Until recently, the Standard House fleet included a Toyota Supra of the previous type, and I was surprised to find myself becoming very enthusiastic about it. Surprised partly because I did not much care for its looks, but more because it displayed a precision and solidity of road-holding which was unusual for such a large car and which one does not always expect in a Japanese vehicle which also sells in America.
Having now sampled the all-new Supra, the first with an identity of its own rather than being a super-Celica, I fear the American taste has triumphed again. In the sleek new shell is incorporated more of everything — more cc, twice as many valves, an extra 12% in power — and yet a degree of that previous precision has gone, and, oddly, given the figures, so has the instant urge of the older 2.8-litre six. Now a 3-litre, the unit boasts the obligatory (for this year at least) four valves per cylinder configuration, and the output is up to 201 bhp together with generous torque of over 180 lb-ft, while a patent induction control system is claimed by Toyota to diminish the low-speed disadvantages of the 4-valve layout.
Yet rather than the immediate push in the back of the 2.8, opening the throttle of the new engine brings a smooth — exceptionally smooth — but steady build-up of revs until the last quarter-inch of pedal travel, when the unit suddenly changes character and looses the rest of its effort in a rush. This makes it feel a very mild engine, even though at one point it turned in an exceedingly impressive 0-60 mph time of 7.6 sec with three people aboard. While idling, it is so smooth that one has to glance at the tachometer to check that it is indeed running, and this refinement extends to the rest of the car too. Suppression of wind and tyre noise is equally good, and a softish ride together with the generous equipment and elaborate seats confirm the Supra as a superior motorway cruiser.
Large and clear mechanical dials replace the pointlessly elaborate and harder to assimilate digital system of the previous car, which, like every LCD display, were hard to see in sunshine: they are housed in a large, indeed rather dominating hood extending over two-thirds of the fascia. Speed and revs are visible through the largish plastic wheel, with water temperature, volts, and oil pressure outside this, but the fuel gauge disappeared behind the rim the moment I had adjusted both rake and reach of the wheel. A mechanical ‘memory’ lever restores the chosen position after another driver has used the car.
Electric lumbar and side support adjustment is an interesting novelty within the seats, which proved comfortable even after a long and fast late-night haul along the M4 and M25, and I did find that I tightened the side-bolsters for the windy B-roads and relaxed them on dual-carriageways, but the effect may have been psychological rather than physical. Both gear-lever and handbrake are well-placed, as are the usual stalks for indicators, lights, wash and wipe, but the push-rockers controlling ancillaries such as fog lamps and heated rear window are concealed by the spokes of the steering wheel. My only other ergonomic criticism is to wonder why the radio cassette is tucked behind the gear lever while the ashtray enjoys the more accessible slot above; perhaps this is to do with the air-conditioning controls situated directly above again. This is a sophisticated system, thermostatically controlled, and it is more controllable than many other units, allowing for cool fresh air even when the a/c is switched off. Tinted glass, rear wash wipe, electric windows and heated remote-adjustable door mirrors are all part of the package, although a sunroof is not available.
A great deal of computer time has gone into the geometry of the suspension, and the result is a relatively complex design where multiple compliances are arranged to cancel one another out under different loadings so as to keep wheel angles nearly constant. Both ends of the car have what is theoretically a double wishbone layout, although at the front the lower member is in the form of an ‘L’ whose base locates on the body through a subframe, and at the back there are twin lateral lower links, for each wheel, plus a trailing arm, which adds up to an eight-link system. Such complex wheel control becomes necessary when running today’s very wide square tyres, such as the 225/50 VR 16 Goodyear Eagles the Toyota comes with. These have a unidirectional arrow-pattern tread, which means that theoretically a left wheel and tyre cannot be fitted on the opposite side. When Mazda announced their new RX7 with similar tyres, I asked what one did in the case of a left-hand puncture if the spare were right-handed, and was told that the driver would probably not notice the difference. So where is the advantage of this extra complication, one wonders?
That is not to denigrate the excellent performance of these tyres, they provide impressive traction, helped by the limited slip differential which is standard both on manual and auto versions, and lateral pulling power is very strong. They also absorb bumps without too much thumping, and refuse to squeal when pressed, but as I had the car during our September Indian Summer I cannot vouch for the wet grip which is supposed to be the strong point of the unidirectional design.
