Time is the greatest enemy, because it gets you coming and going. In the lengthy stretch of time since Toyota last had a Supra on sale, time could have done two things. It could have massively embellished the legend of that last-generation Supra (the ‘A80’, the one with the big-turbo engine and the massive hoop spoiler at the back). Or it could have allowed the legend, and the desire, to wane. People could have wandered off and become interested in something else. Maybe SUVs, even.
Worryingly for Toyota, the passage of time since the A80 Supra went out of production seems to have done both. That A80 looms large in the minds of enthusiasts and tuners alike. In standard form, the last Supra had classically brilliant handling and meaty performance. Tweaked and modified, it made one of the ultimate drift cars, or just went bonkers with the power output. Some 1,000 horses can be squeezed from that old straight-six.
All of which piles the pressure on to Tetsuya Tada and his team. Tada is the chief engineer for the new Supra, just as he was for the Toyota GT86 coupe. He was tasked with creating a car that can shake people out of their SUV stupor, and simultaneously be good enough that all of us old school guys aren’t going ‘yeah, but it’s not an A80, is it?’ That’s a tough brief, so Tada and Toyota called in the cavalry. And then called in another cavalry from the outside. The first cavalry was Gazoo Racing. Once a semi-independent racing team, and the people behind Toyota’s Le Mans entries, Gazoo has now been brought firmly in-house. It’s Toyota’s AMG, and that’s no exaggeration. Not only is it still going to be managing the racing and rallying side of things, Gazoo is also now tasked with creating exciting, enjoyable Toyota road cars to whip up interest in the Japanese brand. The hilarious Yaris GRMN was just the start.
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The second cavalry was BMW. Toyota’s car-nut boss, Akio Toyoda, and BMW’s former chairman, Norbert Reithofer, long ago signed a deal to share technology and engines between the two companies. The only fruits of that deal, thus far, seemed to be that the Toyota Avensis used a BMW-built 1.6 diesel engine for a bit in some markets.
Now, though, that deal has borne some serious fruit. With the global sportscar market shrinking quite a bit, it made sense for Toyota, if it wanted to build a Supra it could make money on, to share development. And BMW just happened to have a new Z4 in the works…
Actually, while they do share a lot, Tada says that: “The two cars diverged quite early, at the concept stage. We took the collaborative approach, but then we stepped back and thought; ‘let’s decide what we want to make.’ We wanted to make a pure sportscar and have not yielded on that.”
Still, there’s a lot of BMW in this Toyota, not least the engine and gearbox, which are all but identical (save for some Toyota-specific software) to that found in the new Z4. Official figures haven’t yet been confirmed, but it should have around 340hp and 450Nm of torque. That’ll be good enough, in this 1,500kg coupe, for a 0-100kph time of around 4.5 seconds.
While our test cars, late engineering prototypes, were still covered in disguise tape, it’s clear that this is going to be a great looking car. It’s really tightly shrink-wrapped around its mechanical package, with a distinctive double-bubble roof that gives it a flavour of mid-sixties glamour.
The cabin looks and feels very BMW. We couldn’t see it in full, as much was still hidden behind heavy felt fabric, but while Toyota swears that the Supra’s cabin is unique, most of the switches, buttons and displays look and feel like they’re from Munich. Maybe there’s still time to inject a little more uniquely Japanese feeling before production begins next year.
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There won’t be much point spooling up production if the Supra isn’t any good to drive. Given the legacy of the A80, it realistically needs to be one of the best-to-drive cars around. Thankfully, our initial impressions suggest that Tada and his team seem to have worked some appropriate magic.
For starters, the weight is distributed 50:50, front:rear, and the centre of gravity, despite that tall six-cylinder engine, is lower than that of the flat-four-engined GT86 coupe. As well as (optional) adaptive dampers, there’s an electronically controlled differential at the back, which is designed to help point the Supra tighter into a corner.
Imagine a car with the agile reflexes of a Cayman, but with the comfort, noise and performance of a 911. That’s how the Supra feels. Although it’s supposed to be a car designed to reward the best drivers, it’s also friendly enough that if you get ham-fisted with it, it’s tolerant.
First off, though, there’s the engine. Frankly, it’s brilliant. Creamy-smooth and silent when you’re stroking it along (despite Tada’s insistence that it’s a pure sportscar, the Supra is comfy and quiet enough to double-job as a long-haul GT), yet loud and wonderfully musical when you’re pressing it hard. Fast, too.
That notional 4.5-second sprint time might be a touch pessimistic, as the Supra seems to inhale the road in huge gulps as you push your right foot down. Tada wanted it to be a ‘Porsche Killer’ and I think he’s got that about right. Imagine a car with the agile reflexes of a Cayman, but with the comfort, noise and performance of a 911. That’s how the Supra feels.
Although it’s supposed to be a car designed to reward the best drivers, it’s also friendly enough that if you get ham-fisted with it, it’s tolerant. There seems to be no late-braking point from which it cannot be recovered, and when the tail starts to move, it’s well-telegraphed and easy to catch.
The steering is arguably a little too light and could do with a touch more road feel, and the dampers feel as if they need a final tuning (a little too much vertical pitch on poor surfaces), but overall, I think Tada’s nailed the make-a-Toyota-feel-like-a-Porsche brief.
Good enough to escape the clutches of time itself? Just maybe, yeah…