You’ll find it under every tweet, Instagram post, and article about the Supra. As reliable as it is uncreative. “Nice BMW.” “Cool Z4.” “lul Zupra.” Things half-clever at first, ground into painfully unfunny memes. I had already grown tired of the hype for the new Supra. And then, long before I or any other journalist drove it, I grew tired of the criticism too.
After years of hyping the return of the Supra name, suddenly every cheap shot was about it being a BMW. We had known that for the better part of a decade; it was unsurprising to anyone who knew one half of one thing about the automotive industry. Of course it uses shared parts. No company on Earth would develop a bespoke inline six for one product sold at mainstream prices. There was no nuance to the discussion, no critical thought, just endless hype followed by endless dunking. Eventually I found myself wanting to like the Supra just so it’d all be worth it.
On first acquaintance, I didn’t. That came on a cold morning on the Tennessee border, with a red 2020 Supra and an impossibly twisty section of route 129; the Tail of the Dragon and the reborn Supra, both for the first time. No cold-tired car could live up to those expectations. I boarded the plane home stunned, thankful another staffer was tackling the review because I couldn’t quite make sense of the car. A fluke, I was sure.
My professional colleagues reinforced my opinion. Few of them found much joy behind the wheel of the Supra. But 2021 came a comin’, bringing with it a lighter, more agile 2.0-liter Supra and a revised 3.0. Early word wasn’t positive. I withheld judgment, waiting for my turn. That came in the form of a white, 2021, 3.0-liter model poached for a weekend run to New Jersey. I brought it to my favorite roads, ready to let it shine. It didn’t.
That brings us to this one. A bright yellow 2021 model with the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-banger with 255 horsepower tugging at the rear wheels and a body looking like speed itself. Less weight on the nose; less weight, period. If ever there was to be a chance of redemption, it lay somewhere below that flowing beltline. The car had been ordered and delivered only for my impression; there would be no two-day jaunts with another writer penning the review. This one was for me, a chance to finally win me over. It whiffed.
Let me state unequivocally that there are certain people for whom the Supra accomplishes its goal. It looks the business. It commands attention. It conveys clarity of purpose. It’s properly, truly quick. With 295 lb-ft of torque and eight quick-swapping gears, 60 arrives in about 4.7 seconds, per Car and Driver testing. Braking is tremendous, steering is precise, and cooling seems up to real track work. It ain’t the whole game, but that’s not nothing for a $44,115 sports car.
Its pitfall is the same as that of the 3.0: Joy. Lack thereof, really. Here the critics will jump in to say that of course it’s joyless, there’s no manual, no bespoke platform. The real story is both less clear-cut and more damning of the effort. There are many, many automatic cars that are fun to push hard. There are many shared-platform projects that go great. For a dual-purpose example, look to a BMW M2 with a DCT. Not only is it a fun, likable, automatic enthusiast car, it’s built on the same foundation. The problem is not that Toyota used a BMW platform. It’s that Toyota’s end product is worse than the best BMW can do with it.
There are still common weaknesses. The rubbery synthetic steering is familiar to anyone who’s driven a modern 330i. Accuracy is great, but it’s not sharing any secrets. The engine is smooth and powerful, but not particularly rewarding; power delivery is all-around competent but utterly disinterested. Not much real noise, no real drama. Just simulacra thereof, added in after the fact with speaker pulses and burble tunes that cover up the powerplant’s anonymous character.
Still, it’s enough to carry pace into a corner. The potent brakes offer reassurance and a firm pedal. There are no complaints regarding operation, only in ultimate aim. Because before I let off the pedal, I have to figure out how fast I can take a bend, and that isn’t the easiest in the Supra.
Here is where its bizarre origin leads to a complex character. The Supra is ultra-stiff by design and supposedly playful by choice. It exhibits no roll and communicates no edge lines, but breaks quickly into controllable, brief slides. Its front end darts in with the sharpness of a supercar, but its rear is less predictable. Occasionally I can carry more cornering speed than I ever reasonably expect from a four-cylinder sports car. Other times the traction light flickers as it tries not to slide.
The trouble is not in this behavior. It’s in the opaque curtain that hangs over the windshield. The front end will always grip. The steering will never talk. But the rear is a wildcard. Even on the impossibly repetitive bends of the Tail of the Dragon, the Supra reacts differently every time. That unpredictability is at its worst over mid-corner bumps, which almost always jolt the Supra off-course or violently upset the cabin.
Some trust can be built. Believe in the tires and you can correct most slides. But doing so requires disabling traction control, not a safe call on public roads in a tail-happy car. The other option is to leave it on, running up to the limit half-blind, and occasionally having it nip at your right foot. But this is no substitute for the real thing. A real sports car thrives in the magic zone near the end of its grip, inviting you to explore it, reassuring you with smooth, progressive breakaway behavior and a steady stream of communication. The Supra simply isn’t that transparent, making it hard to find any flow, to chain together corners with any sense of poise. The experience is all speed, no art.
Maybe the track is the right place for it. I haven’t tried that. Other Road & Track editors suggest it isn’t much better. But I can tell you for certain that the highway isn’t its home. Despite Toyota’s goal of making this a grand tourer in the image of the Mk IV, the Supra is stiff and punishing over road imperfections. It’s quiet enough, but too stubby and aggressive to ever feel relaxed. Worst of all, it cannot reasonably be driven with the windows down. The buffeting is so intense that it gave me a headache. Sure, you can fix that with aftermarket attachments, but let it sit with you for a second. A $50,000 “grand tourer” made me physically sick when I put the windows down.
That’s the kind of thing that prompts questions. If the development team behind a company’s flagship sports car never bothered to drive it with the windows down—or worse, they did and signed off on it anyway—that doesn’t reflect positively on the program. That the issue survived the 2021 refresh cannot be described as anything but embarrassing. And that reflects the broader point here: I keep hoping that the Supra will be either the fun, exciting, friendly sports car it could be or the long-legged GT its progenitor was. I go in looking for something to love. Every time I just come out with my head hurting.