Tested: 1987 Toyota Supra Turbo
Our reviews of Toyota’s four- and six-cylinder 2021 Supras are coming on 5/13, until then we decided to look back at where the Supra started. Here’s our road test of the third-generation Supra Turbo.
From the April 1987 issue of Car and Driver.
A car has to have the goods before it can play in the sports-coupe major leagues. The combatants in this arena include such potent performers as the Corvette, the Porsche 944 Turbo, the Mazda RX-7 Turbo, and the Camaro IROC-Z—cars fully equipped to devour any competitor that dare to enter the field of battle unprepared. In this fiercely contested market segment, superlative performance is essential to survival.
When Toyota introduced its redesigned Supra last year, it wasn’t ready to face such strong competition. We gave the new Supra a thorough shakedown (C/D, March 1986), and although we were pleased with its poised handling and high level of refinement, we were less than enthusiastic about its prodigious weight. The new Supra could hold its own against some of the competition, but it was easily trounced by the big boys.
Fortunately, Toyota is not known for being content with playing on the second team. For the 1987 model year, Toyota has made the jump to the sports-coupe big leagues by fitting an intercooled turbocharger to the Supra’s in-line six. In addition, Toyota now offers anti-lock brakes as an extra-cost option on both normally aspirated and turbocharged Supras.
Speed and power are requisites for admission to the big leagues, and Toyota’s engineers have made sure that the Supra Turbo has plenty of both. The naturally aspirated, 24-valve, twin-cam, 3.0-liter 7M-GE engine produces a healthy 200 hp at 6000 rpm, but much of the spirit is dampened by the Supra’s nearly 3500- pound curb weight. Of the two possible ways of awakening that spirit-trimming weight and increasing power—the latter was by far the easier course. Using an in-house turbo and an air-to-air intercooler, the new 7M-GE engine boosts power by fifteen percent, to 230 hp at 6000 rpm. Torque is up more than 30 percent, to 246 pound-feet at 4000. The blown engine also benefits from an oil cooler and a new distributor-less ignition system.
To cope with the added power, the Supra Turbo offers a choice of beefy transmissions: the four-speed electronically controlled automatic has been strengthened to handle the additional torque, and the five-speed manual is an all-new design, exclusive to the Turbo.
The fully independent suspension of the naturally aspirated Supra was one of the car’s strong points, and it has been fitted to the Turbo unchanged. The front axle is an unequal-length-control-arm design; each rear wheel is located by an upper control arm and three lower links. There are coil springs at all four corners and a thick anti-roll bar at each end.
In addition, the Supra Turbo features a sport package as standard equipment. The package (which is optional on the naturally aspirated car) includes a limited-slip differential, headlamp washers, and the Toyota Electronically Modulated Suspension. The TEMS system electronically adjusts the valving of the gas-filled shock absorbers among soft, medium, and hard settings as needed; the driver influences its decisions by selecting either the “normal” or the “sport” suspension program.
From the outside, the Supra Turbo is virtually identical to the naturally aspirated car. The only clues to the extra power under the hood are a new color-keyed rear spoiler and a small “Turbo” badge on the rear. Otherwise, the design—like it or not—is unchanged. Though we’ve never felt that the current Supra’s shape is as distinctive as, say, the Corvette’s, it is beginning to grow on us. From the front in particular, the Supra Turbo is aggressive and intimidating. Our only real complaint is that the car looks every bit as heavy as it is.
Inside, the Supra Turbo is handsome, inviting, and thoughtfully laid out. The dashboard is graced by a gorgeous bank of large, clear analog gauges, similar to the layout introduced last year. The Turbo’s most significant change is the substitution of a boost gauge for the voltmeter. The optional power driver’s seat moves every which way to make you as comfortable as possible; we particularly like its power side-bolster adjustment, which can clamp you in like an astronaut. The grippy seats in our test car were covered in a pleasing blue fabric; for those who prefer leather, it is available for an extra $950.
The Supra’s cabin offers power amenities galore (illuminated window switches are a new touch) but manages to retain a serious, business like atmosphere. Still, in contrast to the hard-core German sportster, it’s clear that the Supra Turbo was not designed for performance above all else. The rear seat may be best suited to teddy bear, but the rest of the interior is as comfortable as a typical luxury sedan’s.
Few luxoboats can move like this machine, though. Despite its 3581 pounds, the Supra Turbo scorches from 0 to 60 mph in a mere 6.4 seconds-more than 1.5 seconds faster than the normally aspirated car. This is big-league stuff. The Corvette may be a tick or two faster, but the Supra can easily hold its own against such worthy competitors as the RX-7 Turbo. Given enough road, the Supra Turbo will climb to a top speed of 145 mph. (An impressive figure, though far less than Toyota’s claimed 156 mph.)
This scintillating performance is deceptive. The engine revs smoothly and easily, never seeming to work hard, and the big, heavy body absorbs bump and keeps road and wind noise to a minimum. You never feel as if you are driving the Supra very fast. One glance at the speedometer, though, and you see that you’re moving rapidly indeed.
