The 2020 Supra raises the question, what is a car?

There probably hasn’t been a single car in Japanese automotive history more controversial than the fifth-generation Toyota Supra. What had come before had been so good, so genre-breaking, that it put Toyota in a difficult, maybe impossible spot. Like Game of Thrones‘ final season, it was always going to be a tough act to follow, and with a long hiatus building expectations to fever pitch, the result was probably destined to disappoint in some way. Is the Supra a good car, though? How you look at it probably depends a lot on what a car means to you.

If an automobile is a tool with which to take the human body with its limited pace and fragile construction and move it around land in the most rapid way possible, then the 2020 Supra is extremely effective. Toyota gave us the opportunity to drive the new Supra in several environments around West and regular Virginia, and it delivered a forceful performance.

It stormed the road course of Summit Point Motorsports Park with the tenacity of a pit bull. Its 3.0-liter, turbocharged inline-six turned long straightaways into leisurely strides, rocketing forward with nary a murmur from its energetic 8-speed automatic gearbox. On the circuit’s tightly packed turns, the powertrain knew which gear to lock and load, and downshifted far more aggressively than a typical Toyota manu-matic. Combined with a capable suspension and incredibly quick steering, it made for a compelling track weapon.

If that’s all a vehicle is to you, then you will probably enjoy driving the 2020 Toyota Supra. Perhaps you should even buy one, so that the largest, richest un-partnered automaker in the world will see value in selling sports cars. But what if there’s more to a car than that? For some, a car transcends its utilitarian origins and becomes a stirrer of emotion, marker of history, or even a work of art. For those, the new Supra becomes much more of a conundrum.

The story of the previous-generation A80 Supra could be its own article, but to sum it up, tremendous performance potential from the factory not only gave it exotic-level performance right out of the box, while its ridiculously over-built powertrain fueled legions of backyard tuners. Garage-built destroyers of elapsed times were once common, and anyone unaware of the Supra’s abilities were subsequently introduced to them in the first installment of The Fast and The Furious.

It was a testament to Toyota’s engineering prowess — that it could make a supercar without even trying. Today, any lingering doubt about what it means for a certain generation of gearheads has been wiped away by the fact that low-mileage examples have sold well into the six-digit range. As JNC‘s resident market watcher Patrick Strong said then, “The A80 Turbo resonates with an entire generation of car enthusiasts in a way that can’t be manufactured or conjured by a marketing team.” The Supra had become, albeit somewhat unintentionally, one of the most revered nameplates in Toyota history.

That’s why it was so utterly shocking when Toyota announced that it had partnered with BMW to bring the Supra back. Additional salt was smeared into the wounds of the Toyota faithful when it was revealed that it would not just share a chassis with the BMW Z4, but also a BMW engine, a BMW suspension, BMW steering rack, diamond-shaped BMW shifter on a BMW console attached to a BMW transmission, BMW buttons to adjust the BMW mirrors, BMW’s infotainment interface, and even BMW seat belt warning chimes.

According to its Chief Engineer Tetsuya Tada, who was also responsible for the Scion FR-S and Toyota 86, the A90 is not without Toyota’s DNA. Supposedly, the Toyota and BMW teams split after deciding on basic parameters of the platform and didn’t speak to each other during the development of the two cars. Tada says Toyota was responsible for the weighting of the electronic steering, rates of dampening, shift map, exhaust tuning, unique tire specs developed with Michelin, and numerous other decisions that differentiate Supra from Z4.

That might very well be true, but whatever Tada and his team did, it was still within the confines of BMW’s hardware. Modern cars may have an infinite range of fidgetry available in the computer code, but in the end, it doesn’t drive like a Toyota.

From Cressidas to Lexuses, large-platform rear-wheel-drive Toyotas have always exhibited a neutral balance. Their chassis were tuned to be stable at speed and linear in their feedback through curves. Even when rear wheels ran out of traction, the transition from grip to drift was a single, smooth arc of motion proportional to the gas pedal’s angle.

A quick lift of the throttle tucked the tail right back in, and the car continued on as if completely unperturbed. Steering may have been overboosted, but it was never sloppy. Spring rates erred on the side of comfort, but were always predictable and forgiving. The overall sensation was that of calmness.

The A90, on the other hand, drove like a ball of manic energy. It charged forward torquily and bit into corners with the anger of rabid wolverine. Though the suspension was nimble, during quick, successive turns as weight transitioned from side to side, you could feel the rear suspension working overtime. The Supra’s 15:1 steering ratio employed what was likely the most sensitive by-wire system on the market, making it very responsive but twitching the front wheels with the tiniest of inputs.

As it happens, Toyota also had several new 86 coupes on hand for us to try. It may be half (or even mostly) Subaru, but somehow it managed to retain that no-nonsense evenness of temper that makes it a feel like a Toyota. On the same track, the 86 behaved like a dance partner while the Supra was a beast that needed taming. As a result, you can draw a direct line from the driving feel of the AE86 to that of the 86 in a way you cannot from A80 to A90.

