Despite driving plenty of fun cars for the sake of reviews, lately I’ve found myself itching for a sporty street car to call my own. I enjoy my BMW E36 Spec3 racecar, but it’s nowhere near street legal, and using it for a day or three is a bit of a production. My diesel-powered Porsche Cayenne is such a delight, but isn’t entertaining in the same way that a small, impractical sports car can be. So I bought a 2023 Toyota Supra. Itch: scratched.
This Started With a Dodge Viper
This all started last spring. I was at Pride at the Dragon talking with my friend Rick, and our conversation shifted to buying cars that don’t depreciate much. It’s never a guarantee, but enjoying a car and not losing much – if any – money on it when you sell is everyone’s dream, right? I’d always thought the third-generation Dodge Viper convertible would be way cool, and we agreed they certainly wouldn’t depreciate too much.
Home from Fontana Lodge with fast internet once more, I started shopping for Vipers. I had no idea what they even cost, if I’d like one, or what my budget for this perfect-purchase toy could be. As budgets do, it slowly ballooned to about sixty grand. The “problem,” if you can call it that, with such a budget is that nearly all of the automotive world is your oyster. So then… what about a not-Viper? Creature comforts and double-digit fuel economy both sounded kinda nice.
I decided I only wanted something with a manual transmission, two seats, and rear-wheel drive. It had to be a fun color. I cared less about the interior, but a decent sound system and CarPlay – either built-in or easily added – were requirements as well. I quickly added the Jaguar F-Type and 997-era Porsche 911 to my list.
And then I woke up one morning remembering that new cars exist. It’d be a bit silly to go on about saving the manuals in my new car reviews while then purchasing a used car, wouldn’t it?
The current Mazda Miata, Subaru BRZ and Toyota GR86 were all worthy contenders, to a point, but I’ve done the “slow car fast” thing before, many times. I wanted fast-car-fast this time. A new Porsche Cayman or Boxster was out; if I wanted any sort of features on the car, either would blow past my rough $60k budget cap. That left the Toyota Supra and Nissan Z.
Why the Supra?
Thanks to the car review circuit, I’ve been able to spend significant enough time behind the wheel of both the Supra – in automatic and manual forms – and a few manual-transmission Nissan Zs. They both make 400ish horsepower, they’re both good looking, they both come in good colors.
While I enjoyed my time driving both, and actually prefer the styling of the 2023 Nissan Z and its Ikazuchi Yellow paint color to Toyota’s Nitro Yellow, the Supra is a better fit for me in how it drives out of the box. Neither car is perfect, but the shifter and suspension of the Supra are just more “me.” I decided I wanted a yellow Supra with three pedals, and after months of anticipation, took delivery of one at the end of September.
My Supra is effectively a BMW Z4 coupe. It’s built by Magna Steyr in Austria and is painted the same shade of Atacama Yellow that BMW used on the prior-generation E89 Z4. The manual transmission is a ZF unit shared with some BMWs, but with Toyota’s tweaking to be less ropey and rubbery. Under the long hood you’ll find a BMW B58 inline six with two turbochargers and “382” horsepower according to Toyota and BMW alike. The adaptive dampers are a little choppy in the city but great on highways and back roads, the valved exhaust is loud but not excessive, and the sound system is a pretty good JBL-branded setup.
As an aside, my mom owns a 2005 Chrysler Crossfire, another interesting and strange vehicle that wears the winged Chrysler emblem but is entirely a Mercedes-Benz SLK under the art deco bodywork. Hers was built by Karmann, another Magna-esque company that builds low-volume vehicles for a variety of automakers. So now we have two of these fascinating automotive mashups in our family, both with rear-drive and three pedals.
First Payment on Friday, Racetrack on Saturday
Just hours after sending the first loan payment to my bank for my yellow Supra, I threw a backpack and my helmet in the hatch and went to Summit Point for NASA Mid-Atlantic’s “Fall Finale” weekend. It’s an all-HPDE (high performance driver education) and Time Trials (competition for best lap time) event with no wheel to wheel racing, which meant more track time for everyone else and a low-stakes, relaxed environment for me.
