Those fortunate enough to have the means for a £50k coupe have never had it so good. The TT RS is a 400hp cruise missile, unerringly adept at prodigious performance but found lacking elsewhere; the little Alpine A110 is a revelation, proof if ever it was required of just how virtuous a low kerbweight can be; even the Jaguar F-Type remains likeable, despite its advancing years - emotive, engaging and still devilishly good looking. And that's without mentioning the Porsche 718 Cayman, now of course available in 'T' spec - a raft of changes that look inconsequential on paper, yet sufficiently confound those doubts on the road to warrant paying more money. By being a just a tiny bit better everywhere, it's a very difficult car to find fault with.
Supra versus M2 is the obvious comparison, though, in a sector bristling with talent and desirability; it won't spoil the surprise to say that both are better than the Audi or Jag, for example. The compromises innate in the Alpine thanks to its size and layout might be too much for some as an everyday prospect. The four-cylinder thing will still bother many prospective 718 customers. Here then are two cars with the practical benefits of the front-engined layout, the aural appeal of six cylinders and the purist charm of rear-wheel drive. The irresistibility of pitching one BMW coupe against what is, let's be honest, quite a lot of another BMW means a match made in heaven. They're separated, as tested, by just £395 - perfect.
While the inevitable hype is around the Supra - good luck to any customers wanting a quick splash and dash at BP, as it ain't gonna happen - it makes sense to begin with the M2 and establish a benchmark. Because arguably this is the BMW the Supra will compete with, the Z4 surely aimed at a different kind of customer.
Although there's nothing especially revolutionary about the M2 Comp's configuration - the engine is five years old, the basic M2 concept more than three, and M cars of this type having been around for yonks - that doesn't stop the BMW being anything less than riotous on a good road. Perhaps the very fact it is quite a traditional prospect enhances its appeal, largely eschewing the current fad for configurability and delivering exactly the modern M car experience enthusiasts would hope for. While there are settings to adjust, all that's really mandatory is to ensure the steering is in comfort (to avoid the stirring cement resistance) and away you go.
A great M car has a great engine - this M2 certainly does. It's quite amusing, really; when the M3 was launched with this S55 3.0-litre it was pilloried for its noise and response, neither apparently befitting of a true M car. Yet now, a few years later and in a lesser state of tune, the straight-six is praised for its energy and vast reserves. And though it's true that this installation doesn't quite rip through to 7,600rpm in the way that a 3 or 4 would, a Competition still revs vigorously, bludgeons through its lower reaches and reacts deftly to throttle inputs, behaviour that belies its layout. Add to those characteristics a rousing straight-six howl and a standard fit manual gearbox - notchy and knuckley, yes, but oddly satisfying - and the M2 powertrain gets a resounding thumbs up.
That the chassis deserves more plaudits tells you just what a cracking car this M2 is, the Competition both more capable and more entertaining than the standard car it replaced - traits which can be mutually exclusive of each other. By delivering greater control and stability than before, a road can be attacked with growing confidence and more reward taken from it. That said, the Comp never loses sight of its BMW-ness, either - for want of a better phrase - always seeming to drive out of corners from that M-diffed rear axle and more than willing to act the fool with balance, accuracy and finesse should the opportunity present itself. For a lesson in how entertaining and approachable a well-executed front-engined, rear-drive car can be, a great deal worse could be done than trying an M2 Competition.
That isn't to say, however, that the Toyota can't teach the BMW a thing or two about how to be a driver's car. Immediately the driver is sat much lower and more comfortably, dash enveloping you rather than confronting you as in the M2. The Supra is a more amenable everyday car, too, cruising with less agitation and dealing with low speed imperfections pretty much effortlessly. As a GT, as a car to cover distance in, the Toyota is the more appealing prospect. By a margin.
The BMW isn't insufferable though, and these cars should be about a lot more than city centre trundles and motorway mile munching. On the same sort of roads, the Supra isn't quite the M2's equal; which isn't to say it's bad - very far from it, in fact - simply that it's not able to match the BMW for sheer entertainment.
