Iconic Japanese performance nameplate returns after years in the wilderness

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It’s impossible to talk about the new Toyota Supra, which arrives some 25 years after the fourth-generation, cult-hit ‘A80’ car was launched, without talking also about BMW. So we may as well get it out of the way now, before turning to the more important matters of the car itself: how it looks, how it feels from behind the wheel, and how you might end up feeling having parted with £54,000 to own it.

The genesis of this week’s road test subject was in 2012, when the German and Japanese marques deepened the roots of an agreement to co-develop hydrogen fuel cells, electrification technologies and lightweight materials. A new sports car was also part of the collaboration, and it’s why we now have a revitalised BMW Z4 and the first flagship Toyota sports car for decades. In engineering terms the cars are twins, and even built alongside one another (and, incidentally, the Mercedes G-Class and Jaguar I-Pace) by Magna Steyr in Austria – the first time a Supra has been built outside Japan.

Squint and you can make out a resemblance between the A90’s headlights and those of the old A80. You might also be able to ignore the fact that the adjacent intake is a fake.

Some controversy concerns the division of labour during the gestation. Toyota says BMW was an ideal partner because a straight-six petrol engine is a central tenet of the personality of the new GR Supra (the initials standing for Gazoo Racing, as all Toyota performance models are now branded), and if you want to buy large volumes of excellent straight-six petrol engines, your options are limited. But that doesn’t fully explain why the Supra’s platform, gearbox, wheelbase and much of the electronics are also shared with BMW. Inevitably, of course, it comes down to economics.

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Legendary Toyota boss Akio Toyoda, who says he honed his driving skills on the A80 Supra, is seen as the enthusiastic driving force behind the Supra revival, but the project still needs to turn a profit. In today’s competitive market, sharing the up-front fixed costs associated with engineering a new sports car from the ground up boosts your chances of making money from it. And don’t forget that Toyota has recent relevant experience of doing something similar, in collaboration with Subaru to create the GT86.

Stand by to find out where this new sports car sits and what it represents in relation to rivals from Porsche, Alpine and, yes, BMW – and exactly what kind of Toyota this really is.

Price £54,000 Power 335bhp Torque 368lb ft 0-60mph 4.4sec 30-70mph in fourth 4.8sec Fuel economy 28.4mpg CO2 emissions 170g/km 70-0mph 41.9m

The GR Supra range at a glance

The modern-day Supra begins service with but a single powertrain option: beneath the bodywork sits a turbocharged 3.0-litre straight six mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox, with both elements sourced from BMW. More powerful variants are expected to follow, and Toyota has tested a version with a manual gearbox, although hasn't committed to putting a manual version on sale yet.

There are two trim levels: GR Supra and GR Supra Pro. The latter costs £54,000 and adds leather-trimmed seats, an upgraded sound system and wireless phone charging, though both models get an active sports differential and adaptive suspension.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Toyota Supra


Toyota GR Supra 2019 road test review - hero side

The fourth-generation Supra was a tough act to follow, its legendary status as much due to the immense tunability of its 2JZ-GTE engine as it was its distinctive styling. And while we have yet to see whether this fifth-generation Supra will go on to be quite as revered as its predecessor, our testers all agree that it’s a striking-looking thing.

Toyota claims the new GR Supra was inspired as much by the A80 as it was by the 2000GT sports car. And while it might be a convenient marketing angle for Toyota to refer to what are arguably two of its most iconic models when discussing the new Supra’s looks, you don’t need too vivid an imagination to pick up on the design references to both ancestors in the new car’s bodywork. Its proportions ape those of the 1960s grand tourer, while there’s more than a whiff of A80 around the headlights.

Boot lip spoiler is nowhere near as dramatic as that fitted to the previous Supra, but it’s an elegant touch that’s otherwise in keeping with the A90’s smart proportions.

Peel back that distinctive exterior and you’ll find evidence of the relationship with BMW. The GR Supra sits on the same version of BMW’s Cluster Architecture (CLAR) platform as the new ‘G29’ BMW Z4, uses the same 3.0-litre turbocharged straight six and drives its rear wheels through the same eight-speed ZF torque-converter transmission. It has an identical wheelbase and matching axle tracks and overall widths as the like-for-like Z4 M40i, although it’s marginally longer, lower and lighter.

