Toyota says the 2020 Supra feels different to drive than its mechanical twin, the 2020 BMW Z4 M40i. Actually, since the start, both carmakers have been hammering about how distinguished each car is, telling us they went off their own separate ways once the shared architecture was laid out.
I’ve been tracking this BMW-Toyota love affair for quite a while now. It began with me driving the new Z4 in its four-cylinder trim last winter down in Palm Springs, a car BMW calls the Z4 SDrive30i. I liked it quite a lot.
Then, I drove the G20 3 Series sedan, and finally, this, the Supra and Z4. They all feel very similar, to be honest. But since the very beginning, everyone has wondered which company wore this engine and platform best.
Having these two globalized car-siblings in my driveway confirmed an important question: is the Supra still a Supra even if it’s not... a Toyota? Or, perhaps, more importantly, are these twins really all that different?
(Full disclosure: The opportunity to drive both the 2020 BMW Z4 M40i and the 2020 Toyota GR Supra came up when work colleague Vincent Aubé and I joined forces to do a comparo. BMW and Toyota Canada agreed, and prepared us clean cars with a full tank of gas.)
What Are They?
The return of the Supra has arguably been one of most talked about automotive topics this year, at least among enthusiasts. After all, the last-generation Supra, also known as the MKIV, garnered itself a legendary reputation in the tuner car world even before starring in The Fast and the Furious and an exorbitant amount of street racing videos. The Supra is the poster child of 1990s Japanese performance.
For Toyota to announce the return of its halo sports car 20 years after it died is a big deal, especially when also announcing there will be no manual gearbox and that the car’s heart won’t even be Japanese.
To be fair, a partnership like this BMW-Toyota one actually makes a lot of sense from a business standpoint, especially in our current era, where sports car sales are in the toilet and electrified crossovers will soon rule the roads.
I’m told the initial idea for the joint-venture came from Toyota, which put the most amount of money on the table for it to happen and wanted the Supra to have a straight-six like it used to. Meanwhile, BMW got a new roadster in the deal, and one they hoped would be more competitive with the Porsche Boxster and Cayman than ever before.
Production of both cars would be subcontracted by the Magna Steyr automobile manufacturer in Graz, Austria, alongside the BMW 5 Series and other German vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz G-Class.
Both cars share BMW’s new modular, CLAR platform, as well as a BMW-sourced turbocharged, 3.0-liter inline-six mated to a ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox. In both cases, power is sent to the rear wheels only.
From a mechanical standpoint, the Supra and the Z4, or what some have taken to calling the Zupra, are indeed quite identical. Tire, wheel and brake sizes, all the same. Pop the hood, and even the finest details are carbon copies of one another.
The differences lie in tuning, engineers say—of the suspension, engine, exhaust note and more. Toyota’s folks will tell you they got the hardware and figured things out from there. It’s entirely possible they feel different to drive; the question is how much?
The end result is still rather interesting, spawning two completely different types of very capable sports cars, aimed at entirely unique demographics. One is a luxury two-seat roadster, the other is a sports coupe. The Z4 can be powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, something the Supra currently only offers in other markets. The Z4 has more options, while the Supra comes in one all-inclusive package.
Also, between the two press units that lied in my driveway, there was a $16,000 CAN ($12,000 US) price gap.
BMW claims its more-expensive Z4 M40i, the most powerful and potent variant, pumps out 381 horsepower and 368 lb-ft of torque while weighing in at 3,622 pounds.
The Supra, on the other hand, puts down a promised 335 horsepower and 365 torques at 3,397 pounds. However, some dyno tests have revealed even higher numbers, suggesting the Toyota actually generates north of 400 lb-ft of torque. BMW’s infamous for underrating engines, so I do suspect both are really more powerful than initial numbers would have you believe.
Why Do They Matter?
Many would like to know which of these two carmakers calibrated this platform the best. Perhaps, more obvious than that, is the fifth-generation Toyota Supra any good?
One thing’s for certain: Toyota needed a Supra in its portfolio. While the brand has been working hard lately at shedding its boring-beige reputation with fun cars like the 86, the manual-gearbox Corolla hatchback, Lexus models with some edge, and quite a few solid offerings for off-road enthusiasts, it still hasn’t had a top-shelf sports car since the last Supra left us in 1997.
