Climbing into the Toyota Supra can be a challenge when you’re tall, and a true pain in the neck when you’re wearing a helmet. But it was a price I was more than willing to pay during a visit to the Utah Motorsports Park outside Salt Lake City last week.
While most manufacturers have been dropping manual transmissions from their line-up, the Japanese giant has defied the trend. It now offers sticks in all three of its sporty Gazoo Racing-tuned models, the GR 86, the GR Corolla and the 2023 GR Supra. And, after contorting myself like playdoh melting into the broiling Utah sun, I managed to slip inside the coupe, fire it up and start rolling down pit lane.
The latest-generation Supra is quirky vehicle, with a platform developed as part of a joint venture with BMW and a love-it-or-hate-it design. For 2023, you can opt to replace its 8-speed automatic with a smooth, short-throw manual gearbox. From a price standpoint, it’s an even swap, with three trim packages available and ranging from $52,500 to $58,345 — before factoring in $1,095 in delivery fees.
Today’s automatics are mechanical marvels and, as with most other current models offering a choice of stick or automatic, you’ll actually sacrifice a bit of performance and fuel economy to row your own. But in a car like the GR Supra, that’s quickly forgotten as you gain that distinctive feeling of becoming one with your machine.
Long known for its bland, plain vanilla styling, Toyota was determined to push to extremes with the reborn Supra, leaning heavily on the striking FT-1 concept for inspiration. The production version is controversial, what with all its creases and curves — as well as the fake intakes on the hood. But it is clearly an attention grabber.
And, with the exception of those scoops, virtually every detail of the exterior design has a functional purpose, whether to enhance engine breathing and cooling, or to maximize downforce while minimizing drag.
For those who want something even a little more edgy, the 2023 Supra 3.0 can be ordered in the form of the A91-MT Edition. It’s a bit different from the previous A91 package, with its extensive use of carbon fiber. Limited to just 500 copies, it gets details like gunmetal gray wheels, cognac leather seating and red struts.
Depending upon the individual package, you can add features like alloy wheel nuts and carbon fiber mirror caps.
If the exterior of the Supra is controversial, the interior triggers an even more heated discussion. The navigation screen and infotainment system, along with the iDrive controller, are lifted straight out of the BMW parts bin.
The instrument cluster is unique to Toyota, however, and features a more classic design, centering around the tachometer. Until now, Supra buyers had only that 8-speed automatic to go for, and it did offer the benefit of steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Now, the swap-out gives you the alternative of a nicely positioned manual shifter that is perfectly positioned atop the center console.
In terms of creature comfort, the seats are attractive and grippy, something you’ll appreciate even more when flogging the Supra around on track or winding back roads.
While the cabin design is carryover for the Supra 3.0, that A91 edition does add some contrasting blue touches, and a special trunk mat.
For the 2023 model year, Toyota gave Supra’s 3.0-liter twin turbo I-6 a modest but appreciated upgrade, jumping to 382 hp and 368 pound-feet of torque. That took 0-60 launches down to 3.9 seconds, two-tenths faster than the original 2020 model. Credit new pistons and a new, dual-branch exhaust manifold.
With the 6-speed manual you sacrifice three-tenths of a second, hitting 60 in 4.2 seconds which is still a solid number. As before, power is sent exclusively to the rear wheels.
Supra fans might note I’ve not mentioned the base 2.0-liter I-4 package. The manual is available only on the six-banger, unfortunately.
The manual comes with some other welcome features, including an active rear sport differential and 19-inch wheels and tires. There are also tweaks to the coupe’s software, including a truck Hairpin Function that helps you blast through the tightest of corners with a minimum of wheel slip.
If you like BMW’s infotainment system, you’ll like what you find in the Supra, down to the Bavarian marque’s ubiquitous iDrive controller. The infotainment system also can be controlled through an 8.8-inch touchscreen or the latest Toyota voice control system. Surprisingly, while the BMW Z4 has both, Toyota’s sports car makes Apple CarPlay available, but not Android Auto. Wireless charging is also available.
Toyota has made its Safety Sense suite of advanced driver assistance technologies available across the brand, and the basic package can be upgraded with features including Active Cruise Control and Blind-Spot Monitoring.
It’s hard to say “no,” when given the chance to take Supra out for a few laps. It’s the sort of sports car that just begs to be pushed to the limits. That said, the 3.0-liter engine has such a wide torque band that I didn’t have nearly as many opportunities to shift on the long Utah track. After the initial launch, it was easy to just leave the transmission in third and focus on hitting the correct turn-in point at each corner.
But when I did take the opportunity to shift it was pleasing to see that Toyota engineers got it right. The 2023 Toyota GR Supra MT’s manual gearbox is easy to master. The shifter is well positioned and shifts are quick, smooth and rewarding.
While some fans will question the logic of going with a manual gearbox only to lose time on your launches. One can only smile and try to explain the visceral sense that comes with that direct connection to your vehicle.
I don’t expect the new manual to make up a high share of Supra sales, but there will be a core buyer who wouldn’t have it any other way.