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First drive: Toyota Supra. Image by Toyota.

First drive: Toyota Supra
It has taken Toyota almost 20 years to give us a new Supra, but it's here at last. And it's good...

 



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Toyota Supra prototype

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The thought of Toyota chasing after Porsche might seem ridiculous to some, but only to those who don't remember the fast and brilliant A80 Supra of 1993. An early first drive in this latest 'A90' Supra suggests that it blends the engine-making skill of BMW with the deft handling touch of Toyota's chief engineer, Tetsuya Tada. Quite the combination...

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Toyota Supra pre-production prototype
Pricing: estimated at 50,000
Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-six
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Body style: two-seat coupe
Top speed: circa 250km/h
0-62mph: 4.5 seconds (estimated)
Power: 340hp (estimated)
Torque: 450Nm (estimated)

What's this?

This is the Toyota Supra, and it's a car with the potential to put Toyota firmly back on the car enthusiast's shopping list. First, a little history - according to the Supra's chief engineer, Tetsuya Tada (who also created the brilliant GT86 coupe), back in the late nineties, Toyota went through a painful period of chopping production of any cars with slim profit margins and niche sales. This meant that, over the next few years, brilliant, fun, cars such as the Celica, the MR2 roadster and the A80 Supra (the one with the huge rear wing and legendary 2JZ turbo straight-six engine) were all given the chop. Tada, who had joined Toyota to work on the A80's replacement, found himself working on MPVs and hatchbacks instead.

The fun car cull did, in a manner of speaking, work, as Toyota became one of the most profitable companies in the world, vying with Volkswagen for the global number one seller slot. The attitude of 'volume is everything' only began to change when Akio Toyota, grandson of the company's founder, took the chairman's role. Toyoda is a car nut of the classic kind and realised that, if Toyota were to prosper into the future, it needed to engage not only with people's common sense, but also their adrenal glands. So Tada finally got the chance to make his sports car, the GT86, and now, at long last, he gets to make that new Supra, the car he was ready to create two decades ago.

Just as the GT86 was done as a joint venture with Subaru, to keep development costs down on what would always be a niche car, so too the Supra is a joint effort, this time with BMW. The two companies have had an engine-and-technology share agreement for some time (if you drive an Avensis 1.6 diesel, that uses a BMW engine...), but the Supra is the first proper fruit of the deal, sharing its chassis, engine, gearbox and electronics with the new Z4.

Toyota makes no secret of this, describing the new Supra's 3.0-litre straight-six as 'a BMW engine' albeit one that runs on Toyota-specific software. Mounted up front (a mid-engined car was considered early on, but dismissed on cost grounds), it drives the rear wheels (of course) through a ZF-supplied eight-speed automatic, and a clever electronic differential at the back.

The chassis and body are made of a mix of steel (mostly the light, high-tensile stuff) and aluminium, with a little carbon-reinforced plastic. Tada wanted to keep carbon-fibre out of the car's structure, as it would have made it too expensive to buy, and too expensive to modify by the army of Supra-adoring tuners. Even so, the Supra's structure is stiffer than that of the old all-carbon Lexus LFA, and its centre of gravity is actually lower than that of the GT86. It weighs an estimated 1,500kg, distributed 50:50 front to rear.

Other than that, Toyota has kept the Supra pretty simple. It rides on wishbone front suspension and a multi-link rear, while the optional adaptive dampers have just two modes - Normal and Sport. There's no trick steering system, no hybrid boost (at least not yet) and basically nothing much to distract you from the driving experience.

It's also compact, at just 4.3 metres long and 1.86 metres wide. That compactness hasn't led to an overly tight cabin, at least not on the driver's side. There's room for tall pilots to get comfy, but they may be distracted by the amount of BMW parts bin switches inside. Now, our test cars were late-build engineering prototypes, and most of the cabin was covered up in thick fabric sheets to keep prying eyes at bay, but what we could see looked a lot like the inside of the Z4, especially around the centre console. The instrument pack and infotainment screen are different, in fairness, and Toyota does have time to make good (or at least better) on its promise of a bespoke interior for the Supra.

How does it drive?

