2021 Toyota Supra First Drive Review: Now I’m A Believer
Part and parcel to the breezy beach rock sound of the 1960s was a Beatles-esque group of mop-top rockers called The Monkees. Originally a fictional TV show about four musicians, The Monkees became a full-blown pop group in their own right, and one of their greatest hits kept popping into my head while enjoying a twisty road on the California coast in the more powerful, retuned 2021 Toyota Supra: “I’m A Believer.”
When the A90-generation 2020 Toyota Supra arrived last year, I’ll be the first to admit that I was a skeptic. The car’s BMW bones put me off, as did pudgy styling littered with fake gills and scoops. But after spending a few hours in the 2021 Supra, my outlook soon changed.
I shouldn’t be surprised, though. Toyota has proven it can build fun coupes like the GT 86, not to mention many of my favorite sporty cars are BMWs – the E46 M3 and my personal first-generation Z4 come to mind. Serving as sort of a spiritual grand-cousin to my own delightfully nimble roadster, the Supra won me over fully.
A Barrel Of Monkeys
Like the supercharged, overpowered Pontiac GTO “Monkeemobile” from the TV show, the Supra is also a laugh riot to drive. Alongside a new base model with a turbo 2.0-liter four, 2021 brings a more powerful version of the turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six engine, now making 382 horsepower, up from 335. Torque goes up by 3 pound-feet to 368.
Routed through the same eight-speed automatic transmission to the rear wheels via an active differential, the power makes its presence known with a useful shove to the lower back when accelerating from a rolling start or passing on the highway, and there’s virtually no turbo lag. Standing starts require a little finesse, since the massive power is enough to overwhelm the rear tires and/or send traction control into a fit.
The Concrete Jungle
In addition to its zesty acceleration, the Supra also happens to be very poised and balanced. Riding on staggered 255-width front and 275-width rear Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, there’s grip for days and days in the twisties, and 2021’s retuned dampers do a masterful job of absorbing undulations and gritty road surfaces without transmitting much coarseness to the driver. The Supra is a heavy beast – 3,400 pounds – but the suspension is up to the task, at least on public roads.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to hit the track and see if the refreshed handling package is able to cure the 2020 Supra’s problems in high-stress situations – brake fade, a sudden loss of grip when exceeding the tires’ admittedly high limits, and jerky throttle behavior in its most aggressive setting. But on the mostly smooth ribbon of tight, decreasing-radius turns found in the hills above Malibu, California, the Supra was a delightful dance partner.
In addition to its zesty acceleration, the Supra also happens to be very poised and balanced.
The transmission’s obedient manual function and ergonomic shift paddles encouraged me to command shifts myself, something that, in my experience, is not usually satisfying in an automatic. Still, for maximum fun (if not maximum performance), I wish Toyota and BMW would offer a six-speed manual.
An Ape Waiting to Evolve
The Toyota Supra, like The Monkees during their manicured TV show years, is a bit of a poser. I’m still not a huge fan of the phony vents all over the car – designers festooned the doors, hood, and bumpers with fake slits that, to their credit, open up if the owner wants to add brake ducts or other cooling accessories. But why didn’t Toyota just include some of those performance enhancers from the outset? This particular example’s Absolute Zero paint emphasized the issue, the only problem with an otherwise lovable, pearl-metallic finish.
And the interior is an odd mishmash of 90s sport-compact styling (Aiwa-chic speaker vents and faux-aluminum seatback cutouts, specifically) splattered on a BMW canvas. Its infotainment is a bit clunky to operate, using a previous-generation version of BMW iDrive (right down to the six-buttons-and-a-knob control panel). Apple CarPlay works well when wired up, but wireless smartphone mirroring was laggy and disconnected suddenly several times.
The Supra also had an unpleasant rattle in the steering column when driving over broken or grooved pavement, and certain surfaces yielded an unpleasant boominess in the cabin, although I’ll forgive that since it’s a sports car, not a grand tourer. Fans of al fresco motoring will be annoyed too, since awful buffeting appears whenever one or both windows are down at any speed above 40 or so. That was a particular bummer every time I wanted to hear the crackling, burbling exhaust echoing off the canyon walls on deceleration or downshifts.
And then there’s the price. Although Toyota hasn’t revealed the 2021 Supra 3.0’s official MSRP, I doubt they’d improve the car, then charge less than 2020’s $49,990 base, much less the $53,990 of this Premium model’s 2020 equivalent. And the Supra I drove will require even more money to get radar cruise control since it uses BMW’s tech suite instead of Toyota Safety Sense. Democratize the sports car, I say.
Otherwise, as a daily-driven sports coupe, the 2021 Toyota Supra is amazing. It rides well, and there’s enough ground clearance to crest curbs and speed bumps without fear (good thing too, since the long snout makes gauging slow maneuvers a bit tricky). Narrow seats and large bolsters gave me some claustrophobia, but there’s copious head- and legroom. Cargo space under the rear hatch is phenomenal too – the Supra would make a delightful weekend getaway car.
A tight turning radius and narrow, short proportions make drive-through foodstuffs acquisition a breeze, something that isn’t always the case for sporty cars. And outside of the city, the Supra is surprisingly comfortable on long drives (the sporty seats and booming noise over certain asphalt surfaces notwithstanding).
My time with the 2021 Supra 3.0 was brief, only two nights, so it is both egocentric and editorially responsible to say I need a little more time with it to suss out more of its foibles and fortifiers. But until then, I’m in love (oooooohh).