of the Children of the ’80s and Import Car Lovers Venne diagram– my friend, you are the target demographic for the A90 Supra. Your formative years were somewhere in between the third-generation A70 Supra with its ultimate ’80s styling and then-impressive 230 hp and the fourth-generation A80 Supra with its Ferrari-league design and indestructible 2JZ inline-six. The 2JZ was so iron-clad that it could be tuned to over 1000hp all day, so impressive that it’s become a brand unto itself in enthusiast circles.

Fourth-Generation (A80) Supra, Photo source: Wikipedia
Fourth-Generation (A80) Supra, Photo source: Wikipedia

With that as a backdrop, you can see how the Supra has a hard row to hoe. It’s tough to live up to your legend. Ask the new Acura NSX, which pumps out incredible performance stats compared to the original yet still comes up lacking a certain joie de vivre when compared by enthusiasts to the original. Context is everything. It’s simply harder to be earth-shattering in today’s sports car market. Just about every car has at least 200 horsepower, and a sub-4 second 0-60 time elicits a “so-what” response from potential buyers. If you’re going to make a mark, you have to bring your A-game, and Toyota has certainly done that this incarnation of the legend.

Exterior: Suprasize Me

If you can’t tell, I am the target demographic for the new Supra. A decade ago I bought an R35 GT-R for the very same reasons I would consider a Supra today: it was the latest iteration of an iconic supercar that I grew up aspiring to, it was within my budget (I’m certain my wife still disagrees), and I fell in love with the performance and some aspects of the styling.

That marvelous rear-3/4 view
That marvelous rear-3/4 view

The Supra checks a lot of boxes for me across the board. On the design front, like the GT-R, I love the rear and three-quarter rearview. I could write a hundred pages on the A-pillar on back if my teammates at LA Car indulged me. The design is captivating. In the week I had the Supra, I found myself continually stopping to look at it to find more details that I had missed on the previous inspections.

There are sweeping curves and organic transitions that seem to be dancing before your very eyes. Let’s take a moment to admire the execution of the integrated spoiler. Chief Designer Nobua Nakamura and his team nailed it. It’s a Choose Your Own Design Adventure starring the ducktail. Go High: Your eyes trace the path from the subtle bubble-top roofline back to the perfectly-angled hatch and voila: ducktail goodness. Go Low: Your eyes are drawn to the sinewy flanks over the rear wheels and voila again: ducktail perfection.

From the side, the Supra nails the “Golden Ratio” which measures the ratio of a wheelbase and track dimensions — said to optimize handling performance. Notably, it also is a mark of a beautiful sports coupe. Take a look and see the silhouette not only of Toyota’s legendary 2000GT, but also other notable coupes like the 240Z and my personal favorite the Ferrari 575M.

Classic sportscar proportions
Classic sportscar proportions

What about the front? Like the beloved FT-1 concept car, the Supra carries over the F1 nose and the in-your-face ailerons in black. The FT-1 featured functional intake vents on the grille and behind the door panel that became vestigial vents on the Supra. The Supra has an Achilles Hood — it’s pretty much just a flat slab of sheet metal with some fake vents in it. On a car where the hood represents 37% of the length (I measured), that’s a large area to fall flat on especially considering all of the complex and sinuous design cues going on from the A-pillar back.

No doubt, Nakamura and Company were constrained by the limitations that co-development with BMW brought to bear. Here’s the good news — Supra owners are like the Lambo owners of the JDM world. Finding a bone stock Supra is like copping a pallet of Purell for pre-March prices. Not going to happen. The minute the Supra hit the market everyone from legendary tuners HKS and GReddy to start-ups began dropping aftermarket parts to soup up your Supra (I could not resist. Forgive me). Install a wide-body kit and a carbon fiber hood with vents, and presto! chango! you have a front and back that look all business. Check out Toyota’s GR Supra Racing Concept, which along with their GT4 Supra will no doubt will inspire many tuners.

GR Supra Racing Concept. Photo courtesy of Toyota.
GR Supra Racing Concept. Photo courtesy of Toyota.

My biggest wish is that the Supra was, well, bigger. On a run to Longo Toyota to pick-up some parts, I spotted a GT-86 in the lot and saddled up to it. Check out the results — the big brother isn’t so much bigger.

GT86 vs. Supra
GT86 vs. Supra

Would it surprise you to know that the last Supra wasn’t that much bigger than the new one? The A90 Supra is only five inches shorter in length and two inches narrower.  So why was I thinking the Supra was too small? Perhaps because it is a whole foot shorter in length and over four inches narrower than the FT-1.  That car is closer in dimensions to the Lexus LC500. OK, so just take the Supra and stretch it out like you would in Photoshop. Easy fix for next time, right?

Here’s where reality comes in — to do so, our Hypothetical New Supra would probably cost at least $20K more than it does, move too few units to justify its existence, and we’re back at square one begging Toyota to make a Supra.

Interior: Basics with a Side of Bass

There are some tropes in automotive journalism that are just too spot-on to avoid in describing the Supra’s interior. I’m just going to rattle off the ones that apply to the Supra: jet fighter cockpit, driver-centric dashboard, bolstered seats. Check and double-check.

Before we get to the entertainment stack and the other creature comforts, let’s stay laser-focused: you buy a Supra because you enjoy driving. Anyone who has driven on track will tell you the most important things on the inside of the car to keep things shiny-side up are proper seating position and steering wheel control.

