What can't our long-term Toyota Supra do?

Published: 29 April 2021

► CAR lives with a Supra
► Ben Barry is a big fan
► Will living with one change that?

Complaining that a Supra isn't very practical is like complaining a sportsbike is too windy, so I won't go on about its two seats limiting how much a family man like myself can use it. But recently it proved perfectly useable for several two-hour trips to and from Brands Hatch for the final two race weekends of the EnduroKa season.

The Supra's a good long-distance cruiser, and it's doing high-20s mpg despite significant enthusiasm on post-race drives home. And, thanks to a seat that slides back a long way, I was able to use it to change into my fire-retardent race gear. Who needs a motorhome?

By Ben Barry

Logbook: Toyota GR Supra

Price £54,340 (£55,050 as tested)
Performance 2998cc turbocharged six-cylinder, 335bhp, 4.3sec 0-62mph, 155mph (limited)
Efficiency 34.4mpg (official), 28.4mpg (tested), 188g/km CO2
Energy cost 17.5p per mile
Miles this month 679
Total miles 3443

Month 3 living with a Toyota Supra: visiting the ghost of Christmas future

Garage-D Supra front

AE86, 2JZ, S15, RB26, Sil80... if this sounds like an internet error code, you probably shouldn't visit Garage-D, and if you do, you might be asked to leave. Based in converted farm buildings outside Watford, Garage-D is run by Julian Smith and specialises in drift and track preparation, most notably rear-drive Japanese cars to which those alphanumeric codes relate, though he's also a BMW man.

I've known Julian for over 15 years, in which time he's worked on my M3, lost none of his Kiwi-tinged Irish accent, and – more famously – prepared cars for the Fast & Furious films. He's built a reputation partly on his talent for thinking outside the box like an old-school rally mechanic – he could probably rebuild a 2JZ Supra motor with a cable tie and a spanner from a Christmas cracker if he had to – but Julian's also a highly accomplished driver.

He's most associated with the '90s/early-noughties peak of Japanese high performance including Mk4 Supras, S-body Nissans and R32-34 Skylines. But more recently he's been investigating tuning options for the new BMW-based Mk5 Supra.

Read our full Toyota Supra review

Garage-D engines

He asked if I'd like to bring the CAR Supra down for a comparison with a tuned example owned by customer Duncan Lang, the yellow car in these pictures. Mk4 Supra owners generally arrive in a Gold's Gym T-shirt doing a rolling burnout, but the Mk5 is clearly attracting a different crowd if Duncan is representative. He's enjoyed a long career working in project management for car makers and major suppliers, including ensuring Renault Sport and Ford RS/ST models were equipped with seats.

Duncan was at Garage-D within weeks of getting his new Toyota. 'I liked the Supra, but it could feel quite strangled, as though there was a restriction in the exhaust, and it perhaps wasn't as exciting as I hoped,' he sums up.

The first step was to treat the 3.0-litre straight-six turbo engine to a stage 1 ECU re-map. The stock baseline was recorded at 355bhp on what's described as an independent and conservative rolling road. The re-map wasn't immediately straightforward, as it transpired the third-party software had been written for US cars, but with some fine tuning it eventually recorded 402bhp – more than the 377bhp upgrade announced for US Supras in 2020 (if without the US models' lower-compression pistons and six-port exhaust manifold).

More recently Duncan's Supra has gone to a stage 2 ECU tune. Induction is standard, but there's a new de-cat HKS exhaust that still works with the active flap in the driver's-side exhaust outlet. An issue with the dyno means a reliable horsepower figure hasn't yet been recorded, but subjectively I can tell you: IT'S LOTS.

Much as I'm interested in the power upgrade, the conservative chassis upgrades on Duncan's car are actually more intriguing; as I noted last month, our Supra seems to have much less traction than the car I first drove, and slides both early and very quickly.

Turns out the US cars have had suspension updates, but there's evidence online of alignment inconsistencies on Euro-spec cars, and Garage-D found Duncan's example less than ideal. They've adjusted toe and camber to compensate and give the rear tyres more contact patch while cornering, but this car is also on Tein lowering springs, which drop the car 25mm at the front and 20mm at the rear. Running small wheel spacers, the result's subtle, but does give the Supra a more purposeful stance.

