Cohort Classic: 1996 Toyota Supra – Taste Test


(first posted 7/13/2016)     Well, Cohort regular William Rubano did it again. This time he has found another rice age unicorn: An unmolested Matrk IV Toyota Supra. And, sadly, even here I’m still not a fan.

Yes ladies and gentlemen I understand that, much like shouting that the South will rise again while sitting in a soapbox in the middle of an expensive bit of San Francisco (so, any bit of San Francisco),  this is an unpopular thing to say. You like cars, you are a millennial, you’re supposed to like the Supra in the same way that you’re supposed to document every single second of your life for the internet and hang on Bernie Sanders’s every word.


But I don’t know anything near enough about American politics for that. I’m sure nobody is bothered about the fact that I had a cheeseburger for breakfast and I think that the Mark IV is not the pinnacle of the Supra. For that you have to look at the much more elegant and dignified Mark III. The ‘super round’ styling may have been beautiful on the Celica (I may be biased), but on the Supra it just made it look like a TVR before someone let the axe maniacs in the building. Besides, the Mark III had pop up headlamps, you could have it in black with red velour bucket seats…but I digress. Point is, I’m not one to call myself unbiased and in this case the bias is very firmly on the “Do Not Want” tip of the scale.


I think it mostly has to do with the fact that I prefer my cars comfy rather than sporty. The Supra, after all, began life as a comfy and mature version of the normal Celica. But by this stage in the game their relationship had moved on from that. For the Celica, it meant front-wheel drive on anything but the top models. For the Supra it meant going head to head with the Mitsubishi 3000GT VR-4 and the Mazda RX-7 in the final blaze of glory of the Japanese sports coupe market. No expense was spared to make the Supra as sporty as it possibly could. Everything from the newfangled six-speed manual to the 200lb. weight reduction over its predecessor thanks to the extensive use of aluminum and the now-legendary 2JZ-GTE under the hood producing 320 horsepower for anywhere that wasn’t Japan, where the 276 horsepower agreement was respected on this particular case. 60 in 4.6 seconds means that on a drag race it’s every single bit as fast as an Aston Martin DB9 or a 2000 BMW M5


This obsessive approach for sportiness was followed on the interior too. The cockpit was reworked into a cocoon for the driver. The tachometer was placed centrally to maximize visibility. HVAC, stereo controls were placed in the driver-hugging center console at an angle that would make them easier to use and even the controls for the electric windows on the door followed the design of the dash instead of being relegated as just part of the door. It achieved motorsport success in Japan, where Supras got the title for four years and raced until 2006, as it seems that there wasn’t anything good enough to replace it. Unfortinately, this is what brings us to the reason of this article.


That thing that makes the 2JZ-GTE legendary? It’s tough, insanely, incredibly, supremely tough. Tuners can get up to 1500 horsepower out of one, with enough boost. This and that movie that ruined my childhood and that must never be mentioned means that the Mark IV is a favorite of the sort of people that, according to a lot of movies in the 2000’s, would meet about and make a lot of noise from purple-painted monstrosities while fart canning their way through quarter miles. Which is incidentally their unit of choice when measuring their lives. That’s why I think of it as a taste test. Look at it stock and think that Lamborghini green would compliment the Lambo doors you want to install and your taste and mine are going to have a bit of an argument. Look at it all unmolested and pray the owner either keeps it for a very long time or that you have enough money to keep it away from that first group come selling time and my taste would probably want to buy you a pint.


I’m glad that not everyone has the same taste as me; the world would be mightily boring if it was homogeneous, but most of the Supras used by the tuner crowd look to me as if someone used a DaVinci painting as the fire-starter for the family barbecue. To each his own. And the Mark IV was so good that even as we speak Toyota is filling trademarks to revive the name for another go at it. Even though, as Paul argued, Toyota already has a Supra successor. It’s for sale right now, anyone can buy it for less money than what a Mark IV was when new(adjusted for inflation) and yet everyone seems to ignore it.


The Lexus RC. It and the Supra will have to go head to head for the minuscule coupe market.