“Number is one thing, feel is another.” Chief Engineer of Supra, Tetsuya Tada. He is the engineer of a sports car that’s different from others, something that is more than just numbers on a piece of paper. His previous work is a good example of that. The Toyota 86 is nothing on paper, there’s nothing impressive about it. No wow factor at all, until you drive it. All the numbers you read on paper don’t determine how fun and amazing the car is. Well, he has done it again. On paper, the new Supra is just an under powered BMW Z4 with an automatic transmission. However, it’s so much more than that. It’s unique and magnificent.
I was lucky enough to test drive the all new 2020 Toyota GR Supra. This is going to be a VERY long review, so grab some popcorn and get comfy.
(disclaimer: Toyota US invited me to the Supra event to write this review)
History of Supra:
There are countless articles, YouTube videos and posts about the history of the Supra, so I’ll skip this part.
BMW Z4 and Toyota Supra:
Let’s get one important part out of the way, how this collaboration came about.
This project initially started in May 2012, Tada-san and his crew were in Barcelona for a Toyota 86 media event. While at the event, he received a call from his boss saying “First thing tomorrow morning, you’ll fly to Munich (Germany). Don’t tell anyone about this and you’ll go to BMW headquarter. There, you’ll have a representative greet you. Investigate all possibilities of making a car with them.” Tada-san was confused about what was happening. While on the plane, he had a feeling what this was all about, the return of the Supra. Ever since he was working on 86 project, every car enthusiast kept asking “When is the Supra coming back?”. Back in 2012, the only manufacturer who was producing an inline 6 engine was BMW. This confirmed his suspicions that they wanted to bring the Supra back. However, Toyota executives never stated that they were going to make a sports car. They just said “Go investigate the possibility.” After a lengthy discussion with BMW representatives, Tada-san reported back saying “They’re very friendly and there’s no problem.” That was the start of the disaster that soon ensued.
Toyota and BMW first had to examine their production processes, obviously they were going to be COMPLETELY different. Both companies couldn’t understand each other’s car making process at all. They couldn’t agree even on what kind of car to make. From the beginning Tada-san wanted to make the Supra. To BMW, that idea was absurd. Mr. Diess, BMW side team leader, thought that it wasn’t a good idea nor investment to make a sports car. Tada-san understood clearly, it was a very rational response. Tada-san stubbornly stated “Rationally speaking we need to make something else, but as far as Toyota is concerned, we need to build a pure sports car.” He wasn’t going to budge one single bit on the idea of bringing the Supra back.
Year and half later with no progress at all, Mr. Diess left BMW and became CEO of VW, so BMW replaced him with Mr. Froelich. Tada-san stated that he is a crazy passionate car enthusiast at heart. Mr. Froelich came and saw the situation and decided to transform the entire team representing BMW on this project. From there things changed dramatically and start moving quickly. “If you guys are crazy to make a sports car, maybe we should try.”
When talking to BMW engineers, Tada-san was told that they have never built a sports car. In disbelief, Tada-San’s responded, “What are you talking about? You’re crazy! You have all these magnificent vehicles. They’re fantastic!”. To their reply “No, no, no. We build fast cars and we just modify them. The only pure sports car we’ve made recently was the M1.”
After much debate, the two teams finally decided on what kind of car this collaboration was going to be, a sports car. The #1 question now was, what kind of sports car should we make? Thankfully, that process was pretty easily decided. They were looking at the current market of sports cars, such as Porsche. Porsche had Cayman and Boxster. They share the same platform, one is convertible, other was coupe and both perform amazingly. BMW wanted to make a convertible and Toyota had the intention of building a coupe. BMW wanted this new sports car to be comparable to the Boxster, while Toyota the Cayman. Both companies finally set rational expectations and had a target to meet.
