If you’re reading this story on this website, you don’t need to be persuaded in regard to the joys of driving a sports car, impracticable as they may seem on roads swarming with compact crossovers and mammoth sport utility vehicles. Seating for only 2 people. No way to haul home that new-and-even-bigger-screen television. Makes absolutely no sense.
Unless, of course, you see value in a vehicle designed not around fitting inside as many people and as much of their stuff as possible, but around the sheer joy of driving.
Sure, sports cars are an automotive niche, albeit a very nice one, not only for those who like to drive but for those companies willing to risk responding to the wishes and needs of those who actually like that act of driving.
To lessen the risk of putting a true if low-volume sports car back into its lineup, nearly a decade ago Toyota and BMW agreed to do joint development of a new platform (much as how Toyota partnered with Subaru to produce the sporty 86/BRZ coupes). The fruit of that Japanese/German joint venture is the 2020 Toyota Supra/BMW Z4.
At launch, BMW gets the roadster and Toyota the coupe, and I’m just emerging from a week in a Renaissance Red GR Supra 3.0 Premium.
GR is short for Gazoo Racing, Toyota’s global auto racing division, which is applying its success in World Rally, at Le Mans and in other motorsports competition to the enhancement of Toyota production vehicles (including the re-production of parts for maintaining and restoring vintage Toyota sports cars).
So, with all that as background, what it is like to drive the new Supra, a model rejoining the Toyota lineup after an absence of more than 20 years?
I plotted a driving route that includes interstate highway, a 2-lane trip across the Mohave, and a run up Mount Charleston, where the road climbs to nearly 8,500 feet.
First impressions: On the interstate, the Supra feels as if it has more heft than its size might indicate. It feels neither like a C7 Corvette nor a Miata, nor like a 911; more like a smaller Camaro or a heavier Cayman.
The Supra employs the traditional front-engine/rear-drive sports car architecture, and under its long hood is a 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder BMW-supplied engine, boosted via turbocharging to provide 335 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque (with peak torque available from 1,600 rpm all the way to 4,500).
That power goes to the rear wheels, wrapped by 19-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires nearly a foot wide each, through an 8-speed automatic transmission. There is no manual available, but don’t fret, and we’ll come back to the gearbox once we get up on the mountain.
My route was the I-15 south from Las Vegas to Baker, California, home to the world’s tallest thermometer, and then north on Cal 127, a Triple-A scenic route across the Mohave and skirting Death Valley National Park. Cal 127 becomes Nevada 373 and T-bones into U.S. 95. Turn right and you’re headed to Vegas, and at interstate-legal speeds.
But I turned off on Lee Canyon Road (NV 156) and headed up Mount Charleston. Turn off short of the ski area on NV 158 and enjoy a twisting mountain road and some incredible scenic views, and then take a left at the junction with NV 157 and wind your way back to U.S. 95. It’s a 41-mile detour that’s well worth the time and distance.
And in the case of the Supra, it was a wonderful way to explore the sports car’s Sport mode. In the Supra, Sport mode activates alternative controls for engine, transmission, adaptive variable suspension, electronic steering and the instrument cluster display. Sport mode also offers the opportunity to personalize those controls, for example, engaging everything but leaving the suspension in its normal setting for a smoother ride.
Oh, and Sport also lets the drag racer in you to employ Launch Control.
I first engaged Sport after stopping north of Baker to take some photos of the car against the Mohave backdrop. Once under way again in Sport, I immediately noticed a change in the exhaust tone. The throttle and steering responses were sharper, and the suspension stiffened. It was as if the car had gotten a shot of adrenaline, a gulp of Red Bull or a double espresso. It became a hunting dog on scent. Buckle up, Buttercup, now we’re going for a drive!
Suddenly, the Supra felt lighter, more eager, and except for the engine out front instead of mid-ship, the dynamics reminded me of the Cayman S.
Particularly impressive was the way that, in Sport mode, the 8-speed gearbox handled the descent off Mount Charleston, knowing how to hold gears, shifting as you would with a manual, so you could actually drive rather than ride brakes down the hill and around the curves.
By the way, the Supra brakes are 13.7-inch, 4-piston front Brembos with 13.6-inch, single-piston rears. Front wheels are 9 inches wide (10s in the rear). Front suspension is double-joint MacPherson and rear is 5-arm multi-link. Even with wide tires, the car has a tight 34.1-inch turning circle.
By way of comparison, the Supra and 718 Cayman have almost identical wheelbases, though the Supra weighs 300 pounds more, nearly as much as a C7 Corvette.
The Supra’s shape was inspired by the Toyota 2014 FT-1 concept created by Toyota’s design studio in California. The production car features a long, wide hood above triple-lamp headlights and a big triple-segmented front fascia, a double-bubble roof, a crouching-cat stance and silhouette, and an impressive rear design with a narrow spoiler integrated into the deck lid above wide-set and dramatically protruding taillamps above big-diameter exhaust tips.
The Supra comes with such driver aids as pre-collision and lane-depart warning, has a 14-way power and heated seats in black leather, 12-speaker JBL audio with big speakers behind each seat (as part of a trunk that looks small from the outside but that reaches well forward of the trunk lid), an 8.8-inch touchscreen navigation setup with controls on the center console, Bluetooth, satellite radio and web connection, etc.
The Premium version I drove has a $53,990 base price, and a $56,220 as-tested figure thanks in large part to the optional Driver Assist package with dynamic radar cruise control, blind-spot mirrors, traffic alert, parking sensors, and emergency braking technology. Base price on the standard Supra is $49,990.
If you prefer a convertible, the BMW Z4 starts at $49,700, but with a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. To get the turbo-6, you need to opt for the 382-horsepower Z4 M version, starting at $63,700.
2020 Toyota Supra 3.0 Premium
Vehicle type: 2-passenger sports car, rear-wheel drive
Base price: $53,990 Price as tested: $56,220
Engine: Turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6, 335 horsepower @ 5,000 rpm, 365 pound-feet of torque at 1,600-4,500 rpm Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 97.2 inches Overall length/width: 172.5 inches / 73.0 inches
Curb weight: 3,397 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 24 city / 31 highway / 26 combined
Assembled in: Graz, Austria