Not that long ago, this twin test couldn't happen - and didn’t look likely, either. When the GR Supra launched in spring 2019, there was discussion of three pedals - ‘a manual transmission could be on the cards if the demand is there’, explained the PH review - though nothing concrete. Just a couple of months later came the Cayman GT4 and Boxster Spyder, spearheading the Porsche 718 range in emphatic fashion with their 8,000rpm flat-sixes. As recently as summer 2019, those after a 3.0-litre Supra had to have an auto, and those wanting a flat-six, mid-engined Porsche had to hope they got a GT allocation. Yet here we are in 2022, with a three-pedal GTS 4.0 versus a six-speed Supra - nice when things change for the better.
As a reminder, the naturally aspirated flat-six returned to the Cayman and Boxster early in 2020, its star quality surprising nobody whatsoever. Following the introduction of a 2.0-litre Supra last year, the manual joined the 3.0-litre Supra range earlier in 2022. It’s a little lighter, slower and cheaper than the auto, promising some additional involvement that the regular A90 hasn’t quite delivered. As the sun is setting on six-cylinder engines, six-speed manuals and - seemingly - two-seat sports cars, it’s hard not to be a little excited at getting two of them together.
Especially the Toyota. For those of a certain age, it’s impossible not to be presented with a 3.0-litre, straight-six, manual Supra and not pretend you’re Smokey Nagata or Brian O’Connor, punching in gearchanges listening to Terror Squad and living a real-life Need for Speed: Underground. It’s a very different time now, of course, and a different car, but heritage is a key part of the GR Supra’s appeal, and the manual complements it absolutely perfectly. The nostalgic charm is off the charts with that iconic Supra font on the back (manuals have it in red), a long bonnet ahead with an eminently tuneable 3.0-litre underneath, and the option to granny shift all day long, should you wish. Just being in a manual Supra feels right.
Impossible, too, not to reflect on what it follows. The GR Yaris went from a potential cult classic to public love affair in about a nanosecond; the 2.0-litre GR Supra was a thoughtful step in the right direction; and we hardly need say anything more about the new GR86. Additionally - and indeed specifically, because it speaks to the core of what Toyota is about these days - the manufacturer has put real effort into this manual, splicing its own bits with ZF ones for a novel transmission and adding a 200g gearknob - because the original 68g item didn’t feel substantial enough. In short, there’s promise. Lots of it.
Before getting lost in the details, however, or labouring more Fast & Furious references, the Supra needs a benchmark. And they come no more formidable than the 718 GTS 4.0, despite architecture that’s now a decade old and with nothing especially new to bring to the party. Sometimes cars don’t require much improvement, though, and if ever a model fell into that category, it’s the Cayman. There’s precious little out there, if anything, that’s so intuitive or natural to drive. Honestly, it’d be worth getting 17-year-olds in one, just to learn about how a car ought to feel and behave. Clutch and gearbox require no acclimatisation (perhaps bar a low bite point), the engine - of course - responds crisply to every input and the brake pedal is little short of perfect. The essentials are nailed in the GTS, and it means even low-speed driving is a pleasure.
The slickness and sophistication of the Cayman brings to mind the outgoing Civic Type R, another car where every single control feels meticulously honed to the point of near flawlessness. It means there's satisfaction to extract from every interaction, no matter how modest. Both, however, don’t offer up their thrills all too easily, chiefly because of that consummate ability. You’ll marvel at just how polished the experience is, without necessarily being captivated by it the whole time.
There’s a solution in the Porsche, however - revs, as many of them as possible. And a bit of denial. The 4.0-litre unit sounds great under load, but is at its mesmeric best howling past 7,000rpm. Which, as has been well documented now, can be problematic. Same for the chassis: its otherworldly poise and balance - the way it maintains such exceptional composure and communicates with such clarity - is best exhibited going fast. And that’s not always possible. When it is, however, or when it’s a tad greasy out, the Cayman is good to the point of peerless. With the sports exhaust on and the dampers taut, its combination of mid-engined agility, Porsche panache and the engine's crescendo is bewitching. If there’s a criticism, it’s merely that you covet the exhilaration and immersion of high speed at lower commitment levels - a trick the GT4 carries off very neatly, it should be noted.
Nothing quite highlights the cohesion of the Cayman package, in fact, like a quick squirt in the Supra. It's not that the Supra is desperately fidgety, it just seems that way in the wake of the GTS's fluidity. Its front end is quicker to respond yet harder to trust, and the busier suspension is less adept at dealing with imperfect roads. Where the 718 is finely honed and approachable, the Supra - despite what might be seen as a friendlier layout - takes some getting used to. The rhythm that any halfway competent driver can easily achieve in the Porsche never fully materialises in the Supra because it doesn’t respond to inputs quite so consistently.