Now, how were both companies going to achieve this goal? Both companies sat down to discuss more about the logistics of how they were going to make this happen. They first looked at the platform. Everyone agreed that the initial platform was obsolete. Therefore, they needed to create a new platform, from the ground up. If they didn’t, they knew that the goal they wanted to achieve wouldn’t be met. They decided to do an ultra short wheelbase with track width and a low center of gravity. They wanted to use a ratio of wheelbase and track width comparable to high performance cars. All the wonderful sports car in the world have a golden ratio of wheelbase and track width of 1.6 for 2 seaters (and 1.7 for 4 seaters). 1.6 is the ideal ratio and the team thought about making it 1.6, but they knew they needed to do better than that. As a result, both Supra and Z4 run a ratio of 1.55. Following the diagram of this car, it more closely resembles a racing car than a street car. Unfortunately, when any automotive makers try to make this golden ratio of wheelbase car into production, the car looses stability and ultimately never makes it to production. BMW and Toyota wanted to gear their development focus on stability.
They created an unique dimension with a unique ratio for this project at hand, but weren’t sure if it was feasible. They started by studying all other platforms in the market to see if this was truly possible. After running multiple situations and simulations, the result exceeded their expectations. They knew the possibility of this new sports car was achievable. Toyota headquarters halted this idea “Wait, wait, wait! I’ve never heard of car like this. Those dimensions won’t work on the street. Are you sure this car is going to drive?” To prove to Toyota, they took a 2 series from BMW and chopped it up to match the exact dimension, wheelbase, and even the weight of current Supra car to test drive it. They named this test car the “Fullrunner” (which you can find somewhere online). After test driving the Fullrunner to make sure it worked, they shipped it to Japan to get it tested by all the executives. Toyota executives were ecstatic and gave Tada-san the green light.
The collaboration between the two companies parted ways and split up into 2 teams: Team Z4 and Team Supra. Besides the initial platform, these two teams designed two completely individual designs in pursuit of accomplishing their repetitive goals of beating out the competitor, Porsche Boxster and Cayman. Other than relaying necessary information, the two teams did not interfere with each other. They did however exchange ideas from time to time. Team Z4 found a way to decrease the road noise inside the cabin, but Tada-san politely declined that idea because he wanted Supra owners to hear the roaring exhaust.
I first saw the Supra at the Detroit International Auto Show. My first impressions were “Wow! It’s pretty small.” It has an overall length of 172.5 inches and is 73 inches wide. If you compare it to the previous Supra, it is 5 inches shorter and 2 inches wider. Noticeably the rear quarter panel shows the width very well with a very curvy line. It almost had the feeling of an aftermarket wide body. To achieve the impression of the car being wide, they put the taillights and headlights closer together. Supra MkIV (A80) uses the same style. Tada-san told us, in order to make this wide rear quarter panel, they couldn’t use a regular press machine. They had to use a special press machine to ensure the integrity of the steel used wouldn’t break. This is one of the reason why new Supra and Z4 are assembled by Magna Steyr in Austria.
Another surprising part of the new Supra is the wheelbase. Currently the Supra’s wheelbase sits at 97.2 inches, which is quite short. Compared to the Toyota 86, the Supra is a little bit longer. The wheelbase however, is 4 inches shorter than the 86. Those 4 inches can make a dramatic difference in performance and that is clearly shown.
The overall design of the Supra came from the FT-1 Concept which came out in 2014. A lot of people admired this concept and it brought an abundance of attention to the possibility of the next Supra and I was one of them. The front of the car resembles the sharp angles found on the FT-1. The exterior exhibited wild curves that made people wonder “How are they able to make the car look like this?” This Supra kept some aspects from the FT-1, but with a twist. For example, the Supra has an extra hole in middle front, while FT-1 Concept didn’t. Senior Lead Designer Tom Matsumoto explained, FT-1 had small dual radiators versus new Supra needed bigger radiator to open up more space in the front to bring air in. He also knew that the production version needed to be smaller. Finding a way to keep the original design but still have the car be functional, resulted in the Supra being uniquely unique… in a VERY good way.
The photos surfacing online and other media outlets, do not do this car justice. It looks magnificent in person. They kept the dynamic curvature in the design, which in my opinion, they did a phenomenal job. No car is without a critic, some say the design is quite ugly.