This is not at all to say the new Supra was bad, just different. No matter if they were driven in civility or in anger, Soarers and Supras of old maintained a certain smoothness and composure. The frenetic A90 preferred to be aggressive and brash. It even had the pop-crackle exhaust sounds that are for some reason required on all modern performance cars. In short, it drove like a BMW.

About the only thing we can say for sure is purely Toyota is the styling. The team at Toyota’s Calty design studio headed by Kevin Hunter — an A60 Celica GT-S owner who also worked on the A80 — did a fantastic job translating the phenomenal 2014 FT-1 Concept onto a much smaller production platform. They managed to keep the long hood and muscular haunches in tact, no easy task when shortening the body so drastically. However, the mirrors take up about half the area of each side window, making it difficult to see the apexes when corners are tight, a pitfall of using BMW parts.

Nods to past Toyotas are present. The double-bubble roof and Nozaki Arc of the C-pillar, for example, were inspired by the 1967 Toyota 2000GT. The LED headlights are reminiscent of the triple-element units on the A80. There’s even dual hood latches, just like the A80, which Tada says are a must for any high-speed car.

It probably goes without saying though that the new Supra will, stock for stock, run circles around its renowned predecessor, despite having only 15 more horsepower than the A80 Turbo’s 320 (Sadly, Toyota didn’t let us touch the original A80 they had on display to verify).

The new Supra weighs just 3,397 pounds against the A80’s 3,480, even though it’s laden with 25 years of safety equipment, sound deadening, and a far more luxurious interior. The A80 never let you forget its mass thanks to its much softer suspension, obvious body roll present at every turn. The A90, on the other hand, seemed entirely unbothered by its heft. Whether cornering, braking, or accelerating, it stayed as flat as week-old Coca-Cola. A quarter-century of tire, suspension, engine management, and materials technology makes a world of difference.

Toyota claims the Supra’s center of gravity is lower than even the boxer-engined 86’s, the result of aluminum suspension arms, hood, and doors, as well as a composite rear hatch. It has a four-inch shorter wheelbase than the 86, and a wider track too. Add forged 19-inch alloys with a 9J and 10J staggered setup, and you’re as planted as a sequoia through the turns, especially wide-radius sweepers.

Back in the day, Car and Driver clocked an A80 Turbo at 4.6 seconds to get from 0-60 mph. With the A90, torque’s been upped by 50 lb-ft to 365 and arrives at a mere 1,600 rpm. Toyota’s claimed 0-60 time is an effortless 4.1 seconds. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it certainly doesn’t deliver the shock to the exotics that the A80 did.

Tada has his reasons for partnering with BMW: The uncompromising conviction that a Supra must have an inline-six, a desire to quickly bring this car to market before increasingly stringent regulations killed the opportunity, and wanting to throw the aftermarket industry a lifeline with a new sports car.

Tada-san worked with many of Japan’s top tuners to prepare the car for what he expects to be bonanza of shadetree wrenching. There are pre-drilled mounting points on the radiator core support and engine room frame for stiffening braces. Tada talked to A80 owners and found that in high-power builds, cooling had the biggest effect on long-term durability. As a result, he ensured the A90 had space for oil, transmission, differential and inter-coolers. He’s even working on developing manual diff controller. The trunk structure even comes pre-reinforced for an aftermarket wing.

If Tada is right, the Supra will kick off a boom in tuning, maybe the world’s last before the rise of autonomous and electrified driving. This, then, may be the Supra’s greatest similarity to its predecessors — its capacity for customization.

We hope this comes true. Still, we can’t help but imagine if Toyota had moved the needle as much as Nissan did for the R35 GT-R — a car that, incidentally, went from one of Japan’s most revered straight-six engines to a V6. Purists griped a little about that, but going by internet comments not nearly as much as they did about the BMW underpinnings of the new Supra. After all, it was still a Nissan through and through, and tuners flocked to the GT-R en masse.

Supra pricing will start at $49,900. If your objective is simply to find a competent collection of nuts and bolts for going fast at that price point, and you don’t mind driving an angry chainsaw on wheels, get to your dealer before it goes on sale July 22. But if a car is to have meaning beyond its lap times and spec sheet, some semblance of authenticity is needed. Even those buyers can’t bemoan the fact that a new sports car option exists in the age of the crossover. But they’d prefer it if you didn’t call it a Supra.

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67 Responses to The 2020 Supra raises the question, what is a car?

  1. Wesley Woodland says:

    I think we should give it time before coming into the conclusion that it has no soul, that it is just an angry machine. Maybe it just takes some getting used to. It’s not gonna be exactly like the A80 because that’s the point. It’s an A90. This isn’t a 90’s sports car. Toyota (and Nissan too I guess) have introduced us the next generation of Japanese automotive magic. I’ll admit, I have also called it a BMW Supra, but maybe we just need to give it time for us to get used to the car. It still is a Toyota.

