Review and road test of the Toyota Supra (1993 - 1996)
CHUCK OUT THE CHEST WIG
BY ANDY ENRIGHT
There aren't too many secrets left in the world of performance cars. By and large we know where the bargains can be found, what the best money-no-object dream cars are and where you'd turn if you wanted something that could lap the Nurburgring in under eight and a half minutes. That's the obsessive nature of the enthusiast. There is, however, one car that has slipped under their collective radar. It's the Toyota Supra Mk IV, manufactured from 1993-1996. Available in plentiful numbers on the used market, here's the performance bargain to end all others.
Mk IV 1993-1996: 2-door coupe 3.0 turbo
It's fair to say the Mk IV Supra didn't have a lot to live up to when the first models were road tested here in the UK in early 1993. Its predecessor had developed a reputation as something of a chest wig chariot, a whale of a car beloved by third division footballers and dodgy building contractors. Few saw what was about to hit them.
An early clue came in the form of an Autocar magazine road test entitled 'The Fastest Cars of 1993' which included then fresh luminaries such as the Porsche 911 Carrera, the Lotus Esprit, the Lotus Esprit Sport 300, the BMW M3, the Caterham Supersport and the Toyota Supra, looking a trifle self conscious with its huge spoiler and Christmas tree decoration tail lamps. But after days of testing, the staffers decided that out on the public road, in all weather conditions, the Supra was the quickest of the bunch. Other magazines soon joined in, lauding this extraordinary car.
But the Supra still didn't catch the imagination of the British public in the way the Subaru Impreza and then the Nissan Skyline did. Yes, it sold steadily, remaining largely unchanged until its demise apart from the introduction of a CD autochanger in September 1994. Most cars you'll find will feature the optional automatic transmission.
The Supra died quietly in late 1996. Toyota, like rivals Nissan and Mazda, found that small, if steady sales of big and heavy supercars were simply not worth the marketing costs. It was only with the boom in Japanese imports that the Supra enjoyed an unlikely second coming.
What You Get
The UK-spec Supra is the brainchild of Toyota's Isao Tsuzuki, the man behind the first two generations of Toyota MR2. He didn't do a bad job. The cabin feels snug for two with a high window line and a dashboard that arcs round to point most of the instruments at the driver. The driving position is very good with a spacious footwell and supportive seats. The low steering column and awkwardly placed handbrake are the only minor annoyances. In the UK there was only ever one model released, namely the twin turbo. This had a very high specification with leather interior, cruise control and active spoiler. The UK version also had a large air intake in the middle of the bonnet and headlamp washers which make it stand out from the import versions.
Of course, a car that debuted in 1993 isn't going to be the cutting edge as far as cabin styling is concerned and the interior does major on black plastic. Space in the rear is best described as token, although there is a large albeit shallow luggage bay.
What to Look For
Those Japanese mechanicals are well proven and reliable. Check the service history with turbo cars, however, as a neglected synthetic oil change is not exactly ideal for a car with such a powerful engine. Maintenance will have needed to be regular and done by someone who understands these relatively complicated cars. Blown head gaskets are an early Supra bugbear and can cost around £1,500 to remedy. Symptoms of this include a gradual loss of coolant, a leaking overflow bottle after hard driving, occasional gurgles from beneath the dash and temperatures rising sharply when accelerating hard or driving uphill. Turbochargers tend to be fairly bulletproof but if the Supra is puffing white clouds from the exhaust, walk away.
Tyres need a good deal of tread left, as the Supra can be hungry for rubber and make sure that if the engine has been modified in any way that it's been done by reputable sources and that you inform your insurance company. Make sure you fit an alarm/immobiliser too as these cars are attractive targets for joyriders.
The headlamp lenses of import cars are plastic as opposed to glass on UK models and often goes dull which requires a refurbishment. You may also need to underseal the car, as Japanese rustproofing is virtually non-existent.
As for the interiors, leather upholstery may be worn if it hasn't been cleaned often so check the stitching. The wealth of convenient, electric features should all be in working order. Sunroof, mirrors, central locking, air conditioning, windows and seats should all be checked to save you expensive and fiddly fixes later.
(Based on a 1994 Supra twin turbo and exclusive of VAT - approx) Replacement parts for the Supra are widely available from a number of sources and Toyota has taken an admirable policy in servicing grey import cars, proclaiming the Supra to be a global product. Spares are agreeably cheap although your best chance of snagging some discounts is to trawl around websites such as http://www.mkivsupra.net or http://www.supras.co.uk/
On the Road
It still shocks many the first time the full 326bhp is unleashed. They equate the Supra with being another butch looking coupe, but it's the equal of cars like the Porsche 911 Carrera, the Lotus Esprit Turbo or the BMW M3. In other words extremely fast, and as the Supra is bigger than all of these cars the speed just feels even more unlikely.
Handling is up to the power and performance, the Supra feeling supremely confidence inspiring. There is no stability control function available, however, and on wet roads an inexperienced driver and the Supra may make unhappy bedfellows. The handling and road-holding has a large safety bias built in but be sure you know what you're doing before you throw one of these big, heavy and powerful cars about. UK spec cars will hit 60mph in 5.8 seconds and run on to a limited 155mph. Remove the limiter and you have a genuine 170mph vehicle, straight out of the crate. Count yourself very fortunate if you return 23mpg.
The Toyota Supra Mk IV is well worth persevering with. Yes, you will see more than a few over modified and under maintained dogs in your search for the right car but when you track down an honest example, you're buying a car that had the measure of a 911 back in '93. Times may have changed since then, but the Supra is still one evil customer.
Toyota Supra (1993 - 1996) review by ANDY ENRIGHT