If you told me a decade ago that Toyota — the company that gave us the “Camry Effect” ad campaign — would reposition itself to be one of the last bastions for accessible performance in the auto industry today, I’d have told you to go ground yourself to the ground.
Here we are though, in 2022, and the world’s biggest manufacturer has found its pulse again with three models that scale the enthusiast ladder. And Toyota is actually listening to enthusiasts! The company went back to the drawing board and found a way to offer the GR Supra with the manual transmission it was missing at launch. Granted, it took them a while, but frankly, I’m just comforted we’re getting a manual Supra at all.
To be fair, the Supra’s standard eight-speed automatic is snappy and does everything right, but a 0-60 time isn’t the only thing. If it was, I assuredly wouldn’t be writing this today. After three years of pleading, I will happily serve as the messenger of good, obvious news: the row-your-own Supra is great, buoyed by a newfound purpose that we all knew the two-door lacked from the beginning, even if we hopelessly tried to ignore that fact.
Full disclosure: Toyota flew me to Park City, Utah for a day of driving its most anticipated Gazoo Racing-branded models — the manual Supra and GR Corolla — in and around the Utah Motorsports Campus. I politely asked to decline that evening’s dinner and refreshments and continue dehydrating myself inside the Morizo Edition GR Corolla, and a Toyota representative politely responded “no.” Some free country this is! Stay tuned for a full GR Corolla review next week.
Toyota says it started work on the manual-transmission Supra in 2019. It was a joint effort, uniting Gazoo Racing engineers with the automaker’s European division along with gearbox supplier ZF. This unit — the GS6L50TZ — is a modified version of the six-speed offered in the BMW Z4 sDrive20i overseas. Toyota’s contributions consist of an all-new large-diameter clutch and stronger diaphragm spring to cope with the Supra’s 368 lb-ft of torque. The GR crew also ditched the transmission’s acoustics package to save weight and designed a new 200-gram short-throw shift lever, opting to go with the heaviest of three prototype levers for the best tactile sensation.
The manual necessitated a change to the final drive ratio, shortened from 3.15 to 3.46, to make take-off and low-gear acceleration feel satisfyingly urgent. They do! The clutch pedal travel is a little long compared to what I’m used to, but the shifter feels direct and precise, and setting off from a start was effortless and smooth — not a whiff of jerkiness, that jarring physical rebuke when you’ve misjudged the bite point and throttle application in a manual you’ve never driven before.
It’s forgiving, and part of that nature stems from the rev-matching capability of what Toyota calls its “intelligent” manual transmission. Don’t worry — you can turn it off.
Sometimes, shoehorning a manual into a car that wasn’t really designed for it can be a recipe for an ergonomic disaster, but Toyota did a good job here. The center console is a hair wider, with the the iDrive controller nudged to the right and the base of the shifter moved toward the driver by almost two inches compared to the automatic model. The positioning is roundly comfortable, seated like it was always meant to be there, never requiring an awkward skew of the elbow or feeling out of reach.
The manual Supra’s chassis was tweaked to jibe with the driving dynamics of the new powertrain. Traction control has been re-profiled to lessen the chance of unintentional wheelspin, both upon start-off and when exiting corners. Despite this, the prime freedom of a manual hasn’t been snuffed out by software; a Hairpin+ mode allows for just enough difference in rotation between the rear wheels to encourage a little sideways fun, particularly when gliding through tight, uphill bends.
Some of the changes aren’t limited to the manual model. All 2023 3.0-liter Supras receive new shock absorbers that promise a better ride, “retuned” electric power steering and an anti-roll control system designed to head off snap-oversteer. Honestly I can’t say I noticed a profound difference, but then my prior experience with an automatic Supra occurred on a long, mostly boring straight-shot drive through a state that doesn’t suffer speeders.
The manual 3.0 Supra costs exactly the same as its self-shifting counterpart: $53,595 for the Base trim, $57,745 for the Premium package. The latter adds full leather seats, more speakers and wireless phone charging. The $59,440 A91-MT Edition, limited to 500 examples, throws in forged rims, a strut tower brace in the engine bay, a dark tan “Hazelnut” interior and — for a finishing touch — a red “Supra” badge on the trunk. All of the above prices include a $1,095 destination charge.
The usual manual penalties to performance and efficiency apply. The stick-shift Supra takes three tenths longer to sprint to 60 mph, placing it firmly in the low-four-second range. Toyota quotes fuel economy at 19 mpg city, 27 highway, 21 combined; 4 mpg less than the auto. You also can’t get the six-speed with the “just okay” two-liter four-cylinder engine, the one that arguably needed it more.
But you either knew all that already, or you could have guessed. You’re here because those red flags don’t register a blip on the radar of concern. This is the car the fifth-generation Supra should’ve been from the start. That’s not to say it was pointless without the manual. But now we’ll never have to wonder what it could have been.