► First drive of new Toyota Supra
► Straight-six BMW turbo, RWD
► New platform shared with Z4
They say good things come to those who wait, and Lord knows they've kept us waiting with the new Toyota Supra. The last one – synonymous with The Fast & The Furious, Japanese JGTC racing (now Super GT) and Gran Turismo – launched a full quarter of a century ago. Since then there have been false starts, concept cars, whispers on the wind and, thanks to the car’s fanbase and epic tuning potential, the systematic modification of almost every A80 Mk4 on the face of the planet: you try finding a standard one.
For years – decades in fact – Toyota has had little time for sports cars, preferring instead to focus on hybrids, fat margins, fiendish production efficiencies and to chase the status of global sales numero uno.
But the latest chief Akio Toyoda has rung the changes, Toyota’s back in sports cars and in 2019 you’ll be able to buy the new Supra you see here in our early review. We’ll see undisguised cars in January (first customers will also get their cars in 2019), and with cute camo graphics intact we have now driven the car in a representative form – in much the same spec as the car that tore up the hill at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, in fact.
And you’ll be pleased to hear you may now continue to get very excited about what is a very exciting car; a £50k Porsche Cayman S/Alpine A110 rival powered by a turbocharged straight-six motor and engineered by the man who brought you GT86.
New Supra’s good. Really good.
Our earlier scoop on the new Supra
The new 2019 Toyota Supra: gimme the basics again
New Supra’s a front-engined, rear-drive, 350bhp-ish (final performance figures are yet to be confirmed) sports car with a powertrain of BMW hardware; turbocharged straight-six engine, eight-speed paddleshift auto and an active differential (an e-motor wind the diff’s ratio up and down via a reduction gear). Both BMW and Toyota initially considered a mid-engined platform – and got quite excited – but subsequently plumped for the more classical layout.
The Supra and new Z4 share a basic platform tuned pretty comprehensively in markedly different directions – the Toyota as ‘a Porsche killer,’ according to chief engineer Tetsuya Tada. The Supra takes advantage of BMW’s adaptive suspension hardware, calibrated to its own ends to give the car bandwidth and to combat the choppy body movement short-wheelbase cars can suffer on rough roads.
The Supra also runs unique front anti-roll bar geometry and, being a coupe (and a Tada-optimised one at that), enjoys a more rigid structure than the BMW.
And inside the Toyota Supra?
Climb in and at the moment there’s BMW everywhere, from the drive selector to the infotainment display, as you’d expect. The driver’s instruments (and cute HUD) are bespoke Supra, and if BMW’s screen and iDrive architecture stay, expect a Toyota skin to the software.
The basics are good: nicely low-slung and supportive seats within a snug, sophisticated cockpit that feels worthy of the asking price. Above your head the double-bubble roof gives oodles of headroom, while visibility is pretty good given the sleek glasshouse. On the move road noise and vibration are notably more effectively suppressed than they are in the GT86 – ‘This car is a more high-end car than the GT86, which means higher expectations from the customers. They’ll be looking at the daily use and comfort aspect, not just using the car on track,’ says Tada.
Two drive modes are offered, Normal and Sport, governing engine noise, shift speed (ultra-quick in either, but with a more dramatic shift-shock in Sport), steering weight, adaptive damper response (the adaptive element works on the compression side only) and the behaviour of the active diff. As with the GT86, a single push of the VSC button gives you more slack but with a safety net: hold it down for six seconds (on the move or stationary) and you’ll knock the system out entirely.
CAR lives with a Toyota GT86: check out our long-term test review
Anyway, enough fluff – has it been worth the wait for the 2019 Supra?
On the evidence of this drive (30 minutes on spectacular Spanish mountain roads, then the same again on former Spanish Grand Prix circuit Jarama), Toyota has a proper little weapon on its hands.