Naturally, much is familiar from other BMWs - an overly large steering wheel, slightly offset pedals - although with certain aspects actually improved as well. Regardless of mode, Supra steering seems less afflicted by gloopy weight and gratuitous resistance than a BMW system. It's a super sharp front end, too; initially to a disconcerting degree, given how far back the driver sits, though you soon learn to lean against the car's innate (and considerable) abilities - much as in a Z4. It's not the most natural of relationships, with some guesswork to begin with, though the trust is there pretty quickly from how it carves through bends.
Dynamic configuration in a Supra is mercifully limited to just a Sport mode; furthermore, it feels intelligently calibrated, giving just a bit more edge to the throttle response, some additional tautness to the damping and some welcome extra straight-six sound. It doesn't need embellishing with modes, the Supra, because it's so fundamentally well sorted - the talk of a 'golden ratio' for handling might not be such a daft claim after all, because it's really very good.
Where the Toyota loses out is arguably in being too refined for its own good; that's not some glib 'worse cars are better' comment, simply that the Supra at the moment doesn't really feel like the "sports car in its purest form, with no compromise" that it's billed as. Maybe that's an unreasonable accusation to level given the more potent versions that will surely arrive, but when the competition - no pun intended - is as tough as this, the Supra needs to be a bit more exciting.
The engines contribute a fair bit to that impression. While the B58 is a perfectly good 3.0-litre straight-six, it's not as thrilling a 3.0-litre straight-six as the S55 in the M2. Even allowing for the weight disadvantage, the extra power and torque are undeniable: throughout the day the BMW feels the more urgent, eager and willing unit. As well as faster. And revvier. And better sounding...
Brass tacks, here's how to separate M2 and Supra: the former feels as good as you'd hope a junior M car might be, revealing flaws in the non-Competition M2 and making a compelling case against any opposition at the price. The Supra, with the best will in the world, feels how you'd hope a Z4 Coupe might. Probably better, in fact, given this car's breadth of ability, though crucially lacking that fizz and thrill that's present for all to see and hear in a BMW M car. A BMW M car that, let's not forget, costs the same money.
For those reasons, then, for offering more to the keen driver, the M2 has to be our recommendation. There's a caveat, however, and that's the groundswell of unbridled positive affection that comes from driving a Supra around. It's hard not to look on the car more fondly as a result, passers-by wanting to know more about it, listen to the engine rev, tell you about how much they just adore Supras. Which is nice. That sort of rock star treatment is not afforded to drivers of the M2 Comp - rather the opposite. Therefore those after a great sports coupe that will turn them into a local celeb for a few months should get the Toyota; those after one of the best M cars of the past few years, a beacon of hope in an occasionally maddening BMW line up, should get the M2. It really is that good.
SPECIFICATION - TOYOTA GR SUPRA PRO
Engine: 2,998cc, turbocharged straight-six
Gearbox: 8-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 340@5,000-6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 369@1,600-4,500rpm
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,570kg (with driver)
Price: £54,000 (as standard; price as tested £54,620, comprised of Prominence Red premium paint for £620)
SPECIFICATION - BMW M2 COMPETITION
Engine: 2,979cc, twin-turbocharged straight-six
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 410@5250-7000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 405@2,350-5,200rpm
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,625kg (with driver)
Price: £49,215 (as standard; £54,225, comprised of M2 Comfort Pack (Comfort Access, Reversing Assist Camera, Folding exterior mirrors with anti-dazzle, Electric memory front seats, Enhanced Bluetooth with wireless charging) for £1,800, M2 Plus Pack (Jet Black wheels, Sun protection glass, BMW Icon Adaptive LED headlights, Harmon Kardon stereo) for £1,485, M Sport braking system for £1,350, Through-loading system, for £175 and speed limit display for £200)
Photos: Stan Papior