| Toyota GR Supra 3.0 Manual Review |
Toyota's A90 Supra has always struggled to live up to the legend created by its predecessor. But now there is a revised car, complete with a potentially game-changing asset.
s car enthusiasts, whenever we hear the words Toyota Supra it's likely our minds immediately gravitate towards the iconic A80 generation. Depending upon your age, you’ll either recall it as the car that slaughtered the opposition in every group test it entered in the 1990s, complete with a rear wing big enough to make any supercar of the era wilt. Or you’ll have grown up idolising the Supra on screen in the Fast & Furious and Gran Turismo franchises. Perhaps you disappeared down the wormhole of underground street racing culture, single turbo conversions, Smokey Nagata and four-figure horsepower outputs.
The problem with such a legacy is the weight of expectation. The A80’s successor, the A90, is three years old now, and acres of column inches have already been devoted to debates of worthiness and heritage. I am not going to sit here and retread old news, my only goal is to try and convey how the car feels to drive. I touch upon the nerve because many people have become more invested in what the Supra means to them, losing sight of what it actually means to Toyota, thus what corner of the marketplace it traditionally aims to occupy. Such is the price of fame.
I put it to you, the Supra has never been the laser focused sportscar the internet would have you believe. Its talents have always been broader. The traditional rivals of the A80 were the E36 M3, Nissan 300ZX and Porsche 928 - all sporting GT cars. This is the arena my review will focus on, not the potential that can be unlocked from the platform by the aftermarket, or how it would fare against a featherweight Alpine A110.
With the A90 rapidly approaching its first MOT, the time has come for the typical mid-life facelift. Toyota claims to have listened to the people, going as far as introducing a new model variant, and this is the result
Written by Craig Toone
Photography by Ben Midlane
On the surface, little has changed. There is no bump in horsepower. No evidence of a surgeon wielding their knife in a nip/tuck. The only visual clues are a sharp new set of BBS alloy wheels, matching the design of fellow GR stablemates. Around the back, the Supra scripture is now a vivid shade of blood red. That's it.
Diving into the spec sheet, you could say this new version has taken a step backward. Blunted acceleration. Shunted luxuriation - no more electric or leather seats, no adjustable lumbar support. But for people like us, it represents a literal shift toward everything we hold dear. Less weight (-38kg). Less sound deadening. Less complication. Revised steering, retuned dampers, firmer bushes and recalibrated stability control. And a clutch pedal.
Don't get me wrong, the Supra hasn't come over all hardcore on us, but the balance has tipped firmly toward the sporting side of the equation. Handily, the new manual Supra is also £4,000 cheaper than the original 3.0-litre automatic. It’s enough to get rather excited about.
The upbeat energy remains as you blip the key, climb inside and clock the wonderful stubby gear lever. I can't imagine there being much of an aftermarket for short shifter kits here. The I-drive infotainment has been repositioned to make way for the gear shift, but otherwise, it's business as usual. The same view out over that long bonnet, the same (perfect) low-slung driving position. The high sills, bulbous transmission tunnel and thick pillars all give the impression of an impregnable cocoon. If it wasn't for the vast array of radar sensors and cameras worthy of NORAD, this car would be a complete nightmare to park.
"Fitting this car with a manual gearbox wasn’t a straightforward endeavour. There was no off the shelf six-speeder ready to slot straight in. Instead, a bespoke Supra gearbox was created"
Fitting this car with a manual gearbox wasn’t a straightforward endeavour. There was no off-the-shelf six-speeder ready to slot straight in. Instead, a bespoke Supra gearbox was created from the existing ZF parts bin, fitted to a modified version of the existing transmission housing, driveshaft and gear set components.
The next factor to negotiate was the high specific torque output of the straight six, which required a heavy duty, large diameter clutch featuring a reinforced diaphragm spring. To keep the acceleration competitive with the automatic, the final drive ratio has been reduced from 3.15 to 3.46. Toyota even went through several iterations of the gearknob, settling on a version weighted with an extra 200 grams because it gave the best feel - a small penalty to pay out of that initial weight saving.
The result of all that effort, I’m pleased to report, is a very sweet gearbox. The shift itself is honed, slick and accurate, gliding across the gate and slotting home with just the right amount of satisfaction. The clutch pedal also gives way and bites just the way you want it to, with no need for acclimatisation. The iMT has merit, perfectly blipping downshifts and seamlessly blending upshifts with calculated torque manipulation. Should you prefer to fly solo, you can turn it off when in sport mode.
Overall, it just lacks that final degree of mechanical bite of the truly outstanding manual gearboxes, but that's just nitpicking. Changing gear for the sake of it is an actual source of joy in the Supra, and the smile factor remains constant whether you're loping along or travelling at pace.
It goes without saying that the BMW sourced B58 straight six is a modern masterpiece. Forget the idea of it not being a special engine due to the fact you can also specify this motor in a 2 & 3-series. It has immediate response from tick-over, a thumping mid-range and enough power and soul to make chasing the 7,000+rpm redline a worthy pursuit. All this is underlined by a supreme smoothness no V6 can hope to match. You certainly don’t hanker for more performance, despite the (relatively) undernourished quoted outputs of 335 bhp & 369 lb-ft.
