First Drive: Canadians get chance at 300 Toyota GR Supras

Canadian dealers will only sell the fully-loaded trim level of the Supra

Published: July 15, 2019, 5:30 PM
Updated: November 23, 2021, 4:05 PM

2020 Toyota GR Supra

MONT-TREMBLANT, Quebec—We’ve seen the new Supra at this year’s car shows, with its double-bubble roof and gaping air intakes. We’ve read the specs of how it accelerates from zero-to-100 km/h in 4.3 seconds, and we’ve made the comparisons against the more expensive BMW Z4 convertible, with which it shares a platform and engine configuration.

But when you actually slide in behind the wheel, press the starter button and bring that inline-6 to life – how is it then? When you glide out onto a racetrack and mash the throttle pedal to the carpet, does it do what you hope for? Does it justify every penny of its $64,990 price tag? Will it make you want to own one of the 300 arriving in Canada this year?

More power

That’s up to you. Toyota already makes a fun-to-drive track car in the Toyota 86 – a stripped-down sporty coupe that costs less than half the price of the Supra. The 86 has a 205-hp boxer-4 engine that brings you up to speed and its chassis lets you throw it around a track all day long, but you’re not going to win many races against more powerful cars. The Supra steps it up a few notches and starts taking itself seriously.

The Supra is powered by a 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-6 engine that’s good for 335 hp. Why so low, when the similar BMW engine produces a hefty 382 hp? Ask Toyota people and they’ll point out that the torque rating is much closer – 365 lb-ft. for the Supra compared to 368 for the Z4 – and then they’ll tell you to drive the car and see if you think it’s lacking.

On the road, the Supra doesn’t need any more power. It’s not a heavy car, with a curb weight of 1,541 kg, which means the extra power would be wasted by any drivers who want to keep their licences. On the track, more power is often a good thing, but the 50/50 weight balance and the strong torque means the car will slice through corners with less effort than much of its competition.

Its rear-wheel drive is helped by an electronically-controlled active differential that keeps tabs on oversteering. If you set the Drive mode to Sport, the computer will allow more wiggle at the back, but will never completely shut off. In any case, the standard 19-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires stick like glue. Sport mode will also firm up the steering and the active suspension, and make the shifts even quicker, as well as open the baffles for a louder, throatier roar from the pipes.

How will it fare through the corners, side-by-side with a Z4? I don’t know, because there wasn’t a Z4 at the track for a comparison. On paper, the Z4 is faster from standstill to 100 km/h by 0.2 seconds – the Supra claims to get there in 4.3 seconds – but it’s fair to say the two are close enough that the better driver will always win.

Only automatic

For all its driving prowess, however, this is not a purist’s car. It is not offered with a manual transmission, but only an 8-speed, paddle-shifted ZF automatic. This is the way almost all cars are going, of course, and Toyota is just responding to the market. The base model 86 comes standard with a stick-shift, but the extra power of the Supra raises the stakes and most buyers are expected to want the paddles. In any case, there will be only 300 Supras brought into Canada this year, and that small number means we’re dependent on the whims of the United States, importing them as part of a homologated job lot. And Americans don’t like manuals.

As well, Canadian dealers will only sell the fully-loaded trim level of the Supra. In the States, there are three different trims with a cost difference of about $5,000 US between top and bottom, starting at just under $50,000 US, but our Canadian version lists for $64,990 and comes with everything. Again, this is because of the comparatively small number of cars being brought into the country. Canadian dealers will get only a couple of Supras each, and it’s expected that most buyers would choose the loaded editions.

If it’s being cross-shopped against the Z4, which costs at least $10,000 more, the Toyota is a clear winner.

Top technology

For the money, you get a premium interior with an 8.8-inch central display, colour touch screen. It’s intuitive and works well. The stitched leather seats are available in either black or red, and there’s real carbon fibre on the centre console.

You also get the latest “Toyota Safety Sense” driver’s assistance package, which includes improved sensors, active lane guidance, adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking. And you get almost the top end of Toyota’s connectivity features: “almost” because it includes Apple CarPlay but, unlike every other 2020 Toyota except for the Prius, does not include Android Auto. It also does not include wireless phone charging, but that’s a First World problem.

Back on track

This fourth generation Supra has been a long time coming – too long, Toyota freely admits. It’s been more than 20 years since the last Supra was sold in North America, and that car was heavier and more expensive. It wasn’t all that good looking either, but then beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Toyota will have no trouble selling the 300 Supras that will arrive in Canada this year, and then no trouble selling at least the same again next year. It will show barely a blip on the company’s bottom line since it sold almost three times that many vehicles every single day last month, but it gives Toyota a halo car again – something to be proud of.

And if a capable driver can use it to take down a BMW Z4 on the track, all the better.