First drive: 2020 Toyota Supra
Foot cemented to the brake pedal, I sat under the warm West Virginia sun and stared through the windshield of the 2020 Toyota Supra as a flag waved in the distance. It was signaling me onto the Shenandoah Circuit at Summit Point Motorsports Park, but the anticipation was so paralyzing, I almost couldn’t lift my foot from the pedal.
See, my life with the Toyota Supra started before I even had a driver’s license. I saw so many Supra dyno queens and quarter-mile monsters on the internet, I thought all Supras had 1000 horsepower. I was infatuated by the fourth-generation (1993-98) Supra’s ability to fight above its weight class. It was an obtainable car that, if tuned correctly, could outrun, out-brake, and outshine most exotics.
With its rear wing, long roof, and cat-like rear-wheel haunches, the design was one-of-a-kind. Best of all? The sounds it made, especially the buuurrrrr-zzzzsss of the exhaust note on my single-turbo conversion! You could hear the car before it was ever in sight.
My first car, in high school, was a Mitsubishi Evo 8, but the Supra was always in the back of my mind. I eventually bought a 1994 Jet Black drag-prepped Targa Top with an enormous turbo, and later settled on three additional stock Turbo Hardtops as well as a streetable, 700-horsepower, track-prepped Turbo Targa Top. My Renaissance Red 1994 Hardtop was featured in the 2018 Hagerty Bull Market List.
The most important lesson I’ve learned over the years is that the MKIV’s malleability allowed owners to set up the car for whatever discipline they desired. The A80 chassis is a blank canvas that can be modified in any direction, and the aftermarket support is limitless. You could bring its all-world 2JZ inline-six engine to quadruple-digit horsepower, you could pick from endless catalogs of parts to set up a show car, and everything else between. I found my sweet spot with a small, single-turbo conversion, a full interior, and all the suspension mods that I could throw at the car. I’ve attended Supras in Vegas, the largest gathering of Supras in the country, for the past four years, and I can assure you that no two Supras are alike.
Strangely enough, the Supra MKIV wasn’t nearly as popular when it was new as it is now. Toyota sold fewer than 700 units in 1998, its final year in the United States. In stock form the A80 was a very good, extremely reliable car, but the golden era of 1990s Japanese sports cars was fading, the Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo, Mazda RX-7, and Mitsubishi 3000GT also getting the ax. The Supra’s starring role in The Fast and the Furious brought it thundering back onto the scene in 2001, though. Fueled by the tuner culture and its movie stardom, the MKIV ascended to greatness, then legend, and is now a bonafide collector car.
2020 Toyota Supra: The German connection
This brings us to 2019, when we are faced with a new Supra for the first time in over 20 years. It’s an old friend coming back into your life that you just don’t know if you can trust like you used to. Why did Toyota partner with BMW? Why isn’t there a manual transmission? Is the new car a true successor to the MKIV?
My day started in a resort conference room in Middleburg, Virginia, that was stuffed with a couple dozen journalists, large flat-screen monitors, and a tremendous Supra-branded backdrop framing Toyota’s presenters. The atmosphere was equal parts anticipation and tension, because we were finally about to get behind the wheel of a vehicle that has set the internet on fire with controversy.
Each Toyota team member took to the stage with a supreme confidence in their new Supra. They made it clear that this was not a car they needed to make, but rather a car they wanted to make. Quickly doubling down, they said Toyota didn’t just want to build a sports car, Toyota wanted to build a Supra.
Knowing what was on everyone’s mind, the Toyota people quickly addressed the partnership with BMW. In today’s automotive economy, they explained, it makes fiscal sense to co-develop niche sport cars, and BMW is a leader in inline-six engines. (Isao Tsuzuki, chief engineer of the A80 and mentor to Tetsuya Tada, chief engineer of the new, A90-chassis car, decreed an inline-six as a Supra essential). Tada-San, who was a part of the first secret meeting at BMW HQ, credits the German automaker with outlining the earliest part of the process. The Germans recommended that each team establish its goals first and then come together to decide if they could collaborate to achieve their desired results.
The answer turned out to be yes and a prototype vehicle based on a shortened BMW 2 Series chassis named the Full Runner was built. Its success and proof of concept was the basis for what we see today in the MKV, particularly the ultra-short wheelbase and wide track (sporting a ratio of 1.55). Tada-San explained that as soon as Toyota and BMW decided on the fundamental platform dimensions the two teams went separate ways, ceased communication, and focused on their own goals. The tuning of the Supra’s engine, transmission, steering, and suspension; the rigidity of the body; and the design of the exterior were all handled by Toyota. Tada-San and Chief Driver Herwig Daenens had their hands all over the project.
Toyota’s transparency throughout the media event provided a level of comfort with the partnership that I did not anticipate. It was evident that without the cooperation with BMW, a new Supra would likely not exist. I think that a proven BMW inline-six engine, codeveloped chassis dimensions, and BMW interior running gear are a fair trade-off for the birth of the A90.
Designed in California
The unique chassis dimensions meant that the team at Calty Design Research, Toyota’s Southern California design studio, had their work cut out for them. In 2014 at the North American International Auto Show, Toyota unveiled the Calty-designed FT-1 concept car, and its long hood, aggressive ducting, and silhouette reminiscent of previous Toyota sports cars like the MKIV and 2000GT were a clear play toward a next-generation Supra. The rumor mill ignited and Supra fans, for the first time in years, caught a glimpse of a light at the end of the tunnel.