    • Ben Hsu says:

      I do think it has a soul, just not the soul of a Toyota. Nissan updated the GT-R for the new century, but it still feels like a GT-R. Even the 86 feels like a modernized AE86. The A90 is such a departure from the A80, it doesn’t feel like part of the same lineage.

      • Brian Spilner says:

        The new gtr feels NOTHING like an old one.
        They feel nothing alike. Evo x feels more like an old gtr than the r35. R35 feels like you’re driving a PlayStation.

        • エーイダン says:

          What’s funny is Jeremy Clarkson said the old R34 was ‘designed by the arcade-game generation to compete with the Sega Rally machine….it’s a £50 000 PlayStation.” when the R34 was still new.

      • Ben Hsu says:

        That’s why these things are so subjective and allows companies to muddy the waters with naming and retcons. To me, the GT-R still feels like it was made in the “spirit” of the old ones. Nissans have always been a bit more edgy and aggressive than Toyotas. The new Supra is very un-Toyota like. Even the Lexus RC F is much more like a Toyota, despite its 472-horsepower V8.

        • The Shredder says:

          While I respect Tada’s attempt to get the car to market through an increasingly narrow window…from the beginning I thought they should’ve based the Supra off of the RC. Obviously, they used the same tactic with the A80.

          That way, it’d keep everyone satisfied and instead of investing in a new engine…they could’ve financially justified introducing it with a manual transmission.

    • Alan says:

      It’s got a soul, but it’s German. I dig Japanese cars. I’ve driven it–it drives very well. I think it looks very good in person. I still hate it. You’re missing the philosophical part of the argument.

      • The Shredder says:

        The car’s soul is (unfavorably) Japanese in the behind-the-scenes machinations.

        The so-called alliance is one born from a contemporary, Japanese corporate, self-deprecating mentality. A philosophical, crippling compromise in the face of adversity. Reluctant to bask in their own glory and capabilities. However, you must consider the context.

        2019 is a much higher-risk era for a sports car versus when the A80 was released. Compare that to when they previously erred on the side of caution by teaming up with Yamaha for the development of the 2000GT.

        This car is the manifestation of Toyota holding its cards close and preemptively being able to save face regardless of sales numbers.

        Japanese…just not the facet most would prefer to recognize.

        • Alan says:

          Well said, and an interesting and unique perspective.

          Shortsightedly or not, I’m focused on the engineering here, and I still hate it 🙂

  2. Sean Morris says:

    “energetic 8-speed dual-clutch gearbox” Its an automatic.

  3. dankan says:

    I do wonder how well “the internets” would have responded to a parts-bin special A90 using the chunks of the Lexus IS/Mark X and Crowns platforms, the 2GR-FSE motor and whatever other stuff Toyota could pull together.

    It would probably be great to drive and roundly trashed by fan boys for not being “powerful” enough, like the 86 was. Not sure Toyota could win either way.

  4. GSX-R35 says:

    I think Toyota’s biggest mistake with this car was obvious – calling it a “Supra”. Reviving a revered nameplate is always going to be a dicey proposition because you’re not only trying to make a good car but you’re also having to live up to the image fans have created, whether that image is truly accurate or not.

    The previous Supra didn’t exactly set the world on fire and arrive awash in glory to herald the coming domination of Japanese performance. It was good, no doubt, but it was the aftermarket and pop culture that elevated it to epic status – not its qualities as a stock vehicle, especially when it launched at a time when it had many rivals. You can’t remove that baggage from the nameplate however nowadays.

    Being an icon of Japanese performance a new Supra HAD to seen as Japanese. Taking a BMW and wrapping it in Toyota styling isn’t Toyota trying to revive a revered nameplate, it smacks of a cost-cutting approach to adding to their lineup and then hoping the use of a well-known nameplate will curry favor with fans.

    If they weren’t going to go whole hog like Nissan did with the R35 and build the thing in-house with proprietary components, then the biggest favor Toyota could have done to this car is give it its own distinct name so it could be judged on its own merits, not by the elevated standard of a name it was probably never going to live up to. If it had been called the “FT-2” to indicate a production follow-on to the FT-1 concept and leave any hints to being a Supra successor as just that, hints, then I think it wouldn’t have been greeted with the $hitstorm it’s received.

    • The Shredder says:

      One of the problems is that Toyota doesn’t know how to properly “cultivate” a sports car.

      Sports cars have a relatively short shelf-life in the public domain. Manufacturers have to keep them interesting with updates, cost-effective redesigns and (above all else) legitimacy in the form of street cred. Toyota and Honda have a bad habit of creating a sports (or sporty) cars and slowly letting them die on the vine. They neglect the nuance of the performance car market and instead choose to focus on higher-volume vehicles.

      Compare that to Nissan who can milk a performance car platform for eons. Surely, their ability to amortize a platform with volume sales is nothing compared to Toyota…yet they still produce “risky” cars.