The double bubble roof showcased on the 86 is more extreme in the Supra. This provides extra head space for all the taller drivers and passengers. Tada-San explained these roofs aren’t only for head space. In fact, it helps direct the air flow to the back without having a big spoiler. With this design, it kept the Supra stable enough to achieve a top speed of 250kmh (155mph), even without a spoiler. In my opinion, not having a typical big spoiler on the back isn’t what I expected, but I do like this Supra with a more minimalistic design. It reminds me of the older Supras. MkII (A60) to be specific, with duckbill. If you want to add a big spoiler on the Supra, they made a reinforcement on the trunk to support aftermarket spoiler without having to worry about the trunk bending.
There are total of 8 different exterior color options for Supra. In person, they all look great and are unique. Sadly, I wasn’t able to see Tungsten or Turbulence Grey. My personal preference would be Phantom with matte grey. The extra $1,500 isn’t easy on the wallet, but you have to see this color in person. If you have a chance to see it in person with outside lighting, it’s the best! I expected Nitro Yellow to be a little more vivid, however, it is still a lovely color on new Supra. If you ordered the 1 of 1,500 Launch Edition, you have 3 color options. Renaissance Red 2.0, Nocturnal and Absolute Zero. If you want other colors for the launch edition, sorry, you’re out of luck on that one. Overall, all the colors that I’ve seen weren’t anything crazy. They tried to go for more mature colors that fit nicely with a suit or plain t-shirt and jeans. If I had a say, I would’ve wished for a few colors to be more vivid to compete with Porsche and other brand’s eye catching colors.
Of course, we cannot please everyone. Some might feel like the front of the Supra looks too awkward and pointy. Others say there are way too many curves. When you see this car in person, this car is visually stunning and it will catch many people’s attention. To truly understand the passion that was poured in this car and beauty of it, nothing beats seeing it up close and personal. This is not a car that you will see everyday. I guarantee heads will turn when the Supra drives by.
Ever since we learned that this Supra was a collaborative project with BMW, all I have heard and read online was BMW this and that. They aren’t wrong, but they also aren’t correct. Yes, Supra used BMW parts, but again, the design and characteristics of this car are individual to Toyota. Entering the car requires a couple handy tricks, unless you enjoy hitting your head every time you get into this car. Some stated that the cockpit of the older Supra resembled that of a jet fighter. Unfortunately, that isn’t present in the new Supra, but it is still driver focused. Seats are one of those focus points. The leather feels very premium, but it can give you extra bolster support to hold you in when you need it. Infotainment screen isn’t bulky nor does it disrupt the drivers view. I could visualize the hood without the screen obstructing my view. JBL 12-sound system is loud and crisp to keep you entertained throughout your drive.
By far, the best part of the interior was the seats. 14-way power sports way with adjustable side bolsters and driver’s memory was luxurious to say the least. For daily driving, you can keep the side bolsters low, so it’s easy to get in and out of the car. When you want to race around the track, you can up the bolsters to keep you tightly seated. Sadly, at the event, they didn’t provide the base model, so I cannot say how it compares. I assume it’s the same design with different materials, but it should still be nice.
Speaking of seats. There are 3 options of seats. Base model only comes in Black Alcantara/Leather. Premium comes in Black Leather. Launch Edition comes in Red Leather, except if you order Renaissance Red 2.0, then you’ll get Black Leather interior.
I know someone will ask this question soon or later, so I’ll answer it right now:
Q: Can you wear helmet and go in the car?
A: Yes, you can. Just be aware of the roof or else, you’ll bang your head/helmet going in… Just like most of the journalists I saw.
Q: Can you wear a helmet inside the car?
A: Yes, you can. I had to do that few times and didn’t have an issue.
Q: Does it have turn signals?
