2023 Toyota GR Supra Manual review: What took so long?
The Supra gains something it always should have had: a manual transmission
2023 Toyota GR Supra 3.0 Manual review with The Road Beat
Words and pictures by Mitchell Weitzman
Driving and testing automatic cars, automatic Supras included, my left foot is also so bored during driving; It wants to do something to feel alive and not consign a life to the dead pedal. Yet, Toyota has answered the prayers of mostly Forza enthusiasts who can't afford to pay for one, but it doesn't matter because the armchair experts were completely correct in this instance: Toyota (and BMW's) new Supra has always deserved six forward gears that you can control yourself via a stick and a third pedal. Why it wasn't offered from the start with a manual is one of life's great mysteries, even more so, why wasn't this car only ever available with a DIY transmission; If you're already buying a cramped and uncompromising sports car, you might as well only produce it with a stick shift as an automatic only dilutes the desired, connected experience. Oh well, at least the stick is here and we can rejoice if mostly to just celebrate its existence. However, a manual doesn't just automatically make a car better; the gearbox needs at least be a good one. This manual isn't perfect, but it's enough to answer why you should only consider the Supra with a stick in the middle.
Going over the power basics, and if you're reading this, you likely already know and have the Supra specsheet memorized, but it has a three liter inline-six, single-turbocharged engine from BMW. Power is a meaty 382 horsepower, with a huge midrange punch courtesy of the 368 lb-ft of torque that comes before 2,000 RPM. For real world context, when cruising in sixth gear on the freeway, you can mash the throttle and after a short half-second of turbo lag, the velocity increases even while in top gear are stunning. And for real real world context, following my mate's 997 Carrera S on tight backroads, when he needed second gear for each sharp and slow bend, the Supra is happy in third and accelerates out of each turn with the same ferocity, albeit in one gear higher. The performance is simply staggering and if anything, having only six gears with a manual makes the acceleration feel even more rampant verse the auto. For what it's worth, with a good launch, you can get the manual Supra to nail 60 MPH from naught in four seconds flat, only a couple tenth behind the automatic.
I hadn't driven a Supra in over two years, and after a week and over 500 miles in the saddle, my previous complaints and worries about a lack of rear end control (especially on mid-corner bumps) have relaxed, with an improvement felt after miles of spirited driving. Whereas the 2020 model would suffer from The Bends (or at least, the driving equivalent of decompression sickness), this 2023 example enjoys the bends to a higher level. Grip from the Michelin Pilot Super Sports is nearly endless, with an ability to drive this Supra how Fernando Alonso did in his championship Renault days, an F1 car famous for the Spaniard's ability to just crank the wheel with force and have his R25 just go wherever he chose. The same is true for the GR Supra: turn the wheel in any direction, and the front end bites, grips, and just goes to whatever bearing you so please. Only once did I actually get the tires to scrub and emit any kind of audible protest even. While my friend's Porsche was skating around as he pushed maybe a little too hard on public roads, the Supra was locked down and effortless by comparison, such is grip in both the front and rear. There's so much tactility at the back, this despite the healthy horsepower load, that the traction control rarely has to ever intervene and in turn hinder your progress.
But, it's not all perfect here despite the amazing grip offered. Even in light of the Gorilla Glue levels of adhesion, there's still a sense of uncertainty behind the wheel when the pace increases beyond comfort. Even with a rear that has seemingly endless stick, there can be vertical and lateral roll behind you, almost as if the spring rates are too low at the back that the tires seem to mask. It doesn't seem to compromise pace, but there's just a lack of confidence when you really go for it past a backroad-friendly 7-8/10ths, and then to 9/10ths and beyond. It's a strange sensation that a car can be so composed on the outside, but inside the cabin and through the wheel, there's an unerring worry the rear is flopping around oscillating like a table-top fan. Yes, the behavior is improved over the last model, but only because there's the extra ability in this version that allows to push things further, therefore revealing some unwelcome traits. I nearly guarantee that a nice set of KW coilovers would transform the Supra into a track-ready, and back-road monster with miles of confidence. It's a conundrum because it's like, "wow this Supra has so much grip and you can just about chuck in whatever direction you desire," but at the same time, I think, "I'm going so fast by this point and the suspension isn't meant for this." This is a dream 8/10ths car, but it just needs a little more work to be that 10/10ths asphalt destroyer that BMW M cars can be. I also thought the steering has a bit of a dead zone in the center that lacks weight, making small adjustments on the freeway sometimes odd as you find yourself wandering at times from wayward micro-adjustments.
Another thing to note is the fact the Supra is based upon a BMW Z4, receiving none of the treatment and parts that make a classic and proper BMW M-car so incredible and engaging. An M2 for example (the earlier first breed, not the new ugly one that I haven't driven yet), has superior body control and gives confidence that knows no bounds, almost to a dangerous extent.. Sure, an early M2 doesn't have any increase in grip over this Supra, and isn't faster in any stopwatch metric or on a track, but it's how it walks the line of adhesion and balance is what makes a real M-car so special; An innate ability from being dialed into the chassis and with a front and rear that are in Wagner's best harmonies. The capabilities are roughly the same, but a classic M-car has the character and mechanical synergy that is missing from this Z4-based Supra that values outright speed over synergy.