      The 240z carried on through years of iterations, name changes and modest updates without radically reinventing the platform. Z car platforms of late have been spread across multiple models and configurations. Even the GT-R keeps upping the ante with regular refreshes and improvements. They didn’t have to, but they refused to let it fester.

      At the end of the day, Toyota likely didn’t commit because it wasn’t savvy enough to invest in a solid, FR lineup strategy beyond Lexus. As I stated above, the remedy for this would’ve been basing the Supra on the Lexus RC.

      There’s likely some BS political reason why they didn’t. There’s certainly little logic behind their decision.

  5. speedie says:

    When the Lexus LC 500 was introduced the first thought I had was that it could have easily been the new Supra and that it would have been a more fitting chassis to place the Supra name on. Toyota even set a precedent for this when it based the Lexus SC300/400 on the A80 platform. The Supra through all its iterations was always a showcase for Toyota engineering. Tuning a chassis and suspension is not the same as building your own drive train. I am sure the A90 will be recognized as a fine sports car but it will not be recognized for Toyota’s great engineering. The Supra nameplate deserved a better farewell.

    • The Shredder says:

      Unfortunately, the price-point would’ve spelled doom for the LC500.

      They couldn’t handicap the Supra enough to justify charging ~twice as much for the LC.

      In a way, it’s probably history repeating in reverse. On the used market, the LC500 will likely overshadow this Supra. Previously, it was the A80 that reigned over the mechanical sibling the SC.

      I know which one I’d choose.

      • speedie says:

        That’s a valid point but the A80 did list for $40K when last sold in 98, which is equivalent o about $63K today. Considering the long development time of the A90 it just seems Toyota could have found a way to put a six in the LC 500 chassis to create a Supra while still keeping the LC a high luxury V8 coupe. I’m sure it must have been considered and I’m sure you are right that the costs just did not work out compared to the route they took. I just wonder what the conversation would be if they did pull it off.

  6. Brian Spilner says:

    This article is cringey at best. Well written but the subject matter is terrible. The entire thing is about the a80 and ironically enough, based on what you wrote, it also appears you have never really driven an a80 in heat around a track and it’s not as smooth as your misleading the readers to believe. The a80 is a great car but it’s not some underpowered handling god like you posture the 86 to be. Also, it’s not about who makes the parts…it’s about how they are used… if the new Supra is a bmw because it uses bmw parts then I guess so is the mclaren f1 and according to that logic, the a80 is a Yamaha ???

    Nice try, but it would have been a more enjoyable read if you used this opportunity to praise the Supra lineage and compare the evolution of the a90 to the rest of the model range including the a60 and a70 as well, rather than “mk4 is best 2jz blah blah fast and furious Paul Walker it’s a bmw”
    Same shit everyone else wrote, typical copy/paste “is it really a Toyota?”. Guess what, most of the automotive industry is merging and if you think you’re going to get cars manufactured in house by one sole automaker for much longer you are in for a very big wake up call. Was hoping for a quality article from Japanese Nostalgic Car but I was severely let down by the lack of actual review for the new Supra rather than just another generic b58 vs 2jz discussion.

    • Ben Hsu says:

      Since we had the opportunity to drive the Supra, we thought it would be best to use the article to convey how it drives, which I tried my best to do by talking about frenetic feel of the suspension, the sensitivity of the steering, and the quickness of the transmission.

      I also mention negatives about the A80, its suspension softness and body roll. The point I was trying to make was that it was smooth and calm (you could even say conservative) like all Toyotas are, while the A90 was are frenetic and aggressive, like a BMW. The Supra isn’t a BMW because it uses BMW parts; it’s a BMW because it drives like one.

      The A60, A70 and A80 all drive similarly, but you can sense the evolution. The A90 is the thing in the Sesame Street song, “one of these things is not like the other” and I tried to get that across as well by talking about how older Toyotas drive.

      I appreciate your comment but I guess the Supra, already mired on controversy, only creates even more whenever you try to talk about it.

      • Brian Spilner says:

        Thanks for the reply Ben,
        My apologies for the previous comment if it came off as negative or demeaning towards your article.
        I understand now what the intent of the article is, and it’s fantastic for that. I absolutely know what to expect when the time comes to driving an a90 in the future. I might have gotten my shorts in a wad because I’m just happy that the Supra is back at all and I view it more from the side of Tada San that being an in-line 6 was non negotiable.
        Anyways, my apologies again for any negative feeling from my comments. Thanks for sharing your experience with the a90.

      • Ben Hsu says:

        No worries! I hope it was helpful. I will be following up with a more in-depth article regarding my interview with Tada-san.

    • Alan says:

      The McLaren F1 was a McLaren with a BMW engine. This is a BMW with a Toyota badge. Your argument is cringey and shortsighted to boot.