From the outside, the latest Supra is a great improvement on the old; gone are the angular planes which looked as if the car had been shaped with a bandsaw, to be replaced with a much sleeker profile. It has to be said that above the waistline the shape is very similar to that of the last Mazda RX7, which is no bad thing, but below this line the treatment is rather fussy, with a strange crease and odd returns between the wheels which look like an afterrnarket styling kit. Nose treatment is cleaner than before, with a deep spoiler, incorporating fog lamps, whose lower edge is of soft plastic to withstand any knocks against high kerbs, while at the rear a raised spoiler mounted on the long hatch contributes to stability and reduced drag. (Toyota claims a Cd of 0.32.)
What looks like a one-piece rear window is actually three sections, two fixed quarter panels and the rear window itself which butts up flush to the other two when the hatch is closed, disguising the C-pillar. Because of the length of the hatch opening it cannot be very deep but as the boot itself is rather shallow this is not a real problem. However, the irregular shape of the boot floor makes it hard to carry any sort of large square object — two tall suspension turrets a cross brace and the spare wheel under its carpeted cover see to that. In order to carry a small tool-chest I had to lower the rear seats and load the car through the passenger door; it might as well not have been a hatchback.
For smaller or soft items, though, the space is reasonable even with the separately folding rear seats up, and passenger accommodation in these is quite fair; the seats are comfortable, but inevitably lacking in leg- and headroom. Rear belts are standard.
From within, visibility is good even past the thick B-posts, with a surprisingly large part of the bonnet visible ahead, and the neat rectangular pop-up lamps do not spoil the lines as they do on some cars. They also provide a good beam on main and dip.
Perhaps the least acceptable element of the Supra as a sporting car is feel of the steering. While the fixed ratio is well matched with the large wheel, there is a very strong self-centring action which is presumably attributable to the large amount of castor — over seven degrees. While this must help feedback overall by allowing road inputs to come back through the steering wheel, it induces a tramline effect whereby the Supra seems reluctant to deviate from a straight line when asked, rather like driving on the notorious A74 where the intensive passage of heavy goods vehicles has created deep ruts which practically steer a car no-handed. In this case it is most noticeable on the motorway when smooth lane changes require extra concentration.
Mild understeer is the car’s natural attitude, though throttle application neutralises this. Once balanced, it feels very secure and stable, and under these circumstances the steering is at its best, light and responsive. Tuck-in on lifting off is effectively countered by the differential compliances of the two rear lower links; softer bushes on the foremost one induce toe-in to cancel the toe-out which is normally produced when the throttle is closed smartly. The result is a car with excellent road holding and which responds predictably in all normal road driving but which nevertheless lacks the crispness to bring a grin to the face of the enthusiast. With that long pedal travel before the engine really gets going and the reservation about the steering, the Supra is a car of high ability which shows up when driven hard, but which is masked in ordinary driving use. Reducing the centring of the steering and tautening up the spring rates would surely move it in the right direction without compromising its undoubted refinement.
At just over £15,000 including a high equipment level the Supra looks a more impressive car than a Porsche 924S at a similar price, and will probably appeal to the luxury market rather than the out and out sporting driver; its obvious rival is of course the Mazda RX7, which feels tauter but gives away 50 bhp. Toyota could relatively easily emphasise the sporting character of its offering; but it may well be that the company is quite happy with its comfortable cruiser. — G C.
Motor Sport Test Results — Toyota Supra
Manufacturer: Toyota Motor Corp., Tokyo, imported by Toyota (GB) Ltd., Redhill, Surrey.
Model: Supra Type: 2+ 2 3-door coupé.
Engine: 6-cylinder in line, 2954cc (83 v 91 mm ) dohc, 4 valves per cylinder, electronic fuel injection. 201 bhp at 6000 rpm, 187 lb-ft torque at 4800 rpm.
Transmission: Rear wheel drive. 5-speed manual or 4-speed auto gearbox, limited slip differential.
Suspension: Front, double wishbone, coil spring, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear, upper wishbone, twin lower arms plus trailing arms, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar.
Steering: Power assisted rack and pinion.
Brakes: Ventilated discs all round (11.8 in front, 11.4 in rear), servo-assisted, electronic anti lock system.
Wheels and Tyres: 7JJ-16 alloy rims, 225/50 VR 16 unidirectional Goodyear Eagle tyres.
Performance: 138 mph, 0-60 mph 8.0 sec.
Price: £15.298 manual. £15,998 automatic.
Summary: Roomy, well-equipped and comfortable cruiser; better looking than before but with the crispness refined out of it.