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2020 Toyota Supra vs. 1994 Toyota Supra Turbo: Reflections on a Japanese Performance Icon

Scott Oldham
Photo credit: Jessica Lynn Walker - Car and Driver

From Car and Driver

Dressed up like Lance Armstrong and pedaling a pricey carbon-fiber road bicycle for all it's worth, a cyclist somehow finds the breath to compliment Aron Meystedt's 25-year-old Toyota Supra. "Beautiful car," he shouts as he flies past the pristine 1994 Supra Turbo. We're a bit surprised. Over the last few hours, at least a dozen teens and twenty-somethings have walked right past Meystedt's classic black sports coupe, giving it no more attention than they would a beige Camry, to shoot video of our bright red 2020 Toyota GR Supra. "Wow, the new Supra. This is the first one I've seen."

A day spent driving both of these cars around Southern California is setting with the sun, which is now dipping below the Pacific and painting the two turbocharged coupes with strips of gold. It's been a rare opportunity to drive the latest version of Toyota's hot rod back to back with its ancestral inspiration, the Supra's fourth-generation (code named A80), which was sold in the United States from 1993 to 1996. And although we set out to learn just how different these cars are from behind the wheel, they turned out to be more alike than we ever expected.

Photo credit: Jessica Lynn Walker - Car and Driver

A Tale of Two Supras

To do this properly we needed to find a stock Mark IV Supra, specifically a Turbo model with a six-speed manual transmission and zero modifications. That's not easy. Yet, we found just that when the proprietor of MKIV.com connected us with Meystedt, a local 39-year-old entrepreneur and certified Supra nut. "I was 14 when the car came out in 1993, and it was a poster-on-the-bedroom-wall dream car for me," he said. "Years later I finally got one, and I had the only Supra in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where I grew up. I've owned a dozen modified Supras since. It's hard to fight the urge."

He's owned this particular one for about 12 years after buying it from the original owner in Pittsburg, Missouri, with 9000 miles on its odometer. Now it lives in his Southern California garage, parked next to a Lexus LFA and his daily driver, a Tesla Model 3. The Supra now shows 12,800 miles on its odometer and is perfect in every way, from its unmarked 17-inch five-spoke wheels to the gloss of its original paint finish. It's showroom-ready top to bottom and wears a set of Falken ZIEX all-season tires that were mounted about five years ago. "I think it's one of 431 Turbos Toyota built in 1994 with the optional targa roof," he said while opening the door. "We can remove the roof panel, but it's a pain. You have to crank out five bolts with the factory supplied ratchet in the glove compartment."

Photo credit: Jessica Lynn Walker - Car and Driver

Opening the Supra Turbo's long hood reveals its twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six. The 2JZ-GTE—iron block, aluminum 24-valve cylinder head, 11.6 psi of boost pressure. It is Japan's Chevy big block. It was rated at 320 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 315 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. That's 20 ponies more than you got in a contemporary Nissan 300ZX Turbo, a Chevrolet Corvette C4, or a Mitsubishi 3000GT VR4, and 65 more than Mazda offered in the third-gen RX-7. "These were the first things you replaced," he says pointing to the small factory blow-off valve and the tiny intercooler under the right headlight. "Larger valves and a big front-mount (intercooler) make a big difference." Heavily modified Supras producing in excess of 1000 horsepower weren't hard to find by the end of the '90s, and the car ultimately achieved legendary status in the import-car scene, thanks in part to its starring role in the original The Fast and the Furious film.

Like its predecessor, the 2020 Supra (code named A90), is rear-wheel drive and powered by a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six. Developed in partnership with BMW, it's essentially a mechanical twin to the latest Z4 roadster and features the German company's B58 aluminum-block engine, which sports a single turbocharger and direct fuel injection. It's rated at 335 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 365 lb-ft of torque at just 1600 rpm, but, as we've learned, it is considerably more powerful than Toyota claims. Unlike the A80, however, which was available with a standard six-speed manual or an optional four-speed automatic, the new Supra is only available with two pedals and a snappy ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual shifting mode and paddle shifters.

Photo credit: Jessica Lynn Walker - Car and Driver

Modern-Day Speed Machines

Although both of these cars are technically hatchbacks, the modern Supra is now a two-seater for the first time, which has allowed it to shrink a bit. At 172.5 inches long, it's 5.2 inches shorter than the two-plus-two Mark IV, and its 97.2-inch wheelbase is 3.2 inches shorter. To save weight on the previous Supra, Toyota fitted it with an aluminum hood, roof, and bumper supports, as well as a plastic fuel tank, hollow anti-roll bars, and a single exhaust outlet. It even used hollow-fiber carpet to shave a few grams. But the smaller, modern car, at 3372 pounds, still is more than 100 pounds lighter. More important, it's better balanced, with just 51.5 percent of its mass resting on its front tires versus 53.0 percent for the Mark IV.

When it was fresh, we consistently chose the Supra Turbo over its Japanese rivals in a string of comparison tests, calling it a "world beater" and a "sensible-shoes supercar". We praised its refinement, comfort, and everyday usability and the fact it also delivered more speed than its rivals. The first Supra Turbo we tested back in 1993 hit 60 mph in 4.6 seconds and covered the quarter-mile in 13.1 seconds at 109 mph. Another we tested a year later, however, was considerably slower, reaching 60 mph in 5.2 seconds and finishing the quarter in 13.8 seconds at 106 mph. Both cars generated an impressive 0.95 g of lateral acceleration on the skidpad and stopped from 70 mph in 160 feet.

