Toyota GR SupraThe prodigal son returns
It’s been a long wait for the Supra badge to regain its flagship status as Toyota’s premium sports car offering. And there’s no question that this new generation MKV has some big tracks to follow given the name plates long lineage in Toyota’s sports car heritage.
But this 5th generation Supra brought an outside friend to the party. And it’s drawn some unfavourable attention under the glaring scrutiny of purist, hard core Toyota Supra enthusiasts and premium JDM tuning houses who hold its predecessor, the MKIV A80, in very high regard.
After two decades, and with expectations running so high for the return of this Toyota legend, you can appreciate why loyal fans were bemused by Toyota’s decision to involve another manufacturer in the development and production of the next generation of Toyota’s unique and iconic sports car.
Toyota understood very well the challenges in re-envisioning the Supra nameplate. It had to be more evolution than improvement to justify a rebirth. Yet the MKV Supra was Toyota’s first global GAZOO Racing (GR) model, so they had to remain authentic to the core design elements which define a Supra’s personality and appeal –
a responsive chassis, an assertive inline six with rear wheel drive delivering eye widening performance, all encased in a beguiling and curvaceous design.
The exact formula established back where it all began with the visually striking 1967 Toyota 2000 GT, which was worthy of a feature role in the James Bond movie “You Only Live Twice”.
Recent models like the highway marauder GR Corolla (full review here), the spirited GR86 coupe (full review here) and the dynamite GR Yaris have broadened the desire for the special qualities and performance capabilities synonymous with the GR brand. Vehicles chosen to wear the GR insignia are conceived and brought to reality by highly skilled engineers who are motoring enthusiasts and have a passion for driving. It’s their obsession and world championship-winning experience that defines Toyota GAZOO Racing and the vehicles they build.
Some will argue that this fifth- generation Supra is an imposter in the Supra’s lineage, nothing more than a window-dressed Toyota-badged BMW. At face value, it’s hard not to agree. But Toyota and BMW openly admit to the partnership. This was no secretive brown paper bag, bulging locked briefcase, or back-room discussions with company executives hiding behind dark glasses. It was an open collaboration between two highly respected companies, pooling specialist knowledge and resources to create something extremely desirable for their own targeted loyal customer base.
They assemble the Toyota and the BMW alongside each other at the Magna Steyr plant in Graz, Austria and share engines, suspension design, and auto transmissions with several interior controls, and buttons also supplied from the BMW stable. However, just as master chefs create unique dishes from the same ingredients, there is enough visual and tactile variation in the way each vehicle looks, feels and engages with the driver to appeal to a slightly different target audience. And, visually, you wouldn’t pick them as cousins thanks to very different body designs – one an elegant convertible for refined pampering and the other a sassy, track ready street machine.
Could Toyota have developed this latest generation Supra on its own? Of course. But at what cost and timeline—and what would that do to the sales price point? You don’t have to be a genius to appreciate sports cars are a niche market. And with Toyota no longer producing an inline six cylinder capable of delivering the required performance for the fifth generation Supra, the cost of developing and producing one in small numbers just isn’t logical or cost effective. Its specific design would limit its suitability for other applications, so no economy of scale … especially given a future focus on hybrid and electric drivelines. The engine would have been just one of the many complex challenges Toyota had to consider when assessing the viability of the Supra’s return.
However, Toyota and BMW acknowledge the demand for these types of vehicles is often from their most loyal customers and therefore they appreciate the significance and desirability of including “hero” vehicles in their lineup. Joining forces to create a mutually beneficial partnership with a two-way sharing of expertise, meant BMW could justify the ongoing existence of their gorgeous convertible, whilst Toyota could leverage the high-quality proven underpinnings as a base canvas to design their own individual vehicle. It enabled leveraging the economy of scale, reducing costly development, and allowing extra spend in other areas to deliver a vehicle with both alluring looks and a rewarding driving experience.
The question is, can this new Supra withstand intense scrutiny and hold its own under the heavy provenance of its predecessor’s lineage to gain the respect of loyal fans and validate itself as a genuine successor to the formidable A80? Or will it be unfairly judged as a high-quality facsimile only paying homage to a bygone era, because its purity of brand has been interwoven with the motoring DNA of a high-performance luxury German blood line. I guess time will reveal all, but if nature teaches us anything, it’s that the strongest survive and adapt to their surroundings.
