Read about the new 2020 Toyota Supra on the internet and you won’t have to peruse long before you come across someone bemoaning the shared architecture with BMW’s latest Z4, which apparently somehow makes the Supra not a Supra at all. That’s objectively wrong, of course, but it’s also facile; as we explained in our first drive of the Supra, the BMW wouldn’t exist without the Toyota, not the other way around. So instead of beating that horse, let’s have a look at what makes the Z4 and Supra different not in terms of driving feel or performance, but in terms of look and style.
One theme that isn’t very obvious until you see it, and then you see it everywhere, is the apparent inversion of many design traits from one of these not-quite-doppelgängers to the other. Other themes include BMW’s often simpler surface treatments, similar but different takes on interior details, and, of course, the differences that come baked into the roadster-coupe dichotomy.
Supra vs. Z4: Front View
The Z4’s grille is the New Kidney Grille, expanded and flattened, but thankfully not bleeding onto the leading edge of the hood as in some larger current BMWs. Most of the actual air inlets are inside the kidney; the panels in the lower portion of the fascia are largely blocked off. The Supra, conversely, uses only the lower half of its nose for air-inlet purposes, and has no proper grille, as such. Here we see one of the first examples of the inversion of shape, too, as the outline of the Toyota’s inlet space, taken as a whole, is narrower at the top than the bottom; the BMW’s is wider at the top.
The headlights, too, demonstrate a significant departure from whatever the presumed baseline might be: The Z4’s headlights are nearly on the side of the car, extending into the front fender; the Supra’s are decidedly forward-facing.
Not especially noticeable from this low angle is the double-bubble roof of the Supra. In contrast to the Z4’s header bar (or marginally higher but nearly identical in shape with the black cloth top up), the Supra’s classic sports-coupe roof contouring only adds to the Supra’s more athletic look.
Supra vs. Z4: Profile
The outline of the pure profile view is perhaps the one that shows the most family resemblance, as here the wheelbase, hood and trunk heights, and overall length are the primary visual references, and they’re very similar; the Z4 is 1.8 inches shorter, 0.4 inch wider, and 0.5 inch taller, while both share the same 97.2-inch wheelbase.
Looking at the actual surfacing, however, there’s almost nothing to call out the cars as inherently related, as every panel, cut line, and contour are different. The Supra’s door appliqué stands out here; it’s a nod to the FT-1 concept, but also perhaps the least-loved part of the car’s design. On the other hand, the widened door surface (which conceals a nonfunctional “vent” that was actually designed to be replaced by the aftermarket by a real one) helps lend the rear fender swell its significant visual width, even from this perspective, which sets up a really satisfying hatch/fender/daylight opening proportion, perhaps the best and most characterful aspect of the Supra’s design, and the strength of a coupe over a roadster.
Supra vs. Z4: Front 3/4
This angled-toward-the-viewer shot is a classic, and for good reason. The stance of a car, its face and its profile, the wheel selection, and the width of its tires all contribute to the look. For sports cars, this front three-quarter view is often the most iconic. With this pairing, it serves to highlight the differences more than the similarities.
Sure, the windshields lay back at identical angles, and the wheelbases are the same. But the BMW looks taller, and that’s not all down to the color of the paint. The twin ridges running down each side of the Z4’s hood add not only visual interest but also visual height, especially compared to the Supra’s smooth and flowing hood treatment. Likewise, its raised grille and headlights further add to the impression of height—great for being imposing, not as great for looking like a bloodthirsty apex hunter.
Moving back along the cars, the low roof and muscular swell of the rear fenders of the Supra lend the car a muscular stance; the Z4 has to do without the grace of a sleek roofline, but nonetheless manages a strong, powerful presence toward the rear thanks to the crisp fender break line—where the Supra’s falls away in a smooth arc—which helps extend the car and add some visual length as well, further improving the roofless car’s proportions.
Supra vs. Z4: Interior
There’s no denying the Supra’s cabin looks a lot like a BMW cabin, even though it doesn’t much look like the Z4’s. In fact, the switchgear and layout of the BMW-supplied elements of the Supra’s interior look more like those from the previous generation of BMW vehicles (notably the F30 3 Series) than the current offerings from the Bavarian marque—details like the free-standing display, the layout of the knobs on the center stack, and some of the switchgear, as well as the shape of the gear lever, being foremost among the last-generation looks. The Z4, on the other hand, hews closely to the current interior theme of the BMW range. It’s pleasant, but unexciting.
In both the Z4 and the Supra, the cabins are well laid out and comfortable, especially for two-seat sports cars. Both cars are, as our tame racing driver Andy Pilgrim might say, nice offices—for those whose job is hauling ass.
That said, the Supra’s definitely holds more visual interest, at least when equipped with the optional splashes of red leather throughout the interior. Our own design doctor, Robert Cumberford, bemoaned the boring look of the Supra’s cabin when dressed in all black: “I’m afraid I must say that this execution is so boringly gray and sedanlike that it should not be in a sports car at all. There’s nothing of the concept car in it, and the lack of color is deadly.”
While the sedanlike nature of the cabin may be up for some debate, it’s clear that visually, there’s not a lot to get riled up about in either cockpit, whether Z4 or Supra.
Which Do You Prefer?
Ultimately, both cars are sleek, low, and modern interpretations of the essence of sportiness. The Supra comes off as the more vibrant and athletic one—although it’s worth noting that the Z4 used for this visual comparison is the turbocharged four-cylinder-powered sDrive30i model, the not the sportier and more aggressively styled Z4 M40i—while the Z4 fills the role of the more conservative, perhaps most tastefully attired option.
Ultimately, as with all things aesthetic, there is no right and wrong, no better or worse. There’s merely the one you prefer. For me, it’s the Supra all day every day, but for you, it may well be the Z4—it certainly is for some of our staff. But one thing is certain: As much as these two cars share under their surfaces, they’re very, very different cars to look at, just as they’re surprisingly different to drive.