In translating the FT-1 design to the constraints of the new MKV chassis, Calty designers were able to carry over the strongest design cues, including the large front nostrils, the bottomline aero kit, the double-bubble roof, the split exhaust, the duckbill trunk, and the pointed taillights with accompanying vertical vents. Tada-San says there is no other mass-produced car in the world with this kind of body work and that only a few years ago this rear fender width was deemed impossible to manufacture. The production line at the Magna-Steyr factory in Austria, which is building both the Supra and the BMW Z4, had to be modified to make this body a reality.
Pictures do not do the 2020 Supra justice and the more time I spent around it, the more I fell in love with the exterior. By the end of the day it passed the age-old test, do you look back at it as you walk away.
Equipped for comfort, built for speed
The test cars waiting for us outside the resort included both Premium and Launch Edition trims (there’s also a base trim, starting at $49,990). The $53,990 Premium includes a JBL sound system, wireless Apple CarPlay (a first for Toyota), wireless phone charging, a color heads-up display, and the $1195 Driver Assist Package (adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and parking sonar). The Launch Edition, at $55,250, adds red mirror caps and a stellar red interior, except with Renaissance Red 2.0 paint, which is paired with a black leather interior.
The interior doesn’t have the wraparound dash that gave the MKIV its cockpit feel, but as you begin to fine-tune the 14-way seats and look over the dash at the heads-up display, you realize the MKV was designed to maximize the driver’s experience. The knee pad rising from the carbon fiber-trimmed center console helps isolate you in the driver’s seat, which is well suited for both track and touring. Gripes? The buffeting with the windows down at highway speeds is seriously annoying.
Back at the track
Helmet strapped to my head, my brain slowly committing to the task at hand, I gradually let off the brake pedal and begin to coast down Summit Point’s pit lane. Before I knew it my foot had depressed the accelerator. Acceleration was instant, and traction was there immediately, with no wheel hop or spin. The car was so controlled. The older Supras are unruly, especially with higher horsepower; they break traction all the time.
The B58 (B5830M1 for you engine geeks) 3.0-liter DOHC 24-valve twin-scroll single-turbo inline-six makes 365 ft-lb of torque from only 1600 rpm and 335 hp from 5000–6000 RPM. The power is put down through a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission. I played around in Manual Mode but soon realized that the up- and downshifts are crisper in Sport Mode. The shifts felt slower and the car felt slower in manual mode, actually.
When asked what he is most proud of on the new Supra, without hesitation Tada-San responded, the sound. Modern regulations make it extraordinarily difficult to create the noises they were looking for, he explained. The U.S. even has its own, better-sounding, exhaust system, that apparently other countries are likely going to be jealous of. Sure enough, the A90 made all the right noises on the track with my favorites being the turbo’s high-rpm spool and the pops and the cracks from the exhaust.
The Supra felt incredibly balanced and predictable at Summit Point, and the precise steering provided detailed feedback. The engine was always primed to pounce and throughout my many laps I never desired more power. Most shocking to me, as all my MKIVs have been manual, I genuinely enjoyed the track with the automatic. To be clear, I would order a manual if it was offered, but even on a 30-mile scenic cruise, I didn’t once think, “if only this was a six-speed.”
The track showed what the MKV is capable of, but for me it really shined on the streets. The active dampers minimized any road inconsistencies; when I expected a jarring dip from a set of train tracks, I was pleasantly surprised by a smooth crossing. The precise handling and snappy drivetrain ate up western Virginia’s twisty, hilly back roads, and the on-demand power made passing easy.
I could tell the Supra had won me over when I transitioned from radio-off, listen-to-every-noise-it-made, to music-on and windows down. The car had put me at ease. With all the discussion of the A90 being a pure sports car, I was very concerned it wouldn’t carry on the grand touring lineage of the previous generation, but I am confident you can comfortably enjoy this car over long distances.
The A90 Supra is clearly chief engineer Tada-San’s baby. His passion for the project is undeniable and his love for Supra is unquestionable. Tada-San built his version of a perfectly balanced Supra, with a 50:50 weight distribution, 335 horsepower and an expertly tuned suspension. He did it at the manufacturer level, not the tuner level, obviously, but he wants owners to create their own version of what a Supra is, which of course is what made the MKIV so great.
In true Supra enthusiast form, then, Tada has scattered Easter eggs throughout the car, preparing it for modifications (a few examples: space for additional coolers on the transmission and differential, threaded bolt openings for strut braces, and the ability for aftermarket designers to convert the non-functional ducts to functioning ones). This type of tunability and availability is what helped propel the A80 to greatness.
Stock for stock, the MKV is a superior performer to the MKIV. It is faster, handles better, and has a modern technology suite; all things you would expect from a car two decades newer. Both cars were very good right out of the box and you can bet that the A90 will follow in the A80’s tuner-friendly footsteps. Tada-San and his team set out with a goal in mind and it feels like they achieved it. This is not another MKIV, it’s another Supra. I can’t wait to drive mine, which is currently on order, from the East Coast to the next “Supras in Vegas” this October. My dad’s coming along.
Connecticut resident and Hagerty member Matt Stevens has owned a total of six MKIV Toyota Supras and currently has four in his garage, plus four Mitsubishi Evos. He also runs and plays for the New York Empire, a professional Ultimate Frisbee team.