The 2JZ engine. The fast and the furious. JDM. These are some of the terms synonymous with the Toyota Supra. What started out in the 1970s as a Japanese GT car has evolved into an automotive icon, adored by fans worldwide.
The iconic Mark IV Supra had its production run from 1993 to 2002. And in the 17 years since, the Supra has developed a cult following. Fans and enthusiasts have lusted after the return of the fabled halo car. So, it’s safe to say this new one has some big shoes to fill.
The Mark V Supra draws its inspiration from the Toyota FT-1 concept that came out back in 2014. That flashy curvy concept car with its big active rear wing, glass hood showing off the engine, massive exposed front vent fans, F1-inspired nose cone. That was a tad bit ostentatious.
While the production version is a lot more subdued, it retains several features from the concept car. Such as the unique headlamps with daytime running lights that extend toward the centre of the front fascia, the intake vents on the door, the flared rear hunches, and the front bumper, which is a more subtle recreation of the one seen on the FT-1.
I’ll admit I didn’t like the look of the Supra at first, but it’s the sort of thing that grows on you after you spend a little bit of time with it. When you start to notice the effort that went into the design of the car. The sculpted clamshell bonnet, the creases in the sides, the double-bubble roof, the vents (more on that later), and the muscular rear quarter. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And while I don’t think the Supra is beautiful, it sure is a striking looking thing.
In the cabin, there’s no getting past the slight “BMW-ness” of it. The dual-zone climate controls, the radio preset buttons, the iDrive infotainment system, and especially the headlight controls. Despite being built alongside the BMW Z4 in Austria, much of the switchgear in the Supra is lifted off BMW’s older models. And it shows.
Close your eyes and operate the controls, and you’d be hard-pressed to think you were in a Toyota. Even the chimes that echo through the cabin are identical to what you’d hear in a BMW sedan. Thankfully the wheel is spared the same treatment, with a thinner rim than its not-so-distant German cousins. Exclude the fact that the buttons themselves are Bavarian. Even the digital gauge cluster is from BMW, albeit with a piece of plastic trim that’s been tacked in the centre for the tachometer, and the indicator bars for your temperature and fuel gauge. But as a whole, the gauge cluster is vastly different from your bog-standard Beemer, and it’s a nice look that further differentiates itself from the Z4.
The cabin is dominated by a large centre console that uses copious amounts of carbon fibre, which Is surprisingly absent in other parts of the cabin. The infotainment dial (ahem, iDrive), the gear lever and the cluster of switches and buttons for the safety systems and drive modes are well spaced out. Though the sport button is especially large compared to all the other buttons in the car.
The seats are brilliant. All leather and Alcantara, styled like bucket seats. Throw in some electronic adjustment controls from BMW, you’ve got yourself a recipe for some great seats. They offer a wide range of adjustability and have ample supports and side bolsters should you toss this car about on a track or a winding road. But overall, the cabin is a comfortable place to be in. If you can look past the borrowed switchgear.
Under the clamshell hood is a BMW-sourced turbocharged straight-six engine, codenamed the B58. The same engine you’d find in a Z4 M40i. Or an M340i. So power figures are relatively similar; 335 horsepower and 500Nm of torque. All power is sent to the rear wheels via an 8-speed ZF torque converter automatic transmission. Toyota has also fettled with the underpinnings of the Supra, and it has different springs, and its front suspension setup has been heavily reworked by the engineers at Toyota so it delivers a different driving experience.
On the road, the Supra is a nimble little thing. Despite measuring in at 4379mm long, the car feels smaller than it actually is, helped along by its 50:50 weight distribution and low seating position. It almost feels as if the car is pivoting around your waist like a kayak. The suspension is compliant yet firm, and it rides rather well for a sports car. It’s no luxury cruiser or a grand tourer, but you could do long haul journeys in the Supra with no complaints. Checking your blind spots in the Supra is somewhat hampered due to the large B-pillars. But otherwise, visibility out the front and sides are excellent, despite the low roofline of the car. Unlike its predecessor, it does away with the two rear seats so you won’t have rear passengers bickering in the back about not having enough legroom.