Garage-D Supra

Duncan kindly offers me a drive. I fire up his car and the HKS exhaust erupts like a fireworks display. It certainly gives the Supra a stronger voice, but the pops on the overrun make it sound like you're misbehaving even when really you're not. I'd pass.

I like the power upgrade, though – the throttle response feels much more urgent, and there's more oomph brewing immediately under your right foot when you accelerate, as well as a far stronger and richer top end, where the stock car runs out of puff. It feels so much more potent even when you go steady that I'd guess at 450bhp.

It's bucketing it down during my drive, so I never feel comfortable lighting it up and punching in shifts with the throttle pinned, but apparently the shift strategy for the eight-speed auto is more aggressive in Sport, and puts a bigger gap between Sport and Comfort.

The differences to the chassis are quite pronounced. Fitting lowering springs can often destroy ride quality, but these Tein springs might actually have improved it. Yes it feels firmer in some ways, but Duncan's Supra doesn't seem to suffer the abrupt checks at the rear on the rebound that the standard car sometimes does. It also feels more consistent when I carve into a roundabout off-throttle, as though the front and rear ends are better connected and the way it loses grip (within the confines of the fully activated stability control, given the conditions) is more progressive – though the alignment adjustments are all bundled up in this change of feel.

garage-d chat

If I had to choose from all these mods, I'd play about with the chassis first, and it's interesting that just changing the alignment could make a big impact, without actually modifying any of the standard parts at all.

Knowing Garage-D, though, this is just the first step on a journey that'll one day lead to a full-house track car to rival the 800bhp Mk4 monster he has tucked away. Whatever Julian does, it'll be well worth watching out for.

By Ben Barry

Logbook: Toyota GR Supra Pro

Price £54,340 (£55,050 as tested)
Performance 2998cc turbocharged six-cylinder, 335bhp, 4.3sec 0-62mph, 155mph
Efficiency 34.4mpg (official), 29.3mpg (tested), 188g/km CO2
Energy cost 17.4p per mile
Miles this month 825
Total miles 2764

Month 2 living with a Toyota Supra: it can be comfy too

Supra LTT gearshift

I think this new Toyota Supra's a great motorway car. I know, that sounds a bit damning for a sports car, but it's because it feels so planted when you're cracking on. It's satisfying in a way I can't quite pinpoint just yet, although it's something to do with the swell of torque always available from the silky BMW turbo six.

I always default to the softer damper setting, even when I've got the steering and powertrain in perkier Sport (press start, select gear, press Sport, it's ingrained now), because the stiffer damper mode is a bit spiky.

You sit slightly recumbent in the low-set driving position (comfy enough, though my back's had enough after two hours). Road noise would creep in from the unseparated rear luggage area, but I tend to crank up the stereo to cover it up. My car's spec includes 12-speaker JBL Audio.

It's not just about laid-back, stereo-up motorway driving, though. I also particularly enjoy squirting along quick third- and fourth-gear twisty roads – that planted feel again, the smooth performance, how eagerly it changes direction and the accurate, pacey steering. I'd like more feel to that steering (make that some steering feel) and crisper gearshifts, and I can see there's room for extra dynamic sparkle on more technical roads, but I always enjoy the Toyota.

For a while I thought this car had less traction than the last new-generation Supra I drove. Tyre tread on the Michelin Pilot Super Sports is still very healthy, but the car was sliding early and quickly – short wheelbase, decent torque – in a softish sort of way. I adapted by not flattening the throttle quickly, more feeding it in like I'm dosing an infant on Calpol. And then I checked the pressures. They're at 30psi, down from the minimum 32psi recommended and I presume they've been that way while I've had it, seeing as the tyre-pressure monitoring hasn't blinked. Time for some higher pressures and a bit of experimentation, I think.

By Ben Barry

Logbook: Toyota GR Supra Pro

Price £54,340 (£55,050 as tested)
Performance 2998cc turbocharged six-cylinder, 335bhp, 4.3sec 0-62mph, 155mph
Efficiency 34.4mpg (official), 30.5mpg (tested), 188g/km CO2
Energy cost 16.7p per mile
Miles this month 1143
Total miles 1979

Month 1 living with a Toyota Supra: hello and welcome

Supra LTT cornering

There's so much irresponsibility to mentally sift through but ultimately there are two images that leap out when I think Toyota Supra, both Mk4-related. The first is Kazuhiko 'Smokey' Nagata, owner of Top Secret, a Japanese tuning house. Smokey brought his 1000bhp Supra to the UK in the late 1990s, hit 197mph on a straight stretch of the A1 (M) in the dead of night, before attending a Cambridgeshire police station and being sent back home.