    • Achtung says:

      “if the new Supra is a bmw because it uses bmw parts then I guess so is the mclaren f1 and according to that logic, the a80 is a Yamaha”

      Well it is, isn’t it? BMW chassis, BMW engine, a BMW suspension, BMW steering rack, BMW shifter, etc etc. Just that Toyota fine-tuned it as much as the BMW hardware allowed for. I thought Ben described it quite well actually.

      And your analogy is off. By comparison, it would be as if the McLaren F1 used a BMW 8 Series (E31) chassis, suspension, engine, transmission, interior, everything and just fine-tuned it, and designed it’s own body to put on top of it.

      But the McLaren F1 is its own designed and built car. The only thing they used from BMW was the S70 engine, and even then it wasn’t the exact same engine. They basically took the regular S70 and upgraded it into a higher performing race engine.

      “The S70/2, while sharing the same 12 cylinder layout, bore spacing and design principle as the S70B56, is essentially a new design with the heads based on the European market S50, and thus featuring 4 valves per cylinder and variable valve timing (called dual-VANOS by BMW) and individual throttle bodies. A dry sump oiling system is used.”

      Anyway, to Ben’s credit, I thought he compiled this article quite well and unbiased.

      • Ben Hsu says:

        Thank you! It was a very difficult article to write. Like others have mentioned, the car drives great, but I wanted to get to the essence. In the end, rather than have a single judgement, I had to provide two. One for those who only care about performance and one for those who care about what it represents.

  7. Mark Newton-John says:

    Fanning the flames? Embrace the future? Stuck in the past? All that and more. Starting to get really fed up hearing the same stuff over AND OVER… sigh.
    Either live with it, or find some overpriced (and likely thrashed) JZA80. Or find an automatic non-turbo and turn it into a clone, like almost every TE27 Corolla that isn’t a Levin/SR5.
    Car and Driver got it to do a 3.8 second 0-60, and someone measured 339 hp at the rear wheels. Not going to find that much performance for around $50 large. And without buying someone else’s failed experiment in nitrous and turbocharging.
    I say just get in and drive. Or just get a bloody Mustang.

    • Ben Hsu says:

      I agree! That’s why I said if performance numbers are what matters to you, you should buy the Supra.

    • Alan says:

      We’re getting tired of your argument too.

      I’ve driven it, it drives very well. I think it looks great. I think it is fairly priced. But it’s not a goddamned Toyota so I hate it. Get it? Probably not, but that’s where many of us are coming from.

  8. Mark Newton-John says:

    Hoping to see this at this weekend’s Toyotafest. Although I’m hoping for too much to see a Lexus LM.

  9. Yuri says:

    I’ve seen (and heard) the new A90 a couple times now, both in SoCal and Tokyo.
    It looks and sounds amazing. And now I hear that it’s become a truly manic track devour instead of the Grand-Touring cruise missile it used to be? Everyone is talking about the new Supra driving like a BMW like it’s a bad thing. I’ve had an E30 6-cylinder, and a 633CSi, and my wife has had a 128i, and they were all incredible driver’s cars.
    So many people complained about the 86/BRZ being built in partnership with Subaru, but I’d much rather have two companies known for building fun cars work together on two new sports cars than no new sports car period.
    Ever since I picked up my BRZ tS, I’ve been finding myself driving my AE86 GT-S less and less. The BRZ does everything the 86 can do better, and without the constant stress of wondering where I’ll find a part if I break it.
    I have been thinking of picking up a new S5 or M3 as a daily ever since my wife got her Audi, but the new Supra may be exactly what I need to keep my personal garage completely “Japanese.” I have a feeling that if I get an A90 though, I may not drive my A70 Supra much anymore because the new one will be so much better.

    In fifteen years when “why is no one buying manuals” turns into “why is no one buying non-autonomous cars” we’ll look back at this time when car companies were releasing amazingly fun to drive cars and kick ourselves for complaining about such things like whom worked with whom on what.

  10. Alan says:

    So… I’ve already said as much in a few posts here but…

    I’ve driven it–it drives very well and sounds quite good. It looks great in person. It is fairly priced. But IT’S NOT A TOYOTA. If it was badged a BMW I’d admire it, as it is I despise it and the massive cop-out it represents.

    • Curtis says:

      You seem really upset about this. Like more than the average person should be. Does it suck that it had to happen this way? Sure, but if it didn’t, we wouldn’t have anything to begin with. Developing an entirely home grown drive train and chassis isn’t cheap and I’m sure part of the reason this partnership happened is because of the costs. Didn’t the previous Supra price itself out of existence? The Supra has never boasted the technological advancements the GT-R line has and it would be an incredibly difficult sell to offer a Toyota, not a Lexus, in the $80,000 – $100,000 range.

      • Alan says:

        We don’t have anything to begin with. We have a BMW with a Toyota badge. I don’t see how that’s better than nothing at all. I can put some really great lemonade in a coffee mug in the morning but that won’t make it coffee. I’m a Toyota fan, I don’t want a BMW with a space cowboy hat slapped on it.

