Although the third-generation Toyota Supra (A70) was the first to incorporate a turbocharged engine, it was the inline-six setup that the model was known for, bringing 230 hp and 246 lb-ft of torque—a true sports car for the mid-1980s. And the A80 Supra of the ’90s, with its JZ inline-six (with and without turbo) became the stuff of legend. To most peoples’ memories, the Supra and an inline-six are inseparable.
After a 21-year hiatus in the United States, the Toyota Supra returned in its fifth generation with polarizing styling, sensational-but-quirky drive manners, and a powerful I-6 engine sourced from BMW. But things have changed for the 2021 year model. For the first time ever, Toyota is breaking the protocol by offering a Supra with a four-cylinder turbo engine.
Shattering a tradition like this by a brand that’s known for staying in its lane is bizarre. But Toyota saw an opportunity. By partnering with BMW and splitting the costs of co-developing the Supra and Z4, Toyota had access to BMW’s dynamic 2.0-liter turbo-four engine that would broaden the appeal of (and pricing accessibility to) its halo car.
Toyota already sells the four-cylinder Supra in Europe and Asia, but this is the first time it reaches U.S. soil, where it will slot between the performance-oriented Toyota 86 and the more powerful turbo-six Supra. Toyota is currently keeping U.S. pricing under wraps, but in Germany the turbo-four carries a 15 percent price break.
But making a downmarket version of a performance car is a risky endeavor, in that it can dilute the brand promise of the vehicle. It’s not too often that habits are broken in this industry, so we asked ourselves one question: Does the four-cylinder Supra measure up to its predecessors?
How Does The 4-Cylinder Supra Drive?
Like the 3.0-liter l-6 engine, the turbo-four mill came from BMW. Shared with the current BMW 3 Series and Z4 sDrive30i, the 2.0-liter turbo-four produces 255 hp and 295 lb-ft and is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission that sends power to the rear wheels. Although international markets also get a lower-output 4-cylinder option, we Yanks got lucky and only get the more compelling variant. But the sad news is that there’s still no manual transmission coming any time soon.
The depowered Supra is 200 pounds lighter than the six-cylinder, give or take, and most of that weight was lost by cutting two cylinders from the engine. The Supra 2.0 also lost weight given the absence of an adaptive suspension and the active differential, both of which are standard on the inline-six. The lower weight helps the turbo-four sprint to 60 mph in 5.0 seconds, per Toyota, putting it behind the 3.0-liter by about 1.1 seconds. For now, we’ll have to believe Toyota, but be sure we’ll be running the numbers ourselves soon.
So, how does the four-cylinder Supra drive? On Malibu’s twisty canyon roads, the car sticks to the ground, feeling planted even from the rear end. Toyota made some chassis tuning changes compared to the 2020 model, and that shows in the tight corners. During our Best Driver’s Car competition (which you can binge watch now for $1 a month on the MotorTrend app), we complained about the rear end oscillating too much. Toyota listened and fixed it. The bumpy curves of Mulholland Highway didn’t bother the Supra, showing good body control at all times.
The Supra’s proper body control is complemented by its steering, which feels precise and balanced for a GT car. We had also complained about the Supra’s steering on past occasions, and for some reason the steering on the 4-banger feels slightly more decisive and quicker—especially on canyon roads. We credit the weight loss, all of which came off the front axle.
Though body control and steering are well tuned, the suspension was too rough for everyday driving. The poor quality of Los Angeles’ freeways is to blame here, but my body caught air on a couple of occasions when driving on the hate-drive 405 freeway, and during my romp on Mulholland, my head hit the ceiling when I drove over a dip (as there’s no adaptive suspension, the ride itself can’t get any worse).
The peppy 2.0-liter engine and the eight-speed tranny still deliver a lively drive. Of course, the reduced power is notable, but the turbo-four is fun. Although the transmission upshifts quickly, it’s a tad slow to downshift. Sport mode will make the engine rev at higher rpms, and the transmission will hold gears longer and will act like it’s rev-matching on downshifts.
One sad thing is that lifting off the throttle in Sport mode won’t trigger the raucous pops and crackles of the six-cylinder Supra; yes, they’re artificial, but they’re cool. Toyota should also consider installing more sound deadening materials, as the interior gets a lot of road noise.
Another difference between the four- and the six-cylinder Supra lies in the brakes. Toyota equipped the Supra 2.0 with smaller front rotors and uses single-piston calipers instead of four at each corner. Despite this changes, braking power is still there, but we’ll have to wait for our own numbers to see the difference. (The 2020 Supra Launch Edition we tested stopped from 60 to 0 mph in a short 99 feet.)
Has The 4-Cylinder Supra’s Interior Changed?
As the new entry-level Supra, there are a few key differences that lower the equipment level in the four-cylinder model. Instead of having power-adjusted seats, drivers must manually adjust their seating position. The standard audio system has only four speakers. Other features like Apple CarPlay and radar cruise control, which are standard on most Toyotas these days, are only available with the Safety and Technology package. That package also adds blind-spot monitor, parking sensors, navigation, a 12-speaker JBL premium audio system, and something called Supra Connected Services, which is a fancy concierge service that also includes remote locking and ventilation control, traffic updates, map updates, stolen vehicle recovery, and automatic emergency calling.
The good thing, though, is that Toyota ditched the 6.5-inch display of 2020 models in favor of a bigger 8.8-inch touchscreen, which is now standard on all 2021 models. But besides that, you won’t see many differences—the center console, infotainment system, and dash are the same as in the Supra 3.0, which means you get the same design, fonts, controls, and graphics as BMW.
As in many sports cars, the interior is small, but here it doesn’t feel cramped. Headroom is just enough for a 6-foot adult, and shoulder room is decent. The small side windows reduce lateral visibility, and although the seating position is low, visibility to the front is acceptable.
Should I Buy The 4-Cylinder Supra?
The most important thing is that the Supra continues to turn heads in places like Malibu, where sports cars meander like chickens in a cluster. During my drive, two different people stopped jogging on the side of the road when they saw the Supra coming, and incoming cars flashed their headlights and drivers showed thumbs-up. Now it will do it for less money. How much? We don’t know yet, but it will be less $50,000, which is the price of the 2020 Supra 3.0.
It’s hard to pay tribute to your predecessors when the world we live in is completely different from the one 20 years ago or more, but with a turbo-four under its hood, the Supra lives up to the hype and delivers excitement to those who seek it.