It’s a good manual, though. Be in no doubt about that. There’s certainly a BMW feel to it, intended or otherwise, the throw burly and deliberate, but this is a better shift than any manual M car. People raved about the M2 CS manual, yet this is more direct, better weighted, and less prone to those knuckly cross-gate shifts. It isn’t perfect, mind, and the Supra’s feels a slightly cramped footwell with a third pedal, but it's better than perhaps it had any right to be given its makeshift nature. The shifter is neatly integrated, the gearshift assistant works very well (better than the Yaris’s i-MT), clutch engagement is positive enough and the lever feels good in your hand. Normally there would be a complaint here about the ability to do more than 100mph in third gear, but given the company…
Crucially, moreover, the manual helps turn what was a slightly aloof sports GT into a much more engaging experience. Presumably, this was at the heart of Toyota's original business case for altering the gearbox, and it rings true on the road. The torque of this B58 straight-six engine is mighty, and getting fourth from first and feeling it haul is way more satisfying with a stick; similarly, the 3.0-litre is pretty keen to rev out to 7,000rpm, and once you’ve learnt to get the best from the manual (and yourself) it’s a really rewarding process. Heel and toe perhaps isn’t the easiest, with pedals offset and a slightly hesitant throttle at the top, but it's so much more entertaining than a paddle pull. And what’s a sports car for if not entertainment?
Furthermore, once keyed into how the Supra works and familiar with the quirks, it starts to become more fun in a wider sense. The steering is too light and you're still too isolated from chassis feedback, so you tend to learn from experience rather than feel that grip and traction are plentiful. But then the front Michelin Super Sports are a huge 255-section, so turn-in purchase is good, and the rears are 275-section - so there’ll be no GT86-style sketchiness here. Both these cars handle how they look: the Cayman is about keeping its mass low and central, everything pivoting around the middle in unflappable harmony. The Supra is about nudging the nose into a turn (the trust comes soon enough) and then choosing what to do with the rear axle right beneath you. Like a BMW, funnily enough, it never feels happier than with the rear wheels overspeeding a tad and dictating the attitude. The wheelbase is short, but the Supra is certainly fun and friendly in low-speed turns even if it never engenders total confidence in the faster ones.
For both Cayman and Supra, Sport mode for their respective dampers seems to work best. The 718 does that spooky Porsche trick of tightening body control with seemingly no ride penalty, while the Toyota’s change is even more subtle, to the extent that it seems little has altered. So might as well bundle it in with a bit more noise and marginally heavier steering. Given the standard set-up isn’t perfect, it feels like a missed opportunity that there isn’t a more aggressive mode buried in there; even with the driver-focused transmission, the Supra still seems unsure about whether it's trying to be an out-and-out sports car or a fast GT. And that it means it never quite delivers unequivocally on either front, lacking the refinement of a genuine cruiser, and unable to summon up the feedback of the very best driver’s cars.
Happily, those issues don't cloud the fact that the new gearbox alone ensures that this A90 is easily the most likeable one thus far. In the nicest way possible, it feels like an old-school BMW coupe might have turned out; where the M240i is now heavier, automatic and xDrive only (if also very good), there’s an endearingly honest charm about how the Supra goes about its business. At the end of the day, it's just you, a turbo straight-six, a manual gearbox and a locking rear diff to be getting on with. And even if it isn’t the last word in sports car tactility or precision, quite often that combination is enough. Smiles are guaranteed. If you were tempted before, the six-speed should be good enough to bring you down from the fence.
But it isn’t the best sports car here. The Supra will likely draw admiring glances and spark up conversation more readily, as it should. The price difference is considerable, too, which is always a useful advantage. Nevertheless, look beyond whatever a GTS interior package is and Carmine Red that costs more than a Shed and you’ll find a sports car of true substance and rare quality, one that continues to deliver after all these years. Only this time, when the flat-six goes it won’t be making a glorious comeback. Toyota's save-the-manual campaign is time restricted, too. Time to make the most of them, people.
SPECIFICATION | 2022 TOYOTA GR SUPRA 3.0 MT
Engine: 2,998cc, straight-six turbo
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 340@5,000-6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 369@1,600-4,500rpm
Top speed: 155mph (electronically limited)
Price: £53,495 (price as standard; price as tested £54,145, comprised of Prominence Red paint for £650)
SPECIFICATION | 2022 PORSCHE 718 CAYMAN GTS 4.0
Engine: 3,995cc, flat-six
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 400@7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 310@5,000-6,500rpm
0-60mph: 4.5 seconds
Top speed: 182mph
Weight: 1,405kg (DIN, without driver)
CO2: from 246g/km
Price: £65,390 (price as standard; price as tested £74,926, comprised of Cruise control for £228, Tyre sealing compound and electric air compressor for £42, BOSE Surround Sound System for £834, ISOFIX child seat mounting points on passenger seat for £126, Two-zone automatic climate control for £539, GTS interior package for £2,096, Speed limit indicator for £236, ParkAssist front and rear including reversing camera for £464, Auto dimming mirrors with integrated rain sensor for £345, LED main headlights including Porsche Dynamic Light System Plus for £1,397, Side window trims and window triangle trims painted in high gloss black for £329 (!), GTS interior package Carmine Red for £1,242, and Carmine Red paint for £1,658.
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