Designing the interior was one key focus for Tada-san. This interior is geared mainly towards the driver, therefore, the passenger kind of gets the short end of the stick. Let me explain, let’s say you’re a lucky passenger riding along with the Master Driver of Supra, Herwig Deanens. He’s zipping through the track to show you the potential of new Supra. Sounds like a fun time right? The only problem is that you’ll be thrown around like a rag doll every corner he takes. No knee pads, no handle on the roof, basically no support at all for the passenger. The extra bolsters on the seats are supportive to an extent, but nothing compared to bucket seats that hold you into the seat. Surprisingly, the storage bins located on either door are crazy small. You’d be lucky if you could fit your phone or wallet there. Another interesting featured in the new Supra is the Qi compatible wireless charger. Only issue is that there is a USB port directly in front of it. Good luck if you are planning on using both the USB and the wireless charger at the same time.
I’ll be lying if I said the quality of the interior was the best I’ve seen. People have been complaining that the Supra has an interior similar to that of BMW. Honestly, is that a bad thing? BMW is known for having top quality interior. Sadly that top quality interior isn’t present in the current Supra. The center console uses real carbon fiber. The remaining of the parts are made of rubber and plastic. Since the seats are made of premium leather, I would’ve expected them to use the same materials to help make the interior match a little more. Personally, I’d rather have extra suede and leather all throughout the interior as opposed to a single piece of carbon fiber in the center with rubber and plastic on the remaining parts. Also, the infotainment system isn’t located directly in eye line. On several occasions I felt like I had to tilt my head slightly to see it.
Few Random Facts about the Supra:
Tada-san left a few Easter eggs under the hood. One of those being omitting the front tower brace. Toyota didn’t just forget about them nor did Tada-san want aftermarket companies to make it (despite what some car journalist claim). During the initial testing of a Supra that contained braces and other reinforcements, they found that the chassis was too stiff. The additional rigidity in the front along with suspension and tire set up were causing the car to understeer. They corrected this by removing the front tower brace. Tada-san knew that owners of this car would want to modify it to have more power. Therefore, he mindfully left the mounting spots open and ensured there was space available for further modifications.
I know many of you are complaining about the abundance of fake vents on this car. It has been a huge discussion among enthusiast. I asked that burning question to Tada-san during the Detroit International Auto Show. He explained that all those vents can become functional by taking them off and adding custom parts to the car. For your convenience, below is the interview with Tada-san about this topic.
This is something I didn’t know, the rear quarter window design follows the same design from the legendary Toyota 2000GT. Interestingly, the Toyota 86 has the same design as well.
Comparing the base and premium models, they both sport front brakes that are 4 piston calipers with 13.7 inch rotors. On the premium, these brakes are painted red as opposed to the grey painted calipers on the base model. In person, the base models calipers have a rougher finish as well. Both models have brakes made by Brembo, despite missing the iconic lettering. Tada-san wanted to keep the clean look to the car. I prefer the clean look, but those wanting to be flashy with their brand names might not like this look. Also, the premium rear rotors are 13.6 inches while the base model measure at 13 inches. These are just some things to keep in mind when deciding which model to purchase.
All models come with 19 inch forged aluminum wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sport. Premium and base models comes with two toned wheels while the Launch Edition comes in all matte black wheels. I enjoyed the matte black finish wheels on the Launch Edition. It contrasted well on a Renaissance Red 2.0 painted Supra.
“Screw exterior and interior or whatever impressions, Ichi. Give me the driving impression already!” I hear you. As for the driving, Tada-san and his team did a wonderful job. When you think of a typical sports car, it drives amazingly on track, but is lackluster on the road. This Supra is unlike anything you have ever seen. Due to the very short wheelbase and wide track, I was expecting a peaky driving car. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case, which surprised me in so many ways. On normal mode, suspension absorbs bumps and dips well… too well. I would purposely drive over bumps and dips on the road. Never was there a single moment when my back, kidney or any other part of my body endured pain. Honestly, there were a few occasions where I questioned if I actual went over the bumps and dips. Cornering was smooth yet firm. The high chassis rigidity reduced the chassis flex and allowed the suspension and tires to do what they’re meant to do. Active Independent Suspension (AIS) and Active Limited-Slip Differential (ALSD) worked together to keep the tires on the ground the entire time. I didn’t feel like I was losing traction coming out of corner. If you’re planning on doing long distances with the Supra, that’s nothing it can’t handle. Put it into Sports mode and watch the magic. It goes without saying that this car is a tremendous amount of fun going down winding roads. The suspension worked flawlessly ensuring my tires were glued to the road. The steering felt sharp and responsive. Want a little extra fun? Push the pedal a little and watch it go sideways.
