SUMMIT POINT, W.V. — Love cars? Wouldn’t designing a new sports car be fun?
“Everybody assumes that, building a sports car, I must have the best job in the world,” says Tetsuya Tada, chief engineer for the 2020 Toyota GR Supra, on sale since July 22 and the first new Supra in 20 years.
“But that’s the biggest misconception out there,” he added.
It’s not that Tada doesn’t like sports cars; he does. But building sports cars has become difficult due to the never-ending onslaught of regulation. “It’s raising the bar for a sports car unbelievably right now.”
All automakers must meet federal government mandates for safety, pedestrian protection, fuel economy and electric car production. But while all light vehicles must meet the same regulations, these rules have an outsize impact on sports cars, adding weight and impacting performance.
‘The Fast and The Furious’
Of course, it wasn’t regulation that led Toyota to unceremoniously axe the Supra 20 years ago; it was poor sales. It’s only since the 1993-99 Supra became the star car in “The Fast and The Furious” that its popularity has risen. This proved problematic when it came time to revive the Supra at the request of company president Akio Toyoda. Toyota had stopped all sports car development; there were no mentors for Tada to turn to for reference in the company.
“I really had a hard time,” Tada admits.
So, he sought out Takao Kijima, chief engineer for the Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster, which had been built continuously during the Supra’s hiatus. Tada assumed that Mazda cared less about the Miata’s profitability than about the image it lent the company. “No way,” Kijima told Tada, explaining that sports cars should be profitable; otherwise they would be dropped when demand did. While Tada understood Kijima’s logic, there was a problem.
The previous Supra employed the Lexus SC300’s platform and 3.0-liter inline six. Using a Lexus platform would impact profitability. And using an inline six, an engine with all six cylinders lined up in a row, was considered a key part of the Supra’s personality, but Toyota no longer built one. Only one automaker did: BMW. Given the need to make the new Supra profitable, co-developing the car with BMW made economic sense.
As a result, it’s hardly surprising that the 2020 GR Supra (GR stands for Gazoo Racing, Toyota’s racing team) shares its major components with the 2020 BMW Z4, saving the automakers money since both models sell in low numbers.
And if you think the GR Supra is not a pure Toyota, Tada argues that the consolidation of global automotive suppliers has led many automakers to use the same components from the same companies. That’s why the 2020 GR Supra is built by Magna Steyr in Austria using BMW’s 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six routed through a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission to the rear wheels.
Overlooking such Bavarian bloodlines is easy once you’re behind the wheel, as the Supra effortlessly drifts through corners, its steering and chassis working with a remarkable precision. Making all the right moves, the GR Supra returns a 0-60 mph time of 4.1 seconds on the way to an electronically limited top track speed of 155 mph. If that isn’t fast or furious enough for you, Toyota engineers have made provisions throughout the car for tuners to work their magic. On public roads, the Supra’s ride is as firm as you’d expect it, providing a track-like driving experience off-track.
The Supra’s cozy cabin offers enough room for two, with the rear hatchback allowing for easy cargo access for weekend getaways. Thankfully, the car’s sinister curvaceous lines include a double bubble roof, which provides adequate headroom. And if the software and switchgear seem a little too Bavarian, one glance at the Supra’s shape will remind you of its country of origin.
Once Toyota sells all 1,500 Launch Editions, the Supra will be offered in ascending 3.0 and 3.0 Premium trim. Base models include keyless entry, dual automatic climate control, auto-dimming rearview mirrors, rear camera, rain sensing windshield wipers, garage door opener, power folding mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a 6.5-inch infotainment screen with Bluetooth and iPod capability. Navigation and a JBL audio system are optional. The 3.0 Premium model gets a larger 8.8-inch touchscreen display with navigation, telematics services, Apple CarPlay, premium 12-speaker JBL audio system, wireless phone charging, a color Head-Up Display and heated, leather-trimmed seats. The Driver Assist Package, optional on both grades, includes full-speed dynamic radar cruise control, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert and parking sensors.
20 years later
So, let’s applaud that 20 years after being dropped, the Supra is back, albeit substantially changed.
But that’s how it should be, Tada says. “Right now, it’s a totally different world. Everything had to be reset. And it had to be applicable to today’s norms and today’s new standards and then we had to rethink, what is the Supra now, today? What does it mean?”
It means that out of the box, the 2020 Toyota GR Supra is a pure, delightfully entertaining, fun-to-drive sports car, something that has been lacking in Toyota’s line-up for far too long.
Welcome back, mein Freund.
2020 Toyota GR Supra
Base price: $49,990-$55,250
Engine: 3.0-liter, turbocharged inline six-cylinder
0-60 mph: 4.1 seconds
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 24/31 mpg
Fuel required: Premium
Wheelbase/length/width/height: 97.2/172.5/73/50.9 inches
Ground clearance: 4.5 inches
Cargo capacity: 10.2 cubic feet
Curb weight: 3,397 pounds
Larry Printz is an automotive journalist based in South Florida. Readers may send him email at TheDrivingPrintz@gmail.com.