Is the Toyota Supra 2.0 a sports car? Is it a GT cruiser? Is it as fast as it looks? Is it an intimidatingly large car or a relatively small one?
These simple questions are surprisingly difficult to answer with a degree of authority. Even after a full week and 650 miles behind the wheel of the new Supra, I don’t think I can quite make up my mind on any of them.
First, some context. Toyota already sells a version of the two-seat, front-engined, rear-wheel-drive Supra with a 3.0-liter straight six engine from BMW. But the car you see here, identical save for slightly smaller exhaust tips and wheels, has a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine, also from BMW. This change means a reduction in power from 340 horsepower to 258, while torque is down from 500Nm to 400, and the 0-60mph time is 5.2 instead of 4.3 seconds. The top speed remains the same, at 155mph. Crucially, weight is down by 105kg, to a still chunky 1,710kg.
The Supra 2.0 is priced from $43,090 in the US and £46,010 in the UK. The GR Supra 3.0 costs from $51,090 in the US and £54,365 in the UK.
The engine is not only lighter than the 3.0-liter, but shorter too, so weight is shifted closer towards the middle of the car instead of being slung out over the front axle. Beneficial in the corners for sure, but leaves the cheaper model looking a little under-endowed when you lift the hood.
Having not yet driven the 3.0-liter car, this 2.0 was my first experience of the new Supra. And, mostly, I really liked it. Before we get into the contentious drivetrain, there are the looks. This is subjective, but I think the Supra looks stunning. An outrageous and unapologetically Japanese slap in the face, this isn’t a car for the shy and retiring. Unlike the BMW Z4 with which it shares a chassis, the Supra – especially in the bright red of the car loaned to me – draws attention everywhere it goes. People gave the thumbs-up and took photos while I sat in London traffic. Everyone I met – socially-distanced through work events – pored over it, examining every detail.
Low slung, with a long bonnet and short rear end, you slide down low into a driver’s seat positioned back by the rear axle. At first it’s a touch intimidating, but thankfully the driving position is spot on, visibility is better than you might expect, and the car isn’t as large as it looks, slipping through London with ease and not taking up too much of its lane on the highway. So far, the Supra 2.0 feels like a sports car.
It even makes the right kind of noise. Not massively loud, and certainly benefiting from some audio augmentation from the sound system, it’s a decent soundtrack nonetheless, especially considering the four cylinders up front instead of six.
The eight-speed automatic ZF transmission shifts quickly and seems intelligent enough to keep itself out of trouble in regular driving, then turns things up a notch in Sport mode, seemingly egging you on by holding onto gears for longer and shifting down more aggressively when you brake. You can take control with paddles behind the wheel, but for the majority of the time you’re likely to leave it in automatic. The ratios feel quite long though, so realistically you’ve only got second and third gears to enjoy on a flowing country road before needing to rein it back in.
The jury is still out on whether “leave it in automatic” can be said in the review of a sports car, but I haven’t the time nor space to wade into that debate here.
Being 100kg down on its bigger brother is not to be sniffed at, and certainly the more affordable Supra is eager and precise on turn-in. But the loss of almost 100 horsepower means the performance can never quite sign the checks written by the way it looks. Its 5.2-second 0-62mph time is only a couple of tenths quicker than the Toyota GR Yaris. And while that car is lighter, all-wheel-drive, and blessed with astonishing traction off the line, the near-parity in performance between a hot-hatch and a muscular sports car like the Supra is far from comfortable for the latter.
Since the 2.0 Supra lacks the power of a full-fat sports car, I wondered instead if it could feasibly be used every day. With four lengthy work trips booked for my week with the car, I racked up over 600 miles in five days, most of them spent on the highway and in traffic. Not sports car territory, I grant you, but during that time I remained comfortable, satisfied and entertained. There’s enough space in the back for shopping, the cabin is quiet and refined enough at speed, the infotainment system is from BMW and being fitted with a smaller four-pot motor means this isn’t a lairy sports car with a drinking problem. Granted, I don’t have children, but I reckon the Supra could be my everyday car.
Much has been said about how the Supra borrows its interior from the BMW Z4 on which it is based. I personally don’t have a problem with this, as today’s BMW interiors and their intuitive iDrive infotainment systems are among the very best of any automaker. And I doubt a Supra buyer familiar with BMW hardware will step into their new car and be disappointed by the lack of Toyota switchgear.
It’s a sensible decision by both companies, and I didn’t once yearn for the infotainment screen clumsily surrounded by buttons that Toyota fits to the top of its own dashboards. So what if some parts are borrowed from BMW? Rolls-Royce has been using iDrive for years without complaint, and so too has Mini. All I would change is the steering wheel, which is too large and has a bland design that sits at odds with the rest of the car.
The Supra 2.0 doesn’t necessarily have the pants-on-fire performance to justify its styling. But how often do you honestly drive at eight- or nine-tenths? Or even at half of the car’s true capability? You probably sit in traffic, meander through town, cruise along the highway, and occasionally drop it to second and thread it with vigour down a country road. Then you nudge the gearbox back into automatic, dial back the suspension and steering to their softer settings, and resume whatever podcast you are binging this week.
That’s what I did with the Supra, and it fitted the bill perfectly. It looked great as I crept through city traffic, kept me comfortable on 100-mile highway drives and made me smile on the rare occasions circumstances allowed for more spirited driving. You may yearn for the soundtrack and smoothness of a six-cylinder motor, but the cost-saving here is significant and this generation of Supra was never a hard-edged sports car in the first place. As such, the smaller engine suits it surprisingly well.