UK drive: The Toyota Supra is a compelling newcomer to the sports car market
What is it?
The story behind the new Toyota Supra is well-told, but here’s a quick catch-up for those who haven’t heard: Toyota wanted to build a new Supra with an inline-six-cylinder engine like the old one, but didn’t want to make its own all-new model. It approached BMW to see if it could use the German firm’s engine, and the pair ended up co-developing a pair of sports cars in the form of the BMW Z4 convertible and Toyota’s coupe.
The firms say that once the technical details had been agreed, there was no contact between the development teams, so both have quite different characters. Some enthusiasts bemoan the fact the car is largely a BMW parts car, but the truth is that it wouldn’t exist without the Germans’ help.
Despite this being a new model that hasn’t graced dealer forecourts for the best part of two decades, you might be surprised to hear that there isn’t a whole lot new to report. It uses that BMW inline-six engine, BMW switchgear inside, an old version of BMW’s iDrive infotainment system, and it sits on the same platform as the new BMW Z4.
But parts sharing is common in the car industry, so let’s not labour the point. What’s actually new, or rather different, is most evident in the strong divergence in styling and a few technical tweaks that have come from having separate development programmes – these two cars drive very differently.
What’s under the bonnet?
Those familiar with BMW performance variants will recognise this B58 engine, which is most popularly used in the Z4 M40i and M140i, but also multiple other go-faster versions of the German firm’s cars.
It’s a 3.0-litre inline-six-cylinder unit with a single turbocharger, officially making 335bhp and 500Nm of torque – though they have been recorded as leaving the factory with around 380bhp, which seems likely given how quick it feels on the road.
As is the case in its various BMW applications, this unit isn’t the most characterful thing and doesn’t make a particularly exciting noise. However, its performance is undeniable, with the turbocharger providing a serious kick in the back.
What’s it like to drive?
Sometimes when you jump in a performance car and point it towards a twisty road, you instantly gel with the machine and feel like you can attack the Tarmac from the get-go. That’s not the case with the Supra. You have to take time to learn this car and understand its characteristics.
At first, the performance is alarming, because the official figures don’t tally with the warp speed acceleration your right foot can initiate. You also sit quite far back in the chassis, with the bonnet looking like it’s reaching out to the horizon miles ahead of you. Couple these two facts together and it can feel like the Supra is getting away from you on a tight road.
It’s also not quite as stiff as you’d expect in a corner, particularly under acceleration, where the back end noticeably squats as the engine dumps all that torque into the rear wheels.
A long weekend and triple-digit miles, however, are enough to learn how to make the most of the Supra. It’s a car that rewards you getting into the ebb and flow of a road, rather than battering it into submission.
How does it look?
Beauty is, of course, in the eye of the beholder, so you’re welcome to wholeheartedly disagree with this statement, but for us, it’s certainly a tale of two halves: front and rear. The back end looks good, with the narrow taillights and high bootline giving the Supra pinched, purposeful look. However, up front, it’s a bit fussy and bulbous, lacking the sharp lines of the rear end.
Whatever your thoughts, though, there’s no denying it has presence. It also plays tricks on the mind – what you don’t realise until you’re up close is how tiny it is. The result is a characterful car that has impact and turns heads wherever you go.
What’s it like inside?
At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, well, it looks like a BMW inside. This is no bad thing, though, because while Toyota’s cabins are perfectly fine in affordable hatchbacks and saloons, whether it could upscale that for a premium sports car is open for debate.
Instead, you get a near-identical interior to the BMW Z4, albeit with a previous-generation version of the iDrive infotainment system that uses an 8.8-inch screen. Don’t let the fact it’s an old set-up put you off, though, because it’s still easy to use and better than many rivals.
One key letdown though is the driving position. Various team members of differing heights complained of not being able to get comfortable because your right leg has nowhere to rest. Over long distances this can result in aching and stiff legs.
What’s the spec like?
Toyota goes quite a long way to justify the £54,000 price tag on the Supra Pro, which is the higher of two trim levels. Aside from all the performance kit, inside there’s dual-zone air conditioning, a wireless phone charging tray, leather steering wheel, and heated and ventilated sports seats.
Outside, you get adaptive LED headlights, LED rear lights, and 19-inch alloy wheels. Safety kit includes lane departure warning, pre-collision alert and rear cross-traffic alert, while other technology includes adaptive cruise control, high beam assist and a rear-view camera.
Base models, which start from £52,695, do without the leather upholstery, upgraded sound system, wireless charging tray and head-up display.
Given the fact this car feels like it has been decades in the making, the pressure was on Toyota to get it right. Fortunately, it has delivered in so many ways – the Supra feels ludicrously quick, it’s great to drive and is brilliantly put together.
There are more accomplished rivals that are more fun to drive down a country lane (Alpine A110) or provide more brand cache (Porsche Cayman), but the Toyota feels like a fantastic all-rounder. It might not quite trouble the best-in-class, but it’s not far behind.