The obvious question about the launch of a new Supra is, what took Toyota so long?
It’s been 17 years since the last version of the Japanese sports car, and in that time a lot has changed in the sports car market, not least the arrival of the Porsche Cayman and Alpine A110. For most, such a lull – and such competition – would make it an uphill task to drum up interest in a new model. But luckily (or as we shall see, perhaps unluckily) for Toyota, that hasn’t been a problem.
That’s because the Supra name has taken on a cultish life all its own. First seen in 1978 when it was given to more powerful versions of the Celica, it morphed into its own distinct model which quickly joined the Skyline and NSX in the pantheon of modern Japanese classics – a position it cemented with a starring role in the first Fast and Furious film and in Sony’s Gran Turismo game.
Toyota has opted for the tagline, “The Legend Returns” and given its gestation period there may be a hint of relief as well hyperbole in it. So, there was a palpable sense of occasion and expectation in Spain when this fifth-generation Supra was finally set loose on public roads for the first time.
Like its forebears it is powered by a three litre, in-line six fitted with a single twin-scroll turbocharger that produces 335bhp and 369lb ft of torque. It’s coupled to an eight-speed automatic transmission sending power to the rear wheels; 0-60mph takes 4.3sec, top speed is 155mph. The standard model costs from £52,695; the high-spec ‘Pro’ costs a punchy £54,000.
So far so Supra, although there are now only two seats rather than the old 2+2 configuration. It also feels a far smaller car than it used to – more an out and out sports car rather than the large grand tourer feel of the third generation.
The styling is smooth without being bland, with a nifty double bubble roofline. From the front – even without the Toyota badge – the car is undeniably Japanese. You could see a Mazda or Honda in the raised wheel arches and bulging bonnet if you squinted – but it is the shadow of another car brand that hangs heavier over the Supra. And that’s because it has been jointly developed by BMW.
Chief engineer Tetsuya Tada takes up the story: “At the launch of the GT86 [in 2012] I received a call saying I had to go to BMW’s HQ. Someone would meet me and my mission was to discuss a joint vehicle. Nothing was said about what car it would be but I instinctively knew it was Supra.”
Despite sounding like the opening of a Jack Reacher thriller, the ensuing plot was anything but predictable, involving changes at the top of BMW and much negotiation about the car’s character. But the result was a collaboration to create the basic architecture of the Supra and the BMW Z4 convertible. Toyota stresses that once these foundations had been agreed, there was no more communication between the two teams. The fact remains, though, that the engine, gearbox and some fixtures and fittings are pure BMW.
This has caused a great deal of anguish among some aficionados who claim the new Supra is a simulacrum, missing that all-important Japanese character – one journalist even went so far as to dig up the parts catalogue in order to prove how BMW the car was. But for most normal people, and if you take the Supra simply on its merits, it is a brilliant car that is hard to fault.
With a short wheelbase and wide tyre track plus low centre of gravity, the Supra is epically good to drive quickly. Perfect 50/50 weight distribution between front and rear has been achieved by pushing the three-litre power unit as far back towards the driver as possible, and means the car feels perfectly planted and alive at the same time.
On the road the Supra is surprisingly refined. Acceleration is smooth, the eight-speed semi-auto flicking decorously through the ratios. But the steering is the real revelation: point the car into sharp bends and it responds crisply with a pinpoint accuracy, finding its line and sticking to it with all the tenacity of a politician on Question Time.
With virtually no body roll, the racing-style seats keep the driver reassuringly snug and in optimal position to make the most of the Supra’s handling talents, while visibility is excellent for such a low-slung car. The Supra is even better on the Jarama circuit. It’s a challenging track – hosting the Spanish GP several times between 1968-1981 – but it was here that the best of Supra was to be found. The more power you feed in, the better the steering and grip become.
“The effort to bring Gazoo Racing more closely into the Toyota firmament is significant”
And the Supra’s racing pretensions are not to be scoffed at. Toyota has already revealed a GT concept version and plans a single-make racing series in the near future (although it is unlikely to come to the UK).
The car is also the first Toyota to be built entirely by the Gazoo Racing team – the umbrella group that runs the brand’s successful WEC and WRC programmes. In fact, briefly last year Toyota found itself holding a world motor sport double having won Le Mans and the WRC makes’ title. The GR tag is set to be rolled our further across the Toyota range incorporating a GR Sport label, and a more hardcore GRMN.
The effort to bring Gazoo Racing more closely into the Toyota firmament is significant. Toyota hopes it will be able to second engineers to Gazoo in order for them to learn new skills, such as the flexibility and quick decision making that are second nature to racers. Of course, it will also publicise the company’s motor sport programme to a wider audience. The days of winning on Sunday, selling on Monday may be gone, but it seems a little motor sport stardust remains a valuable marketing tool.
Not that the Supra will need it. Despite its high pricing (our road test of the 1986 version has its price as £15,298) and its controversial mixed parentage, it is one of the best sports cars on the market today.
And worth the 17-year wait.
Toyota Supra GR Pro
Engine 2998cc turbo, 6-cylinder
Power [email protected]
Power to weight 224bhp per tonne
Transmission eight-speed auto
Top speed 155mph
Verdict Simply superb
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