Personally, I’m not seeing a problem. It’s high recognition from BMW to view the Supra as of equal standing and build quality to partner with Toyota and share their guarded technology and driveline engineering expertise. Of course, it was a two-way exchange with Toyota making their resources available to BMW as well. Another food analogy: one has eggs, the other bacon. Combine the two in a soft, buttered bun and the magic happens!
I guess I take a simple view. It’s not about the badging or who did what.
It’s the final result in terms of quality, reliability, desirability, fit for purpose functionality, value for money, and the outright enjoyment of ownership.
And, this drive time, my focus is on the specific combination of all that makes the Toyota Supra unique.
Having viewed a thousand or so images of this fifth generation Supra, I’ve got to say that with its mathematically complex seductive sculptured contours which merge seamlessly into sharp angular body lines and muscular curves, it’s a real challenge to capture this vehicle’s enigmatic charisma and soul in a single image and honestly do it justice.
In real life, the Supra’s form is bold and aggressive, rich in design detail with contrasting accents and highlights. Toyota have stayed true to their inspired concept design vehicle, the FT-1. You can check out our feature here on how the FT-1 morphed from early sketches capturing the imagination of Toyota fans around the world to getting the green light from the senior Toyota management team to make it a reality. We take an in-depth look at the history and legacy behind the Supra nameplate, starting from its humble beginnings to its racing pedigree, then international movie stardom propelling it to hero status and finally cementing a place in the hearts and minds of motoring enthusiasts everywhere.
Side on, the sleek swooping profile follows the morphology of classic sports car proportions.
From every angle, this is an automotive work of art. It’s a feast for the eyes with sassy curves, huge front air ducts that wouldn’t look out of place on a jet fighter, that long bonnet, it’s gorgeous domed low roofline at just a tad over 1.2m tall, those bulging powerful rear haunches, its low center of gravity and ground hugging predator stance, and the way the cabin is recessed deeply rearwards for near perfect 50/50 weight distribution, all aesthetically balanced over its visually muscular 4.3m length and broad shouldered 1854mm width.
This is a design that extends beyond just visual appeal. It reaches into your subconscious.
As you drink in its flirtatious curves and angles, there’s that little voice in your head whispering, no, yelling at you… “I must drive this”!
With performance in mind, it’s fitted with aluminium bonnet, doors, and wheel arches, plus a rear hatch made from a composite of polypropylene and fiberglass to ensure the Supra maintains a fighting weight of only 1,495kg.
Place this over the Supra’s 2,470mm wheelbase in combination with a slightly wider track on the front of 1,594mm and 1,589mm on the rear, and Tetsuya Tada, Chief Engineer of the Toyota GR Supra
achieved a golden footprint ratio between length and width to deliver a planted driving experience that’s not only responsive and stable but agile through the corners.
But the devil is in the detail… underneath, the engine, fuel tank and rear axle are fully covered while the front splitter and side canards, along with side skirts help slip stream and control airflow for better aerodynamic performance and straight-line stability at high speeds.
Underpinning our stunning Azure Blue Supra GTS test vehicle was a handsome looking set of 19-inch dark matte finished black forged alloy wheels wrapped with specially developed sticky Michelin rubber with 255/35ZR up front and wider 275/35ZR on the back. They even shaved the spokes and hubs to reduce unsprung weight and improve handling. Whilst the GT variant runs on 18s – with a slightly taller aspect ratio of 255/40 ZR18’s on the front and 275/40 ZR18 on the rear.
Staring at the Supra, I can’t help but scratch my head. I don’t wish to be disrespectful, but I must be honest. It’s a patchwork quilt of flamboyant mismatched design elements, angles, lines, and curves that taken individually should be in complete conflict with one another! However, all credit to the sorcery of the designers who bend and distort materials at will, it magically blends in a seamless, coherent form that exudes the emotion of speed and power even when standing still.
From demonic taillights recessed in a curvaceous figure, through athletic muscular dimension to an assertive front end with prominent predatorial gills on the bonnet and doors, chiseled features,
you become transfixed by the multi eyed slimline LED headlights that fearlessly peer back at you with an enigmatic stare.
I’d be willing to bet that if life imitated art, when Bruce Wayne needed to upgrade the old Batmobile, he’d be donning his ominous dark cape and mask with signature pointed ears before sliding into a Bathurst Black Supra waiting on the turntable in the bat-infested subterranean labyrinth deep below Wayne Manor. Truth be known, the main thing missing from the Supra’s exterior is a large rear circular exhaust nozzle for the afterburner.