No car is without it quirks. With this car, it’s the roof. Due to the sheer height of the car in general, add a bubble roof to that and you feel like you’re under an umbrella. This cuts the top portion of your vision. The A-pillar creates a front blind spot as well. Window sills are pretty huge for this type of sports car and during a rainy day, getting in and out of the car without getting your jeans/pants wet will require a special trick.
Now for the stuff that I didn’t like. The steering felt too light, even in Sports mode. When I was in Sports mode, the steering weight felt like it should be Normal mode. I wished the steering weight was heavier in sports mode. This would’ve complimented the sporty chassis and suspension.
I understand that this is a sports car so blind spots are inevitable, but I felt like there were so many blind spots. For example, C-pillars… I’m not even sure if it’s a pillar anymore. This is partly why they added, Blind Spot Monitor (BSM), Rear Cross-Traffic Alert (RCTA) and other safety features to this car.
At the track, I was worried the suspension would be too soft… I was wrong. Chassis rigidity is very firm. That allows the suspension and tires to work properly. The above average driver might get some understeer and oversteer, but the steering wheel it responsive and it’ll go where you aim it. I tested drove it in Normal mode to see if the character of the car would change. Overall, I noticed a very minimal amount of body roll.
My main issue with the test drive on a track was the headrest on the seats. On the road, the seats are nice and keep you tightly seated. However, during a track session the headrest gets in the way when wearing a helmet. Similar to the 86, this requires the driver to tilt the seat back a little. This disrupted the drivers optimal driving position and can leave the driver feeling a little awkward. 86/BRZ owner might know what I’m talking about.
Another concern I have is with the Supra’s weight. It weighs just under 3,400 pounds, which is very light compare to M2 Competition, Mustang and GTR. It honestly doesn’t feel like a heavy car because the chassis rigidity and suspension work so well together. Then you drive the 86. The Toyota 86 is a lightweight albeit slow car and you can really notice that in a straight line. Driving the 86 back to back between the Supra, you can feel the weight difference dramatically. The 86 is over 600 pound lighter than the Supra.
Now let’s discuss the elephant in the room, the automatic transmission. If you are thinking they used a typical automatic transmission especially 4 speed automatic transmission that came in previous Supra (A340E), you are severely mistaken. ZF 8HP compliments so well with the toque curve on this car. In Normal mode, the transmission will shift up quickly to get you the best MPG (City:24/Hwy:31). It shifts effortlessly, but it still doesn’t compare to the PDK or DCT. ZF 8HP will leave you pleasantly surprised and wanting more. Just like it has done to numerous amounts of other journalists and owners around the world that have experienced this transmission in a variety of other vehicles.
Q&A with Tada-san:
Q: Why did you close those vents?
A: Like I’ve explained in the presentation, keeping it open would over cool the engine bay. Additionally, in bad weather conditions, water and mud can enter the engine bay and create more problems. Not everyone tracks their car every single day. Please use this space for your desire, use it for downforce, use it for cooler, use your imagination to make it fit your wants and needs. Even keeping it close, it’s still functional. Front teardrop vent can be use as canard to put extra downforce in the front. We’ve tested them to make sure whether you choose to use them or not, they’re still functional.
Q: Have you driven the new Z4?
A: Yes, I drove the final prototype Z4. When I drove the prototype Z4, I was very impressed. New Z4 was completely different from previous generations. For convertible car in this class, there was only 1 choice, which was Boxster. Result, enthusiast only had a chance of which year model of Boxster to choose from. Now enthusiast have finally 2 worthy car to choose from.
