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Drive Review: Toyota builds a better BMW with (2019) Supra

The 2019 Toyota Supra has been seven years in gestation. 21 years since the badge last appeared. Yet still it resonates. Supra. We first had it confirmed at the Detroit Show back in 2014, and since then, much controversy. Mostly as a result of Toyota’s partnership with BMW.

Underneath the Supra shares a platform, running gear, engine, gearbox and large chunks of the interior with the latest BMW Z4. But this partnership is different to the others because the Supra matters. It’s not a run of the mill hatchback or a newly introduced small coupe. The Supra badge has history, a history that places it front and centre in Japanese car culture alongside the Honda NSX and Nissan GT-R.

The Toyota and BMW teams then worked together to develop their ideas into a prototype, based around a 2-Series coupe with a shortened wheelbase, nicknamed Fullrunner. This was driven by the boards of BMW and, after being shipped to Japan, Toyota. It was given the go-ahead, the two teams separated and developed their cars themselves. Tada-san only drove a Z4 just before it went into production.

Enough background. The Supra is better looking than the Z4, no doubt about it. It’s well proportioned, voluptuous, you know exactly where the engine is and which are the driven wheels. But step up close. See the vents on the bonnet, doors, under the headlights and taillights? They’re all fake. All of them.

Under the bonnet sits BMW’s B58 single turbo 3.0-litre straight six, retuned by Toyota, but still developing identical power figures (250kW and 500Nm of torque) to the Z4 M40i. This is sent to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. 0-100kph takes 4.3secs, top speed is 250kph.

Driving

It’s really good to drive. Cue relief. It’s crisp, responsive, well connected, confidence-inspiring and quick. If you’re considering a Porsche 718 Cayman, then you really should drive a Toyota Supra.

It’s the fact that Toyota has been able to take the same mechanicals as BMW and shape them into a proper sports car that’s perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Supra. It’s not all completely successful, so let’s start there. The eight-speed auto just about passes muster as a sports transmission, but it’s a close run thing. Requested paddle downshifts can be a fraction delayed, upshifts can surge. Similarly, the engine: plenty of mid-range shove, but not much point venturing beyond 5,500rpm.

But the good stuff dominates. Here is a car that’s really well connected. The front wheels unfailingly go where you aim them, and the rear axle is communicative and well supported. What this means is that the Supra moves into corners well, and it gets out of them well, too.

It’s friendly over a wide range – Nothing much flusters it. It doesn’t succumb suddenly to either understeer or oversteer, because there’s enough information coming to you that you’re already on top of the situation. If you do choose to, er, exploit the edges of the performance envelope, you’ll be glad to hear it settles into oversteer with aplomb, has enough power to perform in third gear, enough lock to save most blushes.

On to more relevant things. It rides calmly. This is surprising. Given the Supra’s accuracy you’d imagine it to be potentially brittle, but actually it flows along, relatively undistracted by lumps and bumps. Each wheel is very well controlled. Nor is NVH an issue. You could easily imagine settling in for a long trip. It’s certainly quieter on the road than a Cayman, more settled than a BMW M2 Competition.

Taken in isolation and ignoring lurking elephants, the Supra is great to drive. I deeply enjoyed it, wanted to spend more time in it. But it doesn’t half feel like a BMW. It’s the engine that does it. Engines are often what we fall in love with and Japanese straight sixes have a reputation to uphold, the old Supras 2JZ unit especially. What price individuality? If you’ve never driven a recent BMW turbo – or something Japanese with a straight six – you’ll take this motor at face value and enjoy it (the Supra’s certainly not short of pace), but if you care about the back story or have driven a 335i, I think you’re going to feel puzzled.

Inside

So here’s the thing. We can forgive the BMW engine. But it’s hard to forgive the cabin. The Supra is a BMW inside. Of course this means it’s got material quality and tactility it wouldn’t have had otherwise, and some people will see that as a plus. And once again, if you aren’t familiar with BMW, it’s not going to offend you. But here’s Toyota, the world’s largest car company, having to wedge in large chunks of BMW switchgear. It’s just odd.

The infotainment is intuitive (if it had been Toyota’s, it wouldn’t have been) and kit levels are good .

Ignoring the BMW influences then: the driving position is great. You sit low, the standard seats wrap around your back a treat. Two people have space inside, and the boot is much more generous than the 290-litre claimed volume suggests.

Verdict

It’s a very complete coupe. Big enough inside, well equipped, handsome, rapid and good-natured. It’s grown-up, yet compact, agile, yet smooth. It’s a clever piece of engineering. A car you’d enjoy driving anywhere, a car that probably strikes the best compromise of GT and sportiness of any car in its class.  Oliver Marriage

Original source: Toyota Supra tested TopGear

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