It’s been years since the rumors of the BMW/Toyota partnership first began to surface. At the beginning, the rumors were vague; BMW and Toyota would be working together on a sports car. Quickly, though, they began to materialize and become more and more fleshed out, until it was all but certain that the two cars to come from this joint venture would be the BMW Z4 and Toyota Supra. Fast forward to today and both cars are on the road and in dealerships and we couldn’t wait to test them both, to see how they compare and contrast.
We’ve driven the new BMW Z4 extensively since its debuted and, personally, I’ve spent a lot of time in both variations of Z4 sold in the US. After having spent a lot of miles in the driver’s seat of a Z4, and enjoying every single one, I was itching to drive its Japanese (sort of) counterpart.
However, it’d always eluded me. For some reason or another, every time I tried to test a Toyota Supra something would get in the way; be it scheduling, availability or even the Coronavirus. However, in the midst of a global pandemic, I finally had my chance to drive the 2020 Toyota GR Supra and it’s a very interesting car.
(Side Note: Toyota sent me a 2020 Supra to test and not the new 2021 Supra, which has been updated with better handling and more power, even though the 2021 models are in the test fleet. I’m not sure why but it was the only version I could test)
When the Supra arrived at my doorstep, I was giggling with excitement. I’d never driven a Supra before, of any kind, but have always admired it from a far, especially the old wedgy-ones. So the fact that I was finally going to get behind the wheel of a car with such an iconic nameplate and such an interesting story had me practically shaking with excited energy.
It doesn’t hurt that the Supra is flat-out stunning in person, especially in my test car’s Nitro Yellow paint. I don’t know if “gorgeous” or “beautiful” are the right adjectives for the Supra, as I’m not quite sure it’s a pretty car in the manner that a Jaguar F-Type is. However, there’s something so magnetic about its incredible styling; it just sucks you in and you can’t avert your eyes. There are lines and curves everywhere, like a typical Japanese sports car, as it looks both incredibly aggressive and elegant. What’s also fascinating is that, despite not looking anything like any previous generation Supra, it’s instantly recognizable as one.
One thing I love is that it looks Japanese, or at least it looks like what an uneducated American thinks Japanese styling looks like. Either way, it looks nothing short of fabulous to these eyes and I was happier every time I walked up to it because I had the chance to look at it again. The Supra is the sort of car that brightens your day when you see it, so imagine owning it and living wit it every day?
Not So Killer Cabin
It’s a fantastically sculpted car that kept me looking and intrigued for the entire week, each day finding something new I liked. So it’s a shame that the interior is just so bleak. It’s very ’90s BMW on the inside; just a sea of black and a driver-focused interior. Although, the center infotainment (iDrive) screen is flush with the dashboard and not slanted toward the driver, like with most BMWs, and that makes it a bit more difficult to use while driving.
However, there are two aspects of the Supra’s cabin that I actually appreciate quite a bit. One is the gauge cluster. It’s mostly digital but there’s a physical tach-surround in the center of it and it looks very cool. It’s a nice combination of old-school and new-school and also looks very sporty. It’s far better than the extra-small version of BMW’s Live Cockpit Professional seen in the Z4.
The second aspect of the interior I really enjoy is the Supra’s steering wheel. While it’s essentially a MINI steering wheel, the rim is thinner than what’s seen on any BMW or MINI product and it feels better in hand because of it. There’s a delicacy to it that even seemingly translates into better steering feel than in the Z4. Maybe the thinner steering wheel just played tricks on me but the the Supra’s steering felt better connected to the road than I remember the Z4’s feeling.
Is It Just a BMW Z4 Coupe?
Once on the road and one the move, the Toyota Supra feels a lot like the BMW Z4. In fact, my first thought was “this is a BMW Z4 Coupe”. While that feeling doesn’t necessarily ever leave, there is a bit more of a fun-factor to the Supra than the Z4. Its suspension is a bit firmer, but never stiff, and it feels as if its turn-in is a bit sharper, giving it a dartier feeling. It still feels fundamentally like a Z4, just one with slightly faster reflexes.
That can be viewed in one of two different ways; one is that it doesn’t matter, considering the Z4 is a good sports car, and the other is that it’s not Japanese enough and its BMW-like character takes away from the iconic nameplate. At first, I leaned more toward the latter, wishing it felt more Japanese and differentiated itself more from its Z4 sibling. After a week, though, I leaned more toward the former.
Because the Toyota Supra is so similar to the Z4, it is an objectively good sports car. The joint-developed chassis is stiff, rigid and balanced in both cars, which lends a secure, nimble and capable feel to the Supra, whether you like its shared nature or not. You can push the Supra hard, with confidence that it will do as you ask and get you out the other side of the corner in one piece. When it does break away, it’s a bit sudden but easily controlled. Though, I must admit that the rear tires of my test car weren’t in the best of shape, looking as if its previous occupant had a bit too much fun, so that could have been the cause of its occasional rear-end snappiness.
Where the Supra shines most is, ironically, where it’s most like a BMW — its engine. The 3.0 liter turbocharged ‘B58’ inline-six engine under its hood is a direct carryover from BMW and, in the 2020 Toyota Supra, makes 335 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque (2021 models get the full-beans 382 hp). It gets from 0-60 mph in about four seconds but it doesn’t matter. It pulls hard, is buttery smooth at all times and makes a great noise. Typical BMW B58 brilliance.
Paired to that magnificent engine is a typical eight-speed ZF automatic and it works about as well as it does in every BMW. I do wish it had a bit more urgency during downshifts and a bit more snap from upshifts but, other than that, it was fine. Nothing spectacular or horrible. Just fine. There are rumors that Toyota might want to add a manual gearbox to the mix later down the line and I sincerely hope that’s true. A manual would completely wake the Supra up and help it be the sports car it really can be.
However, there’s a bit of an aural oddity with the Supra. On the inside, the engine/speaker noise trickery sounds very BMW-like but the sound is different from the one you hear outside of the car. Inside, it sounds like a BMW. Outside, it still sounds like a BMW but with a bit more anger and a bit more excitement. It sounds better from the outside, so keeping the windows down is a must.
There is a bit of an issue with wind buffeting with the windows down, though. Most enthusiasts, journalists and even owners have complained about the buffeting in the Supra and it’s mostly founded. With the glass all the way down, it buffets hard, even at 35/40 mph, making it feel as if your eardrums will explode. However, if you keep them about halfway up, the buffeting doesn’t happen until highway speed, so you can drive around in normal life with them mostly down and hear that wonderful engine noise with no buffeting.
When I first drove the Supra, I was cynical. I felt that it was a BMW Z4 Coupe with some Toyota badges and flashy styling and I was relatively disappointed. As the week went on, though, it grew on me. Its incredible looks played a bit part in that, as they continued charming me the each and every time I drove it, but so too did its character. As similar as it might be to the Z4, it’s still a good sports car and one that brings effortless cool to any situation.
Would I like the Supra to be more Toyota than it is? Of course. I wish it felt as Japanese as it looks and I wish it had a manual gearbox. However, I also know that the Supra wouldn’t exist at all if it weren’t for this joint venture. So I’d rather it exist, as it is now, than not exist at all.