Review: 2021 Toyota GR Supra 2.0 is still fun with two fewer cylinders
Toyota's revived Supra receives a new engine option for 2021 in the way of a more affordable four-cylinder option. Is it still fun?
"Four-cylinder Supra? Lame." "2JZ forever!" "Supras need six cylinders."I could go on for as long as your 1,000 horsepower boosted 2JZ runs before finally throwing a rod. But for now, the ultimate question remains: is having only four cylinders in the legendary Supra sacrilegious and worthy of being drawn and quartered? Well, no, because four-banger Supras have legit pedigree. In fact, the most famous Supra ever after Paul Walker's modified example in the original The Fast and the Furious movie is one with four pots. Oh, what's that, you didn't know? I give you the fabled, legendary, and winning Castrol Tom's MKIV Supra Super GT race car, the same one you lusted after in classic Gran Turismo games. Don't worry, I didn't know the old Supra race cars were four-cylinders either for a long time. But, if a 'lowly four-banger' is good enough for a hugely successful and famous race car, then surely it must be suitable for the new road going version. You're welcome for the history lesson by the way.
I'll spare you the ongoing and monotonous castration of BMW's Supra, besides that one jab and the following: Sure, it's a BMW, made by BMW and all the parts are BMW, including the new 2.0L turbocharged engine, but without them there would be no new Supra. Would you rather have a new Supra with cross-bred origins or none at all? Thought so. In a world of increasingly remote crossovers and SUVs, any new sports car is a thorough welcome.
So, the brief is simple then: take the new Supra and replace the German-sourced six-cylinder with a four-cylinder instead. Power is reduced from 382 down to a modest 255. Also down is weight and the price, shedding a significant hundred-plus pounds and about $8,000 from the starting price. Most things are exactly identical to the older sibling, including the same sharp bodywork and the confining interior. From the outside, you'd be hard pressed to actually tell the two apart besides the 18" wheels instead of 19" being the only obvious giveaway. For the record, 18" wheels rather suit the Supra. While the exterior has proven divisive, in person and in the right color the Supra is a compelling sports car on looks alone, and one that appears more expensive than it is with such intricate and swooping curves and creases. Nitro Yellow, as seen here, is my personal favorite color yet.
Enough dragging, let's talk about how the Supra drives. Like the 3.0 I tested last year, the Supra drives quite well and has a unique personality to differentiate it from other sports cars. And as a sports car, the 2.0 Supra succeeds, too. Steering is hyper-alert and accurate and manages to avoid feeling too darty on the highway. Traversing canyons, the quick-steering means direction changes happen as instantly as you will it with your mind. The downside to this is the lack of any feedback through the wheel and to your digits. While feedback would be welcome, we're at a point now where I don't entirely miss it due to the rest of the car being so direct. There's loads of mechanical grip from the 255 front and 275-wide rear Michelin Pilot Super Sports, too, to help with confidence and know you can just plant the device anywhere.
And this is where things get a little complicated, because while the front end is hugely convincing with loads of grip, the Supra is best as a 7 or 8/10ths sports car (on public roads at least). That type of committment means rapid pace on any road, including absolutely flying up and down the renowned Mosquito Ridge Rd of Foresthill, CA. While there's room on the table for more, that's where you run into a barrier with the Supra, and the same one I experienced with the 3-liter car last year. The fact remains that the Supra doesn't have the best composure of undulations and bumps during hard cornering, garnering a more nervous persona in trickier road conditions with the rear of the car not feeling buttoned down. And while the ride quality is stiff in normal driving, somehow that translates to feeling rather soft when pushing, with a particular sensation of vertical motions and roll from the rear end when charging hard through corners. Not an entirely fair comparison by any means, but my mate's modified 997 Carrera S is a machine that gets better and better right until the absolute limit on either street or track, but the Supra on the road is just missing that extra nth degree to make it go from great to spectacular.
However, that same 911 was not able to ever stretch out ahead even in my mate's quite capable hands. A big chunk of this is owed to the punchy nature of the diminuitive four-cylinder that helps launch you out of corners with striking ease despite its lack of swept volume. Rear tire breakaway happens a little more abruptly and quicker than I'd like and with little warning if you're smashing the throttle like a wack-a-mole. But yes, the entry Supra still can kick the tail out with some throttle dedication, but the fast steering means smooth and judged inputs of 'oppo are a neccessity to avoid being a YouTube fail. Overall, I do feel there's a level of organic fortitude that the Supra is ever so slightly lacking. Not to say it isn't good becuase it's very good indeed, and far more entertaining to drive than say the last BMW M240i I drove, but it's also not exactly anymore exciting than a manual Toyota 86, a car that is magical on the ragged edge. It also renders my own aging 370Z as clumsy. I can't help but think what maybe some aftermarket mods could do for the new Supras, by the way of fancy coilovers or even an aggressive alignment.
