Simplicity isn’t what it used to be. Modern demands make the age-old recipe harder than it used to be. That is: A bit of motor up front and power to the rear wheels, with a row-your-own shifter in between.
Despite countless declarations in our comments section, stripping a car out to almost nothing doesn’t seem to move metal. Buyers want at least some comfort, convenience or tech features… Keeping up with the Joneses, I suppose.
So, how does that relate to the 2020 Toyota GR Supra GTS? Well, Toyota hasn’t made a simple sports car, but at the same time it has not made an overly complicated one either.
The GR Supra is, put simply, fun. Big fun. Get in and drive fun without the need to wade through endless settings, multi-mode controls and maximum-attack menus. There is a choice of Normal or Sport modes; the former is good for wading through crawling traffic, and the latter ought to be the default.
Yeah, yeah. There’s an elephant in the room: the BMW connection. Were it not a shared Z4 chassis, straight-six engine, ZF automatic and a raft of Bavarian bits, the Supra wouldn’t exist.
Toyota doesn’t try to hide that, not in the slightest. Its promo materials are upfront about the connection, and execs have gone on the record to say that without the co-development program, there simply wouldn’t be a Supra at all.
If I see one more ‘but where’s the 2JZ?’ post on a forum, or ‘Toyota shoulda made its own engine’ or any variation of, I’ll scream. Yeah, Toyota’s own inline six was, and still is, a phenomenal engine, and with almost 30 years of aftermarket development work done to it, you can pull some pretty wild figures from one.
Without the stringent emissions controls in place today, the brawniest of two-jays made as much as 243kW and 441Nm in Europe, or 206kW (yeah, right) and 454Nm in Japan. Despite a decade and a half having passed since the old generation bowed out, the new Supra's outputs are a moderately better 250kW at 5000–6000rpm and 500Nm from 1600–4500rpm.
Capacity is still capped at 3.0 litres, but this time from BMW’s B58B30 engine. Forced induction comes via a twin-scroll single turbo.
That power is then passed onto an eight-speed automatic. It’s a conventional torque converter design – no flashy dual-clutch tech here – and power is put to ground with the help of a limited-slip differential.
So far, so good, but stats don’t even tell half the story.
Punch the starter button and the GR Supra’s deep-buzz idle nicely straddles the line between assertive and unassuming. It’s not a window-rattling throb-monster, though the aftermarket could help you there if you wanted, but for a factory six it's decent.
The set-up then leads you into a sports car that absolutely nails the sporting brief. Slip it into drive and edge into the traffic, and the Supra ticks every box it can: well weighted and lively steering, eager throttle response – and that’s before you even make it two blocks down the road.
Inbuilt duality means that left in normal mode, the transmission will race through gears and you can be sitting in seventh before you’ve hit 50km/h. It takes the thrilling edge off a little, but also makes for a car that can easily grind through traffic or pop down to the shops with breaking into a nervous sweat.
Punch the Sport button and steering gains weight, the throttle response sharpens up, the dampers settle, the transmission ekes more from each gear and punches downshifts more readily, and ECU revisions create a grumbly overrun from the exhaust.
For all but commuter duty, this is the mode to select. The only change required is thumbing the start-stop system to off. It cuts in far too aggressively, fires up clumsily, and really spoils the drive.
Track work in the Supra would, no doubt, be an absolute joy. On this occasion I kept to public roads and came away doubly impressed.
Heading from Melbourne to the Otways takes around two hours by freeway. In anything unrelenting that drive would become torturous, but the Supra – though still firmly sprung, agile and alert – provides enough comfort to allow for fairly plush transit stages.
The biggest drawback is tyre noise, which can ring through the cabin with an incredible din on some surfaces – not helped by the pass-through between the boot and the cabin allowing noise to reverberate through freely.
Because the Supra isn’t completely bare or stripped out, there’s adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist. Not the full hands-off of BMW’s latest-generation cars, but a decent offering all the same that leaves the driver in control, along with providing a handy safety net.
Grip is incredible for a torque-heavy rear-wheel-drive car. In contrast to the slidey, skatey 86, the Supra can slingshot towards the horizon with seat-pinning ease.
If you punch the long pedal enthusiastically, there’s some squirming in protest from the rear tyres, but it feels more like something dialled in for theatrics rather than any genuine difficulty. The car will point resolutely ahead, and at no point does the rear axle ever try to overtake.
As a holistic experience, there are fast-cut gear changes, the transmission will dive telepathically to a lower gear under brakes, the steering has no dull spots and weighting is consistently spot on. There’s grip at all four corners, but unlike the Z4’s over-the-axle seating, Supra occupants feel more skewed towards the vehicle’s centre.
Quick-acting shift paddles on the wheel are a bit of fun to fiddle with, though for all but the finest of gearshift control, the transmission programming usually picks the right gear at the right time, and really 'angries up' the gear changes in Sport mode for a more brutal experience.
On some of Victoria’s best roads through the Otways, the Supra showed time and time again it has excellent grip, unwavering eagerness, and a balance that’s utterly delightful. Even a shower of rain along the way didn’t dampen the car’s enthusiasm.
The Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres may not be the quietest touring tyre, but put in their natural environment there’s no shortage of grip, or at least plenty of warning as it starts to let up. Even in the wet, security and stability were welcomed.
Getting on the brakes could be a little smoother. The initial bite creates jerky retardation and the brakes bite, soften ever so slightly, then clamp down again – there's an included brake fade compensation function that may be the culprit here. As it is, enthusiastic driving isn't quite as intuitive as it ultimately could be.
