ERDA, Utah – Back in May 2019 when we got our first chance to drive the reborn Toyota Supra, a certain car reviewer of great wisdom and modesty noted the following: “The Supra’s mandatory eight-speed automatic transmission is excellent in most situations, smartly and smoothly changing gears. Sport mode quickly produces rev-matched downshifts under braking, but there were times when dropping an extra cog beyond what the car selected was ultimately necessary and we ended up using the paddles. An even more aggressive Sport+ setting would make it even better. Adding the option of a manual transmission would make it ... well, slower, but also more engaging for the purists.”
Well purists, prepare to be engaged. The 2023 Toyota Supra can now be had with a six-speed manual transmission. Admittedly, only with the 3.0-liter inline-six and not the base four banger, but you didn’t want that thing anyway. Set off the fireworks, call your dealer, prepare to write angry comments that Toyota didn’t use one of its own manuals from a Corolla or something.
Nope, the new six-speed manual is the product of ZF, the same German transmission supplier responsible for, you guessed it, BMW transmissions of all shapes and gear numbers (along with those of many other car companies). Toyota Motor Europe worked with ZF to adapt an existing transmission for a higher-torque engine (almost certainly the manual available in the European-market four-cylinder Z4), engineer a larger clutch and reinforce the diaphragm spring. The final drive ratio was shortened (3.46 versus 3.15) and Toyota says it also set the shift lever ratio to minimize the effort required to shift.
The end result is a gearbox that certainly feels Germanic, but with shorter, more precise throws than we’ve come to expect from BMW’s historically rubbery and notchy manuals. It moves through ratios with a gentle guide from your thumb or forefingers, but possesses enough heft and slots into gear with enough resistance to feel appropriate for a sports car’s manual transmission. Perhaps the best way to describe it is the midpoint between a BMW and a GR86 gearbox. It’s quite good.
The gearbox may be German, but the lever that operates it is pure Supra. Toyota says it worked hard to fine-tune the exact spherical shape of the shift lever. And bravo, because the little leather-wrapped cue ball fits perfectly in your hand atop its thin metal stalk. It looks and feels like something that should be in a car that starts at $53,595, including destination, or the same price as the equivalent automatic car.
If there’s one thing, dear Toyota purists, for which you should be thankful the Supra inherited from the Bavarians is its pedal placement. The brake and accelerator are close enough to simply roll the ball of your foot over from left to right in order to heal-toe downshift. In a Corolla, you have to do the literal, old-school, ankle-disjointing heal-toe maneuver thanks to pedals as far apart as a Tundra’s. Of course, the Supra comes standard with iMT, which is Toyota speak for automated rev-match downshifting. Put the clutch in under braking and the car will automatically blip the throttle in anticipation of you dropping a gear. It works very well, especially on a track, to eliminate the chance for user error or when wanting to impress girls with “your” awesome rev-match throttle blipping (right before attempting a swoon-inducing handbrake turn, which admittedly will be hard since the Supra still has an electronic e-brake button). Turning off iMT requires using the Sport Individual drive mode setting.
Besides the welcome new transmission, Toyota retuned the traction control system to deal with the increased likelihood of wheelspin due the combination of manual gearbox and human being. We didn’t get a chance to test it, but there’s also a new “Hairpin+” function that allows more wheelspin “when taking tight bends on an uphill gradient of more than 5% with a high-friction road surface.” The Supra also hits well with men in scoring position after the 8th inning while playing in Baltimore against a pitcher named Stanley.
Every 2023 Supra then gets a revised stability control system to reduce the chance of snap-off oversteer, which has been a crusade for the engineering team since the car’s original development. Engineers also retuned the electric power steering and gave the suspension revised shocks that Toyota says improve roll balance and ride comfort. We actually got a chance to drive a 2022 Supra on the hour-long journey to Utah Motorsports Campus, but not on the track itself. Meanwhile, we only got to drive the new manual-blessed Supra on the track and therefore not on actual roads. So if there’s a difference for 2023, we didn’t notice but were hardly put in a position to notice.
Along those lines, the track was perfectly acceptable, but was arguably not the ideal venue for this Supra because a manual transmission makes it … well, slower. If you really want to turn in faster laps, the automatic is still the way to go even if there’s still no Sport+ mode. Acceleration is quicker, as the 382-horsepower 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline-six is good for a 0-60 time of 3.9 seconds as opposed to the new manual’s 4.2.
And again, there’s the matter of user error. You don’t have to worry about a computer bouncing off the rev limiter, messing up a shift or doing something stupid with the clutch. Rather than worrying about all that stuff, the driver can focus more easily on the steering and chassis. Put it all together, and there’s a reason race cars don’t have clutch-operated six-speed manuals.
Away from the track and in the real world, however, does any of that really matter? No one is timing you while driving on a mountain road and a botched shift will result in nothing but momentary irritation at yourself. If some guy smokes you in his Tesla, whatever man. You get a manual for the feels, and for those of us who yearned for more feels from the Supra, mission accomplished. Even if we just drove the new 2023 Supra 6MT on a track, adding a manual to this otherwise exceptional two-seat sports car did in fact make it feel just right. “Ah, much better,” was immediately exclaimed.
Toyota said customer demand for a manual was so high when the Supra was launched that it immediately started looking into it back in 2019. Though, really? They didn’t see it coming? Frankly, it would’ve been more surprising had there not been demand for it, be it from real customers or people just typing on the internet. Anyway. Maybe the manual Supra isn’t “better” in the way an engineer or spreadsheet aficionado would define it, but for weekend drives or popping out for a quick bite, sports cars and three pedals are a combination that’s just right. Look no further than Toyota’s own GR86, Mazda Miata, Porsche 718 or Nissan Z. Now there is another. And it is good.
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