On the Interstate, the Supra Turbo requires frequent small adjustments of the wheel to maintain a straight line. In keeping with the cars’ comfortable nature, the ride is supple and forgiving; even in the “sport” mode, the suspension is nowhere near as stiff as an RX-7 Turbo’s. If the weather and the law are on your side, the Supra Turbo will comfortably tick off the miles at extralegal speeds all day long.
Thrown hard into a corner, the Supra Turbo turns in quickly, takes a set, and gets down to business. You can crank in up to 0.83 g of neck strain without a lot of fuss. The 225/50VR-16 Goodyear Eagles get part of the credit; the rest goes to the Supra’s carefully designed suspension. Overexuberance with the throttle or suddenly snapping off the power will make the tail step out of line, but for the most part the Turbo is composed and predictable. Despite the generous load of luxurious features along for the ride, this spirited Toyota will clip apexes with the best of them.
We were somewhat disappointed when we finished our braking tests. Though our test car was equipped with the optional anti-lock brakes, our 188-foot 70-to-0-mph panic stop was no shorter than a similar stop we recorded with a non-ABS Supra. Still, that’s a very respectable performance, and we’re sure the anti-lock option will prove its worth to buyers the first time the unexpected occurs.
The Supra Turbo offers the same removable roof panel we sampled on a naturally aspirated Supra last year. While there is no denying the sensory pleasures afforded by driving with wind in the hair and sun in the face, this option is expensive, adds weight, and drastically reduces the structural integrity of the car. If you’re considering a Supra Turbo for its athletic abilities, we advise you to consider carefully how much you really need a hole above your head.
Frankly, we were surprised by how much we liked the Supra Turbo after its two-week sojourn in Ann Arbor. We had previously driven a few Turbo prototypes, and we didn’t think Toyota had yet found the stuff to compete in the sports-coupe big leagues. After driving our production-model test car, however, we’re convinced that all the rough edges have been honed and that everything is now in order.
At a base price of $22,260, the Supra Turbo offers a mix of performance, luxury, and value that few cars can match. The Corvette may not feel the threat just yet, but Toyota is definitely in the big leagues now and is flexing its muscles.
I was the lucky soul who pulled weekend duty behind the wheel of the Supra Turbo, and I couldn’t be happier. After a mix of short hops, midrange bops, and seamless Interstate blasts, I feel as if I know this car like a best buddy. The miles I rolled up convinced me that Toyota’s engineering team has what sportscasters call depth. Little cars, big cars—if those guys engineered paper clips, they’d make them special. In the rarefied air of the GT ranks, the Supra Turbo need make no apologies. It’s more of a luxury cruiser than such established stars as the Corvette and the RX-7 Turbo, but it’s got all the muscle it needs when you hold the pedal down or crank the wheel into a sweeper. Nissan’s 300ZX Turbo can’t compete in terms of all-around prowess. Various Porsches seem seriously overpriced by comparison. And then there is Toyota’s world-beating quality to consider. What we have here is a new and wonderful alternative. A toast to the agony of choice! —Rich Ceppos
This Supra may be a Turbo, but it’s a little too big and buttery for me. Oh, it’s ultra-smooth, but its buttery response only makes me long all the more for a bigger shot of salt and pepper. Toyota’s six never gives you that turbo-terrific feeling of quick-stepping up to a higher plane. It always feels as if the house is too big for the heater, as if the boat is too much for the oars. A package as beefy as this needs a megamotor to pull dear of the pack. Moreover, several members of the megamotor pack don’t feel as big as the Supra. I took an all-out Turbo ride at Mid-Ohio with the great Dan Gurney. Gurney had never seen the place before, and he had been challenged by a good semipro in another Turbo who believed his knowledge of the tortuous course would overcome Gurney’s brilliant skill. Hah! But in blowing him off, even the great Gurney had to use only what the Supra could offer. Its chassis couldn’t be coaxed into acrobatics its mass couldn’t handle. Moral: Less butter intake would make the Supra much lighter on its feet. —Larry Griffin
I was less than thrilled with the 1986 redesign of the Toyota Supra. The old version was one of the best GTs on the market, with a delightful combination of performance, luxury, comfort, and handling. I expected the new car to be more of the same, only better. Toyota did come through with the eagerly awaited 24-valve engine, first-rate tires, and a more sophisticated suspension. But the new car also had about 500 pounds of additional noise insulation, ride isolation, and power equipment. This additional mass not only offset much of the new hardware’s benefits but also sapped much of the old car’s liveliness. This year’s Turbo restores much of the lost vitality. The blown engine is strong enough to move the Supra at a healthy clip without effort. And although Toyota denies having made any suspension changes, the Turbo handles with much more verve and precision than the normally aspirated 1986 model we tested. It’s still no light and lively GT, but for anyone looking for a cut-rate Porsche 928, the Supra Turbo is hard to beat. —Csaba Csere
Published at Sun, 10 May 2020 18:00:00 +0000