The first thing you’ll have to contemplate is do you choose Monza Red, Fuji White, Azure Blue, Copper Grey, Plasma Orange or Bathurst Black for the GS. Or maybe Nurburg Matte Grey and Matte White if the GTS is in your sights.
You’ve probably noticed the naming nod to iconic racetracks, logical given the development by Toyota’s GAZOO Racing.
Caged beneath the bonnet is BMW’s well respected B58 DOHC 3.0 litre inline 6-cylinder. In Supra guise, it produces a crisp 285kW between 5,800 and 6,500rpm and peak torque of 500Nm from 1,800 to 5,000rpm. Fitted with a twin-scroll turbocharger, variable valve timing and direct fuel injection, the engine delivers smooth, reliable, and strong linear power – the ideal attributes to suit this new Supra’s character.
But this is where things get interesting and validate how Toyota has put their own stamp on the Supra’s design.
Harnessing the aggression of the force-fed six, you can choose the ubiquitous quick-shifting, sports-tuned eight-speed automatic and select between two drive modes; Normal is for everyday driving or cruising. Sport alters the engine sound and responsiveness, along with suspension damping, steering and the electric active differential settings for more of a performance driving experience.
And of course, what genuine auto sports car is complete without the must have party trick of launch control?
Engaging launch control will allow the Supra to flex its muscles to spin up the active electric limited slip differential and honker down on its adaptive suspension.
As you unleash a massive wave of torque, the driveline braces for impact, the rear pipes exult in a guttural snarl as those tacky Michelin donuts get mashed into the black top.
There’s an explosive surge as the Supra’s big six catapults off the line; showing no mercy, your body surges back into the seat, pinned back by the weight of acceleration as the tacho punches toward the redline. Muscle memory takes over as you instinctively snatch each successive gear change.
This beast slingshots through the 100kph marker in an eye widening assault on your senses in just a whisker over 4s.
Take a deep breath, relaxing your shoulders and white knuckled grip on the wheel; there’s no doubt in your mind that this successor has a strong case for proudly wearing the Supra name plate.
But I’m old school. I love the tactile feel and driver engagement that you only get through a manual transmission. No argument, technology has the upper edge, and the auto is unquestionably faster in a straight line every time, and maybe even on the track in the hands of a skilled racing driver. Which I’ll be first to agree is very important in a competitive environment. But there are still some of us who enjoy interacting with the vehicle that is reliant on our input and decisions. The additional delay, effort, and skill required to maintain clutch control, engine rpm balance, and gear selection for me are worth so much more in pure driving pleasure when you get it right than the 10th of a second lost in efficiency. I guess I’m not the only one who feels that way, as Toyota has given you the option to choose. Kudos to them for understanding the power of having a choice.
Whilst we’re talking about the manual trans; it’s a cracker!
While it is a ZF transmission built up from a range of standard ZF parts, it’s the combination of what was used that is exclusive to GR Supra. Toyota worked closely with ZF on the design/layout of the shift lever to minimize the effort required to make shifts and engage reverse gear. While the weight and shape of the shift knob, along with the quality of shift engagement, have all been precisely defined to work unencumbered in the Toyota interior layout.
And it integrates seamlessly with Toyota’s (iMT) rev matching technology programmed with new software that prioritises sporty performance. When up-shifting, the parameters are tuned to optimize engine torque at the moment of clutch engagement and release, and when needing to wash off speed through downshifts, the software includes rev matching for near seamless gear changes for consistent performance.
Managing connectivity between the motor and trans is a newly engineered large diameter clutch providing an increased friction area plus stronger clamping pressure, ensuring this new clutch is more than capable of harnessing the Supra’s gladiatorial explosion as it unchains 500Nm of brutality into the driveline.
Having the thrust and power to distort the perception of distance and time is one thing, being able to rein it in whilst altering the directional course is something completely different. This requires extensive engineering expertise and capability. Hidden beneath Supra’s voluptuous exterior, just behind the wheel facade, are a set of high performance vibrant red Brembo brakes, fitted with large, ventilated discs all round, powerful four-piston calipers on the front and efficient single piston calipers at the rear.
Whilst not as brutal as a catch wire on an aircraft carrier, they do provide a reassuring and confident response, allowing you to exploit the strong available braking torque for maximum effect and leverage the low-profile Michelins tenacity for grip.