In reality, the true horsepower figure is actually much closer to the torque, with many Supra’s recording upwards of 370 bhp on independent dyno’s. In fact, with so much cold, dense air turbochargers are so fond of, I wouldn’t be surprised if that number is closer to a healthy 400bhp today. It honestly feels good for it the way the Supra lunges down the road. The only real criticism of the engine is it could be a fraction more vocal at wide open throttle - although I think we can blame EU noise legislators for this one, not Toyota.
Those atmospheric conditions are having another side effect on the car. I’d love to be able to tell you how it behaves when driven hard with some serious load going through the chassis and suspension, but I can’t. The snow in the pictures might be a giveaway - during our week long loan period the temperature rarely climbed above -8 degrees C. When the roads weren’t covered by white powder, they were smeared with slippery salt, and I am not going to sit here and project some macho road testing heroics onto you from behind the keyboard. It would’ve been foolish to behave otherwise on UHP summer tyres.
In these conditions, the Supra responds to the smoothest driving - respect the power, don’t force things and take liberties as if driving a manic hot hatch. Box the braking off in a straight line. Pick your gear, be lazy and allow the electronics to take care of the rev matching. Feed the car into the corner, simultaneously settling the rear axle with the gentlest teaspoon of throttle as you rotate the wheel. It's the disciplined approach that garners quiet satisfaction as you feel out the available traction as the road begins to open up. The depth of learning here might be shallow, but the great news is you don’t need to drive this car like your hair's on fire to enjoy it, and that's something worth celebrating in the modern sanitised world.
The A90 has never been a very feelsome car, gradually the trust comes through the accuracy of the steering, the bite of the brakes and the reassuring meaty control weights across the board. Before long, I’m nibbling up to, and leaning upon the safety net of the ESP. Understeer simply isn’t on the cards, and nor is excessive body roll. Get some and you’re going too fast. Everything remains all about managing those fat rear tyres. What you can sense instinctively is this car clearly has enormous reserves of grip in more favourable weather, plus ample traction, although given your proximity to the rear axle, those instincts tell you that if the Supra does let go, it’ll happen rather quickly.
What's interesting is the adoption of the manual gearbox has required changes beyond those relating to the transmission. The vehicle stability control in particular, has required some fettling to adapt. Interestingly, the VSC has now become stricter in its intervention when fully operational, working in conjunction with the new anti-roll technology to keep snap oversteer at bay. In contrast, Track mode now permits more slip before it comes to the driver's aid.
The great thing is, when you’re done having your fun, the Supra calms down with you. The ride and damping, which has been nothing short of sublime, smothers the roughest of surfaces while nasty potholes barely register a ripple. The weighty steering doesn’t start sniffing out every rut and camber, instead the heaviness gives you something to work against, the calibration pouring scorn on the trend where an electric rack compensates feedback with hyperactive responses.
When you realign your viewpoint of the A90 as a sporting GT, rather than a balls-out sports car, everything falls into place. The B58 is better suited to grand touring. The lovely damping makes you want to complete the NC500 in one hit, knowing you’ll arrive refreshed, yet still be entertained when the going gets twisty. The straight six has even averaged 32 mpg over 600 miles in our company, for once actually matching a manufacturer's claim. All the ingredients here are of the satisfying, slow-burn variety.
So, will there be any advisories on the revised Supra’s MOT in three years? We need more time with the car in better conditions to pass a definitive verdict - mainly to answer the question marks about the pre-facelifts cars’ ability to lose its composure at the back axle on the limit. But on this evidence, there is no doubt the revised car is much improved and has finally carved itself a niche. Importantly, it is now much closer in ethos to the much-loved A80.
It has to be said a lot has also changed in three years. The playing field has evolved. The BMW M2 has mutated into a car styled from melted Lego blocks. Its price has shot up to over £63,000 and the weight has ballooned too. BMW will even charge you £1,090 for the privilege of fitting a manual gearbox. Another rival, the Jaguar F-Type, has abandoned the sector altogether in favour of the 911-chasing V8. At £54,485 the Supra now looks incredible value, given the global spike in inflation has pushed the likes of a Honda Civic Type-R to forty-seven thousand pounds.
Overall, is the Supra in danger of being too smooth for its own good? I don’t think so, not with three pedals keeping you occupied. However there is still room for an even more focussed car in the range. An A90 with Cup tyres, trick suspension, a fixed swan-neck rear wing and of course, a manual gearbox is a tantalising prospect. Toyota expects the manual to account for forty percent of all 3.0 Supra sales, and if you’re someone who is tempted by a Supra, I absolutely urge you to become a part of that statistic.
| TOYOTA GR SUPRA 3.0 MANUAL |
2,998cc turbocharged straight six, DOHC 24v, max 7,000 rpm
335 bhp @ 5,000-6,500 rpm, 369 lb.ft @ 1,600-4,500 rpm
1,495kg (kerb), bhp/tonne 224, lb.ft/tonne 247
6sp manual, rwd, e-differential
0.60 – 4.6s, top speed – 155 mph (lim)
List Price £54,485 (March 2023)