  11. dankan says:

    So, if it’s just a BMW, tuned and paid for by Toyota, accept it as that and move on. One review I’ve read advanced the argument that if you looked at it as another automaker trying to make a BMW M-car, it’s the best BMW in recent memory as it drives a lot better than BMWs of the past decade and change.

    Or, look at it as Toyota, seeing no way, and having no desire, to make another A80 for the fan boys, tried to meet everyone halfway with the only route they had to a straight six, turbo-charged sports car. And try also to remember that Toyota weren’t necessarily thinking of their international fans when they talked things over. They might have been considering Japanese enthusiast tastes first, by virtue of being able to readily tap into that community, rather than talking to a bunch of hard parkers or dyno queen enthusiasts.

    • Alan says:

      “Only route.”

      Here comes much smaller Mazda making their own straight-six. Hmm.

    • Ben Hsu says:

      Haha, hard parkers and dyno queen enthusiasts made me laugh! I haven’t driven the Z4 so I can’t comment on how it compares. But, I do think the Supra drives better than many run-of-the-mill BMWs. As Tada-san likes to point out, BMW has never built a true sports car outside of the M1, and maybe the i8. The Supra takes the best of 90s BMW sports sedans and translates (within the limits of by-wire steering and throttle and an automatic transmission) it for the modern age.

      Tada-san did say he considered global fans, and I will go in-depth on that with a follow-up article. I agree it would have made no sense for Toyota to make another A80. However, when Fernando Alonso reads from a script and tells the audience that the Supra has Toyota DNA all over it, or when they fire it up and announce that “this is the sound of Toyota,” we have to call them on it.

      • dankan says:

        Ben, I think that’s fair. But he was going to read that script regardless. I think this, much like the 86, is a great example of the difference between what Akio and his employees think “Toyota” means vs. what the enthusiasts do. Toyota’s internal idea of their DNA seems to different greatly from what the brand means on the street, and I think that is something that gets under-explored.

        Very few companies have internal identities which seem to match what their customers think of them.


        I’ll believe in that Mazda straight 6 when I see it. As it is, it goes on the same pile that their US-friendly diesels did. And it’s easy for them to stick all their R&D on sticking an extra 2 cylinders on their Skyactiv motors, it’s not like they’re doing any serious R&D on anything beyond styling at this point.

        • Alan says:

          So by that argument it should be even easier for the world’s largest and most profitable car company to do the same.

          • dankan says:

            It should be, but they would appear to rather spend their R&D money on stuff that has a bigger ROI, like battery and fuel cell technology, composites, and other stuff.

            Which is really boring, but probably also why Toyota is that cash monster.

            I think the reality is that Akio gets to fiddle on the margins with “fun” stuff, but the board he answers to isn’t messing around and demands a constant ROI. They know that sports cars don’t sell, and aren’t interesting in stuff that doesn’t sell, enthusiasts be damned. Akio Toyoda’s name may be on the side of the building, but the corporate mindset and culture rules over him as well.

      • Ben Hsu says:

        Yes, that identity gap is very much a thing! One of the biggest reasons for widespread disappointment regarding the Supra is because we all know Toyota can do better. I almost think there is an inferiority complex that Toyota (and many Japanese carmakers) have. Combine it with the Japanese cultural desire to appear as good corporate citizens that are not unleashing a fleet of hoon-mobiles on an unsuspecting public, and you have a company that can’t embrace its inner speed racer the way Dodge and BMW can.

        • dankan says:

          It may be an inferiority complex, or just a total disinterest in “fun”. I think the company has a very strong mindset around building what sells, and on “out-engineering” its rivals in the plain jane spaces, and to hell with the passion projects their less-profitable rivals engage in.

          Which means that their “fun” stuff is always very stop-start or half-hearted (or maybe snuck in on the sly by corporate dissidents).

        • Scott G says:

          Interesting, wasn’t part of Japan’s reason of being aggressive in WW2 was because of their superiority complex?

      • Ben Hsu says:

        We have sources at Mazda that have confirmed the development of the inline-6, and it’s as you say — two extra cylinders grafted onto a SkyActiv 4. However, there is still a lot of development in the works, especially give the power targets they are trying to achieve. The diesel is coming to market later this year.

        • Mark Newton-John says:

          Skyactive X with a six? A rotary hybrid? Mazda also isn’t standing still.

        • dankan says:

          True, but it’s also not nearly as expensive as the R&D spending for batteries or fuel cells, and composites. Mazda can’t afford to do any of that, so they’re throwing their money at the marginal stuff they can do. Which is great, and fun, but it’s not the same thing, and I think that needs to be kept in mind.

  12. Gendou_kun says:

    I think Lexus LFA is what the A90 must be. In fact, I always saw it as a worthy heir.