The Supra’s performance braking system also incorporates various electronic driver assistance operations such as ABS, emergency brake assist, vehicle stability control and active cornering assist (which creates additional yaw movements by independent braking intervention to improve agility) as well as having drying and anti-fade functions. The drying function applies the brakes at pre-determined intervals when the car’s windscreen wipers are operating to dry the discs; fade prevention automatically increases brake pressure when the discs become hot.
Carving through corners is a pure delight. Despite its visual proportions, the Supra feels nimble, and this comes down to the crisp engine response and wide band of torque rolling on from just 1,800rpm all the way through to 5,000rpm. Whether you’re pulling out of a hairpin bend, pushing strongly in the mid-range for overtaking, or stretching the Supra’s legs granting freedom to all 285kW at once, the Supra is refined aggression personified. It’s like using a nicely incremented volume control. You can dial up or down just how excited and playful you’d like the Supra to be.
Riding on a MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension with anti-roll bars, the Supra uses a combination of aluminium control arms on the front with aluminium and steel at the back.
Having the advantage of adjustable adaptive dampers continually monitoring driving operation and road surface changes lets the Supra glide around town in Normal mode and does a pretty good job of suppressing most bumps, making it a pleasant daily driver.
Selecting Sport mode gives improved response and ride control, providing agile cornering and quicker reactions to driver input.
Either mode impressed me with the level or refinement that the Supra demonstrated, even over dubious road surfaces.
The active differential is key in the Supra’s handling prowess. It provides reassuring grip through bends, operating when accelerating and decelerating as it rapidly adjusts torque between the rear wheels from zero to 100% locked. An ECU continually monitors inputs from the steering wheel, throttle and brake pressure, engine, and wheel speed to differentiate torque delivery between the left and right wheels to retain grip and stability depending on the driver’s demands and road conditions.
The electric power steering provides great low speed manoeuvrability thanks to its high ratio 15:1 leverage and a tight 10.4m turning circle at only 2.1 turns, lock to lock. Probably not as sharp of centre as the GR86; there’s less of a go-kart dynamic about it, and more of a grown-up GT cruiser style – which I really enjoyed.
This is a vehicle that can effortlessly cruise on the open road, allowing you to relax, crank open the windows take in the fresh air as you glide through a succession of bends enjoying the overhead canopy of tall trees and dappled light winding your way along your favourite country road.
Hit the straight, slice down a ratio or two, bury the foot and the Supra will widen your smile and put a glint in your eyes with a gratifying growl and strong surge of urgency.
So, it’s quick off the mark, fast to 100, looks great, sounds mean, carves through corners and is easy to drive in and out of the city limits. But is it comfortable?
My first few attempts at getting in and out looked a little like emptying an octopus out of a glass jar… I was all legs and arms, providing onlookers with a giggle at my ungracious style.
Fortunately, my contacts at Toyota explained the very simple technique to allow me to look more like Daniel Craig in a James Bond film. Simply place your hand behind you on the underside of the door jamb just above the side sill, gently slide one leg out until your foot is grounded, then roll out slowly, pushing yourself upward with the right arm and presto! Autograph anyone… No?
Slip behind the wheel of our GTS GR’s cockpit and it has a simple focus on the most important person, the driver. The dash is uncluttered with no unnecessary distractions, providing easy access to the things you need. It’s long, flat and sits low, great for visibility and spatial awareness through both the front and side windows, and somewhat needed given the limited vertical height of the surrounding glass work. There’s a good-sized crisp colour 8.8-inch driver instrumentation display for a digital speedometer, central analogue-style tachometer, and multi-information vehicle display.
The leather wrapped steering wheel feels good in the hand, thick enough to avoid cramped fingers and well sized for vehicle control. There’s good rake and reach, allowing you to get the correct driving position. While the inner spokes have convenient controls for audio, phone, and cruise control. The auto has paddle shifters for driver engagement while letting them keep both hands on the wheel.
Driver and passenger seats are great, the eight-way power assist provides plenty of adjustment and large side bolsters cradle you safely through the bends. Knee pads on both the door and console keep you snug and supported during hard cornering.
Our GTS included self-indulgent niceties such as dual zone climate control; keyless smart entry and start; heated, leather-accented sports seats with lumbar support; sports pedals, a head-up display, and wireless phone charger.
But if you’d like to individualise your GTS a little more, you can choose the exclusive Alcantara interior trim and upholstery and a special limited paint job.
When it comes to practicality, sports cars are far from perfect.
However, it was great to find that the Supra had sufficient storage space under the hatch to accommodate the shopping easily or pile in overnight bags and smaller suitcases for a weekend retreat with your better half.