Then there's the engine. I've save you the trouble and doubt: it's good, like really good. For most, it's all you ever could need. 0-60 MPH happens in 4.8 seconds, possessing an explosive midrange performance that is the engine's wheel house. The sound isn't what you'd call inspiring, but is good for a four-pot. In fact, you can tell that the engineers tried really, REALLY hard to feddle the exhaust to sound as much like the six-cylinder as possible. Besides the mechanical clatter of the engine at idle, it is indeed hard to pin down the combustion count. Though, it's more noise for the sake of noise rather than a soul-stirring pleasantry. Most will like it I figure, but the puritans will notice something is awry.
Back to it, the little engine that could delivers the performance goods. On the return trip uphill on Mosquito Ridge Rd, I did start to wish for more a little more push as gravity worked against us, but other than that, it's hard to make a case against it in the real world. On the track, I definitely would want two additional cylinders, but here it isn't wholly necessary. The only place the engine does lack is the top-end at the height of the rev-range, only just running out of puff as you approach the redline. Like I said, it lives for the middle of the tachometer. The other component that holds it back is the ZF 8-speed automatic. Why this entry model isn't availble with a manual is beyond all comprehension, but the ZF is a good trans in practice, but ultimate performance when cracking off shifts is missing. Mysteriously, it was less responsive and slower in execution than the 3.0's automatic.
On a bright note, fuel economy was nothing short of astounding. In my normal, mixed driving, I saw an average of 31 MPG. 31, in a sports car! Highway mileage soared to just over 40 at a steady 70 MPH. The economy this car returns is a revelation and better than many of Toyota's other gas-only and slower sedan options. To bring it back to perspective, though, the bigger and faster 3.0-engined Supra still achieved 27 overall and 37 on the highway. So while it's astonishing, the more powerful engine option also is insanely frugal for the perfomance on tap.
If you thought the exterior was hard to tell apart from the 3.0, you'd be even harder pressed to tell the difference inside. Fabulous seats give great comfort and support at all times, whether it's on the highway to work or an impromptu diversion from your normal route. With the optional $3,485 technology package, you're treated to all the tech you could want inside. Like other Supras, the 'German-sourced' infotainment system is among the best I've ever used with clear organization and a shockingly good voice recognition system. The navigation that comes with it is terrific was used for rally co-driver pace notes on Mosquito Ridge Rd.
While it's all certainly put together quite nicely, the cabin does have its drawbacks, chief being a lack of space and a quality of materials that doesn't quite match the price. If you like space, you won't find it here, with the Supra being measurably smaller than even Toyota's own 86. Some of the furnishings also don't stack up, not all, but some. From your shoulders back are a collection of hard plastics that I found to creak over bumps and rougher roads. The seats are also of the manual adjust variety, and the weridest part is that the strap you pull to adjust the reclaine angle of the bank piece is covered by the seat belt. For a car approaching fifty grand I would just hope for things to be a little nicer inside if I'm splitting straws.
After a week with the 2.0 Supra, the conclusion I came to is one of mixed emotions. On one hand it still reamins a convincing sports car, but you can't help but yearn for the top-dog six-cylinder model instead. And also at this price, you could have yourself a Mustang GT with the fancy performance pack suspension or a Camara SS 1LE instead. Completely different realm, sure, but they strive and thrive in creating the same or more thrills with literally 200 more horsepower. Likewise, Nissan is expected to launch the still nameless 370Z replacement that is expected to be finalized with at least 400 horsepower and a reasonable starting price. Also, all three of these rivals can be had with a stick shift. To help separate the 2.0 from the 3.0, a manual transmission option could do wonders, and why it's not an option is a baffling of the senses. All told, I like the GR Supra, in both 2.0 and 3.0 guise, the only real complaint remaining the price and polish of the chassis when you turn up the heat in the twisties. It's a good Supra and a good sports car, but there's a fizz that's lacking, a missing atom, that is keeping the Supra back from achieving more.
Starting price: $43,985
As-tested price: $48,040
The Road Beat Rating: 4/5
Pros: Distinctive looks; Amazing economy; Great four-cylinder performance
Cons: Happiest below 8/10s; Where's the manual?; As-tested price
Verdict: Still a convincing sports car with only four cylinders, but you likely want the 3.0 still