  13. Mark Newton-John says:

    Torches and pitchforks!
    I guess there’s no satisfying some people. Welcome to automobile manufacturing in the 21st Century. Sure, this may be a polarizing issue, but let’s take a look at Porsche. In 1969 they partnered with, horrors, Volkswagen to create the 914. And now, Porsche is celebrating the 50th anniversary with museum and other events. Fast forward to 2004 and HORRORS, an SUV partnered with Audi and… Volkswagen. OH MY GOD! Sure, Porsche made the Cayenne it’s own with a 450hp turbo V-8, and it saved the company and Porsche’s best seller. HOLY CRAP, LOIS, a sedan? The Panamera is also a success, showing Porsche can still engineer a sports car.
    So now you have Toyota teaming up with BMW. Everyone has heard the for and against. Hate the Supra? Gotta be all Toyota? Then climb into an LC or RC Lexus. Or find an LFA somewhere. Hell get an Acura NSX if you want to spite Toyota. But credit Tada-san and his team for engineering one hell of a car.

    • Alan says:

      I guess some people can never be satisfied with the fact that some prefer their Toyotas (duh, duh duh…) Toyotas.

      VW and Porsche have deep historical ties, come from the same culture and engineering mindset, and build (built) very similar cars based on the ideas of a single engineer (who stole those ideas from the Czechs, but I digress).

      • Mark Newton-John says:

        Uh no. Porsche deviated from Volkswagen in the 50s. The 356 motor had some basis in the Volkswagen engine, but a Type I motor it is not. You may not have been around in 1969, but all hell broke loose when Porsche put a Type IV engine in a Porsche chassis (914). It was considered the bastard child even forcing Porsche to make the 1976 912, which was as sacrilegious because it had the same Type IV motor, not the 356 one. And it didn’t really get better with the 924 with it’s Audi motor. Hell, Accords out-accelerated them.
        So manufacturers using motors from others always rose hell with the “purists” but it a simple fact of life nowadays. And if it makes money, that’s life.

  14. CobaltFire says:

    As a long time Toyota fan I just don’t see a Supra. A Grand Touring vehicle (which is what the Supra always was) should have (at least vestigial) back seats and a trunk that can take a long weekends worth of luggage. As I believe the old saying goes (paraphrasing) “The pace to cross continents and the grace to make you comfortable doing it”. In that vein the LC is what the Supra should have been, and I feel like the A90 is a different animal. If you think back, the last FR two seat Toyota made was… the 2000GT. Heck, the only other two seat they made is the MR2. Toyota has always been king of the Japanese GT’s for someone who subscribes to the classic definition, and this car doesn’t fit that.

    That said, I imagine this will be an excellent car for those who enjoy BMW driving dynamics, which I do (lifetime BMW CCA member as well, and owner of several). Some of the things to realize about the difference in handling and where they come from and why this platform can’t be tuned to handle like an A80 (for better or worse):

    All vehicle platform designs have to make tradeoffs to achieve their goals; most countries gravitate towards homogeneity (at least within a price bracket) when you look at their homegrown designs.

    European cars tend towards front struts and multilink rear ends with very aggressive front camber. This gives excellent steering feel at the cost of a camber curve that causes washout up front under hard cornering unless countered with certain design considerations in the rear. This is your typical BMW/Porsche handling/steering feel; since they are front grip limited they can stick wide tires on the rear and dump power to correct the handling. This ends up letting you balance the car on the throttle very well, but does not reward momentum driving (as much) because of the lack of front grip at the limits (relative to the rear). This trait is shared by most vehicles using this suspension design (Toyota AE86, FR-S/BRZ, Nissan S13/14/15, Z33/34, 911, BMW 3/5/7 Series, etc.) and is why you will almost never see a FF vehicle with this suspension layout.

    In contrast, Japanese companies usually spent the money to develop a more balanced suspension design consisting of an unequal A arm front and multilink rear (Supra, Chaser, Altezza/IS300, Nissan R32/33/34, Z32, Honda EF/EG/DC2/EK, Miata, etc.). This allows for a more balanced chassis, typically at the cost of steering feel (due to the way double A arms move the pivots around; though this can be designed around it is difficult and expensive relative to struts). This was, if I recall general thoughts at the time, the result of the Japanese trying to be taken seriously as competitors to the Europeans and so pushing chassis development for the superior driving dynamics. This ended around 2000 as they had succeeded and most platforms from then on used the cheaper European paradigm.

    The Supra uses the European design paradigm, so is likely never going to drive anything like the classic Japanese sports cars of the ’90s we miss. Those neutral handling platforms are as much a result of the ’90’s Japanese bubble economy and the attitude of reaching for the stars as engines like the 2JZ were. It’s more on par with the Z33/34 as far as driving dynamics if we need a modern Japanese comparison; competent but in a different way.

    • Ben Hsu says:

      This is one of the best comments I’ve read regarding the new Supra. It makes clear sense and is well written. It could be its own article, really. A lot of things changed around 2000, including the way the Japanese companies developed their products. They started engineering cars to suit their respective markets (US-market Avalon, Sienna, AccordCivic). Technically, this probably started several years prior due to cars’ long gestation periods, but the results emerged around Y2K and were often watered down compared to the Bubble Era cars.

