Toyota has proven it can do wonders with its borrowed BMW platform – is it time to reconsider the GR Supra?
Long before the reveal, talk of the Toyota GR Supra’s BMW connection was rife. After its debut, no online comment thread was complete without something along the lines of “nice Z4, bro,” and as sighingly predictable as such responses were, these keyboard warriors were right – here’s a car that’s far more BMW than it is Toyota.
We got the ‘G29’ BMW Z4 and Toyota GR Supra together as quickly as we could and while there were some odd differences, the two cars felt – lo and behold – awfully similar. And that’s despite the fact that the Toyota gets its own springs, front lower wishbones, front anti-roll bars and bespoke software for adaptive dampers, and of course a stiffer sheet metal upper shell.
All of this would be fine if the GR Supra had made a real impact in the sports car world, but it’s always been a far cry from our top pick in the segment. Also, sales weren’t great, even for coupes. The thing is, this is far from the first time Toyota has relied on outside help to make a sports car. We don’t have to go far back to find another example – in fact, such a vehicle has just been launched.
We’re talking about the GR86, which – like its GT86 predecessor – is made by Subaru alongside the BRZ and powered by a feisty Subaru flat-four. And yet I’ve never seen anyone give one of these cars a hard time for their DNA, although the GR86 is even closer to a BRZ than the Supra is to the Z4. Maybe it has more to do with the story – for all its AE86 credentials, the GT86 isn’t meant to be a successor to the Hachiroku. The Supra, on the other hand, uses one of the most revered, spectacularly over-the-top badges in Japanese performance car lore.
Anyway, I couldn’t help but be amused last month when I realized I was attending a Toyota event to drive what was essentially a BMW – the GR Supra – and a Subaru – the GR86. But the thing is, the Supra in question was a little different than any I’d tried before. It had a manual transmission.
We’ve known this was coming for some time and you would have been forgiven for guessing how it might play out. After all, BMW has linked the ‘B58’ straight-six to a stick-shifting box before, so surely Toyota would throw one of those transmissions into the GR Supra? Apparently not.
To create the Supra’s manual, Toyota gathered a bunch of bits from the German company ZF and ended up with something that had to do with BMW’s gearbox but was broadly very different. Toyota even went through several shift knob designs and settled on a hefty 200g part because it felt best when rowing through cogs.
All the work was worth it. Putting a new ratio in the GR Supra manual doesn’t get that muddy, slightly vague shift you tend to get with a BMW manual. No – it glides beautifully with a sense of mechanical precision and a nice short throw.
It’s up there with the most satisfying gear changes currently and is also combined with considered clutch action and good pedal clearance for heel-to-toe downshifts. There’s an automatic rev-match feature, but unlike some other modern manual sports cars, you can just turn it off without turning off the traction and stability controls. Are you taking notes, Porsche?
remove one of the more meh Splitting the Supra – the standard eight-speed automatic – and replacing it with something far more appealing does wonders for the car. Toyota has fiddled with the chassis too, and while it appears marginally sharper, the GR Supra still feels fatter than we’d like. Also, this inline-six is far from BMW’s best, although its delivery seems more dramatic with those manual shift breaks.
Overall, however, the manual Supra is a huge improvement over the standard auto. It shows that Toyota is willing to take that BMW-borrowed box of bits and do some interesting things with it, although there’s not really a business case given the tiny, tiny sales volumes we’re talking about here. It’s heroic work made possible by the guy at the top – Akio Toyoda – who’s a real petrolhead. Something like that wouldn’t fly anywhere else.
We could also see more Supra derivatives. Don’t rule out the prospect of a Supra GRMN, but even if that doesn’t materialize, it shouldn’t matter. With the manual, Toyota proved that we really should make peace with the whole BMW thing.
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