Toyota's new Supra bowed just as the market for high-buck Japanese sports cars collapsed. Sales dragged at 2,000-3,000 per year, making it almost as rare as some European exotics. Low volume wasn't all the Supra Turbo had in common with a Ferrari, though. It even performed like one.
Originally an upgraded Celica sporty coupe, the Toyota Supra became its own rear-drive model when Celica went front-wheel drive for 1986. Settled comfortably into the role of a sound 2+2 GT, that version lasted though 1992. For '93, Supra was reborn as a costlier, more powerful 2+2 coupe. Styling, done in Japan, was rounded and more aggressive, with nods to the Ferrari F40 in the grille opening and bodyside intakes (they did not duct to the brakes). It even had a big basket-handle spoiler, a $420 Turbo option said to provide 66 lbs of downforce at 90 mph.
Although still a sizable sports car, the new Supra was smaller than its predecessor, with 1.8 inches less wheelbase and 4.2 inches less body length. To save weight, Toyota rejected such items as dual exhaust tips and even specified hollow-fiber carpeting. Supra rode a shortened, modified Lexus SC300 platform and shared the luxury coupe's engine. Here it had 220 hp in base form and 320 in the Turbo, which used one turbocharger for low-rpm boost, kicked in a second above 4,500 rpm, and then ran both to make an impressive 106.8 hp per liter. The cabin was austere for the price, and the rear seats were mere parcel bins, but everything else was in place: dual air bags, traction control, and a removable aluminum roof panel.
A flick of the wrist shifted the Getrag six-speed, and the well-sorted suspension and magnificent ABS disc brakes kept the car composed even in the wildest maneuvers, with only a harsh bad-pavement ride dimming the picture. The Turbo begged comparison to the world's best. Car and Driver chose it over the Mazda RX-7, Nissan 300ZX Turbo, and Porsche 968. Road & Track in August '93 pit it against the $189,500 Ferrari 512TR and $99,000 Porsche 911 Turbo. The Toyota was a blink slower to 60 mph but gripper in corners, faster through the slalom, and stopped shorter from 60 mph.
"Suspend your preconceptions, forget the legends, erase the tallies of ancient race wins," said the editors, who judged the Turbo Supra an "exotic" in all but one vital intangible. Call it "the builder's courage to express his work uncompromisingly," said R&T, which found indecision in Supra's styling. But if launching -- and sustaining -- an expensive Japanese sports car in a hostile market isn't courage, then what is?