Road Tests

First Drive: Toyota Supra is more than a turbocharged GT86

Product marketing is an unpredictable science and Toyota would never have imagined that the Fast&Furious movie franchise would keep its Supra legacy so alive. Although a great many Japanese sportscars feature in Fast&Furious, it’s the orange A80 Supra which is best remembered.

The late 1990s were a peak for the Japanese sportscar, before economic realities forced a new strategic direction that prioritised vanilla cars which could sell in emerging markets and retrieve superior profits. And so we have waited, for 16 years, to experience a revival of Toyota’s sportscars.

It started with GT86 and now the same team who built that instance of naturally-aspirated sportscar happiness have created the latest-generation Supra due in South Africa mid 2019. We’d love to entertain you with a flood of numbers from our experience driving the pre-production Supra prototypes in Spain this week, but we can’t. Because Toyota’s engineers simply aren’t willing to disclose how much power the Supra engine makes, how fast it is or what it weighs.

What we do know, is that it drives very well. The A80 was known for its ballistic acceleration and incredible durability, with a 3-litre in-line six engine which could confidently be boosted to 400kW, but for all its supercar baiting ability, the Supras have always been comfortable high-speed cruisers too. And this latest one is no exception.

The issue for Toyota fans will be the platform, which is shared with BMW’s latest Z4. The switchgear and many cabin components on the cars we drove, which were pre-production prototypes, are unmistakeably BMW. The engine is a 3-litre turbocharged in-line six, from BMW. The gearbox is an eight-speed auto. Almost certainly from ZF. German, again.

What is different is how Toyota has repurposed the BMW Z4 concept. Supra is a coupe, which means a lighter and stiffer structure. In fact, its design is so advanced that this A90 Supra is stiffer than the amazing carbon-fibre LFA. That’s some achievement.

Other technical highlights are a lower centre of gravity than GT86 and amazingly direct steering. Our route took in the tarmac rally stage roads north of Madrid and Jarama F1 circuit. Everywhere the Supra showed an almost intuitive sense of where we wanted it to turn-in. The steering is extremely sensitive but that doesn’t mean you have a nervous car.

Tetsuya Tada, Supra’s chief engineer and the man who built GT86, wanted to achieve a perfect ratio between wheelbase, tracking width and centre of gravity with the A90. Those elements combine so brilliantly, balanced by adaptive dampers which even out fluctuating road surface conditions, that new Supra undoubtedly qualifies as being a true driver’s car.

The power delivery is torque-rich too, from low engine speeds and traction is immense, although Toyota’s engineers admitted, with a wry smile, that drifting was part of their validation testing for new 2018 Supra. If you know what you are doing, it will most certainly go sideways with grace, trailing a smoke screen of sacrificed Michelin rubber.

Debits? Even though we ran it to the limiter a few times, the engine sound isn’t awfully inspiring

BMW platform and power. Toyota bodyshell and suspension tuning. If you were going to create a 2019 front engine, rear-wheel drive, sportscar… That’s not the worst blend of componentry and engineering competence you could source from. Not at all. LANCE BRANQUINHO

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