Does the Toyota Supra with a manual transmission give it that extra spice it’s been missing so far?
As soon as Toyota announced its intention to give the GR Supra a manual transmission, most car fans probably thought they knew the recipe. The Supra’s BMW-sourced ‘B58’ in-line six-cylinder engine has been hooked up to a manual option in plenty of cars before, including the previous-generation M240i and 340i.
So, surely a manual Supra involves taking the transmission used in those cars and dropping it in? Not quite, it turns out. What Toyota actually did was partly develop a new gearbox, believing it to be the best way to get the right level of shift quality. The development team “went shopping” at German transmission specialists ZF, building a transmission related to BMW’s, but with many bespoke components.
The work didn’t stop there. To accommodate the shifter, the top part of the centre console had to be widened considerably, with the infotainment controls, drive mode buttons and the electronic handbrake all moved to new positions. The shift knob itself isn’t an off-the-shelf part either, and Toyota went through multiple designs with different weights, settling on the heaviest of them all – a 200g part – in its quest for the perfect shift.
Finally, Toyota has made this available in Australia which contributes to a weight saving of around 40kg over the automatic already on sale.
The expectation is for the manual to make up 35 per cent of all 3.0-litre straight-six turbo Supra sales, which sounds strong enough until you consider the 2.0-litre Supra sold in some markets makes up more than that, and the overall sales volume of the whole range is low. Sports cars simply don’t sell in big numbers these days.
The business case for this car, then, is small. Toyota didn’t even want to make one originally, it claims – the GR Supra manual is said to be born out of customer demand, which is only being satisfied since the company’s CEO Akio Toyoda is something of a petrolhead. We also wonder how much the incoming new Nissan Z, with a six-speed stick shift and almost 300kW, helped motivate the development.
Based on a drive limited to a handful of laps at the Monteblanco circuit in Spain, all of that effort was certainly worth it. We’d go so far as to say this is the best version of the GR Supra we’ve yet driven. It always felt like the GR Supra was missing something, and with the extra involvement brought by this six-speed manual, it’s a more complete sports car.
It helps that the manual’s shift action is very good. Unlike the rubbery-feeling gearbox BMW previously fitted to cars with this engine and the BMW M3 and M4 manual options, the bespoke Toyota/ZF unit slides into each gear with a wonderfully short and precise throw giving off a real sense of mechanical connection.
The lever feels and looks great. It’s a quality part and feels bang on in terms of its position on the revised centre console. The clutch action isn’t too long either, and the pedals are well spaced. There’s also a slick auto-blip feature that rev matches for you, which is easily disabled in the ‘Individual’ driving mode.
Although the engine feels more fun when mated to a manual gearbox, we still have some misgivings. It’s a long way from being on the list of great straight-six engines, with a weedy top end and a less than stellar soundtrack made worse by some artificial noise piped through the Supra’s speakers.
There’s only so much that can be done about the latter when contending with a petrol particulate filter. Plus, there’s no faulting the 3.0-litre lump’s potent mid-range, which means you can leave the Supra in a higher gear than you might think, as entertaining as it is downshifting with this lovely manual box.
While developing the transmission, Toyota also gave the GR Supra’s chassis some tweaks, including re-tuned dampers, recalibrated electric power steering and ESP systems, and stiffer bushings on the front and rear anti-roll bars. But you won’t have to buy a manual Supra to enjoy these as they’re coming to the rest of the range from the middle of the year.
Traction at the rear is mostly good, but we’d need to drive the car on the road to properly judge the tweaked dampers. From what we’ve sampled so far the GR Supra is still softer than the average modern sports car. A very deliberate choice, says Toyota test driver Herwig Daenens, and one that was key to the pre-update model going faster around the Nurburgring than the outgoing BMW M2.
Speaking of which, it’s the next-generation M2 that remains the Supra’s biggest threat, even in this improved manual guise. The BMW will also be available with a manual, and it’ll also be more powerful, more practical (thanks to rear seats and a much bigger boot), and probably only a little more expensive.
But when the launch of a new manual performance car of any kind – let alone a two-door coupe – is a rare event, it means there’s much to celebrate. The odds were stacked against this car’s very existence, so the fact it made it to showrooms at all should be celebrated.
The manual Toyota GR Supra is by far our favourite version of the car yet, providing the ingredient it always felt like it was missing with an excellent gear shift. It’s far from perfect, but given how rare manual performance cars such as this are, we’re pleased Toyota took the plunge to deliver a more driver-focused option.
|Model:||Toyota GR Supra (manual)|
|Engine:||3.0-litre 6cyl turbo petrol|
|Transmission:||Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive|
|On sale:||Late 2022 (Australia)|