Tetsuya Tada is a consummate car nut and had us regaled over dinner with talk of how much he'd, just that day, enjoyed hurling a new Alpine A110 around a race track, to see how good it was relative to his new Supra. In spite of his easy-going nature, and obvious sense of humour, Tada doesn't lack for ambition - he told us that when the Supra project started, it was known amongst his engineering team as 'The Porsche Killer.' Ambition leading to hubris? Not on this evidence.

The Supra seems surprisingly small when you pop open the shallow door and slide inside. Those 1990s A80 Supras just seemed so big; this one feels like a ballet slipper in comparison. The double-bubble roof (never not cool) gives plenty of headroom and, in spite of the low driving position, you can see quite a bit of the bonnet from behind the wheel, so placing the Supra accurately is easy. The steering helps, of course, but actually for the first few miles, it seems a little over-light and a touch short on the sort of involving feedback we'd expect from a thoroughbred sports car. Toyota made much play during the Supra's development about the face that it was going to be the hardcore version, while BMW made more of a GT, but driving on Spanish roads of mixed surface quality, the A90 feels nothing short of cosseting. Aside from a touch of tyre roar, in Normal mode it's refined, the suspension is eerily good at rounding off the sharp edges of surface imperfections and that inline-six engine is as refined as velvet being draped upon velvet. Has Toyota got its sums wrong and actually made a sports car that's too comfy for its own good?

Nope. It's just that the Supra really is multi-talented. Leave it in Normal mode and you could happily cruise it from London to Edinburgh and back, and not feel a twinge of discomfort nor tiredness. Which is good to know, as many of us will have to drive for many miles to find the sort of quiet, twisty roads upon which the Supra truly excels...

Flick it into Sport mode and you instantly feel the Supra come more to life. There's no dramatic change in the steering, but the suspension tightens, and there's a looser hold on the stability control's reins. The engine too comes more into play. It's never less than enjoyably powerful, but in Sport mode a few more baffles open up in the exhaust and it really starts to sing. In fact, beyond 5,000rpm, there's more than a hint of Porsche flat-six to the exhaust note.

A Porsche impersonator then, but a Porsche killer? It just might be. Tada says that the Cayman GTS was the car he most benchmarked the Supra against, and you can tell. Thanks to the way that rear diff juggles the power to help get the long nose turned into a corner, the Supra feels spectacularly agile. Up one stretch of vertiginous sometimes-rally-stage road outside Madrid it dived from apex-to-apex with the hunger of a mid-engined car. Its limits are staggeringly high, so you can carry huge speed across country, and if the steering could do with a touch more feel, then it's certainly faithful. The weight, accuracy and speed are all spot-on. At one point, we were chasing after one of the Supra test cars in a GT86 (complicated car sharing arrangements to be blamed) and it made the still-fun 86 feel old, creaky and, above all, slow. Within a few corners, the Supra had dropped us, and we never saw it again until the end of the test drive.

We only experienced one issue with the Supra's dynamic performance. In Sport mode, on certain surfaces, the nose would start to jitter and fidget, with a bit too much vertical pitch, and it could get strong enough to have you either backing off or switching to Normal mode to settle things down a bit. It's an odd one, but possibly something that Toyota still has time to dial out before production begins next spring.

A few laps of the Jarama race track, once home of the Spanish Grand Prix, showed that, by road car standards, the Supra's limits are astonishingly high. Even on the long main straight, it didn't run out of puff, and there seemed to be no amount of late braking, or even just ham-fisted driving, that it couldn't overcome to make a corner.

Verdict

There is much we still do not know about the 2019 Toyota Supra, such as a price tag, a final power figure and just how much of the interior remains to be finished, but right now, even under the camouflage tape, the Supra is looking good. Very good. Very, very good.


Neil Briscoe - 19 Sep 2018









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2019 Toyota Supra prototype. Image by Toyota.2019 Toyota Supra prototype. Image by Toyota.2019 Toyota Supra prototype. Image by Toyota.2019 Toyota Supra prototype. Image by Toyota.2019 Toyota Supra prototype. Image by Toyota.

2019 Toyota Supra prototype. Image by Toyota.2019 Toyota Supra prototype. Image by Toyota.2019 Toyota Supra prototype. Image by Toyota.2019 Toyota Supra prototype. Image by Toyota.2019 Toyota Supra prototype. Image by Toyota.








 

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