Photo credit: Jessica Lynn Walker - Car and Driver

Lighter and more powerful, it's no surprise that the new Supra betters those test results. Using its launch-control system and aided by the massive grip of its BMW-spec 19-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport summer tires, today's Supra hits 60 mph in 3.7 seconds and thunders through the quarter-mile in 12.2 seconds at 113 mph. By 130 mph the new car is 2.6 seconds ahead of its ancestor, and at 150 mph it has stretched that gap to 3.1 seconds. It also generates 1.07 g of stick and stops from 70 mph in just 148 ft.

Looking Back

In 1993 we called out the Supra for plagiarizing more than few styling cues from Ferrari's legendary F40, including its trapezoidal head­lamp lenses, its grille shape, and its big brake-duct scoops. Also, of course, its signature oversized rear spoiler, which we said "appears to have been unfastened from something manufactured by Aerospatiale but is, praise the Pharaohs, only an option." It is functional, however, with Toyota claiming it produces 66 pounds of downforce at 90 mph. We've been just as critical of the new Supra's looks, which we've described as "it-came-from-beneath-the-sea styling." But there isn't much resemblance between the two, aside from a bit in their voluptuous rear haunches and the upsweep of their deck lids.

Photo credit: Jessica Lynn Walker - Car and Driver

It's the same story inside, where both feature center-mounted tachometers and a similar level of instrumentation. The cabin of the new GR Supra is 99-percent BMW, including its steering wheel, center stack, and well-bolstered seats, which are a stark contrast to the old car's flat, shapeless buckets and endless expanse of hard black plastic. Climbing into the old Supra turns back the clock with an in-dash cigarette lighter, a cassette deck stereo, and a big rectangular button marked TRAC OFF.

The Mark IV Supra's interior was much more spacious than the cabins of the Mazda RX-7 and Nissan 300ZX, and it's a wedding ballroom compared to the snug confines of the new car. Its outward visibility also is far superior, thanks to a low cowl, slim A-pillars, and a larger greenhouse, but the classic doesn't feel supersized once underway. On the road it drives smaller and lighter than it is, and it's fast. Not this-thing-is-trying-to-kill-me fast, but it is quick, and its inline-six pulls hard up to its 7250-rpm rev limiter. The BMW engine in the new Supra is limited to 7000 rpm.

Photo credit: Jessica Lynn Walker - Car and Driver

On the Street

Toyota's storied 2JZ engine lives up to its hype. It's silky smooth and extremely refined, but rather quiet. It's no wonder so many of these cars wear aftermarket exhaust systems. Run it hard through the gears, and there's more turbo whistle than exhaust note. In contrast, the new Supra is much more vocal, especially in its Sport driving mode, with its boosted six popping and banging during gear changes and on overruns.

We didn't complain about turbo lag when the Mark IV Supra was new, and it still isn't worth griping about. The car's BMW engine hits harder and at a lower rpm, but the 2JZ's turbos work sequentially, with the first beginning to build boost at just over 2000 rpm. It comes on strong around 2500 rpm, giving you a solid push until its second turbo joins the party at 4000 rpm. "At 4500 rpm, the big mother clobbers your body like a bungee jump gone wrong," we said of the engine's second power surge back in 1994. Today, it doesn't feel quite that impressive, but the 2JZ is undeniably strong, and its upper-rpm pull lasts for nearly 3000 rpm.

Photo credit: Jessica Lynn Walker - Car and Driver

The 1994 Supra's clutch pedal and shifter are heavy by today's standards, and its clutch pickup is a bit abrupt, but the pedal placement is nice and tight. The brake pedal also is soft at first but firms up once the pressure builds. Its hydraulically assisted steering is a bit dead on center and slower than the new car's sharply responsive electric unit. But settle into the old Toyota and start driving it with a heavy hand, and it wants to get it on. Its controls come alive, from the tight action of its shifter to the satisfying feedback of its steering. Its transmission ratios make it easy to keep the 2JZ boiling, and its suspension soaks up the road with Lexus-like compliance. It doesn't feel mushy, however, even by today's standards, and body roll is kept in check. It all feels a bit slow to respond after a hard run in the more immediate and athletic GR Supra, but the Mark IV's dynamics and overall performance hold up. Its chassis rigidity, however, is a true sign of its age. Even with its roof panel tightly bolted in place, the A80's structure is flaccid compared to the milled-from-billet solidity of the modern machine.

Photo credit: Jessica Lynn Walker - Car and Driver

Same as the Old Boss

Surprisingly, the Mark IV Supra never claimed a spot on our 10Best Cars list, an honor we just bestowed on the new GR Supra for its combination of speed, refinement, and value. "Its ride over large bumps is as supple as taffy; its steering offers rewarding heft; and its engine is refined, mellifluous, and ripped." That sentence sums up the A90 well. It also perfectly describes the dynamics of its predecessor. Although quite different and separated by three decades of engineering, these two performance machines have many of the same mannerisms. They clearly share some of the same DNA.

However, with a base price of $50,945, the new Supra is a much better value, especially if you adjust for inflation. The base price for the Supra back in 1994 was $40,250. The prices of fourth-gen Supras, especially stock low-mileage Turbos like this one, have been skyrocketing over the past two years. One sold on Bringatrailer.com earlier this year for $121,000, and two have sold at auction for more than $175K. But Meystedt isn't quite ready to part with his. "I still like driving it," he said. "I enjoy the whistle of the turbos, and the transmission still feels good. But its appeal is mostly nostalgia."

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