Q: What did you/have you learned from this project?
A: A lot of things. As you may know, 86 and BRZ was collaboration with Toyota and Subaru. Fundamental process is different for 86 and BRZ versus Supra and Z4. 86 and BRZ our mission was to use as many common part as possible and may only see limited difference. When start doing collaboration with BMW, we thought to use that same mentality, but BMW had different ideas. “If you’re talking like that, there’s no way we can make a pure sports car that we want. Your priority are opposite of ours. You need to know what kind of car you want to make, then from there we can look at what is available to use. That’s the norm. That’s what you should be thinking.” When they told me that, I thought “Oh~ you’re right.”
Q: Driving difference between Supra and Z4?
A: First, I do not know the concept, theory or principle applied to the Z4 project, so you won’t find merit in comparing them. But biggest difference between Supra and Z4 is when we split the development team into 2, both had different tuning drivers. For us Toyota, we had Herwig. Not only for suspension tuning, but engine, transmission, steering feel, chassis rigidity, all of those were exclusively discussed between Herwig and I. Herwig’s feedback was used as the ultimate reference. Even the contract stated “We will build the Supra on Herwig’s feedback.” Of course, BMW had excellent driver who had same role as Herwig on their side. I truly believe that, those 2 spearheads are the main difference between the Supra and the Z4.
Q: What was the #1 priority in the making of the Supra?
A: Stability is the main one. We extensively tested the Supra in the Nurburgring track. When you enter the corner, we want to enter the corner at a high speed. But we’re not prodriver, so we cannot enter the corner same speed and angle every time. Most cars, we’ll get understeer, so we will try to correct that and get oversteer. Result, amateur drivers gets scared diving into the corner, but Supra is different. You can dive in and the steering wheel will guide you to the right direction. That’s the kind of car we wanted to make and that’s something I’ve discussed with Herwig. So every state of the corner, diving into the corner, apex and out of corner, vehicle should be in nurtural position. I hope you had a chance to experience that today.
Q: Is that why Supra have lower power than Z4?
A: To repeat, it’s pointless to compare Supra and Z4. Instead of comparing Supra and Z4, it’s better to compare Supra and Cayman, Z4 and Boxster. That’s what team Supra and team Z4 want the most.
Q: Are you looking into more power?
A: Sport car need to evolve every year. Even Porsche, they evolve their car, engine, suspension, chassis and everything to anything to improve their car. Some might think, those minor changes aren’t a big deal, but every year they’re evolving. Before you know it, it has evolved into an amazing car. So Supra you drove is brand new, it’s our first step and we hope to improve and evolve every year. We hope and would love to see different variations of the Supra to come and down the road, people will say “Yeah, this Supra is good.”
Q: Is there a something we should look into other than we’ve discussed?
A: If you have a chance, check under the car. We’ve worked extensively under the car. Not only the floor is flat, but suspension arms have “wings” to help reduce the drag. You’ll be surprised, when you see it.
2020 Toyota GR Supra might not be the sports car everyone was expecting. For Supra enthusiasts, it might not be considered a “true” Supra. After driving this car, that’s not the case, at least for me. There are very few negative things I can say about this car. Those words are coming out from a guy who is a boxer engine fan and who thinks Porsche makes one of the best cars in the world.
With that said, if having a BMW engine with an automatic transmission in a Toyota car is a hard pill for you to swallow, look somewhere else. In the back of your mind, every time you step into that car, you’ll always think that and you will never be satisfied with it. If that doesn’t effect you and you desire to have a sports car that has the best chassis rigidity you can get for the money, outstanding engine performance, an exhaust tone that makes adrenaline run through your body and brake performance that you can stop with confidence on the road or at the track in any condition, then look no further. Supra is the way to go.
“Number is one thing, feeling is another.” Don’t just believe my words. I encourage you to test drive this magnificent machine to determine if what I’m saying is true or not. You can decide if the Supra is truly back or it’s just a gimmick Toyota is saying.