Past these points the two start to diverge in their respective tunes and executions. The Supra’s steering rack, electronically controlled rear differential and steel coil suspension are all tuned to Toyota’s own unique calibration – so much so that Tetsuya Tada, the Supra’s chief engineer, told this magazine the Porsche 718 Cayman, rather than the Z4, is a more suitable subject for comparison.

These aren’t exactly hollow claims. Not only does Toyota say the Supra is more torsionally rigid than the Lexus LFA, but it’s also said to have a lower centre of gravity than the GT86 sports car. The ratio between its wheelbase length and track width (1.55:1) supposedly makes for the perfect balance between stability and agility. Toyota also attests to a perfect 50/50 weight distribution. On our test scales, the Supra weighed in at 1500kg, with that weight divided 51/49 front to rear.

Elsewhere, four-cylinder versions of the Supra currently only available in Japan look set to make their way to Europe soon. BMW M has also told us it would be “possible but unlikely” that its new ‘S58’ twin-turbo, six-cylinder M3 engine could appear in a hotter version of the Supra in future.


Toyota GR Supra 2019 road test review - cabin

It’s here that the Supra’s inherent BMW-ness is most apparent. Open those long doors and lower yourself into the snug, cosseting cabin and it’s the sheer volume of Munich-sourced fixtures and fittings that draw your eye and slightly confuse your brain.

A little effort has been made to hide the BMW connection in places (infotainment graphics, driver assistance controls, digital instruments), but the HVAC controls, column stalks, iDrive infotainment suite and gear selector are all lifted from BMW’s parts bin without any attempt made to hide it.

Toyota is to be commended for resisting the temptation to fit a typically fat-rimmed BMW steering wheel. Compared with that in the Z4, the Supra’s feels tiny by comparison. Chattier, too.

It makes for such a jarring first impression that you can forget what you’re driving, at least for a while, and wonder if it’s not the Toyota badge on the steering boss that seems more out of place than all of the BMW content encircling it. Several testers bemoaned the lack of apparent individuality you might expect of a Japanese sports car – and you would expect lifelong Supra enthusiasts who have been eagerly awaiting the A90’s arrival to feel that particular shortcoming even more keenly.

At the same time there’s objectively little wrong with the functionality of the Supra’s cabin. The controls are all within easy reach, there’s plenty of adjustability in the seating position and there’s a fair amount of storage space by the standards of the wider class: the car’s 290-litre boot is easily large enough for a weekend’s luggage.

The iDrive-based infotainment system is clear and easy to read, as is the digital instrument binnacle – which adopts a far more sensible graphical design than the odd hexagonal motif employed in the latest generation of BMWs.

Its BMW iDrive roots may be readily apparent, but that’s not a bad thing, given that iDrive remains one of the better suites currently on the market. The 8.8in dashtop-mounted display is clear and easy to read, despite seeming slightly angled away from the driver. The graphics are slick and the rotary controller mounted on the centre console means it’s easy to interact with on the move. The touchscreen can also be used to jump between menus, although doing so is best left for when stationary.

The handsome roster of standard features includes satellite navigation, DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity and Apple CarPlay. Supra Pro models gain a wireless phone-charging pad as well as a head-up display and a premium 12-speaker JBL audio system to replace the standard 10-speaker set-up.

Yes, it would have been nice to see Toyota graft more of its own unique identity onto the Supra’s interior. But at the same time, a bit of perspective is also needed because, if Toyota had relied entirely on its own parts bin instead, what are the chances that the end result would have been more befitting of a £50,000 sports car?


Toyota GR Supra 2019 road test review - engine

As we’ve established, the case for building a contemporary Supra hinged on the availability of a six-cylinder engine, and once you’re driving the new car, it doesn’t take long to understand why.

