We all know what a coupe is, but some very different cars ride under that broad definition. At one end of the scale is a two-seat hardtop sportscar, the sort that puts performance well above practicality. At the other extreme, a coupe is a slightly lower and sleeker alternative to a sedan, one with rear seats and a usable trunk. For this test, our two challengers are drawn from different ends of the spectrum: The sporty Toyota GR Supra in entry-level 2.0-liter form faces off against the much more spacious BMW 230i Coupe.
For all their obvious differences, they also have much in common. Beneath the surface, the GR Supra sits on BMW's CLAR platform that also underpins the 2-series. And the Toyota is built alongside the closely related BMW Z4 in Austria. Both the Supra and the 230i use the same BMW turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making outputs of 255 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque in both cars. They drive their rear wheels through a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission (sadly, neither is available with a manual box). The most telling difference from a performance perspective is the weight disparity, owing to the BMW's larger dimensions. The 230i's 3554 pounds as tested is 373 pounds heavier than the Supra's weight.
While power figures might look modest compared with the sharp end of this segment, especially as both cars have six-cylinder siblings with nearly 400 horsepower, neither could be accused of being slow. In our testing, the BMW ripped through the 60-mph benchmark in just 5.1 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 13.7 seconds at 101 mph. The lighter Toyota was even quicker, dispatching 60 mph in a searing 4.5 seconds and the quarter-mile in 13.1 seconds at 105 mph. (For reference, the Supra's 60-mph time is identical to the one we recorded for the 400-hp Nissan Z with its manual gearbox, and the Supra is only 0.1 second slower through the quarter.)
Highs: Handsome design, great engine and gearbox integration, practicality of rear seats.
Lows: Numb steering disappoints, dynamic options jack up price.
Toyota GR Supra 2.0
Highs : Punchy performance, great steering feel and response, looks just like the 3.0-liter.
Lows: Cramped cockpit, previous-generation BMW switchgear, occasional gearbox hesitation.
It was a similar story on the skidpad, where the Supra 2.0 managed to extract a tenacious 1.04 g of lateral acceleration on Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, beating the BMW's 0.92 g on Pirelli P Zero PZ4s. The 230i's result hardly counts as a disgrace but does indicate that the Toyota is built around a keener dynamic mission. Both cars stopped well, with the 230i's 152-foot stop from 70 mph being just three feet longer than the Supra's.
Yet on road, the BMW's subtler qualities soon rose to the fore. Our car test car had both the $3250 M Sport package, which brings variable-ratio steering and 19-inch wheels plus a slightly firmer sports suspension, and the $1900 Dynamic Handling package, which adds an electronically controlled limited-slip rear differential. Experiencing the steering undiluted meant turning off the irritating oversensitive lane-departure warning, which seems to really dislike Michigan back roads. With this function de-energized, the 230i's rack gave sharp, linear responses, although without much in the way of on-center feel. Despite the sports suspension, the BMW's ride stayed compliant, with the active differential giving both impressive traction and the ability to push the rear axle toward breakaway without any sense of snappiness.
The 2-series's range of dynamic modes also gives the ability to significantly alter the way it feels. While Eco Pro is unlikely to be regularly selected by any driver not staring at a low-fuel warning light, the differences between Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus are immediately noticeable in terms of throttle response, cabin noise, and transmission shift mapping. This last detail felt particularly well resolved, with Comfort still downshifting quickly and cleanly for passing urge, but with Sport and even Sport Plus not holding onto low ratios for excessively long.
Unsurprisingly, the Supra feels much rawer and more direct. The fast-geared steering is richer in feedback than the 230i's—and yet without unwanted kickback over rougher surfaces. Toyota has done a better job of tuning BMW's hardware than BMW has. But the powertrain integration feels less good, with both an abrupt top-end accelerator response and less accomplished gearbox programming, with occasional awkward pauses when working out a downshift strategy. The Supra's purer purpose is also evident in its lack of switchable dynamic functions beyond a Sport mode. The Toyota changes direction with more enthusiasm than the BMW and feels more engaging on a twisty road, but it struggled more with traction in tighter corners, lacking the BMW's optional electronically controlled differential.
This brings us to the most obvious difference that separates these cars: the fact the 2-series coupe comes with 100 percent more seating capacity. Granted, getting into the rear of the passenger compartment requires gymnastic dexterity, and any full-size adult will struggle to fit back there unless the corresponding front seat is moved well forward. But for anybody planning to travel with more than one passenger, the BMW is the clear winner in this pairing.
The BMW's cabin is also more spacious up front, and despite having a higher seating position than the Toyota, it boasts more headroom as well. The 230i's cabin is also finished in plusher and better-feeling materials, and benefits from BMW's current generation of switchgear and the iDrive 7 user interface. Our test car also had the Live Cockpit Pro upgrade, which adds a head-up display to the standard digital instrument cluster and the crisply rendered 10-inch touchscreen. Cruising refinement is markedly better than in the Toyota as well.
By contrast, the Supra's cockpit is snug and tight fitting. And anybody who has traded in a five-year-old BMW will recognize these climate controls and shortcut keys. In terms of functionality, they work fine, as does the smaller 8.8-inch touchscreen that sits in a separate binnacle above the central air vents. But they don't look as good or feel as upmarket. However, we do prefer the older-style shifter the Supra still uses—it has a more satisfying weight and shape than the less substantial new version in the 230i. Both cars boast an identical 10 cubic feet of trunk space, although the BMW's luggage compartment easier to access.
Both challengers look sensible than their more profligate six-cylinder siblings, and both previously recorded a highly impressive 38 mpg on our highway fuel-economy test. The Toyota will have a greater appeal to those seeking to hide their frugality—beyond inch-smaller wheels, it looks identical to the 3.0-liter GR, but a $44,635 base price makes it more than $8000 cheaper. Our fully loaded 230i test car was optioned to within $600 of the Supra, but its $37,345 base price is significantly lower—and also $12,200 less than the all-wheel-drive-only M240i.
If you're looking for a sports car, the Supra is the definite winner here, and it shades a narrow overall victory. Even in its most basic 2.0-liter form, the Toyota is both fast and thrilling, and while we will fully understand anybody wanting to make the stretch for the bigger engine, the four-pot barely feels like a poor relation. The 230i is less exciting but much more practical, a genuine successor to many of the small, punchy BMW coupes we have loved in the past. Its traditional radiator grille and muscular proportions also make it one of the best-looking BMWs of recent years. Long may that trend continue.
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