Earlier this week, the Zupra Zaw off the BMW Z4. Yaaa… That didn’t surprise me. I imagine that BMW never truly realised it was in a deadly head-to-head with Toyota – The Germans were just going through the motions of building roadster again, while the Japanese were in a whirlwind to prove themselves. It wasn’t enough to just beat the M4 (the humiliation if BMW built a roadster that out-handled Toyota’s comeback coupe), but had to be strong enough to counter the firms inability to create a car from scratch. And obviously that’s a much tougher, more open-ended, philosophical task.
Based on what Toyota was working with, they did a bang up job (BMW parts). Now, BMW isn’t in the business of auctioning off the crown jewels. Toyota was given the same 3.0-litre straight six turbo that you can find in everything from the 1-Series to the X5. It also got the eight-speed ZF gearbox which they used. That’s in just about everything BMW sells, not to mention most Land Rovers, Jaguars, Audis and so on. Good, but hardly exclusive to say the least. What it didn’t get was the special stuff – BMW obviously saving the best for themselves.
At the beginning of the project, BMW’s representatives reportedly told Toyota that this was their first time making a sports car. This had me pretty confused for a while. But then I realised – no, of course not, because that’s not BMW’s job. That’s M division’s job, and luckily, they’re pretty good at what they do. So here the 3.0-litre turbo 8spd auto Supra goes up against the 3.0-litre twin turbo, 7spd DCT twin clutch BMW M2 Competition – a veritable look-at-what-you-could-have-had of special stuff. And even more surprisingly, for less money. £51,030 plays £54,000 for the Pro spec GR Supra (although you can guess which one offers more kit for the cash).
Statically, both have some visual force. You notice the Toyota from a long way away – it’s low and red so of course you do – but closer up the exaggerated curves keep the eye busy. The BMW is a simpler structure, a three box, two door, four seat coupe. The impact comes from lower down: this car has stance.
It is as if BMW constructed the bodywork, looked at it and said, “right, now we make it drive like that”. Because that’s exactly what it does. It feels very broad shouldered, doesn’t roll much, is stiff, connected and direct. Until the tires get heat there’s not much traction and even when they do you need to be on your game, because this is a snatchier car at the limit than the Toyota.
The Supra is definitely calmer and more agile. Roll is really well managed and overall communicates available grip well. This is very noticable on the tract. The pleasures are simpler, more easily accessed. While the wheelbase is short, it is impressive how Toyota has pulled off the neat trick of not only making the Supra agile starting corners, but stable on the way through and out. Traction betters the BMW on all corners, fast and slow.
But unfortunately, you do not get the same direct link between input and reaction. There’s a noticeable delay while the suspension compresses or the turbo picks up or the gearbox gets the shift done. Everything in the BMW happens with more urgency. It is just calling you to misbehave and on a circuit that means it’s pure hooligan fun. It also reminds you just how much more impactful and exciting a twin clutch gearbox and 404bhp/405lb ft twin turbo M engine are than the Toyota’s auto/single turbo set-up.
I do really enjoy the way it way is slides going down the road, properly energetic, a bit stroppy and hurled along by the best motor. The Supra is a one-trick pony: the turbo blows, force arrives, then it tails off. Not much point using anything beyond 5,500rpm as there’s so little reward and torque tails off. The M2 reigns in range, bite, charisma. Good grunt low down, rasping soundtrack, a hard kick at four-and-a-bit, a mighty lunge to the 8,000rpm limiter, and a whipcrack upshift. It’s utterly addictive. I find myself going slowly just so I can accelerate up through the gears, then use the brakes to slow. And repeat. And again. Not that the brakes are that impressive – for M Sport stoppers they need more pedal feel.
Does the BMW know how to back off and behave? depends on who is asking. Once you feel how aggress and playful it is, you will not want to take it easy. OK, it will do the daily grind stuff, but the gearbox does complain at low speeds, the diff is very tight on mini-roundabouts and the ride never less than positive. It’s a very busy car. But let’s be real, you bought a sports car so what did you expect? It’s got personality, that’s for sure.
Then we look at the Supra and that’s perhaps the one thing that it lacks. Technically it’s very proficient, but during the process of going to BMW cap-in-hand, coming away pushing a branded trolley filled to the brim with every component needed to build their new car, and then developing it, Toyota was unable to inject much character. Or even to disguise the BMW character. How much of an issue is this? Not much if you’re looking for an everyday sports GT and don’t have any particular brand affiliation. If that’s you, you’ll get into the Supra and think it’s well built from quality materials that are nice to touch – much better than you were expecting from a Toyota. In fact only the rev counter jars, looking a bit shiny and out of place. That’s the only major Toyota part I can spot. It’s snug and enveloping, the seats are good and you look out over a long bonnet.
In comparison the M2 crattles you in bolstered seats with plenty of light. Visibility is also much improved than previous models, but it’s not so sports car-like. Very familiar typefaces, fonts, instrumentation and so on. Plus rear seats and a boot for actual practicality. You could even put an actual booster seat in the back.
It would be hard to rein yourself in for family duties, though. I’ll give the M2 credit for some attitude – a forceful personality which makes you overlook the lack of brake feel and abrupt suspension. It stomps, twitches and roars along, a barrel-chested, boisterous ripper. You can just tell that this is the type of car that want to show you a good time, all the time. The Supra doesn’t have this force of personality – but how could it? And maybe that’s not what you want. In that case I’d say you weren’t looking for a sports car at all, but something to replace the Audi TT, something distinctive and a bit more exclusive that’s not going to ask too much of you. Truth be told, that’s being slightly unkind, because the Supra does have talent, it does have finesse and it is enjoyable. But don’t we want our sports cars to have a bit more oomph than that? And oomph is not something the BMW M2 Competition is short of.