The second was a pre-YouTube video of a lemon yellow Supra from Japanese tuners Jun, drifting a fast, dry corner on a circuit. It came into shot towing a cloud of tyre smoke and exited with a trebly wail that swirled howling turbo and screeching tyres into one nails-on-blackboard cacophony. I never knew cars could do this on a sealed surface.

The Mk4 ended production in 2002 but still has a strong following (sought-after UK-spec cars are advertised for £40k-£50k), and a fanbase that kept the faith for 17 whole years before the Mk5 arrived. So when a long-term loan became a possibility, that long wait and all that residual fondness meant I put my hand up for the keys like an over-eager pupil desperate to answer a question. I now have six months to resist driving like a lunatic in an Initial D comic.

While key tenets of the Supra philosophy remain the same, namely a turbocharged straight-six engine and rear-drive layout, more is different about this all-new generation – especially as the Mk5 is based on the BMW Z4 platform, and built at the same Magna Steyr production facility in Austria.

Read our BMW Z4 long-term test

So not only are the powertrain, suspension hardware and electronic systems carried over from the BMW, but so too is the infotainment and switchgear – you select Drive (this time the Supra is automatic only) on a BMW shifter, and twirl an iDrive rotary controller to select your radio station and nav destination. The interior even smells distinctly BMW. This seems strange at first, like opening your front door but walking into someone else's house. Equally, though, I'd rather use BMW infotainment than Toyota's.

For all the commonality, Toyota has been free to take this car in its own direction, with Tetsuya Tada (the engineer behind the GT86) leading development and giving the Supra his own distinctive signature. Not forgetting that the Supra is available only as a coupe, the Z4 only as a cabriolet – the only bespoke small sports car BMW makes and it lets Toyota do the more sporting version!

Supra LTT rear

More than the platform, the bigger mental block for me was performance. The Mk4 Supra went head-to-head with the R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R, so I was sceptical on first hearing the Supra would produce 335bhp – comparable to the last of the UK models sold two decades earlier and far short of the now-ancient R35 GT-R's 562bhp.

But then the new Supra is also £31k cheaper than the £84,035 Nissan GT-R, and this is a more compact Supra than its predecessor – 131mm shorter overall and with a wheelbase 80mm shorter, which has played a useful part in keeping the weight down to a comparable 1495kg despite two decades of safety kit and technology added in.

The latest Supra GR (for Gazoo Racing, the umbrella for all Toyota racing exploits/racey road cars) comes in either entry-level or Pro trims. Our car is a Pro, which costs £54,340 and adds wireless phone charging, head-up display, 12-speaker JBL audio, full leather (standard is alcantara and leather) and a luggage net to an already strong standard spec.

Considering that Pro is but a £1305 premium, it's hard to imagine Toyota selling any entry-level Supras at all. Refreshingly, the only option added to our car is £710 for metallic white paint. It leaves the final tally at £55,050.

When I first drove the new Supra last year, I said I'd happily own one. This long-term loan will be the acid test.

Our Supra's spec details

Fully loaded
Our car gets the top-spec Pro trim (the launch-special A90 Edition was limited to 90 units). It adds just £1305 to the price, but comes with a stack of extra kit, including 12-speaker JBL audio and full leather. The only other option on our car is £710 of metallic white paint.

BMW for collab
Just like it did for the GT86, Toyota has teamed up with another manufacturer for the Supra – this time BMW. But unlike the Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ, there's more than just badge engineering – the two cars look completely different, and only the Supra is a coupe.

Sawn-off dimensions
BMW 3.0-litre straight six with a twin-scroll single turbocharger gives 335bhp and 369lb ft torque. Eight-speed auto is standard, as are adaptive dampers. Wheelbase is shorter than the more junior GT86; the Supra has two seats, where the GT86 is a 2+2.

Logbook: Toyota GR Supra Pro

Price £54,340 (£55,050 as tested)
Performance 2998cc turbo straight-six, 335bhp, 4.3sec 0-62mph, 155mph
Efficiency 34.4mpg (official), 33.5mpg (tested), 188g/km CO2
Energy cost 15.5p per mile
Miles this month 352
Total miles 836

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator