2020 Toyota Supra Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Winner
Toyota’s new sports car sparks debates, perhaps unlike any other car on the market today—and that’s just one reason we love it.
Full disclosure: I was already a fan of Toyota's 2020 Supra before the 2020 Automobile All-Stars evaluation began; I had the pleasure of test driving one around a racetrack, plus performing several-hundred miles of street plodding a couple of months earlier.
The Toyota Supra became quite a polarizing talking point from the day it arrived to All-Stars, mostly due to having BMW-labeled parts. So this is my take on the shared-parts, "it's not really a Supra" grumblings that have been heard since before the car hit the market: I actually have no idea why all the fuss; there was nothing like this hysteria when the Scion FRS/Toyota 86 variant of the BRZ arrived as the result of that partnership with Subaru. Okay, so the Supra has decades of "legend" behind it that those cars did not, but in the end, we got served two quite capable rear-drive hot rods, instead of zero—wow, such a problem. Likewise, with the Supra and BMW Z4 we got two more fun sports cars to play with. The alternative? The possibility of BMW killing the Z4 and Toyota not bothering. Three cheers for deal making, imagination, and realistic foresight, I say.
One other point: We were lucky to have the Supra and BMW Z4 M40i at All-Stars this year. They don't look the same inside or out, they sound and drive differently, plus the BMW costs almost $14,000 more. Who cares if the welcome chime on a BMW sounds like the Supra? Maybe only a certain population of journalists, social media instigators, and the odd BMW owner?
I was surprised to learn how many of the scribes gathered for All-Stars had never driven the new Toyota Supra. All seemed excited at the prospect of having a go and, most fascinating, the opinions spanned far and wide after everyone drove it on the street and on the track.
"Wow, do I love this car," effused senior editor Aaron Gold. Contributor Basem Wasef echoed, "The Supra is the rare example of a car whose persona proves to be just as intriguing as the buzz
preceding it." Fellow contributor Arthur St. Antoine lit up a counter point, saying, "I may well be way out on my own on this one but, I don't get the Supra, not at all. To me, it's hideously ugly—bulbous, weirdly proportioned, with a carp-like mouth and a rear end that looks like a cat that smashed face-first into a window." As you might imagine, bringing up the Supra in the All-Stars group was like bringing up politics or religion at Thanksgiving dinner with the relatives: evil but fun.
To me, the Supra embodies what I understand a true GT car to be: It's comfortable over long distances, it has sleek and sporty looks, performance when you ask for it, seating for at least two, plus luggage, with room to spare. Another bona fide GT qualification: a passenger has convenient and easy access to the rear luggage compartment by just turning around in their seat, without need to exit the car.
I wasn't the only one who appreciated the Supra's ample luggage capacity. Social media editor Billy Rehbock said, "The Supra's big trunk is also really useful, and I was able to pack quite a bit of gear back there when I brought the red coupe back to Los Angeles."
The 2020 Toyota Supra was a joy, on the road with comfortable, well-bolstered seats; it's plenty fast, with a sweet automatic gearbox, connected steering feel, playful handling, excellent suspension tuning, and it's quiet enough for conversation. Detroit bureau chief Todd Lassa added, "Nice interior with easy ingress and egress."
There are two drive modes, Normal and Sport, plus the ability to choose individual settings if you desire. I was a happy camper in Normal mode for all of my street miles, and I found the suspension settings comfortably complaint.
Features editor Rory Jurnecka said, "Turn-in is insanely quick and the car has plenty of power and grip. The engine lives to be run to redline; it's smooth as silk and sounds terrific. Lovely little pops and bangs under deceleration. Shifts feel dual-clutch gearbox quick." Digital editor Ed Tahaney also enjoyed himself. "The Supra's like a crazy schnitzel/dumpling combo," he joked. "Fun as hell and looks amazing, a super, drift-happy, rear-wheel roller-coaster ride."
Lassa had his doubts in the handling department: "Decent fun on the canyon road and comfortable as a daily driver on the other roads, so long as you don't turn all the nannies off," he said. "It's clear from the road drive the Supra was designed to be a drift-car which doesn't make sense to me." St. Antoine was again fervent with his thoughts, saying, "Wow … on the track, you'd better be ready to wrestle 'cause the Supra takes its own line until you bludgeon it back onto your intended path. Where's the fun? Where's the polish?" Hearing those comments, editor-in-chief Mac Morrison said, "Huh. Interesting. Did I drive the same car? I love how lively the tail is; it makes this car mega-easy to rotate, and to hang-out sideways in slide mode. Usually we complain about everything having too much understeer … now we're moaning about oversteer? I think you just have to get used to this car if it makes you uncomfortable at first—when you get the hang of it, it's amazingly entertaining and satisfying to drive."
I agree with Tahaney and Jurnecka and Morrison, but I also see St. Antoine's and Lassa's points, in this sense: The Supra does respond and rotate very quickly to steering input, in part due to a short wheelbase and not solely due to its suspension setup. If your steering input is a little too quick, the rear will pop out of line, and this can feel unnerving. But quick chassis reaction to steering input is exactly why I and its other proponents found the Supra to be such a willing partner, especially on the track; it suits my driving style perfectly.
As Morrison said, most road cars are setup to understeer; it's safer and easier to manage. Consequently, drivers can get away with very fast steering-wheel input rates to make a car turn and get away with it. This is not the case with the Supra. The Toyota demands slower hands if you're going to rip a quick, tidy lap. Gold made a good observation when he said, "The Supra is not so much twitchy as it is lively. It loves to get that back end loose, and it'll dance around but won't actually spin. The computers save you and you'll barely realize it's happening."
I actually ended up turning off the traction and stability control when running a fast lap. I had to do this because my left-foot brake release turn-in was constantly bumping the nannies and killing momentum. Yes! You can left-foot brake the Supra while on the gas, so I give Toyota a huge Thank You. I can't tell you how rare it is for any modern high-performance sports car to handle like early generation Mazda Miatas. But the fact is, the Supra manages it, with more than twice the Miata's horsepower.
The 2020 Toyota Supra is a blast to drive, whether on a trip to the store, all day, or on your favorite racetrack. It can provide buckets of accessible driving fun without landing you in jail. It's a modern sports car for the masses, complete with attention-grabbing looks, an attitude, and the chops to back it all up. With a base price of just $49,990, the Supra's existence means a car buyer's life is very good right now.
Wasef made the definitive observation: "The Supra holds an important flame for sports car lovers everywhere." I could not agree more. The 2020 Toyota Supra is a most worthy All-Star, generating more conversation, opinion, and expletives than any other vehicle at this year's Automobile shootout. For that, it really deserves a second, standalone award.
Photos - William Walker