Okay, one more story from the greater car community, then we promise: back to the regularly scheduled ECS-exclusive content. Once again from the Detroit Motor Show this past week, something we felt has to be discussed was finally presented for the world to see. The new 2020 Toyota Supra and BMW Z4 M40i, which have been heavily teased over the past few years, are now officially released and ready for order. When you receive your new Toyota Z4/BMW Supra (shut up, I think it’s funny) is another story. Today, we’d like to focus on the BMW Z4 M40i, which has been (wrongfully) overshadowed by its JDM-fanboy brother.
The new Supra and Z4 were produced as a joint venture between Toyota and BMW, as you most likely are well aware, and the two cars share almost everything except fanbases. The specs between the cars’ wheelbases, heights, total lengths, and widths are nearly identical. The major changes between the two cars are in external designs, interior materials, and their power output. For the purposes of direct comparison, we are only going to focus on the inline-six powered BMW, though a turbocharged four-cylinder version is available. The BMW with the 3.0 straight-six makes a respectable 382hp/369lb-ft while the Supra makes a less respectable 335hp/365lb-ft despite sharing almost all components. We aren’t quite sure where the difference in power comes from, but a logical guess would be the ECU tunes are marginally different.
Off the bat, the Supra fanboys should be disappointed. I know, we’re a European car tuning company, so we should feel a bit smug about that fact. However, I don’t feel the least bit smug. With a hefty base price of $65,695 for the BMW, and given its historic demographic of owners, this car misses the mark wildly. I don’t know too many folks with an interest in cars, especially BMWs, who ogle Z4s. The Z3 was much the same way, but at least it had the Clown Shoe that came with both the S52 and S54 in later years (you can read more about it here on our write up about the little bread van). With one or two exceptions (Luna, if you’re reading this, I’m talking about your mad cambered Z4) the BMW Z4 is largely a mid-life car for upper-middle-class women. I’m not saying that to be misogynistic, I’m just stating an observation. The people I see driving Z4s, and the people I know who own them, are predominately women who want a two-door convertible, moderate power, but mostly just something comfortable to get them around town with a bit of sporty fun now that they don’t have to take a gaggle of screaming children to sports ball practice.
Hell, even my own mother almost bought one. I fought for her to pick an F30 335i, but she objected to both prices at the time and the large (relative to her abilities) horsepower number. She instead chose a Lexus IS250c, which is a direct competitor to the Z4 in terms of buyers. I would not compare the two, as the Z4 is a smaller roadster with more bias towards performance, but the market considers them comparable vehicles for the reasons that someone looking in that segment will likely consider both options. So, back to the topic at hand, why did BMW end up with the more powerful, ever so slightly quicker, and more topless car?
This is where I am going to speculate. I am gonna speculate a lot and I’m gonna do it real good. Real good. I do actually have some fairly informed opinions on the matter, so take them as you will, but I think I can provide some answers. First and foremost, I worked for Toyota for a while. One thing we always wanted but never saw were boosted FR-S/GT86 versions and Camry Turbo models. The two cars were slated to receive turbos, based on rumors from within Toyota, but shortly after those rumors began to circulate, the big wigs put a stop to that. The official unofficial stance on Toyota’s part is that they build cars with reliability, comfort, convenience, and practicality at the top of their priority list. Turbos add extra expenses to the initial production, sales price, and increase the likelihood of added maintenance costs over the life of the vehicle. Toyota has built its brand on cars that are synonymous with longevity and dependability, and they didn’t want to give up their spot as one of the highest-rated brands for reliability.
Now I know what you may be thinking: “the MK3, MK4, SW20, Hilux, and a scattering of other models in Toyota history had turbos!” Yes, you would be correct. They did. As a result, there were direct costs associated with those cars that affected both the company and the buyer disproportionally to the rest of their fleet, hence, why they moved away from forced induction and accepted the mediocrity that are big V6s and V8s. Arguably, the 1UZ V8 is more popular with certain enthusiasts BECAUSE of its reliability and out-of-the-box performance to cost ratio when compared with the internet’s golden child 2JZ-GTE.
So what’s changed now that the new A90 has a lovable inline-six turbo? Enter: BMW. It is my speculation that Toyota chose to partner with BMW for two main reasons. First, BMW has been successfully manufacturing turbocharged cars with relatively high dependability and performance longer than anyone. All the way back to the 2002 turbo, which was one of the first cars of its kind to feature a forced induction method, BMW has given drivers the ultimate boosting experience. That resume and track record are the kind of boring numbers the Toyota execs care about now, which probably highlighted BMW as their first choice of collaborator. Second, with BMW being one of the few companies still producing straight-six gasoline engines, production costs for the new platform would be greatly reduced, as Toyota would not need to spend as much on R&D, retooling plants, programming robots, or long-term testing these engines.