In the past, I’ve had the odd gripe at Toyota over some oddities in the way they relegate safety features across various models and specifications. But, given we were driving the flagship GTS, I wasn’t expecting any gaps.
For starters, the GTS includes all-speed active cruise control; front collision warning with brake function and daytime pedestrian and daytime cyclist detection. Toyota also included lane departure alert with visual, audible, and steering wheel vibration warnings and steering assistance, blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert – pretty much the standard expectation found in most modern cars.
There’s also a speed limit info system that detects certain road speed signs and displays the information on the multi-information display or head-up display (GTS only), while a speed limiter system enables the driver to set their own limit. If the limit is exceeded, the system controls engine torque and the transmission to suppress acceleration automatically.
For active safety, Toyota have fitted a driver and front passenger Advanced Airbag System (front, side, curtain and knee airbags), Vehicle Stability Control, Anti-lock Brake System, Traction Control, and Child Restraint System on the passenger seat (lucky kid—what a way to start enjoying the thrill of acceleration!). There’s rear cross-traffic alert, front, clearance and rear parking sensors and tyre pressure monitoring.
The GR Supra is also fitted with a reversing camera with guidelines and clearance sensors with rear end collision warning to provide plenty of visual and audio information on the car’s surroundings when parking, and this really is needed given the Supra’s low stance and even further reduced ground clearance. Just watch the nose on those large carpark kerbs… a forward-facing camera would be appreciated as the front parking sensors ignore something low, but high enough to scrape the skirt).
But keep in mind not all systems work across auto and manual transmission where there’s driver intervention to dip the clutch. Automatic transmission equipped GR Supra models come with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control whilst manual variants come with a traditional cruise control system deactivated by brake and clutch operation.
With its absence spanning nearly two decades, rumours and speculation over its return kept surfacing. Having been teased with the FT-1 concept, the highly anticipated return of the Toyota Supra certainly sparked strong reactions and discussions in the automotive community. It was actually in 2019 that dreams became reality and the fifth-generation Supra made its debut. In 2023, it continues to impress.
Some dedicated fans were disappointed, feeling cheated and pointing out that this latest incarnation had diluted the Supra’s purity and was a BMW with a different badge. It’s not untrue. Nor is it completely correct.
While both cars leverage some common mechanical and engineering design attributes and provide similar impressive outputs, they also possess distinct qualities that set them apart.
One could argue they are two uniquely different siblings from the same parents. Each offers a one-of-a-kind driving experience that cannot be replicated by the other.
The Supra is a modern interpretation of a much-loved legendary icon with a flamboyant exterior and purposeful interior that captures the essence of a race ready street machine hero.
While BMW enthusiasts can opt to hold their luxury brand as the preferred choice for refined performance and elegance.
Utilizing BMW technology and Gazoo Racing’s expertise, since 2019 this fifth-generation incarnation of the Supra is proving itself to be a formidable and nimble adversary that can proudly wear the Supra badge. I suspect it will be a few more years before a definitive verdict will be delivered on whether it has become truly accepted and maintains a loyal following that will ensure its ongoing evolution. For loyal Supra fans, I truly hope it does, as I really appreciate what this vehicle was and what the fifth-gen model delivers, and I’m thankful Toyota made it for all to enjoy.
Vehicle: 2023 Toyota GR Supra GTS
Price: $107,197 (at time of writing)
- Engine: 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo-petrol
- Output: 285kW/500Nm
- Transmission: Six-speed manual
- Fuel: 8.9L/100km
- Warranty: 5 Year unlimited kilometres
- Safety rating ANCAP (not yet tested) – see above and Toyota site for extensive range of safety systems
About our Motoring Editor: Ray has been passionate about all things automotive since he first started collecting Matchbox and Hot Wheels models when he was five. Since leaving his executive role at General Motors (GM), he’s been sharing his driving experiences with Australian audiences for nearly 20 years, commencing his automotive journalist career with a popular WA-based magazine and was writing his own column in The West Australian for 8 years.
Ray’s strong love of automotive engineering and clever design has seen his articles and photography featured in prominent national magazines in Australia and the UK. He loves sharing his passion with other drivers, including via a long running stint as Senior Instructor for Land Rover Experience, providing training and education for new vehicle owners.
Recently Ray has been presenting on TV shows including Ready for Adventure and the very popular Caravan and Camping WA, to showcase some of the great products, vehicles and companies that make getting out and exploring Western Australia that much more enjoyable.