I was once told that sports cars statistically suffer from a third-year sales slump after initial excitement of their launch fades. It makes sense, given their lower-volume sales over something like a family crossover, and thus it makes sense that brands might keep a few things up their sleeves to keep the hype train moving. Whether the six-speed manual in the 2023 Toyota Supra was held back on purpose or simply took that long to get approved and engineered is up for debate. What’s not up for debate is how much more fun the manual makes the car. This is how Toyota should’ve sold the Mk5 Supra from day one.
Note I didn’t say the manual gearbox improves the 2023 Toyota Supra. On paper, it doesn’t. In practice, it doesn’t. The fastest shift times, quickest acceleration, and easiest form of hard driving all come with the ZF eight-speed automatic. If you’re a numbers queen or want to build a competitive race car from a Supra, the automatic is the one to choose.
But if you want to enjoy the experience of driving, the crescendo of an inline six that only drops when you manage your right hand and left foot just so, you buy the manual. It’s fun. Adults don’t have enough fun. Let’s have more.
What Is It?
The 2023 Toyota Supra is the same, mostly, as the 2022 Toyota Supra and the one before that. It’s got the same 382 horsepower inline six-cylinder from BMW, dubbed the B58, and changes made for this model year otherwise are minimal.
The available manual transmission is the hot new option, of course. It is – like the rest of the car – BMW-sourced with a Toyota spin. BMW doesn’t offer the B58 with a manual (in the U.S., anyway) and so Toyota took some liberties with the ZF six-speed, removing sound-deadening material and developing a larger clutch disc that can better handle the engine’s torque output. Out back, the limited-slip differential gets revised gearing, from 3.15 to 3.46:1, to keep the Supra nearly as quick as its automatic sibling despite fewer and longer gears.
Electronic trickery is also afoot, with the traction control software modified on the manual cars given they can behave slightly differently. Inside, Toyota redesigned the center console of the manual Supra to better accommodate the manual’s shifter and pre-existing iDrive controller.
Automatic Supras aren’t left out of the 2023 changes, though, with updated stability control software. The new “Hairpin+” programming prevents the differential from locking up too early on tighter corner exit. Steering and adaptive shock calibrations have also been updated just a touch.
For the Numbers Queens
Let’s get it out of the way. I really couldn’t care less about most spec sheets. Zero to sixty times are helpful to a point; they’re not the end-all-be-all that other automotive media sometimes prioritize. No matter which transmission you pick, the 2023 Toyota Supra is fast. The manual weighs less than the automatic, by nearly 40 pounds, which combines with the revised diff gearing to keep the car about as snappy overall.
Car & Driver performed some of these instrumented tests, and found the manual 2023 Toyota Supra to be just 0.2 seconds slower to 60 than the automatic. It was similarly “slower” through their quarter-mile run. That’s why I say the automatic is faster – it literally is, and it’s also far easier to manage on winding mountain roads or a racetrack.
In any case, the manual Supra is a sub-four-second 0-to-60 car and blows through a quarter mile in 12-point-something seconds. At roughly 8.75 pounds per horsepower… it’s fast enough.
For the Visceral Sensations of Driving
I couldn’t just putter around Washington, D.C. with the Supra, so I pointed the car south and west toward the annual car show hosted by Madison Motorsports, my alma mater’s driving club. Leaving my neighborhood, I turned and accelerated from near-idle through most of second gear on to the highway. The on-ramp has a wall on either side and plenty of room to accelerate hard if traffic is clear ahead. Exhaust valves open, the B58 sang as I orchestrated a perfect upshift, on my own.
Sixth-gear interstate cruising followed that quick on-ramp blast. And here, the Supra is simply a Supra. It’s small inside, but there’s headroom for tall people. The ride is on the firmer side of acceptable. But it’s comfortable enough for longer journeys, and the available-everywhere torque meant I didn’t have to downshift often for casual passing or most hills.
Following the (very) rainy car show, the club’s members and alumni set off on a mountain road drive, the perfect place to feel out the Supra and actually interact with the transmission. Toyota calls it an “iMT” or Intelligent Manual Transmission, which is their branding for automatic rev-matching. It works flawlessly, though the pedals are also spaced well if you prefer the DIY approach.
That visceral “something” was highlighted on the mountain. I’d driven these exact roads with another Nitro Yellow Supra two years prior, picking my gears with that car’s paddle shifters. It was an easier experience. I had less to manage, physically and cognitively. And I enjoyed this drive more. The manual Supra’s longer gearing highlights the B58’s ability to produce power seemingly anywhere. The clutch is weighted appropriately, but is never a pain. The shifter has none of that rubbery action that’s been a (lovable?) BMW hallmark for decades. The whole interaction is just pleasant, every time.
I can’t say I felt the revised steering or suspension or differential programming. I’ve always found the Supra to be a great-if-slightly-twitchy handler and predictably easy to toss around. The ride was a touch better than prior models, but otherwise it’s the same delightful and gently imperfect sports car it’s been since its 2020 debut.
Oh, What a Feeling
I’ve been fortunate enough to drive a handful of current Supras over the last few years. They were all good looking and good to drive, though they didn’t really tug at my heartstrings like I hoped they might. In short, I felt like the Supra was a cool car for other people, but not for me.
The addition of a third pedal and wiggly stick between the seats changed the emotional appeal of the 2023 Toyota Supra, in a way that suddenly captures my interest quite a bit more. Every Mk5 Supra is a good car, but the manual transmission makes it that much more engaging. I’ve always looked back at the Mk5 Supra after parking one, but the manual makes me look forward to the next drive that much more.
To butcher an ’80s Toyota ad campaign… “I love what you [did] for me.”