A few years back, rumors began to swirl about a potential partnership between Toyota and BMW. At the beginning, there weren’t any concrete details other than the fact that both brands were working together on a sports car. Neither brand would commit to a specific model publicly just yet. However, we all knew what was coming — the return of the Toyota Supra.
For decades, the Supra was an automotive superstar; a Japanese, rear-wheel drive sports car with a kick-ass straight-six under the hood, drive going to the back and manual transmission in the middle. That superstardom earned a legendary status among car enthusiasts with the Mark IV generation, mostly thanks to the first Fast and Furious film. So the Supra has a very specific recipe and one that fans adore. Except, this new one strays from that recipe a bit.
This time, the Toyota Supra speaks better German than it does Japanese because it’s predominantly a BMW. Under its skin is a chassis co-developed by BMW, an engine sourced from BMW, a gearbox from ZF (a German company) and it’s built by Magna Steyr in Graz, Austria. While Toyota claims all of its tuning; suspension, steering and powertrain; were done in-house, it’s still more German than Japanese. The question is, though — does that really matter?
Not if it’s great to drive. That’s the question the Toyota Supra needs to answer; is the it actually any good to drive?
Japanese Soul but a German Heart
Under the hood lies a 3.0 liter turbocharged inline-six that makes 335 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. It must be said that my test car was a 2020 model-year, so it only had 335 horsepower. The new 2021 model-year car received a slight update and now makes 382 horsepower. That honestly doesn’t matter, though, as the 2020 Supra is plenty fast enough.
We’ve driven other BMWs with this engine before (internally known by BMW as the “B58” engine) and it’s always excellent. No different in the Supra. Power delivery is silky smooth, it makes punchy torque throughout the rev-range and even makes a great noise, even if it does sound a bit too BMW-like. Fun fact, if you roll down the windows, you actually hear a different sound than inside the cabin, due to BMW’s penchant for really fake speaker/exhaust trickery. It actually sounds like two different engine engines, inside and out, and the outside one sounds better. Much better.
Toyota chose BMW as a partner specifically because of its I6 engines, as the Supra has historically been powered by straight-six engines, so Toyota wanted to pick the best of them. It made the right choice. Compared to the 3.0 liter turbocharged V6 in the Audi S5, the Supra’s BMW engine has far more character, far less turbo-lag and a better noise.
That engine is paired to, what else, an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission. For Supra-duty, it’s sharp enough, though it could use a bit more urgency on downshifts, and always buttery smooth. Left to its own devices, it’s always in the right gear and is never left hunting, while also delivering shifts when you want them in manual mode. Though, seeing BMW paddle shifters behind the steering wheel is a bit of a letdown.
Thankfully, this setup works well in the Toyota Supra. It’s far fast enough for any enthusiasts and its power delivery seems to fit the car well. The only complaint, honestly, is that it should have a manual transmission option. A proper three-pedal ‘box would go a long way to making the Supra feel distinct and unique from BMW products, while also waking up the car’s fun-factor.
Is It A Good Sports Car?
Speaking of fun, the Toyota Supra can be a fun sports car. When you’re properly on it, on a twisty bit of road, it can really be a joy to drive. Its steering is lighter than you’ll find in most BMWs but it also feels more direct and offers more feedback. It’s not perfect but it’s pretty damn good.
Its chassis is also shockingly capable and very balanced. Its rear end pushes out slightly even through medium speed corners and always gives you that little rear-end squirm, to remind you that it does indeed send drive to the back. So on a twisty road, it’s a hoot.
However, when it’s time to calm down, it’s entirely sedate. In normal driving, there’s just nothing to get excited about and it feels like every other premium sports car, which is disappointing in a car that wears such an iconic nameplate. A Supra should feel like an even all the time, not just when you’re mobbing it.
Looks Like a Japanese Icon
Especially when it looks as good as it does. I saved the best part for last because the way the Toyota Supra looks is absolutely the best part of it. So many enthusiasts complain that it doesn’t feel Japanese enough and that’s probably true. However, it looks Japanese and it looks fantastic.
The 2020 Supra has some of the most exciting styling of any sports car on sale right now and it never failed to put a smile on my face. It looks distinctly Japanese and, even though it’s very different from every previous generation, it’s instantly recognizable as a Supra. Some fans are annoyed about all the fake vents but I don’t care as much. Sure, fake vents are annoying but when the end result looks this good, who honestly cares?
Everywhere the Supra went, it received neck-snapping head turns, waves, thumbs up and people egging me on to push it harder. Sure, its interior is a bit bland and lacks any sort of actual character, and an Audi S5’s cabin blows it away, however the exterior more than makes up for it. Everyone loved looking at it, everyone loved being around it and everyone loved that it simply existed.
As many complaints as there are about the Toyota Supra not feeling enough like a Supra and too much like a BMW, without BMW’s help it wouldn’t exist at all. So unless the Supra learned to speak German, it was forever doomed. A fact which really lightens the blow.
Plus, good food is good food, right? If you went to Munich and ate absolutely delicious sushi but it was prepared by a German chef, would it really matter? Same goes for sports cars. Does it really matter where it comes from? All that matters is that it’s a good sports car. So is the Supra a good sports car?
Well, yes and no. Objectively, yes, it’s a great sports car. It’s fast, fun to drive when pushed, extremely capable and looks absolutely incredible. However, it’s hum-drum to drive in everyday life and seems to suffer from an identity crisis. Having said that, we’re glad the Toyota Supra exists. Toyota has admitted that it wouldn’t have been made at all without a partnership with BMW. So we’d rather have it exist as half a BMW than not exist at all.