Also, with the Nissan GT-R’s refusal to die and the return of the Acura NSX, plus Mazda plugging away with the always-great MX-5 Miata, Toyota kind of had to hop back into the mix.
BMW, on the other hand, didn’t really need a new Z4, per se. It’s been doing fine selling M cars and high-performance variants of pretty much everything it sells, including its ever-expanding lineup of SUVs.
Also, with the Mercedes-Benz SLC now gone as well as an unknown future for the Audi TT, or the we-might-as-well-pronounce-it-dead Alfa Romeo 4C, the small premium roadster segment isn’t exactly flourishing at the moment. A fresh new Z4, however, allows BMW to be alone in that niche with the Boxster. And if there’s anything we know about BMW these days, its motto may be Leave No Niche Behind.
Toyota GR Supra
Because it’s the car that generates the most amount of excitement, both online and on the street, I’m going to begin with the Supra.
Its styling is a much more in-your-face effort than the Z4’s, with its curves, bulging arches and duckbill spoiler hanging out the back. This is a car that wants your attention and does a rather good job grabbing it.
My tester was painted in the Absolute Zero white paint job, which looked quite dashing with the contrasting red-on-black interior. As a matter of fact, everywhere we drove it, people went nuts over this thing.
Inside, it’s mostly a copy and paste of BMW’s latest dashboard layouts. The Supra does, however, incorporate its own little design cues like air vents and gauge readouts. Also, SUPRA! logos here and there remind you what you’re driving.
But let’s not get too carried away here. The entire center console, HVAC controls, and shifter are taken straight out of the Z4. So is the iDrive infotainment interface which Toyota adorably tried to change with different colors and images of tiny Supras.
Otherwise, it’s the exact same system as in all current-generation BMW cars and SUVs. It still can’t connect to Android Auto, but other than that iDrive is good. Probably one of the best right now.
The Supra’s cabin is visibly more confined than the Z4’s, with an aggressive roofline that’s not exactly kind to big guys like me. I kept having to lower my head to look outside the car, and banged it a few times getting in. I did enjoy the seats, though. Supportive during hard driving and comfortable for long trips.
I had a peculiar problem driving the Supra with its windows lowered. Turbulence was intense at freeway speeds, so bad, in fact, that I ended up running the car with the AC on most of the time.
My hypothesis is that the problem comes from the enormous pass-through located behind the seats. It’s a handy feature to throw your junk in the trunk from the driver’s seat. But it seems to create some kind of a venturi effect when the windows are dropped.
On the road, the Supra feels immediately more urgent and playful than the Z4. It’s audibly louder and more alive as well, spooling its turbo and emitting healthy belches out its twin exhaust. Power kicks in quick, with very little appreciable lag, especially for a turbocharged engine.
In case you’re still not aware, the GR badge refers to Gazoo Racing, Toyota’s latest motorsports arm. The outfit basically tuned, calibrated and tested the entire car.
There’s only one extra drive mode in the Supra, and it’s Sport, which firms up the adaptive dampers, shifts more aggressively and adds some resistance to the steering wheel.
In Sport, all the character traits listed above become even more apparent, requiring you to be quite awake behind the wheel. It’s a wild car, feeling indeed much more powerful than its 335-HP engine suggests. It’s also a stunningly loud machine when Sport Mode is engaged.
So I’m calling it here and now: the Supra is undoubtedly the more fun car to drive.
And yet I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting old, or because I wanted to work on my tan, but I much preferred the Z4 over the Supra.
BMW Z4 M40i
The thing is, even though it’s considerably more expensive, the Z4 feels like a more complete car. It’s almost as if BMW kept all the good stuff for itself.
For instance, its interior is noticeably more spacious and comfortable than in the Toyota. One, because, yes, you can drive it with the top down; an added bonus during a warm Autumn day.
But also because once its quick-retracting soft top is put back into place, there’s still massive headroom in the cabin.
The seats are also plushier, with leg extenders you don’t get in the other car. Interior design is all BMW, with BMW’s own switchgear, so the entire cabin feels more genuine and upscale, with finer-feeling materials. I also didn’t have to deal with that stupid wind problem during open-air driving.