BMW’s single-turbo 3.0-litre B58 unit has neither the soul nor the top-end savagery of the twin-turbo S55 M-division masterpiece in the BMW M2 Competition, but it is a superbly tractable engine which spins in sweet, linear style, both effortlessly and powerfully. There exists only a 500rpm window between 1600rpm and 6500rpm when your right foot cannot unlock peaks of either 369lb ft or 335bhp, and while it’s quite plainly electronically augmented, the soundtrack of the engine is also rich and enlivening.

The Supra feels a touch over-tyred for the road. The rear Michelins are 275mm wide – 10mm more than you get on the oversteering marvel that is the M2 Competition.

Against the stopwatch, the Supra’s straight-line speed duly proves strong, if a little undramatic. With a launch control system that holds the engine only at 2000rpm, it’s prone to stuttering slightly off the line and never quite feels as though it puts all of that torque to work to move the car’s mass as smoothly and rapidly as it might. As a side note, it will, however, execute magnificent and easily controllable burnouts with all the stability aids switched off.

Once up and running, so linear is the power delivery and so steadfast are the wide rear Michelins that traction is never an issue, so the recorded times of 4.4sec to 60mph and 10.7sec to 100mph are respectably rapid.

They’re roughly what you’d expect of the original Porsche Cayman GT4, in fact, and pretty competitive (if not outstanding) for the current £50k sports car class, although the engine’s enthusiasm and energy fade away a fraction as it approaches the 6950rpm rev limiter, while the best in this class become even more ravenous. Throttle response is nevertheless excellent, and at higher engine speeds turbo lag is all but non-existent.

The engine isn’t the only reason why the Supra feels more like a sporting GT than a racer on the road. Upshifts from ZF’s eight-speed automatic gearbox are more languid than you might prefer, and while they’re supremely smooth on the way up, more eager drivers will miss the speed and precision of a dual-clutch automatic gearbox.

The paddle-shift action is also a touch ordinary for a purpose-built sports car – frankly, we’d rather Toyota gave us the control and involvement of a manual option and, sitting on a shelf in Munich, such a gearbox does indeed exist.


Toyota GR Supra 2019 road test review - on the road front

So does the Supra handle with the precision, poise and panache to make it the bona fide Porsche 718 Cayman rival it is claimed to be? The short answer is ‘not quite’ – although, for a front-engined sports car, it gets closer than you might expect.

Perhaps the biggest barriers the Supra faces in this respect are its packaging and size. It not only takes up more space on the road than a Cayman – or an Alpine A110 – but it’s heavier, too, and it feels it. Even with the adaptive dampers on their firmest setting, the sense that the chassis is having to work hard to resist body roll through faster bends and to check pitch and jounce over bumps is notably more pronounced than it might be in something smaller and lighter and with its engine perfectly located between the axles.

It takes up more space on the road than cars such as the Porsche Cayman or Alpine A110 and, with the engine in the front, handling is not quite as sharp in the corners.

Meanwhile, the fact that its comparably large engine is placed ahead of the driver, not behind, also contributes to the Supra’s inability to quite match the supreme fleetfootedness and agility of daintier mid-engined rivals, in particular the A110. These factors combine to ensure the Supra never feels quite as intuitive, compelling, responsive or precise in its handling as the very best sporting rivals when driven hard on a challenging stretch of road.

All that isn’t to say it’s devoid of a readily identifiable and entertaining athletic streak, and it certainly comes across as a more dynamically exciting machine than the BMW Z4. Its steering feels far quicker off centre than the BMW’s, its front end much more adhesive and darting. There’s a greater sense of composure about it, too, particularly at the rear axle.

The BMW’s tail can skit about under cornering or over off-camber surfaces, whereas the Supra feels more planted and secure with its adaptive dampers set to Sport. Leave them in Normal, however, and the compliance of the Supra’s suspension leaves a little more to chance.

This initial iteration of the fourth-generation Supra has not been developed specifically with track days in mind. In time, such a car is likely, but as it stands the Supra’s brakes begin to fade relatively early and the car’s weight – and the pronounced manner in which the car moves about its low centre of gravity – is simply too much and too often a feature of the handling to make this a track natural.

