Payne: Toyota’s new Supra is fast, furious and ’fordable
The 2020 Toyota Supra may never have happened without Hollywood.
Three years after the last-generation Supra had been discontinued, the 2001 action film “The Fast and the Furious” cast the car as Paul Walker’s tire-burning co-star. The Japanese sports car became a mega-hit, more coveted in retirement than when new.
“Supra, Supra, Supra. It’s all we heard from dealers and fans, especially on social media,” says 2020 Supra chief engineer Tetsuya Tada. So in 2014 Toyota rolled out a jaw-dropping concept car at the Detroit auto show called the FT-1. Everyone knew it was a Supra tease. Social media went loco.
Five years later the new-generation Supra is finally here. It was worth the wait.
The sexy Supra has its father’s silver screen appeal. It’s a rockin’, sockin’ looker complete with its own glorious turbocharged six-cylinder soundtrack.
At full tilt on the back roads of Virginia and Summit Point Motorsports Park, Supra is addictive. Its quick, tail-happy handling has been tuned with the next “Fast and the Furious” sequel in mind. Its tail-kicking 365 pound-feet of torque comes on like a light switch at just 1,600 rpms. And its adjustable, bolstered seats will keep you comfy for hours of backroads fun.
But the new Supra has also learned from papa’s high-living ways with a smaller price tag and smaller, more-athletic chassis that should make it more accessible to more drivers. Call it fast, furious and ‘fordable.
From the green flag, Supra’s development team made no bones about its target: the Porsche Cayman/Boxster, the best-handling sports car on the planet for under $100,000.
Tag-teaming with the BMW Z4 Roadster — with which Supra shares its chassis and drivetrain — the pair double-team the Stuttgart star. The Bimmer takes on the drop-top Boxster, the Supra takes on the Cayman coupe.
High-five Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda. Overnight, we sports-car junkies have seen our choices double. And at a more affordable price. When the Supra bowed out in '98, it carried a Cayman-like price tag (adjusted for inflation). While the comparable, inline-6 powered BMW will be priced closer to the Boxster at $63,000, the Supra will cost 10 grand below Cayman (with an even cheaper turbo-4 version possible, too) with more standard features and two more cylinders.
Those two pistons are crucial.
The Cayman once boasted one of the best soundtracks in the sports car genre. Its normally-aspirated, flat-6 mill was heaven at high revs. But Porsche has succumbed to Europe’s green nannies and stuffed the current, so-called 718 generation Cayman with a flat turbo-4. It hits all the performance targets but sounds like, well, an angry VW bug. Fast and ... not so furious.
Enter the Supra and its BMW-sourced inline-6.
It's muffled a bit by its (torque-tastic) turbo, yes, but Toyota has tuned it to the nines with an aggressive note on start-up, piped in cabin sound, and — BRAAAP! — a gargling, farting backfire when you let off the gas.
“Not so fuel-efficient,” says Tada-san, “but it sounds great.” Now that’s a sports car. Let Toyota’s hybrid sedans appease the nannies. Its halo sports car is box-office beefcake.
So how does the Supra measure up to the Cayman on track?
They are surprisingly different, even though the Supra was baselined to the Cayman S and boasts a lower center-of-gravity. It's even lower than its cheaper sibling, the Toyota 86 with a boxer-4 engine, heretofore autodom’s low-CG standard.
The Cayman feels like it's on rails around fast turns. Its mid-engine chassis is resistant to the driver’s efforts to hang the tail out. Its dual-clutch transmission is ultra precise, with rapid-fire up/down shifts. Porsche carves apexes like a scalpel.
The Supra, on the other hand, encourages drifting. Tada-san and team tuned the chassis with amateur racers in mind. Miss your turn-in? The Supra’s neutral handling responds aggressively to steering input to rotate the car quickly. The result is a car that — with huge, sticky 10-inch front and 11-inch rear Michelin Supersports — is a joy to drive sideways.
It’s not the fastest way around the track — but it will put a grin on your face. I had to discipline myself around Summit’s tight, Shenandoah Race Track not to hang it out everywhere.
Physics also plays a role. At nearly 3,400 pounds the Toyota is closer to a V-6 Camaro than the 2,888-pound Cayman. As a result, the Supra has more mass to control through corners and is jouncier over severe road undulations. Indeed, the Supra’s speed (117 mph at the end of Summit’s back straight compared to 98 for the Toyota 86) and whippy handling mean some drivers will prefer Toyota’s tidier, 201-horse brother.
Give the handling medal to Porsche — but give the passion prize to Supra.
That passion is underlined by the inline-6. The single-clutch eight-speed transmission doesn't match Cayman’s sophisticated dual-clutch tranny, but it’s so good you won’t miss the lack of manual option. It keeps you in the meat of the 6’s torrid torque band all the time.
The emotion continues in the styling, which shames Paul Walker’s ol’ high-wing Supra.
I swooned over the FT-1’s nose, which appeared to have been taken right off a Ferrari F1 car. The snout has been modified a bit to accommodate engine air-intake needs, but the finished product is uniquely Toyota and very racy (see if you can tell where the bumper structure runs).
That aggressive look continues across the twin-bubble roof, rocker panels and muscular rear shoulders — my favorite view of the car. It’s a panther ready to pounce. And that big hatchback easily swallowed my luggage, plus a golf bag if that’s your game.
Inside, BMW prevails — which ain't a bad thing. The remote rotary infotainment dial is very good, as is Bimmer's monostable shifter. Toyota's own digital display is properly racy.
Typical of Japanese exterior design these days, the Supra is bristling with fake air ports. But Toyota says they are properly located should tuners want to modify them to get more downforce/engine capability from the car.
Racing, by the way, is integral to Supra. Its “GR” trunk badge references Toyota’s Gazoo Racing team, with plans to enter the car in GT series across the globe. But with its combination of long torque band and short wheelbase, Michigan enthusiasts will find they can push the envelope of the production car on rural roads as well as on track.
Toyota now joins Chevy with a pair of accessible sports cars ranging from the $27,000 86 to the rockin’ Supra.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in "The Fast and the Furious 9."
2020 Toyota Supra
Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, 2-passenger sports car
Price: $50,920 base, including $930 destination fee ($56,115 3.0 Premium trim and rare $57,375 Launch Edition as tested)
Powerplant: 335 horsepower, 365 pound-feet of torque, turbocharged inline 6-cylinder
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Performance: 4.1-second zero-60 (mfr.); 155 mph top speed
Weight: 3,397 pounds
Fuel economy: EPA 24 city/31 highway/24 combined
Highs: Hot bod; obnoxious, snarling inline-6
Lows: Porky; tight fit for a big dude with helmet
Overall: 4 stars
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.