      • CobaltFire says:

        I’ve always considered writing and would love a chance to give it a try! I move to Japan in November as well, so a deeper technical dive into some of the classics would be right up my alley. You have my email. 🙂

  15. speedie says:

    After reading all the posts (including my own) the debate is really simple: Should Toyota have used the Supra name? Just imagine the earth shattering uproar if Ford was the Toyota in this project and put the Mustang name on it. Now if they called it the Probe few would even care. The FRS/86/BRZ venture with Subaru made Toyota realize there was profit to be made in sports cars if you partnered with others (also see Mazda MX-5/Fiat 124 Spider). I hope the car sells really well, I just wish they had called it something else. I personally value the Supra name as being the ultimate of what Toyota can engineer for a sports car. To put it another way I ask this question: Do you think Toyota would ever put the Century name on a car it did not engineer?

    • Ben Hsu says:

      Agreed. The Mustang/Probe scenario is one I often mention when discussing the Supra.

      • Mark Newton-John says:

        Ford likely remembered the uproar when they came up with the Mustang II. Although it actually was a best seller, compared to the gargantuan 1973 Mustang, Ford quickly redesigned it and came up with the Fox Mustang in 1979.
        Now in North America, there are relatively few Toyota models. Do you think that Toyota would have the budget for an in-house sports car if they didn’t have five versions of every car and multiple sales outlets, like the Corolla Store, the Toyopet store, et al? How many minivans does Toyota make? Alphard, Vellfire, Lexus LM, Voxxy, on and on..

      • Ben Hsu says:

        How does having multiple versions of those people movers relate to naming the Supra?

  16. Ryan says:

    Plz stop calling it a a90…. A90 is no where to be found in the vin and sure hate marketing tactics like this

    • Ben Hsu says:

      What do you recommend we call it, in a way that won’t result in lots of additional text?

      • GSX-R35 says:

        Not a Toyota expert by any means but isn’t Mark V an accepted alternative since previous Supras are referred to by Mark IV, III, etc?

        On a related note however, does Toyota use A90 officially as the Mark V’s chassis code? Because in that case A90 is perfectly valid since other car makers use similar terminology and it has nothing to do with the VIN. Case in point – the R35 GT-R which follows the R-series convention for its chassis code despite adopting global VIN standards and dropping the old Skyline serial number system.

        • Mark F Newton-John says:

          Toyota uses chassis codes for their cars, usually the engine family first, chassis code, then series or generation. For example JZA80 (fourth generation Supra) JZ refers to the JZ engine family, A meaning Supra, 80 being the fourth generation. Some models use different engines, so a KE25 Corolla uses a K motor, the TE27 uses the T motor. The number can refer to different body styles as well, e.g. AE85, AE86…
          And as I had said before, the “Mark” is totally arbitrary, as no one calls the newest Corolla a Mark XII.

          • GSX-R35 says:

            I’m well aware the Mark designation was never official but it seems to be well accepted in the Supra community. Ben was asking for an alternative to A90 specifically – a lot of Toyota fans already use Mark V to refer to the A90 which is why I mentioned it. I never said it was used for any other cars as a matter of course.

      • Ben Hsu says:

        When Toyota debuted the car, it was a race version with 90 as the racing number. That was a reference to the A90 chassis code.

        When we talked to Tada-san, he seemed to accept the terms A90, and even a hypothetical A100. The Mk designation wasn’t official but given by enthusiasts. Time will tell what the car will be called but we decided to use A90 for the above reasons, and just because it’s the most efficient and least confusing way to write it when taking about other generations in the same article.

        • Mark F Newton-John says:

          I agree. No one refers to the Nissan GT-R as a Mark anything, same with the 370Z. Go up to someone and ask him about the Mark VI Z-car, and they’ll look askance at you.
          Over in old Blighty, they tend to do that, especially with Volkswagen Golfs, but call the latest Porsche 911 a Mark VIII would probably be met with disdain.
          (Yes, I had to look that stuff up…)

    • Mark F Newton-John says:

      Toyota stopped using chassis codes in the VIN when everyone addopted the stnadardized 17-digit VIN.

  17. Mark F Newton-John says:

    Wait… so the Mark II version of the outgoing Toyota Mark X is actually a Mark XI of the Mark II, since the Toyota Mark II became the Mark X on the tenth generation…
    Did you get that?

  18. Fashion Victim says:

    I would say one the reasons the A90 is slightly lighter than the A80 is size. The A80 is a 4 seater hence has longer wheelbase, and the A90 is a 2 seater.
    I dont mind so much the partnership with BMW, but this new Supra breaks certain other traditions of all previous Supras.
    1. All previous Supras only came with Inline 6. Back then, especially for the first 2 generations, to be qualified to be called Supra, is a inline 6 engine.
    2. All previous Supras were 4 seaters.

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