Does a manual make the Toyota GR Supra a better sports car?

J.G.
By J.G. Pasterjak
May 18, 2024 | Toyota, Supra, FIRM, New Car Review, GR Supra, Track Test, Florida International Rally & Motorsport Park | Posted in Features | Never miss an article

Photography by Chris Tropea

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Soon after Toyota offered a manual transmission for the latest Supra, a question arose: Which is faster, manual or auto?

After finally running a manual-equipped Supra at our official test track, we can confidently say that the answer to that question pretty much matches our original supposition: “Well, it depends.”


We’ll start by saying that the manual-equipped Supra posted the second-fastest time a production vehicle has ever logged during our testing at the Florida International Rally & Motorsport Park. It trails only the C8-chassis Corvette Z51 at the top of that heap, putting it in rarified air.

And we’ll add that comparing it to our previously tested Supra–a car fitted with the eight-speed automatic–enters apples-to-oranges territory. That earlier test was done with the first edition of the A91 Supra, which launched with a rated 345 horsepower. The current car is rated at 382 horsepower.

Both figures are legendarily underrated, however. Dyno tests of early Supras routinely saw 355 or more horsepower going to the ground, while updated models frequently dyno at 390 or above.

Our track has also undergone a few changes, including expanded runoff areas that allow for faster lines in a couple of spots. And, of course, our earlier Supra test took place in January 2020, before covid, when we were still young and naïve about the world. So we weren’t surprised when the current Supra beat our previous test mark, regardless of transmission configuration.

Here’s where we qualify all our feelings about the transmission choice before getting into the specifics of how it drove. It’s our belief that the winning configuration on a given track comes down to which option is best geared for that track.

In our case, the manual Supra is geared exceptionally well for the FIRM. Like, nearly perfectly.

Most of the track is negotiated in third gear, where the Supra enjoys a broad, sweepy torque curve, with plenty of thrust available in any corner to balance the chassis and propel it off the exit.

On a track with corners that fall in between second and third, or third and fourth, that excellent eight-speed ZF auto may be just the trick.

But it suffices to say that the manual Supra gives no obvious quarter to its more numerously geared sibling, and that excellent engine makes for a great companion to any transmission.

Let’s talk about that turbocharged straight-six for a minute, too, because one thing you don’t get in a Supra is a boost gauge. It seems like a weird omission when you think about it, but then again, you have to force yourself to think about it because, when driven in anger, the power delivery is so linear that you’d be excused if you forgot the Supra is even turbocharged. Power swells but never spikes, so even clumsy throttle modulations don’t punish you too harshly in the corners.

The chassis also complements the power–a constant trait with the A91 Supra. We found that a little bit of extra rear slip angle through sweepers was easy to maintain and easy to gather at the exit to rocket us off in the right direction.

Even though the car felt a bit edgy at times on its street (albeit very good street) rubber paired with a factory alignment (which certainly could have used more negative camber in the front for ultimate grip), the data traces show that speed variations through sweepers are quite steady, indicating a high degree of cornering stability.

Power feeds to the ground via an electronically controlled, multiplate-clutch differential that does an exceptional job of being utterly seamless. The computer reads various inputs–such as differential wheel speed, yaw, longitudinal and lateral acceleration–and throws it all into an algorithm that varies clutch pressure based on the needs of the situation.

It never feels like a nanny, only like an exceptionally effective differential that makes power delivery in any situation easy to control while calming the rear during hard trail-brake entries.

Those brakes are likewise excellent, with four-piston front and two-piston rear Brembo calipers pinching 13.7-inch front and 13-inch rear rotors.

We noticed a slight effectiveness curve on track–the brakes liked a little bit of heat before they became truly responsive–but once warm, they felt direct and repeatable. Trail-braking in the Supra is good but would probably be improved with a proper track alignment and some 200tw tires.