So BMW is definitely the logical partnership choice to take on a throwback project like the Supra. Unfortunately, I think this joint venture has yielded a result that is disappointing on both sides. Like they took all the parts we enthusiasts would throw away, made two cars out of them with hopes of appealing to well-off enthusiasts, and we are left with a stale reminder of what could have been when presented with the final products. It would be like a song mash up of two classic hits that only takes the boring parts of the songs and smashes them together. On paper, we were given the mash-up we want that could have been something game-changing, but in reality, we just have to suffer through our least favorite parts of each song all through one go.
Where are these shortcomings, exactly? You may ask yourself this, or respond with; “But I think the new Supra looks awesome and the BMW is so refined!” They do look incredible, both have straight-sixes, turbos, rear-wheel drive, two doors, and come badged with two of the most respected names in motorsports. Sadly, I have to say they both fall short of what they could have and should have been. I’ll elaborate.
With old MK4 Supras all over the world making power figures that give Prius owners aneurisms, a paltry 335 horsepower is pretty much an insult. The 2JZ-GTE made (in reality) about 326hp. That is a 9hp increase. We waited almost 20 years since the last Supras were sold in America for 9. More. Horsepower. N I N E. Not only that, but the car only comes with an 8-speed automatic gearbox, and presumably an all-aluminum block and head. This means no more iron block, over-engineered, solid cast engines that can handle fifteen gazillion billion horsepower with just bolt-ons. So the tuning potential of these new engines, while probably still impressive, doesn’t seem as possible in the MK5. Additionally, all kinds of fancy gadgets, electronics, sensors, computers, and probably HAL9000 will stand in the way of achieving performance goals I know some incredibly wealthy tuners will want to pursue.
This brings us back to the BMW engine, which produces 60 more HP, and why BMW got it. According to journalists who spoke with some of the Toyota staff in Detroit, BMW and Toyota essentially ‘did their own thing’ when developing the engines in the two cars. The best guess is that BMW wanted to maintain a certain power/weight balance and their 380hp number did just that. But still. What middle-aged, bleach-blonde, can-I-speak-to-the-manager buyer is going to want 380hp when they could have the same car in a 4cyl version with better MPG and more drivability? Why not make the car more appealing to someone who would be impressed by the power figures? I can’t think of too many people who would break out their wallets to spend $60,000 on a roadster with no manual transmission when they could have an M2, M235i, M3, or M4 that has exactly the same benefits, with more power, manual transmissions, back seats, and even convertible options. BMW has, unfortunately, not created something distinct enough to warrant enthusiast interest, has made something too powerful (is that a thing) for the people who would be interested in it, and too comfort-oriented to entice non-enthusiast buyers that want a fast convertible. There are better options with more usability.
This leaves us with the Supra-BMW difference of power. If enthusiasts are going to gravitate towards the Supra, why is it so woefully underpowered? Yes, it can do 4.9 to 60, yes it is limited to 155mph, will supposedly do 180mph unlimited, and it looks absolutely stunning doing those things. But it isn’t a Godzilla Assassin as the old A80 was dubbed, and it certainly isn’t going to be a 10-second car like O’Connor’s MK4. *EDIT* (the Supra has since run in the 10’s out of the box, which is inarguably impressive.) Without the real tuning potential in terms of accessible power, the car is basically a showpiece. It’s as small as the 86, those sculpted pieces are going to be a nightmare for collision repair, and it has an autotragic gearbox. The only people buying these cars are people who want to say they have one, not people who (maybe I’m wrong here) honestly care about the Supra lineage or want a performance car on the cutting edge. They want something to show off. It might as well be jewelry or a pair of shoes. In both cases, it is this way, both equally bad, for different reasons.
SO. On one hand, you have a car designed to rally the wave of Supra fanboys and another to be a high-performance roadster. Unfortunately, while the Supra does rally the fanboys, I don’t think it really appeals to them. If the point at the end of the day is to sell cars designed for the people who are ideal buyers, I don’t think either car really does that. The Supra is underpowered, unenthusiastic with its auto-only transmission, and not appealing as a platform for building a dyno-breaking hypercar killer. The BMW internally competes with arguably better BMW models, only appeals to people who don’t care about/want those performance figures, and is out of reach for the majority of people who do. Those that can afford the price tag, care about performance, and love to drive their BMW to the limit will logically pass over the new Z4 for an F80, F82, or possible F87. This is likely why we haven’t seen much in the way of hype over the new Z4, despite being a Supra. So the Supra only received attention because it says “SUPRA” in the classic splash font.
At the end of the day, I won’t be buying either car because I’m broke, regardless if they were to be my perfect ideas of what they should be. But still. Come on Toyota/BMW. You had an opportunity (a twenty year long one) to put another GT-R killer on the streets and you didn’t. You could have made one or two simple changes, like a manual transmission, closed deck block, and more aggressive tune without throwing your budget out the window. Nine horsepower for twenty years of work is just sad. This goes for BMW, too. They could have made a successor to the Z8. Something worthy of the high price, or higher, that would appeal to a demographic more likely to buy the car. But no. We got another Z4 for Dentists’ wives and retired, polo-shirt-wearing, five-times-a-week-golfing, Arnold Palmer lookalikes.
Images courtesy BMW and Drew Phillips Photography