The Z4 doesn’t have the Supra’s handy pass-through between its seats, there’s only a tiny opening the size of an iPad to access the trunk, but total cargo space remains high, almost identical to its hatchback sister, actually.
The Z4 gives way to 9.9 cubic feet versus 10.1 cubes in the Supra.
The Z4 not only looks more mature than its Japanese-tuned brother, but it also drives in a much more grown-up manner. Not that the car isn’t attractive, because it is. I’m personally a fan of its slim LED taillights, they remind me of the BMW Z8 roadster from the early 2000s.
It does end up feeling more anonymous as a result. Next to the Supra, the Z4 simply disappears, appearing like some other snob, expensive convertible, and at times seeming to share proportions with a Mercedes-Benz SL.
From behind the wheel, things are much more toned down, civilized, yet equally athletic. The Z4 doesn’t wag its tail under hard acceleration like the Supra, but rather squats down and burns a bit of rubber as it charges forward with a good, strong rush of power.
It generally feels like a larger, heavier automobile, with a significantly less wild exhaust note and a more controlled ride.
What the Z4 lacks in flamboyance, it makes up for with greater drive mode flexibility, allowing it to be a more enjoyable daily driver. For instance, while the Supra only has one alternate mode, the Z4 has a total of five, ranging from Sport, Sport +, Comfort, EcoPro and Adaptive, which automatically adapts to your driving style.
All modes actually change the car’s character to surprisingly great lengths.
Another feature I preferred in the BMW, was the ability to shove the gearbox in automatic S mode, where it still does the shifting for you, but in a more aggressive manner than D.
The Supra doesn’t offer this, it simply goes from D to manual mode. Yes, its Sport mode takes care of that for you, but you can’t opt for a quick transmission and a soft, comfortable ride, for instance.
Fun fact: after driving this Z4, I spent some time behind the wheel of a 2020 BMW M4 convertible. It felt like a slow, heavy dinosaur next to this. That’s how fresh and modern that new CLAR platform feels, and how quick the Z4 M40i is.
For the sake of this comparo, we had arranged some track time over at Sanair where we could properly assess acceleration times, braking, and overall lap performance for each car.
While Toyota eagerly accepted to let us bring the Supra at the track, BMW backed away at the last minute due to insurance-related issues. So we couldn’t get real numbers down. However, judging from our seat of the pants experience, Vincent and I both agreed that the Supra felt like the faster car.
There’s no denying that both the 2020 Toyota GR Supra and the 2020 BMW Z4 M40i are the same car. But they are good cars. Their origins don’t in any way detract from the driving experiences they offer.
If anything, these two are up there among the most potent performance machines available for under $100,000 (please don’t make Corvette C8 jokes).
And the great thing is, they do feel different!
The Supra is definitely aimed at a younger, more driving-oriented buyer, and it does a fantastic job fulfilling that mission. If you haven’t driven recent BMW products, walk inside a Toyota dealer and ask to test drive a Supra, you’re not going to be disappointed. It’s one hell of a sports car, and you’ll be getting a lot of performance for your dollar.
But if you know your cars, if not just a tad, you know the differences between driving a Toyota and driving a BMW. This Supra doesn’t drive, sound, or even smell like a Toyota.
So in that sense, no, the 2020 Toyota Supra doesn’t compare to its predecessor because it’s not a true Japanese effort. It’s too different in too many ways. The fourth-generation car had been developed to, yes, satisfy enthusiasts, but also to showcase Toyota’s engineering know-how against the world, most notably the German carmakers.
Now, it’s the Germans that build the damn thing.
The Z4, on the other hand, arrived in the ring quiet and humble, overshadowed by the hype the Supra had created. It ended up being the car I enjoyed driving the most, either because it offers more as a car, but also because it feels like a genuine BMW effort.
If there’s a higher-level takeaway here, it might be that there should be an unwritten rule in the automotive industry: never outsource your halo car.
Those are the automobiles that attract people into your showroom, the “hey, look what we can do” vehicle that convinces buyers to buy that RAV4 because it shares components with the sports car.
That doesn’t really apply here. As much fun as the new Supra is, its greatness isn’t something Toyota can truly claim for itself.
William Clavey is an automotive journalist in Montreal, Canada and contributes to Jalopnik. He runs claveyscorner.com.