What It's Really Like To Drive A Manual A80 Toyota Supra Today

We tried a bone-stock, UK-spec Supra, to see if the A80 can live up to the incredible hype all these years on
What It's Really Like To Drive A Manual A80 Toyota Supra Today


Exciting power delivery
Decent chassis


Expensive to buy today
Not quite a proper sports car
Hard to find

The old adage of never meeting your heroes is perhaps even more true of cars than it is of humans. Time is, after all, not kind to cars. Technology moves on dramatically, our expectations change, and what was exciting 20+ years ago can come across as downright boring today.

And so, I look at the A80 Toyota Supra in front of me, which I’ve been lent for the morning, with concern rather than excitement. What if this legend of the car world I’ve been wanting to have a go in for years is, in fact, a bit shit? 

The Supra is particularly problematic in this regard. It has a reputation bordering on godlike in some corners of the Internet, and a large part of that is down to the modifying scene. That iron-block 2JZ-GTE engine under the bonnet is an amazing starting point for tuning, whether in the engine bay of an A80 or relocated elsewhere.

What It's Really Like To Drive A Manual A80 Toyota Supra Today

Not that a modded A80 needs to retain its 2JZ to achieve legendary status. Kazuhiko ‘Smokey’ Nagata’s Top Secret Supra is one of the most famous A80s ever, partly because of that time he tried to do 200mph in it around the M25, much to the ire of local police. At the time, it was powered by a Nissan RB26DETT, and later Smokey swapped the engine again, but for an extensively modified Toyota 1GZ V12.

The A80 we’ve been lent is not modified. At all. It’s bone stock, and thankfully isn’t sullied by a nineties slushbox - this one has the manual. Oh, and it’s a UK-spec car rather than an import. Unicorn status achieved.

What It's Really Like To Drive A Manual A80 Toyota Supra Today

This is important, as UK-bound Supras were far better specced than those sold elsewhere. You got tougher steel blades for the turbocharger turbines, better injectors, height-adjustable glass headlights with washers, a cooler for the differential, heated seats and an active front spoiler. Only 623 Supras were sold in the UK through official channels, and most of those were automatics. The surviving pool of manual UK cars, then, ain’t big.

Sliding into one of those soft, heated leather seats (beige on this example - natch), I feel nicely cocooned by the angled and rather substantial centre console. Within that is the original double-din cassette deck, hooked up to which is a CD changer mounted in the boot. How very nineties.

We won’t be listening to that today, though, as it’s the 2JZ we’re more interested in. It awakes with little drama, but once the engine’s warmed up and I’m able to put my foot down, it really delivers.

What It's Really Like To Drive A Manual A80 Toyota Supra Today

326bhp isn’t a whole lot these days (not when something like a Vauxhall Grandland is available with near enough 300bhp, for Pete’s sake), but the excitement here is all in the delivery - there’s a little bit of lag, and a further wait for the rev counter to hit the right point. It’s a late bloomer compared to modern turbo engines that start waking up not much after 2,000rpm, but that makes for a thrilling top-end rush, accompanied by whistling turbochargers and brawny inline-six noise.

So yes, even in a modern context, this thing feels quick. And back when it was released, the Supra was a proper giant killer, giving Porsche 911 Turbo-baiting performance but with a cheaper (albeit still punchy) price tag. Meanwhile, the rear end manages the fierce delivery just fine, and when it comes to slowing down again, the brakes - arguably an element that dates a car more than anything else - are more than up to the job. 

What It's Really Like To Drive A Manual A80 Toyota Supra Today

It’s not hard to see how an old-school, four-speed automatic gearbox would have put a damper on proceedings. As it is, the manual is adding heaps of engagement, even if offers far from the sweetest shift. It’s an unapologetically butch ‘box which needs a bit of muscle to slot in place with two distinct movements through the gate. The pedals, meanwhile, are spaced reasonably well for rev-matching.

The Supra is willing enough to change direction, but it does - as I suspected it might - feel more like a sporting GT than a proper sports car. It’s certainly sprung quite softly, but the balance between comfort and composure seems well-judged. The big surprise is the steering - there’s no vagueness off the centre point, a decent amount of speed to the rack, and a little bit of feedback.

What It's Really Like To Drive A Manual A80 Toyota Supra Today

Just pootling along is something of an event - you only need to take a peak in the rear-view mirror and see the gigantic wing stretching across just outside the rear windscreen to remind yourself you’re behind the wheel of an icon.

It’s a really nicely sorted car out of the box, so it seems a shame that so few are left in original condition like this. And it’s even more of a shame that when such examples do crop up, they tend to be enormously expensive.

What It's Really Like To Drive A Manual A80 Toyota Supra Today

A couple of years ago a very tidy-looking manual UK car went for nearly £50,000, so the car you see here - which will be sold via a Carhuna online auction starting on 30 August - is not going to be cheap. The mileage is low considering the age at 66,500 miles, it had a full respray not so long ago, and it’s had one owner from new. And yes, the active aero works just fine - we checked.

I’ll be watching from the sidelines rather than reaching for my wallet. But at the very least, I can hope that the new owner uses the thing properly, since that feels like the Supra's happiest state. 



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