In case you’re curious, the official fuel-use claim is a thrifty 7.7 litres per 100km. After wringing its neck, this test car showed as high as 12.2L/100km, but with more balanced use dropped to 8.9L/100km.
Interior quality is high, but there’s still plenty of obviously Toyota plastics. The dash top and instrument cluster surrounds are Toyota’s own, and there’s a family resemblance between the Supra and cars like the Camry and RAV4.
Fit and finish inspections revealed nothing out of place, though the car we drove needed a solid slam to get the boot lid to seat properly. Not the biggest issue, sure, but mildly annoying to have to jump out of the car and re-close the rear hatch before jumping back in.
There’s 296L of storage space beneath the rear liftgate, making the Supra more practical than some Corolla hatch models… Ignoring the Corolla’s rear seats, of course.
There’s plenty of identifiable BMW bits inside, but they don’t really stand out. It’s more harmonious than it might seem at first.
Control blocks on the steering wheel and the infotainment controls from BMW’s iDrive are cut-and-paste from the German marque’s catalog. No doubt if Toyota really wanted to, it could cast its own button packs, but with things as they are, it’s unlikely to be a major deterrent.
The available two-tone interior colour scheme creates an asymmetrical driver focus, with red strakes that run forward along the door trim and centre console anchoring the driver, while the passenger has more spacious all-black surrounds. Both seats are red with power adjustment including bolstering.
The one design lowlight inside is the steering wheel and its unfortunately fugly design. While latest-generation airbag wheels seek to minimise the size of the hub, the dinner-plate-sized hub of the Supra wheel looks like a 1990s throwback.
On the plus side, the rim is perfectly sized and avoids the fat-rimmed nonsense that BMW persists with on any of its M-kitted cars.
The seating position and relationship to controls feel just right. Not so low as to be a pain to get in and out of, but with an appropriate feet-forward feel that translates to a just-right stance for an enthusiastic steer.
The infotainment system could be Toyota’s best yet, with basic operations and menu layouts ported directly from BMW’s iDrive. The system isn’t fully supported, however. Online services have gone missing (so no real-time traffic info, no weather or concierge services, no Apple CarPlay) and ToyotaLink is absent, making the flagship Supra one of the least-connected cars Toyota sells.
Minimally different skins offer a tiny point of difference, but the changes will likely only be noted by trainspotters. Meanwhile, Toyota’s unique instrument cluster provides clear and concise information, with a physical tacho overlay but added animations for redline and shift lights in Sport mode.
Clear, simple, and easy to read at a glance. There’s no backwards tacho and no oversupply of info. Plenty of brands could learn from Toyota’s approach. Additionally, a head-up display provides info without the need to flick your eyes from the road ahead.
While the HUD serves to minimise distraction, there’s little that can be done about the massive pillars. Outward visibility through bends suffers thanks to squat A-pillars that can hide an apex or, worse, an oncoming vehicle.
Reversing is even more fraught. From the B-pillar to the back of the car is one huge blind spot. The tiny rear window contributes little, and the reverse camera is easily obscured by road grime, which makes reversing out of tight spaces more difficult than it ought to be.
If you’re checking features and equipment, all GR Supra variants include powered sports seats, leather trim and steering wheel, manually adjusted steering column, carbon-look console trim, dual-zone climate control, wireless phone charging, 8.8-inch touchscreen with AM/FM/DAB+ radio, Bluetooth and sat-nav, keyless entry and start, LED head- and tail-lights, auto-on lights and wipers, and an electric park brake.
The GTS adds in a colour head-up display, 19-inch wheels (instead of 18s), a punchy 12-speaker JBL stereo (in place of 10 unbranded speakers), red brake calipers, and sport-styled brake and accelerator facings.
That’s a decent swag of kit, but for anyone that finds the GTS’s $94,900 plus on-road costs steep, the GT is a neat $10K less, or there’s always the less powerful and less richly equipped 86 range. For a fun comparison, the last time the Supra Turbo auto was officially offered in Australia (in 1992), it was an almost $74,000 proposition, or near enough to $140,000 in today’s dollars. Not a perfect comparison, but it's hard to argue the new Supra is too expensive.
With misty-eyed history in mind, it also bears mentioning that the beloved 2JZ wasn’t just a performance engine. It was an all-rounder. It served in sports cars, luxury cars, sedans, wagons and coupes. Take a look at a Toyota Progres or Brevis for proof. By that measure, the use of a BMW engine isn’t such a stretch – it’s a modern twist on the traditional tale.
Ownership also includes a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty (better than BMW's own three-year offering) and four capped-priced servicing visits at $380 each spaced out at 12-month or 15,000km intervals, whichever comes first.
Safety tech covers autonomous emergency braking with daytime cyclist and pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, seven airbags, pedestrian-protecting pop-up bonnet, traffic sign recognition linked to the speed limiter, plus tyre pressure monitoring (and a tyre repair kit, but no spare).
At the end of the day, a simple sports car isn’t easy to achieve, and may not be desirable after all. There’s an array of complex systems in the GR Supra addressing safety, convenience and infotainment. Their impact on the car as a whole, though, is simple: nothing in the Supra detracts from the experience behind the wheel.
It bundles rewarding performance together with fine handling in a body shell that attracts plenty of attention. It isn’t a re-creation of past Supras. It is a new breed for a new era, and because of – not in spite of – BMW’s influence, it’s a fantastic car for it.