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The GR Supra - Toyota’s winning partnership strategy

In a market where sedans are less popular than SUVs and pickup trucks, sportscars are a challenging conversation to start in an automaker’s product planning meeting. Try to make a compelling case for the sexy two-seater that grab enthusiast magazine and website real estate and someone’s bound to point out that Jeep has been a cash cow brand for decades making SUVs and now pickup trucks. But what if the company teams with another automaker who faces the same challenge? Toyota did just that a decade ago when it partnered with Subaru to develop its GT86 sports coupe. That sportscar is primarily a twin to Subaru’s BRZ model from the chassis to boxer engine. And both brands have done reasonably well with the affordable offerings.

Perhaps a more interesting partnership is Toyota’s GR Supra, a venture with luxury automaker BMW where the German mechanicals under the skin are the same, but the bodies and sports strategy take very different paths. In 2018 when BMW designed its second generation of the Z4 sportscar, it moved from a retracting hardtop to a canvas-topped roadster. It also retained the strategy of offering a four-cylinder engine as well as its silky inline six. In contrast, Toyota designed a sharp-edged coupe body that looks and acts ready for a racetrack and that’s been a winning strategy.

I first encountered Toyota’s new Supra at a press introduction where a racetrack was part of the venue and was pleasantly surprised at how it performed when pushed aggressively. I know, it’s a Bimmer under the Toyota sheetmetal, but it seemed more willing to attack the twisties than I recalled from my last Z4 experience. And when the GR Supra arrived in my driveway a couple of weeks ago for this test, it sported an available six-speed, manual gearbox, an option not even offered in the BMW. If that’s surprising, it shouldn’t be. The German automaker has focused its track athletics on the M2 and M3 coupes and assumes that grand touring in Mercedes SL style is what its owners want in its Z4 roadster.

Although I wasn’t on a racetrack during my week of testing, I did get enough time in this stylish coupe to experience that its performance matched the F1 style. The 3.0-liter, turbocharged six produces 382-horsepower and that’s just right to move this 3,400-pound coupe around with alacrity. And although the paddle-shifting, eight-speed automatic posts quicker acceleration times along with a smidge better fuel economy, the close-ratio, six-speed gearbox with rev-matching downshifts really connects the driver to the machine.

Toyota’s GR initials stand for the automaker’s Gazoo Racing, a performance initiative begun by former CEO Akio Toyoda who was as comfortable in a Nomex race suit behind the wheel as he was in pinstriped attire behind a desk. So the nicely dialed in suspension is firm and crisp and four-pot Brembo brakes up front clamp down nicely when needed. The exhaust tone does its part with a crackle at high-rev shifts, but otherwise isn’t too Harley like. And with this focus on sportiness, Toyota’s Supra handily outsells its BMW cousin. Perhaps there’s a lesson here…

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2023 Toyota GR Supra

TYPE:  Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive

ENGINE:  3.0-liter Turbo I-6

HORSEPOWER:  382 @ 5,800 RPM

TORQUE:  368 lb.ft. @ 1,800 RPM

BASE PRICE: $55,650

AS TESTED:  $57,940

FUEL CONSUMPTION: 19-city, 27-highway, 21-combined

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