As we mentioned earlier, handling is solid, but there’s a slightly nervous, edgy feel to the car at the limit. It’s not so much a lack of confidence, as it just seems to take a bit of attention on the wheel and the throttle to keep the car online in longer corners.

The responsiveness of the steering makes doing this work fairly easy, though, and ultimately, it’s not surprising that a car with this much power and this capable of a chassis is overwhelming the street-focused tires and conservative alignment settings.

The other good news: Regardless of what trim level of 3.0-liter Supra you choose, you get all the cool performance stuff, like the Brembos, the electronic diff and the adaptive suspension. The Premium package only adds comfort and cosmetic items, like a better stereo and laser-assisted cruise control. For those seeking ultimate lap times and who are willing to save a few bucks on fewer baubles, the standard Supra is the hot ticket.

Now, let’s circle back to our lap time with this six-speed Supra, which was just a bit more than a second slower than our current production car champ, the C8-chassis Corvette Z51.

For a car with more than a hundred fewer horsepower and a theoretically less optimal layout, that’s awfully impressive. Looking at the data to see how the Supra produced that 1:17.85 second lap, the C8 had an obvious power advantage out of most corners, but the lower-powered Supra kept up surprisingly well in a straight line through the upper range of third gear.

*The 2023 Toyota GR Supra (6MT) is shown in blue, the 2022 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray w/ Z51 is shown in red

In the corners, the Vette really liked the faster stuff, blazing through the FIRM’s quick, right-hand-kink Turn 4 much faster than the Toyota. However, even though the Supra had a lower apex speed, it quickly recovered with an excellent launch and matched the C8’s terminal speed down the next straight.

The Supra also negotiated a couple of the squarer corners better than the C8, showing prowess particularly at the final stage of exit, where it was easy to use the throttle to point the car down the next straight. The C8’s propensity to understeer at final exit meant nailing some of the squarer corners took a bit more patience.

Comparing the six-speed, 382-horsepower Supra to the automatic, 345-horsepower Supra, the acceleration curves are closer than we might have thought. However, the power advantage of the newer car seems to really show itself as speeds increase. The auto Supra pulls very nicely from the slowest hairpin on the track, but the six-speed car quickly overtakes the older model in the acceleration department, even when accounting for a manual shift.

*The 2023 Toyota GR Supra (6MT) is shown in blue, the 2020 Toyota GR Supra is shown in red

And while we’re at it, let’s talk about that shifter, because the Supra now has one. It’s good, but it’s not quite great.

It has a bit of a rubbery feel when sliding into gear, and that seems to slow the shifts a bit. Upshifts, though, are routinely accurate and easy to navigate. The four-three downshift is smooth, and the excellent rev-matching system will coax jealousy out of even the most skilled heel-and-toe practitioners, but the three-two downshift can hang in the reverse detent if you try to rush it or use too much pressure.

It takes a few attempts to get the smoothness down, but as long as you don’t get too aggressive, is slides in nicely. It did cost us a lap or two early in the day, though.

And while we’re talking about second gear, this might be the most notable bonus of the manual transmission version: Autocrossers will absolutely love the long and flexible second gear that runs past 73 mph with stock-diameter tires. With a slightly taller tire, this may be the 6MT Supra’s secret weapon against the clock in cone competition.

On track, however, it’s likely a wash and a case of best horse for the given course. The additional, precise control over gear and torque delivery is nice–even in manual mode, the eight-speed auto could, on rare occasions, flip up or down a gear when you least wanted it to–but we don’t think the manual will instantly supplant the auto as the top of the Supra food chain.

Both cars can exist there comfortably and continue to eat apexes at will.

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Comments
Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
4/13/23 9:31 a.m.

Manual or automatic, it sounds like you can't really go wrong with the Supra.

KSB
KSB New Reader
4/13/23 9:52 a.m.

