Toyota Supra – long-term review - Report No:7 2023 | Top Gear
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Long-term review

Toyota Supra – long-term review

£54,340 OTR / £55,050 as tested / £504pcm
Published: 05 Mar 2021

Top Gear Garage fight: Toyota GR Supra vs Toyota GR Yaris

Rowan Horncastle: Riddle me this, Mr Marriage. Both you and I were at the launch of the GR Supra where some very serious engineers told us there was NO WAY they could birth a new, sporty Toyota without going into partnership with another manufacturer. So they did. Forming a bromance with BMW in order to give us a BMW Z4 with a tin lid, which we now call a Supra. Yet, just over a year later, they release a bloody homologation special hot hatch. A car that has 259 more weld points than the standard car, a different body, a unique drivetrain and an entirely bespoke low volume sports car production system. Doesn’t exactly sound cheap to engineer! How does that work? Were we being lied to?

Ollie Marriage: I don’t know, but no one at Toyota comes out of it looking good. It just seems like a curious business decision, doesn’t it? “Here’s our flagship sports coupe that we’ve resurrected and everyone loves, so we’ll let BMW sort that and in the meantime we’ll have a stab at a hot Yaris that has no historic relevance and only a passing rallying need. We’ll invest the millions we said we couldn’t justify for the Supra in that and smash it out of the park.”

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RH: It annoys me because the GR Yaris proves Toyota can do it: it can make great cars for people who are into driving. The GR Supra just doesn’t cut the mustard (or should it be wasabi?) in this respect; it’s too soft, too lackadaisical in its power delivery and the gearbox is too mushy. It’s a fantastic cruiser, don’t get me wrong. But who’s ever bought a sports car to do miles on the motorway? And having lived with it now for nearly a year, the Supra simply doesn’t have enough bite to offer the driver the engagement and feedback to captivate you and keep up with those fantastic looks. Meanwhile, your little Yaris is brimming with all that good stuff. And because of that, I am simmering with jealousy.

OM: I’m not swapping. Just getting that out there now. It was interesting driving them back to back. The Supra actually has a good chassis – once it’s into a corner. It’s the turn-in phase it’s weak at, there’s not enough information and confidence, it feels a bit wishy-washy during that first movement of steering and suspension. Once it’s loaded up, it’s good. Nice and easy to slide, adjustable. The Yaris is just hilarious. Immediate, no lag in chassis or engine, and so much grip. Too much if anything. It’ll exit wet second gear roundabouts with a flourish, and if you want to be really daft just yank the handbrake and you can rescue it from whatever angle you like. But otherwise it’s more grip ’n’ go than slide ’n’ show. But it’s tenacious and aggressive and has a hunger that’s absent from the Supra.

RH: Exactly. As much as people may want a car to just bonfire its rear tyres and go sideways everywhere, we don’t... Sports cars need to be engaging at all speeds, in all conditions and accessible to everyone. The control weights and feedback have to encourage you and keep you interested. But you also need to trust the car. This is something the Alpine A110, BMW M2 and Cayman do so much better. It’s made worse in the Supra as the suspension set-up and geometry doesn’t give you confidence; it deflects you unexpectedly and awkwardly over undulations. The front end also doesn’t communicate what’s going on effectively. Which is frustrating as it has loads of grip – so lots of potential. But out the box you never know where you’re at with it. Which will make tuners happy. Anyway, rant over, what’s the Yaris like to live with?

OM: A bit rough and ready. I occasionally miss the little luxuries you get in other hot hatches: good motorway comfort, more than 230 miles on a tank of fuel, decent hi-fi, less road noise (all of which the Supra does well). It’s not great at distance, and it’s not that practical. It has four seats, but both my teens have refused point blank to fold themselves in. Fold the seats down and it will take four Michelin-clad OZ Racing wheels, though. So it’s basically a two-seater, but with a bigger boot than yours. And I couldn’t care less about any of this. I believe that compromise is essential – add in the stuff I mention and the driving would suffer because of more weight, sound deadening and so on.

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RH: I’m just confused at what the brand ‘Gazoo Racing’ is now. I want the GR cars to be consistent. And these two prove they’re not. I want GR cars to be more like your Yaris and less like my Supra.

OM: Toyota has got a mountain to climb to convince people like us that it’s got a clear and legitimate GR performance car philosophy. Maybe it works in Japan, but in Europe it doesn’t. It needs to send the Supra GT racing and get a proper sharp driving version sorted pronto, and even then I’m not sure it can undo what’s already been done.

RH: Living with the Supra has been really interesting. And easy. I've had no faults since running it, it's been surprisingly easy on tyres (given it was left in the hands of The Stig) and the BMW innards and entertainment are a doddle to live with. Plus, given the way it looks and its rarity on the road, it gets so much attention. Yet that hasn’t translated to sales. I haven’t seen a single Supra on the road in the whole time I’ve been driving one. In fact, Toyota won’t tell me how many it’s sold. Which doesn’t reek of confidence. I guess that’s because it’s a car of sacrifice: it’s hard to get in and out of, not the most practical and not the most efficient thing in the world. So there’s a lot of compromise you have to deal with and not enough reward for when you want to go out for a proper drive. Whereas yours is flawed but makes it up with character, charm and driving chops. Oh, and that fantastic handbrake.

OM: You see Caymans and even Alpines, so it’s not like the coupe appetite isn’t there. I just think its identity is too confused. I’ve seen two GR Yaris’ in my town already – and have had people stop me and tell me they’ve got one on order. The waiting list is 9–12 months apparently. But it does demonstrate the desire is there if you get the car right. I think the GR Yaris is the right car at the right time. It picks up on what we’ve been saying about sports cars getting too big, too heavy, too fast and epitomises everything we want from a hot hatch.

RH: So is the answer to a good GR car the FIA’s homologation rules? The GR Yaris proves that good, interesting cars still sell – even if they’re expensive. Toyota shifted the entire 2020 allocation within just over three weeks, and has already sold the entire 2021 allocation too. If it’s got any sense, it’ll boost production above and beyond the 25,000 it needed to fill the now obsolete WRC homologation rules. I just can’t help but feel that the Supra could have been better. And wonder if it’s seen as a missed opportunity or regretted internally. It sure is to me.

OM: I think the Supra is salvageable. But I also appreciate that’s only likely to be achieved by deepening the links with BMW, getting M parts and so on for it. And is BMW up for that? Toyota needs to find some way of giving it a more identifiably Japanese character. If it can’t do that and doesn’t do anything else with it, then the Supra looks like a very short-sighted decision. But we know the two firms are working together on electric, so maybe we just haven’t seen the full picture yet. But this is a fascinating puzzle. I can’t recall another time when a firm has protested so much about not having the money to create a new car, then turns around a year later and proves the cash was there all along. Maybe it shows the firm has a human side – and all Akio Toyoda cares about is rallying. In that case I like him very much indeed. I like to think he does what I do – goes out late at night in his GR Yaris and rips around country lanes wishing he had included a light pod on the options list.

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