I give high praise to the Supra’s 14-way adjustable leather sport seats that are Bolstered with a capital B. They are heated but not ventilated, something inherited from the BMW side of the union. The Supra features interior bits from the 3 Series and BMW reserves posterior ventilation for customers of upscale models like the 5 Series and up. No matter, the seats do the trick for apex hunting, especially when paired with the Supra’s beefy steering wheel that is flat-bottom adjacent.

Photo courtesy of Toyota
Photo courtesy of Toyota

The full-color HUD and 8.8-inch programmable digital cluster do an excellent job of facilitating keeping those eyes up during spirited driving. Returning to the LC500 wish-list, it would be cool if the digital tach changed colors to a menacing red when Sport mode is engaged. Unlike completely changing the underlying chassis, methinks this is in the totally doable category.

Photo courtesy of Toyota
Photo courtesy of Toyota

Once the COVID-19 situation levels off, most Supra customers will be sitting in traffic in between touge battles. That’s where the entertainment comes in. Our tester came in the 3.0 Premium Trim and featured 8.8-in. touch-screen with Supra Command dial. Toyota stayed with their audio supplier JBL for the sound system. The 12-speaker JBL system is paired with a 500-watt amplifier that is plenty powerful. Audiophiles will appreciate JBL’s Clari-Fi technology which upsamples streaming music to sound almost as good as CD quality.

Other tech features include what you’d expect in a $53K+ halo car:  navigation, digital audio, Siris XM, and something that has become a must for this guy trapped in the iOS ecosystem — Apple CarPlay. Give me CarPlay and an open road, and the rest is extra credit to me at this point.

Photo courtesy of Toyota
Photo courtesy of Toyota

Speaking of your iPhone, the Supra Connect app allows you to control the locks and HVAC remotely from your iPhone. Charging options include a host of USB ports and Qi wireless charging. One nit: the clip uses to secure your phone in the “eBin” looks a bit prone to cracking off over the years, especially if your phone is protected in a bulkier case like mine.

Aesthetically the interior has a utilitarian feel to it, not unlike BMW and its Teutonic rivals. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in a dedicated sports car. In future iterations, I’d like to see more carbon fiber than just the immediate area surrounding the shift knob. Some matching carbon fiber across the dash, door panels, and paddle shifters would be a nice touch worthy of a car of the Supra’s stature in the Toyota line-up.

Performance: The Danger Zone

We often think about speed in terms of the feeling of being pinned against the back of your seat.  In the Supra, the accompanying sounds of speed are just as enjoyable to my ears. This is the first car that I’ve driven where I’m looking forward to slowing down, thanks to a beautiful thing called deceleration popping. I had the most fun in the Supra sprinting to the speed limit or thereabouts (safety first, kids) and then letting off the pedal. Pop-Pop-Burble! Oh, I could not get enough of that lovely sound.

How fast is the Supra? Scary fast. Early on, as I was getting used to it, I found myself giving it some gas to pass a car in open traffic and found myself on pace to enter the Danger Zone. You know, the speed where a ticket starts to put a real dent in your Supra savings plan. 335 horsepower and 365 lb-ft. of torque may not sound astronomical to you. But with over 100 pounds advantage over the old Supra, it’s more than enough for you to live out your Fast and Furious dreams.

Engage afterburners!
Engage afterburners!

Speaking of which, I once had access to a heavily-modified A80 Supra that was a movie car for the FF franchise. It was ridiculously fast in a straight line. But it wasn’t necessarily a cornering beast, nor did I feel very comfortable in it due to the crazy low body kit and the need to watch the temperature gauge at all times. The GR Supra is nothing like that. It is wicked fast in a straight line. It corners well, though I’d like another crack at testing that more. It is exceedingly reliable like all modern (unmodified) Toyotas. The most surprising discovery for me was just how comfortable and composed the Supra was in regular driving. Set it to Normal Mode, and it became just as docile as a Lexus GS. Still able to go supersonic at a moment’s notice, but just as happy to let me cruise along your merry way doing my best Kenny Loggins impersonation.

Bottom-Line: Time Will Tell

They say things get better with age. In the car world, that’s true for a select number of models. We can see the Supra’s iconic status building with every pristine fourth-generation Supra’s sale on Bring-a-Trailer even in the current environment.

If it were badged as a Celica and engineered to sell at the $35-40k range, the new Supra would be a slam dunk. For $53k+ and with the current dimensions, only time will tell if it appeals to enough buyers who are looking to regain a piece of their youth. While I am on the fence because I loved the FT-1 so much, I recognize this is one dynamic streetfighter of a car.

No matter what you call it, the GR Supra certainly delivers the performance and driving experience to be a contender to the throne.

For more information on the 2020 Toyota GR Supra, visit Toyota.com.

2020 Toyota GR Supra 3.0 Premium

Price as tested

$56,220 including Driver Assist Package and Delivery Processing and Handling Fee

Performance

Engine: 3.0L turbo inline 6-cylinder DOHC 24 valve

HP, Torque: 335 horsepower, 365 lb-ft.

Transmission: 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters

Suspension: Adaptive variable sport suspension

Wheels: 19″ forged aluminum twin five-spoke wheels

Tires: Michelin Pilot Super Sport – 255/35 ZR19, RR 275/35 ZR19

Luxury and Convenience

Display: Full-color HUD display, 8.8″ digital gauge display

Seats: Leather 14-way power & heated seats with driver memory

Touchscreen: 8.8″ touchscreen with navigation

Phone Integration: Wireless Apple CarPlay compatible, Wireless Charging

Entertainment: 12-speaker JBL Audio System with a 500-watt amplifier and Clari-Fi technology, AM/FM, available SiriusXM

 

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