New Car/Review

SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide

1997 Toyota Supra Turbo with 1998 updates

by Carey Russ

The Supra coupe has been Toyota's sports-luxury-performance flagship since the days when it was the upscale Celica model. Originally introduced as the Celica Supra back in 1979, it gained increased distinction from the rest of the Celica lineup with a second generation in 1982, and became a separate nameplate in mid-1986. The first turbocharged version went on sale in 1987, pointing toward the high-tech, high-performance future of the car. With the debut of the current, 4th-generation in 1993, the Supra became a very serious performance machine. Performance levels are higher today than 15 or 20 years ago, and the 320-horsepower Supra Turbo offers near- supercar performance levels with better comfort and civilization levels than most cars in that class. The 220-horsepower standard Supra isn't exactly slow, either.

Toyota considers 1997 to be the 15th anniversary of the Supra, and all 1997 Supras have special commemorative badging. Most significantly, a 6-speed manual transmission is again available in Turbo models. This is very much in keeping with the car's seriously sporting nature, as I was reminded during a week with one. Few cars combine style, performance, and comfort as well as the Toyota Supra Turbo.

APPEARANCE: The Toyota Supra is a front-engined, rear-wheel drive car like the classic sports and racing cars of the 1950s and early 1960s. Without consciously imitating any other machine, it has the look of a performance car of that era, with certain modern updates. The transparently-covered headlights, long hood, and small fastback passenger cabin set well to the rear of the car give the classic look of speed. The high rear wing, oversized exhaust tip, and ultra low-profile high-speed tires on polished alloy wheels are contemporary touches. The basic styling has been unchanged since the car's introduction in 1993, although there are minor trim changes for 1997, and the previously-used tinted cabin glass is replaced by high solar energy- absorbing glass for cooler interior temperatures.

COMFORT: The Supra Turbo is a driver-oriented car, and a driving- oriented car. Driver comfort is important for alertness and safety, and is not ignored. Supportive leather-upholstered power front bucket seats, a tilt-adjustable steering wheel, and a first-rate climate control system see to that. Cupholders and storage spaces can distract from driving attention, and are de-emphasized. Instrumentation is important, and the Supra's instrument panel wraps around the driver cockpit-style to ensure that all gauges and controls are readily accessible. The short- throw gearshift lever is placed in just the right spot. There is a "2+2"- style rear seat in the Supra. As is typical of sports cars with such, it is best used as luggage space. Head and legroom back there are not exactly minivan-class, and the luggage space under the rear deck cargo shade is suitable only for a medium-sized briefcase. Don't think that the Supra Turbo is a spartanly-appointed race-replica. Standard leather upholstery, power windows, mirrors, and door locks, cruise control, a premium sound system, and useful interior lighting make it a civilized grand touring machine.

SAFETY: All 1997 Toyota Supras have a strengthened unibody structure with a rigid safety cage passenger compartment, front and rear crumple zones, standard antilock brakes, and dual airbags.

ROADABILITY: The 1997 Supra Turbo has very high handling limits. The speed-sensitive rack and pinion power steering feels a little light at low speeds, but that is probably preferable given the immense tire width. Steering feel improves with velocity, and the 235/45 ZR17 front, 255/40 ZR17 rear Michelin Pilot tires grip the road tenaciously. The fully-independent double wishbone suspension is firm as expected from the car's mission and tire sizes, but not uncomfortable. This is a real car that can be used for real long-distance trips, as long as minimal luggage is needed. The Turbo has larger brakes than its sibling - 12.6- inch vented rotors front and rear with 4-piston front and 2-piston rear calipers. A 3-channel antilock system is standard on all models. The Turbo also benefits from traction control and a limited-slip differential to ensure that all of its power gets to the road.

PERFORMANCE: The 3.0-liter twincam inline six in the 1997 Supra Turbo has dual sequential turbochargers. What this means is plenty of flexible power with little turbo lag. The first turbo spools up at low engine speeds for quick throttle response. The second comes in at higher speeds with a feeling like rocket stage separation. There is a slight hesitation in acceleration, then the car really takes off. The six- speed gearbox makes the Supra Turbo a little quicker and much more enjoyable. There is no shortage of power, and plenty of torque, so the 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic will work well, although with some performance compromise.

CONCLUSIONS: The 1997 Toyota Supra Turbo combines ferocious performance with civilization.

1998 UPDATES

With the 1998 models on the way, there is another reason to look at the 1997 Supra Turbo. It may be the last chance to find one with a manual transmission in California, Massachusetts, or New York. The 1998 Supra Turbo will not be sold with the 6-speed manual gearbox in those states. The non-turbo Supra will have variable valve timing for emissions compliance and slightly increased power. All 1998 Supra models will have a limited-slip differential as standard equipment.

SPECIFICATIONS

Base Price               $ 39,900
Price As Tested          $ 40,767
Engine Type              dual overhead cam, 24-valve inline 
                         6-cylinder
Engine Size              3.0 liters / 180 cu. in.
Horsepower               320 @ 5600
Torque (lb-ft)           325 @ 4000
Transmission             6-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length       100.4 in. / 177.8 in.
Curb Weight              3505 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    11
Fuel Capacity            18.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement         unleaded premium
Tires                    Michelin Pilot SX: 235/45 VR17 front,
                         255/40 VR17 rear
Brakes, front/rear       vented disc / vented disc, antilock
                         standard
Suspension, front/rear   4-wheel independent double wishbone
                         with coil springs
Drivetrain               front engine, rear-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      17 / 24 / 19
0 to 60 mph                        5.1 sec
1/4 mile (E.T.)                    13.6 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

wheel locks                        $ 52
remote keyless entry system        $ 395
destination charge                 $ 420     
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