Leave it in comfort mode, and the Supra is a well behaved, powerful car that belies its size. But chuck it into Sport mode, and the car livens up considerably. You’re met with a sudden rush of eagerness from the perky straight-six mounted up front, and the engine noise in the cabin goes up a fair few decibels. The dampers stiffen up, the throttle response sharpens, and the gears blip more savagely with more pops and crackles from the tailpipes. Put your foot down, and the engine kicks down a few gears and throws you back in your seat as the car surges forward with a surprising amount of force.
Hammering down a back road, the Toyota Supra feels stiff and composed, with no floaty body roll or understeer to contend with. Officially, the Supra does zero to 100km/h in 4.3 seconds. But several sources have stated that it actually performs quicker. I didn’t test it for two reasons; firstly, the Supra I drove was not equipped with launch control (before you ask, I tried). Secondly, space constraints inhibited me from faking a launch with a brake boost. But I’ll believe those performance figures.
What surprised me was the deftness at which the ZF 8-speed was able to switch gears. It might not have a dual-clutch transmission, but such a system wouldn’t have made a big difference for acceleration times. And the Supra doesn’t need a heavy transmission weighing it down.
Unlike other modern Japanese sports cars that have in excess of 500 horsepower (like the Nissan GT-R or Honda NSX for instance), the Toyota Supra stays relatively true to its roots. In some ways, it is a faithful recreation of the original Mark 4. Not much in the way of power gains, but it retains its potential for modification and tunability.
The engineers at Toyota even took car modification culture into consideration during their design process. Aiko Toyoda, President of the Toyota Motor Corporation, and the man behind Toyota’s stellar creations like the Toyota GT-86, Lexus LFA and Lexus ISF, took part in the 2019 24 hours of Nürburgring race in a Supra under a pseudonym. If ever you need proof of Toyota’s petrolhead roots, look no further than that.
As standard, the vents on the hood, doors and rear are blocked by faux plastic trim. But they can actually be removed and fitted with actual performance upgrades for airflow and cooling. There are plastic plugs in the door sills just aft of the door vent, which I suspect can be cut or removed to redirect air to the rear vents of the car. Even the strut towers in the engine bay have additional mounting points for strut bars. The potential for customization and modification in this car is incredible.
There have been many comparisons made between the BMW Z4 and the Toyota Supra. Sure, they were both built at the Magna Steyr plant in Austria, they both share an engine and chassis, they have incredibly similar dimensions. I’ve actually driven a Z4 M40i myself, and despite some commonalities, they are very different cars. The Supra is more edgy, visceral, louder, rawer, and brasher when you decide to be a little naughty behind the wheel. Performance-wise, the powerband figures for both cars are also different. The Toyota gets on the power quicker, and it turns more sharply than its Bavarian relative.
Many might fault the Toyota Supra for being too “continental”. Or being too German. Or worse, for being a BMW. But honestly, it’s not that sacrilegious to have a German engine in a Japanese car. Or any other car for that matter. The Mercedes McLaren SLR had a Mercedes engine and a McLaren chassis. The British-built Noble M600 had an engine built by Yamaha that was meant for a Volvo crossover. The W12 engine in a Bentley Continental is from a VW Phaeton. Even the legendary McLaren F1 had a BMW V12 in it too.
If you were to delve into Toyota’s own lineup, you’ll find that the Toyota GT-86 had a Subaru-designed boxer engine. But it sure didn’t cause as much of an uproar as the Supra does. So dropping one of the best straight-six engines in production into a Toyota, isn’t that big of a deal. You get the performance gains and the benefit of a well-engineered Japanese car.
It’s an astonishing thing, the Toyota Supra. The way it behaves, the way it looks, the way it feels. The boffins at Toyota have really carved out something special with a bunch of BMW parts and decades of motorsports know-how.
Is it a true sports car? Oh yes.
Is it worthy of the Supra badge? For me, yes it is.
Is it a rebirth or a remake? Now that’s a tougher question. To each their own, I suppose.
Words: Jay Tee
Photographs: Lawrence Loy