Fifteen years ago at this same weekend and event, I showed up for my first-ever racetrack experience with my university’s motorsports club and got a ride-along in a BMW Z4M coupe. My goal this weekend, then, was to take more of those Madison Motorsports students out for rides in the kind-of-Z4-coupe now.
I found where the tow hook was hiding, behind a cover in the hatch, and installed that so I wouldn’t need it. I then threw some blue tape numbers on the doors and… that was that for prep.
iDrive said the oil level was okay and I figured I’d play with tire pressures as needed given weather fluctuations.
HPDE 4 is not competitive but does allow passing anywhere, with a point-by recommended but not required. So, as long as I was passing safely I could get by wherever. And let me tell you there was a lot of passing going on. This thing is fast. Not “for what I’ve owned” or “for what I’ve driven” but in general. Toyota claims 382 HP at the engine, dyno reports show more like 400 HP at the wheels. Do math with the 3,342 lb curb weight and that’s 8.35 lbs per horsepower. Fast.
I took it easy the first few sessions and then as the track warmed up and I got used to the car, started pushing it. I learned very quickly that leaving full traction and stability control on was a bad idea, as I started smelling brake pad within a few corners. A quick button press near the shifter to turn it off and the car settled down.
Learning how to apply 400ish horsepower smoothly through corner exits was tricky. The 97″ wheelbase is short – just 7″ longer than a Miata and 10″ shorter than the BMW M2 platform-mate. So, bringing power on too quickly and/or trail braking too hard was a recipe for a spin. I had a few moments of almost-spin that I turned in to some sweet drifts instead, slowly learning what to do or not do pretty quickly there. The car does like trail-braking and will rotate nicely if you do, with easy steering throughout. In a straight line, it’s just powerpowerpower.
I generally say these Supras don’t feel turbocharged, but on track there is a definite uptick in power around 4,000 rpm, if slight. Summit’s front straight is its longest and in my E36 325is racecar (making 193 wheel horsepower) I can achieve 120 mph or so. The Supra, by comparison, would crack 140 mph without flinching and would do 145 mph if I let myself get a little scared into the braking zone.
I was giving the brakes ample time to slow the car and honestly, even from 145 mph, they had power left and I was finding myself slowed before the turn-in point for Turn 1. I would guess 147-150 is feasible on the entirely-stock setup at Summit but I was too chicken to find out, given the tires, brakes, and three-point seatbelts. It’s more fun to leave some margin and bring the car home looking like a car than to find out the ultimate limits of what your favorite credit union actually owns.
Factory tires – a Michelin Pilot Super Sport – were fine. They offered good grip, were a little talkative, and liked some slip angle (as did the car) at times. I had the suspension in its Sport damping setting and everything was nicely balanced. With more tire and brake I would feel a bit more confident in places, but even as the car sits there is more in it that I didn’t yet extract in 2.5 hours of seat time.
I especially enjoyed the “tire status” page of iDrive for track use. It can be left on screen indefinitely, and shows both tire pressure and temperature at each corner. Even better, the recommended pressure for both front and rear axles is indicated and changes as the tires get hot or cool down. It’s a small touch, but a very smart one that saved me from both having to check pressures and wonder where the tires were likely going to be happy.
What’s Next, Then?
Ideally, nothing. My plan is to just enjoy the Supra and use it as a weekend adventure machine in between vehicles I review. I’m so glad that it’s this capable with zero modification, and being able to throw my helmet in the back and head to the track casually was a fun change of pace.
I’m sure I chewed through a good bit of the OEM brake pads, so once they get low I’ll look in to some higher-performance pads, likely from my friends at Hawk Performance. Whenever those go on, the brake fluid will be replaced with new fluid that can handle higher temperatures. And I’ll look at tires whenever that time comes, which won’t be for quite a while.
Otherwise, I’m just going to drive it and make memories in it. After all, that’s what cars like this are for.