The 2020 Toyota Supra was worth the long wait

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The 2020 Toyota Supra rear-wheel-drive sports coupe is revealed at the 2019 North American International Auto Show during Media preview days on January 14, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan.

Bill Pugliano | Getty Images

We have been hearing the word, "passion," a lot from Akio Toyoda since he was named president, in 2009, of the company his grandfather founded.

Over that past decade, we've seen Toyota adopt an increasingly aggressive design language, but it has been taken until now

The 2020 Toyota Supra made its return to showrooms after a painful, 21-year absence. The Supra was, for past generations, the "halo car" for a brand that had built a reputation for otherwise producing reliable, if blandly plain-vanilla products. Toyota hopes to accomplish this goal, though it has taken an unusual path to get there.

In a global market increasingly fixated on SUVs and crossover vehicles, sports car sales have been withering. From the day he was named president, Toyoda, who uses the correct spelling of the family name for Supra back into the Toyota line-up. He finally found the right formula by partnering with BMW, the German automaker facing a similar challenge justifying a new version of its two-seat Z4.

The 2020 Toyota Supra

Paul A. Eisenstein | TheDetroitBureau.com

The project was, at times, quiet vexing. To start with, BMW wanted to build an open-top roadster, Toyota to hardtop sports car. Even in the next generation, the new generation Z4 would maintain the distinctive DNA of their respective brands. It was a goal that Toyota missed with a previous collaboration.

The BRZ, its plebeian sports car, the 86, was developed in cooperation with Subaru and is all but impossible to distinguish from the smaller marque version.

So, as we headed down to West Virginia to get our first drive of the 2020 Toyota Supra, we had to tame our skepticism.

The good

When they may share the same, basic platform, it turns out the two new cars have little else in common. Early on in an unusually long, seven-year development process, Toyota and BMW development teams parted ways, barely even talking to one another since then. Tetsuya Toda, the head of the Japanese project, told us this past week that he has spent only minutes behind the wheel of the Z4.

But what was accomplished early in the day. Into the top Motorsports Summit Park, Summit, West Virginia, like the one at the Summit Motorsports Summit Park, West Virginia, where we spent a full day flogging the two-seater around a tight and technical course demanding the best from car and driver alike.

The following January, we have been trying to find out more about the new American car show last January.

The 2020 Toyota Supra

Paul A. Eisenstein | TheDetroitBureau.com

For one thing, those who have waited two decades for the return of the shelf-type, rather than using an engine pulled out of the shelf. And, do they follow up, why does the engine make just 335 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque in Supra, when the Z4 punches out 382 horsepower and 369 pound-feet?

Chief Engineer Tetsuya Tada answers both questions with one word: "balance." Indeed, from a performance and handling perspective, everything about the 2020 Toyota Supra emphasizes balance, starting with the perfect 50:50 weight distribution.

The Summit track leaves little room for error, sending you caring from one corner to another. Yet the Supra never seemed to lose its composure. Even if you hit the brakes late, or misread the entry to a corner, it proved uncannily tolerant and forgiving. Drive well and its precise steering and taut suspension helped you emerge from turning laps feeling like a hero.

The 2020 Toyota Supra Chief Engineer Tetsuya Tada

Paul A. Eisenstein | TheDetroitBureau.com

The bad

All that said, the 2020 Supra isn't perfect. The coupe bears only the slightest visual resemblance to the Z4, other than their basic dimensions. But, like so many recent Toyota products, it boasts a swirling mass of curves and angles that has proved quite controversial. Fans call the "sculptural." Critics have called it a hodgepodge. With the new Supra, it seems, the beauty of the beholder.

If there is one place where you could confuse the two new sports cars it's when you slide behind the wheel. The navigation screen and infotainment system of the new Supra, along with the iDrive controller, are lifted straight out of the BMW parts bin.

The instrument cluster is unique to Toyota, however, and features more classic design, centering around the tachometer. That might seem like a horror of some fans, no manual gearbox available. But the eight-speed automatic is so quick and intuitive you might overlook that lapse, especially when you get comfortable with the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

And, when it comes to comfort, Supra's 14-way power sports seats more than what they're supposed to. Tighten up the bolsters and they'll hold you firmly in place on track. Spread the wings and relax on an extended road trip, especially when you tap the selectable driver's mode switch to go from Sport to Comfort. That softens the active damping suspension and adds extra steering boost, among other things.

The 2020 Toyota Supra

Paul A. Eisenstein | TheDetroitBureau.com

Final thoughts

Coming 40 years after the original Supra, the new sports car is pretty much everything its fans were hoping for. Journalists who came away from the event were all but uniformly impressed. It is the most impressive price when you consider the $ 49,990 base price, before the $ 930 delivery fee, is actually less than what you paid for the previous generation Supra more than two decades ago.

There will be three versions available, including the "base" Supra 3.0, the 3.0 Premium, at $ 54.982 and a limited-run launch edition, at $ 56.180. All three share the same powertrain and adaptive suspension system. The Premium adds niceties like an 8.8-inch touchscreen, a head-up display and 12-speaker JBL sound system. And the Launch Edition, limited to 1,500 cars, kicks in red mirror caps, black wheels, a red leather interior and a special, commemorative plaque.

We expect Toyota will sell out the Launch Edition but the company officials will be able to predict how the 2020 Supra will do overall in today's marketplace. May be, and it completely squashed our skepticism, the sports car market is a shadow of its former glory.

But there are still some buyers who want something unique and exciting, something that delivers the passion you can't find in an SUV or CUV. For them, the 2020 Toyota Supra would be well worth checking out.

2020 Toyota Supra

Source: Toyota

Paul Eisenstein is a freelancer for CNBC. His travel and accommodations were paid for by Toyota.

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