You Can't Drive the Toyota Supra With the Windows Down
From men's health
A Supra popped up on my doorstep last week - the new 2.0 liter four cylinder model, which you can read about here. It came at an opportune time. After months of bleak cold, the New York City weather began to feel positively spring-like. Needless to say, the past few months in NYC have been challenging. So I enjoyed the opportunity to get into a sports car and spend a few blessed hours behind the walls of my apartment, driving some country roads on a wonderful sunny day.
That daydream fell apart in the first five minutes of my drive. And it's all down to a design flaw that I assume a company like Toyota can easily fix.
See, if you roll both windows of the Supra all the way down and go faster than 35 mph, you'll be greeted by one of the loudest, most intense gusts of wind I've ever seen in a car - that cyclical, low-pitched WHUM- WHUM-WHUM sound that sounds like you're standing under a hovering helicopter.
It's positively crazy. Many cars demonstrate this phenomenon at a certain speed or with the windows open in a certain position. You probably noticed it in your car. It seems to happen most often when cracking a single rear window on a four-door vehicle, which is alleviated by cracking a window on the opposite side.
The Supra has two windows. Buffeting always seems to happen when you're both open. It doesn't matter if they're cracked an inch or all the way down - if you're driving faster than the neighborhood, you're sitting in the middle of a Toyota-shaped Helmholtz resonance chamber. I went crazy trying to come up with a window arrangement that would cut the buffeting off and the bat almost made my girlfriend almost car sick. If there is a perfect setup - a combination of 73 percent open window on the driver's side and 89 percent closed window on the passenger side - I couldn't find it.
I understand why this problem exists. Modern cars need to be as aerodynamic as possible to meet today's fuel economy requirements. That means controlling the airflow over every inch of the vehicle surface. When you open a window, you destroy this carefully controlled flow of air. A designer can't account for all of the infinitely different window positions you can achieve, fiendish window switch maestro that you are, so there will inevitably come a point that will make some unpleasant noise.
In the Supra, it always happens when you have both windows open. But the buffeting is worst when both windows are all the way down - you know how we all like to drive when the weather is nice. It's a small detail that suggests a misunderstanding of the purpose of this car. A sports car is not intended for purely pragmatic transport. You wouldn't build a car like this one, with wide, sticky tires, paddle shifters, and an exhaust that emits little claps of thunder when you brake, if you didn't want people to use it for aimless rides and idling country road explosions, we all enjoy hiking.
With the Supra, you cannot rest your arm on the windowsill while driving. Maybe that's a small sacrifice for you. To me it feels like a shirt collar that cannot be unbuttoned, a tie that cannot be undone, a stereo that falls into screeching feedback at any volume over a polite murmur.
During a recent conference call with Toyota engineers, a fellow journalist asked about the gust of wind. Toyota's answer: The owners don't seem to mind. The company did not receive enough complaints through its customer line to raise concerns. Next question.
Maybe Toyota's hands are tied. Perhaps there is no easy solution to the problem. Perhaps a correction would involve drastic changes to the vehicle profile, or rearranging structural components that cannot move, or violating the aero in a way that would lead to cascading problems. Let's not forget that this car is made hand in hand with BMW - perhaps solving the buffet would require awkward discussions between the two automakers. Who knows.
I can only tell you that it is a defect that leads to great disappointment. And in a car that is supposed to be pure, joyful driving pleasure, that doesn't suit me.
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