This shouldn’t be surprising for several reasons. One: GR kingpin Tetsuya Tada is a fine engineer and an incurable enthusiast; the man who delivered the deliciously malleable GT86 and who’s already getting frothy about a faster, more hardcore GRMN Supra and a Supra-based GTE LM racer World Endurance racer. Two: the powertrain is a peach – smooth, soulful and spectacularly capable, blending ultra-quick, flawless shifts with an engine that can do it all, from easy motorway flying to high-rev hooliganism. And three: all the engineering fundamentals are right, from a steel body stiffer even than the carbonfibre LF-A’s, through a 50:50 weight distribution to a centre of gravity lower even than that of the boxer-engined GT86.
On the road you’re struck first by the engine’s awesome turn of speed. Picking off trucks and slower cars is child’s play, the Supra sprinting by whenever the opportunity emerges thanks to the six’s strong torque and, should the need to hurry arise, urgent top-end. Toyota’s being vague on output but the Supra feels every bit as quick as the (335bhp, 1545kg) BMW M240i, if not quicker.
Meanwhile the ride quality’s admirably pliant in Normal mode, the car offsetting its stiffly-sidewalled Michelins with relatively small rims (19 inches front and rear), that rigid structure and the sensible spring rates a low centre of gravity allows a car to use. Despite all Toyota’s talk of this being an out-and-out sports car, it hasn’t dropped the everyday driver ball, either – you could put in hours in this thing, should you be so lucky.
Get into the good stuff, get busy with the paddles and put some bigger numbers on both the tacho and the speedo and it takes all of the first corner to become attuned to the Supra’s response, something Tada cites as a unique and highly-prized advantage of a (on-paper less ideal) front-engined layout versus a mid-mounted engine.
The steering’s really sweet, being lighter than a typical BMW set-up and GT86-like in its responsiveness (no dead-ahead vagueness), linearity and confidence-swelling tactility. And where you expect to feed the car into corners bonnet-first, it soon becomes apparent the Toyota isn’t that kind of car, turning instead around its middle (the engine’s tucked right back at the bulkhead, Lexus LC500-style) and responding to your bidding as one, rather than as a front axle and, some time later, a rear.
Lean on the front tyres and you’re impressed by both the lack of understeer and the roll control. It’s here again that the bigger, heavier, and altogether more powerful Supra feels a little GT86-ish, the sensation of the car turning-in enjoying more than a dash of that car’s reassuring composure and clearly-communicated enthusiasm. You’re impressed too by how quickly you’re comfortable to lean on either end, the rear tyres in particular feeling quite untroubled by even generous applications of the straight six's shove on corner exit.
And on track?
Interesting. Tada is proud of the Supra’s road bias, explaining that while prototypes inevitably pounded the Nurburgring, they also proved themselves on the roads around the ’Ring and on North America’s battled-scarred highway pavement. As such the Supra is in its element on the road, and leaves plenty of headroom for a track-ready GRMN Supra, which will follow.
Not that the standard car’s lacking on track. That front-end grip again shines through, even when you think you might be taking liberties, the Brembo brakes are strong and pretty tireless (though our stints were short) and the engine’s relentlessly brilliant; smooth, easy to bring in smoothly, even when lateral grip’s already being tested, and with thousands of revs of useful reach.
Wind off the VSC and it becomes clear what a sensitive, malleable device the Supra is, with nuanced slip and grip at both axles and, presumably as a result of that short wheelbase, happily trimming its line with very subtle front/rear shifts of weight. Twitchy? I wouldn’t go that far, particularly in the dry with a VSC safety net in place, but cold, wet circuits with VSC off would be equal parts challenging, rewarding and nerve-wracking. Which is the way it should be, right?
New Toyota Supra: the CAR magazine verdict
We won’t get our hands on finished, production-spec cars until later in summer 2019. But on first impressions there’s very little for Toyota’s engineers to fix between now and then. Purposeful, refined, distinctive, fast and keen on putting you at the heart of the action, whether you’re pounding a track or tackling a favourite stretch of road, new Supra is a serious statement of intent from a manufacturer (and a sub-brand, GRMN) keen on capitalising on its recent Le Mans glory.
A Porsche-killer? That the Toyota’s in with a shout is testament to a hugely promising new sports car.
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