When the Toyota GR Supra launched in 2019 after years of waiting, we fully expected the carmaker to sit back and let the car carry its weight for a while before any updates rolled along. After all, this is a carmaker for whom “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a governing mantra; witness how long the 4Runner, the Land Cruiser, the Tacoma and Tundra have been trucking along (no pun intended), and it certainly hasn’t hurt any of those models.
Nooooooope. For the 2021 model year, the new Supra receiving not one but two new engines: a more powerful turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six, bumped up from 335 horses to 382 hp and also gaining three more pound-feet of torque, for 368; and a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four, whose 255 horsepower seems low in comparison but whose 295 lb-ft of torque make up for much of that.
Originally, Toyota had planned to host automotive media down near Atlanta in order to experience the 2021 car for the first time, where we’d “have the opportunity to experience the 2021 GR Supra on beautiful Georgia roads, as well as a closed circuit at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.” Then came COVID-19. With travel practically banned and states closing down left and right, Toyota instead sent me both four- and six-cylinder versions for almost-back-to-back loans in New York, giving your humble author a chance to test them on his home turf.
The case for the four-cylinder Supra:
The four-cylinder Supra — or, in Toyota parlance, the 2021 Toyota GR Supra 2.0 — is new to America this year, though it’s been kicking around other markets since the car’s debut. But the engine is an old, familiar friend: it’s the same 2.0-liter turbocharged-four that graces much of the BMW lineup these days, including the BMW 330i that we found a better choice than the six-cylinder M340i.
In a sports car, though, those 255 horsepower don’t feel quite as fulfilling as they do in a zippy compact sedan. Still, the Supra 2.0 is actually more fun than you might expect, thanks in large part to the thick slug of torque that manifests from 1,550 to 4,400 rpm. That happens to be the range where most real-world driving takes place, be it around town or open-road highway driving, so the four-cylinder car feels peppy and quick in almost every scenario.
Plus, as in the 330i, this engine means its host car can rack up some impressive fuel economy numbers. I saw an average of 35 miles per gallon over the course of a couple hundred miles, and I wasn’t babying it; that was puttering around New York City, keeping up with the New York State Thruway’s 80-plus-mph fast lane and carving up a couple winding Catskills two-lanes. Some credit must go to the 2.0’s lesser curb weight (it;s about 200 pounds lighter), but more of it goes to the clever engineers at BMW.
And until you rev it and that four-cylinder engine note comes out the tailpipe, nobody will ever know you went for the cheaper Supra. Externally, 2.0 and 3.0 are identical, from their aggressively manga-ready noses to their svelte, turned-up tails. If you’re planning on using your ToyoBimmer for flossin‘, as the kids say, you’ll be just fine with the smaller, lighter car.
The case for the six-cylinder Supra:
Yeah, it’s more fun. Most of that comes down to that sweet inline-six, which hauls the little Supra around with verve. 2020 Supra buyers don’t need to feel too cheated; while it no doubt will turn in slightly quicker times on the track, on the street, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference the extra 47 horses make.
The Bimmer-sourced engine not only enables rip-snorting acceleration off the line and from a roll, but it also makes it easier to kick the tail out. The Supra 3.0 is an oversteer-happy maniac, ready to twerk at the slightest overindulgence of throttle when the stability control is clicked to its loosened setting; the 2.0, however, takes a concerted effort to swing the rear out under those circumstances.
The 3.0 is also the only way you can score some of the car’s more involving performance features, such as the active dampers (the 2.0 uses passive ones), the 348mm four-piston front brakes (the 2.0 uses 330mm single-piston ones) and the active electronic limited-slip differential (the 2.0 has a reactive mechanical LSD). And if you live and die by the luxury accoutrements in your mainstream-brand sports car, you’ll want the bigger-engined car, as it’s the only way to get power seats.
The cars you might consider instead:
The Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro are the obvious alternatives, each of which comes sports-minded coupe versions in varying engine sizes. The Mustang EcoBoost HPP with Handling Package and the Camaro V6 1LE both would stack up nicely against the four-cylinder Supra, while the Mustang GT Performance Package Level 2 and Camaro SS 1LE have what it takes to charge the six-cylinder Toyota.
Anyone considering the Supra 3.0 might consider stretching to a Porsche 718 Cayman, though they’d have to accept a stripper model if they wanted a price anywhere close to the Toyota’s. The Nissan 370Z may be stunningly dated, but it’s still entertaining to drive, and the pick-of-the-litter 370Z Sport with the stick shift starts at just $33,820. And, of course, anyone considering a four-cylinder sports car would be remiss not to at least look at a Mazda Miata.
Of course, there’s one missing piece of the equation that keeps up from solving it: price. In what was either an unfortunate coincidence or a deliberate attempt to keep car reviewers from writing a bevy of pieces with titles like “THE 4-CYLINDER SUPRA IS A BARGAIN / A RIPOFF” before they’d driven it, Toyota has yet to release pricing for any of the 2021 Supras. (That’s expected to arrive in mid-June, at least according to Car and Driver.)
Considering that the six-cylinder model has seen relatively minor upgrades, it seems unlikely that the price would rise too much above the 2020 model’s MSRPs of $49,990 to start and $53,990 for the well-equipped 3.0 Premium. The starting price of the 2.0, though, is the bigger question. If Toyota dropped it square between the Supra 3.0 and the 86 with an MSRP of $38,000, it would be a bargain; if the company decided to offer it for just a few thousand less than the six-cylinder, it’d be overpriced.
Once we know how much both versions cost, we’ll be able to better say. But for now, know that if you wind up having to go for the four-cylinder Supra, you certainly won’t regret it. At least, not until you have to drag-race a Ferrari F355.