In Sport mode the gearbox is prone to abrupt downshifts (several rivals’ auto-blipping dual-clutch automatic gearboxes massage these out), but the car’s balance is good and its grip level dependably high, while the chassis makes for predictable slides – and plenty of fun – when you breach the limits of that grip. The Supra’s traction and stability systems work well to keep the car in shape in the wet, and don’t activate in a manner that’s overly severe when switched to their halfway setting.


The Supra’s abilities as a GT car might come as something of an unexpected bonus to a lot of owners, while to others they’ll offer exactly what a front-engined sports car like this ought to deliver, and will represent a fine reason not to buy a mid-engined alternative.

Despite its underlying tautness and sporting pretensions, there remains an impressive sense of suppleness and composure about the manner in which it rides with its dampers dialled down. The prospect of a long-distance cross-country schlep in the car needn’t give rise to any anticipatory wincing, then, and neither should that of everyday, any-condition, year-round use.

That said, particularly pockmarked surfaces can still give rise to momentary bouts of chassis noise. Hitting broken Tarmac at speed often leads to fairly forceful intrusions making themselves felt in the cabin but, on the whole, this is a smart-riding car. Smart enough, certainly, that there’s licence to sacrifice some of that pliancy in the pursuit of even tighter body control by switching to Sport mode when driving hard.

Cabin isolation isn’t especially outstanding. The Supra’s 275-section rear tyres are partly responsible, as is the fact there’s no physical barrier between cabin and boot. The consequence is that the interior turns into something of an echo chamber once moving. At a 70mph cruise, the Supra registered 72dB on our sound gear. By comparison, the Alpine A110 returned 71dB, while the 718 Cayman S showed 68dB.

Elsewhere, plenty of adjustability in both the seats and steering make for a comfortable driving position, while the seat bolsters are more than capable of holding you in place.


Toyota GR Supra 2019 road test review - hero front

The Supra line-up is straightforward. There’s the Supra and the Supra Pro, both of which use the same 3.0-litre straight six and include adaptively damped suspension, an active limited-slip differential, adaptive cruise control, dual-zone climate-control and the 8.8in infotainment display borrowed directly from BMW. The Pro costs an additional £1300 and adds leather seats, a head-up display and wireless phone charging, although both trim levels bring an entirely acceptable level of equipment to a £50,000 sports car.

The Supra is able to fulfil its GT-car aspirations reasonably successfully. Strong touring economy gives a motorway range of around 450 miles, and there’s much more storage potential than in mid-engined rivals.

Supra is forecast to retain value exceptionally well at first, but it trails the Cayman S and M2 after three years.

Some may find the cabin a little claustrophobic, however. This is a small car with high beltlines and something of a pillbox view through the windscreen. Equally, others will like the sense of intimacy and focus.

Despite its relatively commonplace badge, the Supra is forecast to hold its value well – 53% after three years and 36,000 miles is roughly the same as an M2 Competition, if shy of the 61% retained by the Alpine A110, which should prove a far rarer sight.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Toyota Supra


Toyota GR Supra 2019 road test review - static side

All the hype and 1990s nostalgia that came with the protracted development of the GR Supra leaves us yearning to write that it is thoroughly deserving of its revered cult nameplate and that it is the defining Japanese performance car of its era. But while it’s very good, it’s not quite that good. Not yet, perhaps.

Make no mistake, the fifth-generation Supra has plenty of strength and dynamic reserve, and plenty of likeability too. Not only has it got muscular, characterful straight-line performance, but it also successfully puts its shared platform architecture to use to

Fast, usable and has plenty going for it but leaves us wanting more

carve out a dynamic identity mostly of its own. And it looks fantastic. But the car’s cabin leaves too much room to wonder exactly how much truly distinctive Supra DNA really has been invested here, while to drive it is to be impressed at first but left ultimately with the nagging feeling that it could, and should, have been better still.

Perhaps we’ll be treated, in years to come, to a Supra with a manual gearbox and an engine to truly rise above the mid-engined alternatives, with even sharper handling and with less compromise made for the benefit of touring comfort. For now, we recognise a fine response to a tough brief – but there’s clear room for improvement.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Toyota Supra

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Toyota GR Supra First drives