By Design: 2020 Toyota Supra Styling Analysis

Let me quote something I wrote back in 2014 about the car that would become the precursor to Toyota’s new Supra—the FT-1 concept:

“In many ways, this car is a mess. An intriguing and attractive mess, yes, but a mess all the same. Lines don’t flow very well, details don’t really work, there are conflicting lines and surfaces, and there’s no coherent mechanical plan behind the non-running concept car seen in Detroit [at the 2014 auto show]. But go back to the 50 words in the preceding and note the one that counts: attractive.”

For all its oddities and awkwardness, the FT-1’s styling exercise appealed to a wide range of observers, including the most important one, Akio Toyoda, the CEO of Toyota who pushed the concept to production five years later. Our own omniscient Georg Kacher told us long ago Toyota was working with BMW on a joint-venture sports car. So instead of what I described five years ago as “a three-dimensional sketch,” which is all the FT-1 was, we now have a reasonably priced GT car that’s still a mess stylistically. And still very attractive.

So let’s look at why this basic five-year-old design is so appealing, despite the conflicts and confusion that definitely still exist in today’s Supra. Conflicts, it should be noted, that did not exist in the last A80 model of the Supra series (1993–2002), which was so sleek and well resolved that it was slightly boring. (I also seem to remember it was a little hard to move off dealer lots without financial incentives toward the end of its commercial life.) While that Supra was very nice, it lacked visual character or aggressiveness, which this A90 has in spades. Toyota’s Calty design team in Southern California infused the FT-1 with a lot of competition references. Those—and a few more—remain in the Supra. The brilliantly innovative outside mirror mounting scheme and what I called “the superb and imaginative cockpit” have been removed, presumably by the perpetually present bean counters who insist on economical mediocrity in car companies all over the world.

Despite the cost-saving simplifications imposed by practical reality, like suppressing the glass cover for the engine at the back of the long hood, plenty of drama remains. The Supra sports details like the double-bubble roof and a pair of big-bore, chromed exhaust pipes that supplant the overstyled outlets on the concept; the wheels are simpler and stronger-looking, and some of the excesses—the humped-up rear spoiler comes to mind here—have happily been retained. This is not a watered-down concept. Instead, it’s a producible version of a strong, controversial, and much-appreciated idea that resonated with a wide range of worldwide observers.

One of the intangible but vital aspects of a car’s total visual character is its ability to make you want—no, not just want, but fervently desire—to drive it. From the Detroit auto show feedback in 2014 and 2019, we’d say Toyota has a real winner on its hands.

  1. The overhanging nose continued to the base plane on the FT-1, and its retention on this version with a big air intake below it recalls the first swept-wing jet fighter, the North American F-86 Sabre.
  2. The slit-like inward extension of the headlamp opening carries through intact from the concept car, a nice visual feature unique to this model.
  3. The hood remains quite high well past the front edges of the tires, largely because of European pedestrian safety standards. Then it bends downward to the remainder of the FT-1’s “coffin nose.”
  4. The cowl is intriguing in that it is quite flat and straight in the center, dropping off in a generous radius at the outer edges.
  5. One of the elements that I suspect most observers like is the double-bubble roof with its reduced frontal area channel through the central roof, where no headroom is needed inside.
  6. One of the multiple visual mismatches is the quick-dropping upper window line and the very dissimilar humped-up roof profile.
  7. A curious body detail I don’t recall ever having seen anywhere else is a separate piece of door skin forming the (nonfunctional) rear side air inlet, with a frank panel joint line running forward and down to the bottom of the door.
  8. A black sill piece starts just behind a section of the fender that makes a visual connection with the painted bottom of the front fender ahead of the wheel opening. It then flows back into yet another F1-like trapezoidal fin for a total of six along the bottom of the body.
  9. There’s a lot of complex surface action along the lower body side, with this crease dropping into a line beneath the actual door cut and continuing into the wheel opening.
  10. … trapezoidal vertical fin that adheres to the lower corner of the fender.
  11. What appears to be an F1-style front wing is actually of a piece with the black lower wing that turns up at its end to make a race car-like …
  12. This quite direct intake for the radiator makes more sense than trying to control the flow from the sides toward a central cooling core.
  1. The Supra’s forward-facing indent that turns and becomes an outlet looks good and provides a bit of detail to the driver’s eye.
  2. Headlamp presentation is extremely well done and very strong graphically.
  3. This is a nonfunctional vent (Toyota says it may be used in the future), but the shapes all around it are handsome and nicely modeled.
  4. This slit extending the headlamp opening inward is especially effective visually for identification.
  5. What appear to be race car front wings are actually of a piece with the black base plate for the front. Altogether the front-end graphics are very well done.
  6. That the main air intake is straightforward and looks like what it is evokes a sigh of relief. The blunt painted column of the FT-1 was not practical, but I’d feared something Lexus-horrible here.
  7. Keeping the entire upper surface treatment of the FT-1 was admirable, and it’s well integrated to the design.
  1. The overdone humped-up spoiler was retained for the production design. Good. Distinction is a positive value on an extroverted design.
  2. A lockable gas cap door is preferable to a racing-oriented quick-connect fixture, as racers don’t have to worry about fuel pilfering as the drivers of road cars must.
  3. Notice that the forward edge of the (nonfunctional) hot air outlet is above the rear, aiding in dynamic scavenging. It’s a nicely thought-out detail.
  4. The little kink in the painted surface separates the sill piece that runs along the bottom of the body into a third trapezoidal fin per side. Excessive, perhaps, but effective visually.
  5. The joint line for the add-on door skin piece becomes a design element in itself.
  6. You get the impression that the spokes stick out more than necessary, increasing the risk of curb damage.
  7. We have seen arced side markers like these on other cars. A direct, simple, and effective solution, they do no visual harm.
  8. This little crease derives from the rising line that begins in the front fender side and sags down to a point about a fifth of the way along the bottom of the door.
  9. As California hot-rodders showed back in the ’30s, nothing says power quite as boldly and bluntly as shiny, big-bore exhaust pipes. These are perfect for the Supra.
  10. Little fins on the rear underside make you think of F1 diffusers, as does the trapezoidal light box in the center of the black mass.