In the center, a gearknob has been erected to an enthusiast's joy. Upon initial greeting, the shift action is sweet and precise, with a mechanical clink into each gear. More surprising is how much better this feels through the gears than any BMW manual maybe ever. Whereas the Bavarian cars have had a rubbery and vague feel, this Supra makes me question how BMW has gotten their sticks so wrong in the past. But there are complaints still that make the Supra manual less ideal and inferior to the wonderful do-it-yourself gearboxes found in a Civic Type R and any modern Porsche six-speed manual. The first is an easy aftermarket fix, being the gearknob itself is too small. With this tiny little ball, there's just not enough girth to grab and lacks substantiation in the hand. The other item of note is a clutch that has too much spring to it at the top of the travel that makes smooth, transparent upshifts not all that easy. Setting off is totally fine, but the 1-2 shift can't be rushed, and then after it's too easy to incur a clunk from the differential each upshift , almost as if the rear diff bushing is already shot, or that the bushing is too stiff. With automatically rev-matching downshifts, or even with it turned off and doing your own little blips, this is the rare occurrence of a manual car where downshifts are smoother than the upshifts. This tester did have 4,000 miles on the odometer, many of which might have involved hard launches and clutch abuse could be attributed to this, but I just would have expected some easier drivability. However, and this is the BIG however: the manual is so beyond the automatic in terms of fun and engagement, perfectly matching the overall character of this sports car; You'd be daft to not buy a Supra with the manual.
Inside is a near-perfect driving position, with comfortable seats that grips your torso hard and allow your bottom to be lowered deep into the chassis. The BMW infotainment is among my favorite to use, and the voice commands are industry-leading. Space is cramped, but I did manage to do over 300 miles in one day on a trip to Point Reyes and back, with lots of traffic, and yet I was never uncomfortable thanks to those body-molded chairs. However, while the base materials are what you'd expect from a BMW (that is, a luxury product), I haven't driven a car with this few miles that exhibited this multitude and level of rattles. I'm pretty sure my old 370Z, with a 145K miles, had fewer rattles and creaks. It was almost shocking, really. It didn't take away from the driving experience of what is a sports car, but the amount of noises that shouldn't be there is worrying and annoying even when driving gently on my local neighborhood roads.
Not to forget this fact, but the EPA would lead you to believe the Supra manual gets significantly worse mileage than the automatic, yet that's not the case. After over 500 miles of driving, and with several stretches of driving including heavy, heavy throttle, I averaged 26.5 MPG. The 2020 automatic averaged just 1.5 better for comparison, making for a decrease that doesn't really matter in the slightest. In other words, if you're not considering the manual Supra because of gas mileage, you should not let that stop you at all.
Another weird note: I experienced what I'm going to call Annoying-Gloating-Jerk Syndrome. That is, because I was driving a manual Supra, I had this urge for the whole world to know it; I wanted every person who pulled up alongside me, even if they weren't into cars in the slightest, to ask, "Hey, is that the manual?" To which I'd smile strongly and smugly and say, "Sure is!" To which their retort would have to be, "I'm not good enough for my girlfriend, here's her number and nice car, you're the man!" If I could, I wanted stickers adorned all over reading "Save the manuals" or a custom vanity plate with MT SUPRA, anything that helps imply my superiority over other drivers - Supra drivers - by me having the stick shift version. Somehow, it didn't feel enough to be in the Supra all enthusiasts suddenly cherish for the sole reason of existing, like it's The Great Awakening all over again. No, I wanted everybody to know I had the manual, to know that I chose better than others. It's not even my car! Yet, even for a week, I wanted people to ask and know.
While it might come across as me talking smack about a lot of aspects, like a suspension that still could be better, and some clunky shifting behavior, but this is exactly what the Supra should have been all along and the better Supra available right now. It's not even the best new $50-60K sports car right now, but it's still plenty mighty, and the car is good enough to have me searching for what remains to be improved in order to take to the real M-car stratosphere. A sports car's main mission is to be an engaging and fun vehicle to drive, and the manual raises those stakes considerably over the automatic by offering that extra interaction, also giving an exaggerated impression of the explosive speed behind that turbocharged inline-six . I guess one could also argue that a sports car shouldn't be easy to drive and that's quite understandable, and maybe that's what helps define and separate the Supra from rivals. This isn't the perfect Supra, but it's the best it has ever been.
2023 Toyota GR Supra Manual 3.0 Premium
As-tested price: $58,365
Pros: Rapid pace in all directions, sensual shape, three pedals
Cons: Manual could be better, On-limit handling