Good article, I was just looking at pricing and specs of a manual Supra. Just for the joy of driving I would pick the manual version. After spend a half day driving a Z51 C8, which I really enjoyed, it felt so go to slip back into my '04 Z06 and manually shift the gears. Of course the new car is better in the track, but just for the joy of driving around town and on the back roads the manual felt so much better. I was surprised by the difference as I literally step out of one car and back into the other.

crankwalk (Forum Supporter)
crankwalk (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UltraDork
4/13/23 11:07 a.m.
Colin Wood said:

Manual or automatic, it sounds like you can't really go wrong with the Supra.

But I feel like with a manual version offered now.....the auto version feels a little more wrong.  cheeky

ClearWaterMS
ClearWaterMS Reader
4/13/23 11:35 a.m.
KSB said:

Good article, I was just looking at pricing and specs of a manual Supra. Just for the joy of driving I would pick the manual version. After spend a half day driving a Z51 C8, which I really enjoyed, it felt so go to slip back into my '04 Z06 and manually shift the gears. Of course the new car is better in the track, but just for the joy of driving around town and on the back roads the manual felt so much better. I was surprised by the difference as I literally step out of one car and back into the other.

i wonder how readily available the cars will be this summer?  Last year the supra commanded over MSRP and/or required a healthy wait for an allotment.  Even used examples are still commanding close to MSRP.  Also if you're paying MSRP+ is it worth a few extra bucks to step up to the BMW M2?  

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
4/13/23 11:55 a.m.

In reply to crankwalk (Forum Supporter) :

I hate to admit that I kind of feel the same way–though the auto is still really nice.

nocones
nocones GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
4/13/23 12:29 p.m.

I'm currently ignoring that my local dealer for some reason has a twin (blue 3.0 MT) to your press car on the lot.  

Not that I'm at all in the market for a near 60k 2 seater.  

 

ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter)
ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter) Dork
4/13/23 2:24 p.m.

Comparing the data traces of the auto Supra vs. the manual Supra, the auto lost all the time on the brakes- consistently braking earlier than in the manual.  And the rate of deceleration seemed to be about the same.  And the acceleration seems to tip in favor of the auto.  Any reason why the driver was braking earlier in the auto?

Taking this on it's face, it suggests that compared head to head on the same day with the same driver and the same tires, the auto would be consistently faster.

GameboyRMH
GameboyRMH GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
4/13/23 2:28 p.m.
ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter) said:

Comparing the data traces of the auto Supra vs. the manual Supra, the auto lost all the time on the brakes- consistently braking earlier than in the manual.  And the rate of deceleration seemed to be about the same.  And the acceleration seems to tip in favor of the auto.  Any reason why the driver was braking earlier in the auto?

Taking this on it's face, it suggests that compared head to head on the same day with the same driver and the same tires, the auto would be consistently faster.

I wonder if engine braking combined with the far-forward brake bias on modern cars with ABS means that the manual has better braking overall with the rear tires doing more work?

Edit: In manual mode the auto should still get some engine braking but I don't know how that compares to the H-pattern.

ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter)
ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter) Dork
4/13/23 3:44 p.m.

It seems like the drivetrain would be applying a similar amount of engine braking to the rear wheels off-throttle regardless of the transmission?

For reference, here is the data plot for discussion:

The blue is the MT, the red is the AT.  In all the brake zones the driver initiated braking earlier and brought the car down to a lower minimum cornering speed.  All the area between the curves (basically lap time difference) that disfavor the AT is in the brake zones.  The area between the curves in the acceleration zones all favor the AT.

It would be interesting to know if the drivers were working the ABS in the brake zones, or if they were just judging the threshold by feel.

GameboyRMH
GameboyRMH GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
4/13/23 3:55 p.m.

It does look like overall braking power is generally similar. If there's any difference it may be that on the 6MT, it looks like there's more initial brake bite as the speed starts to fall off more sharply, possibly due to throttle mapping differences rather than anything with the brakes (manual = sharper transition to engine braking?). Another issue worth considering may be weight difference, could the 6MT have a lower weight allowing higher cornering speeds?

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