Expert Reviews

Unsurprisingly, a Manual Transmission Makes the Toyota Supra Better

In some productions there are stars and supporting characters, while others feature ensemble casts with equal billing.

When it comes to Toyota’s road-going Gazoo Racing lineup, the roles are fairly obvious. There’s the GR86 coupe that doesn’t get much of the spotlight but does its job diligently, plus the GR Corolla that’s one of the breakout performers of the year. While it’s anything but past its prime, the Supra hasn’t gotten the credit it deserves since making its return a few short years ago.

Saving it from being typecast as a character that consistently comes up short, the 2023 Toyota Supra arrives with a very particular set of skills. Namely, all the best stuff from before, with the added bonus of a six-speed manual transmission that transforms this sports car in all the ways you might expect – and some you might not.

Plenty of Power

There were two types of people bemoaning the previous absence of three pedals in this reborn Toyota: the whiners with no plans to buy one anyway, and those that might genuinely consider parking a six-speed Supra in their driveways. Sifting through the pretenders and the intenders couldn’t have been easy, but clearly the results were enough for Toyota to roll the dice on a manual. (Well, the new Nissan Z might’ve had something to do with it, too.)

Best of all, the six-speed is a no-charge option next to the eight-speed automatic that used to be standard. Actually, the best part is the engine it’s paired to. Rather than relegated to serving alongside the entry-level four-cylinder, it’s offered with the Supra’s incredible straight-six. With a lone turbocharger bolted to its side, this BMW-sourced 3.0L generates 382 hp and 368 lb-ft of torque.

Paired with the automatic transmission, and with all that output heading to the rear wheels, the Supra accelerates with urgency, feeling every bit like the modern sports car it is. According to Toyota, it can rocket from a standing start to 100 km/h in a claimed 4.1 seconds with launch control activated – not quite as quick as, say, the supercharged Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, but then that bruiser spins up 650 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque by comparison.

Way More Rewarding

It’s not as if the Supra’s skill set is limited to straight-line speed, with handling chops to match; but anyone who’s been behind the wheel of a sports car of any kind knows just how much more enjoyable they are to drive with three pedals and a proper gear stick. Sure, humans can’t shift as quickly as computers, and so automatic cars will always be marginally quicker than their manual counterparts; but that’s a race car construct, and saving a few hundredths of a second between shifts doesn’t directly translate to fun.

Engagement is the name of the game when it comes to motoring enjoyment, which is what the Supra has been lacking until now. Compressing a clutch and rowing a shifter between gates is how to maximize the mechanical gratification of any car, let alone one this good. It puts the driver in complete control of the experience, with cause and effect playing out through corners in a way no automatic can match.

That’s exactly what this manual car delivers, with the added bonus of somehow feeling lighter and more lively than the automatic version. It manages to slither through corners like it weighs the 1,275 kg (2,811 lb) of the GR86 instead of the 1,537 kg (3,389 lb) it actually does. Better still, it does so with the same precision you’d expect from a high-end sports car instead of an entry-level one.

That’s not a knock on the GR86, which is perfectly fine – and fun. But all the extras here, from the adaptive damping to the electronically controlled rear differential, make it a better car (and rightfully so, for the substantial price premium it commands). Pairing all that stuff with a decidedly antiquated approach to gear selection provides a sense of realism, in a way. Actions are more rewarding and consequences more real when you’re in complete control.

Of course, this manual isn’t antiquated as far as the actual equipment is concerned. It’s thoroughly modern, from the transmission itself to the computerized auto rev-matching system it comes with. That means no scuffing your Gucci loafers when attempting to heel-and-toe downshift; simply depress the clutch, drop a gear, and enjoy the optimal rev spike that ensues.

Running with a pack of manual-equipped GR86 and GR Corolla models at Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit (VIMC), the six-speed Supra felt perfectly at home through the tight and technical turns that make up the 2.3-km course. In fairness, the automatic car would be in its element here, too, but it was the mechanical makeup of the cars themselves that put the Supra in its rightful place.

Carrying more speed through the straights than either of those cars were capable of, the six-cylinder was happy to sing all the way to redline, while downshifts felt deliberate and even. And the same was true on the open road, with the high release point of the clutch taking little time to get used to when rolling away from a stop or quickly running up to cruising speed.

Final Thoughts

Whether Toyota simply relented to consumer demand or played its cards right by selling a bunch of automatics first, the 2023 Supra is a better car because of its available six-speed. At almost $70,500 before tax to start – and a $72,000 or so for the fancy A91 Edition – it commands a high price of admission; but then that’s what happens when a leading role is occupied by an A-list star.