It's one of the most hyped sports cars and it carries a name that demands respect. But, can the all-new Supra live up to its name? Paul Maric finds out.
With a history dating back to the late ’70s, the Supra name is synonymous with high performance, rear-wheel-drive Japanese motoring. Despite a lengthy hiatus, the Toyota Supra is back, but this time around Japanese engineering blends with German ingenuity, with the Supra sharing a platform with BMW’s upcoming Z4.
Toyota invited us to Spain to drive pre-production prototypes of the Supra, ahead of the vehicle’s global launch in early 2019. The drive also coincided with Toyota Australia announcing that the Supra will go on sale in Australia during the second half of 2019, with pricing and specifications yet to be determined.
These prototypes are amongst a handful of hand-built cars currently being tested around the globe – so you can imagine that our ability to have a proper crack was a little limited, given the value of these cars and their incomplete engineering states. We also had no video resources to work with, so your first look at the Supra is a quick, bite-sized cut of our time behind the wheel.
But, despite the limitations, we've had a red-hot crack in the Supra both on twisting mountain roads and the technical, fast Jarama racetrack in Madrid.
Let’s start with the most important information: the powertrain under the bonnet of the 2019 A90 Toyota Supra.
While the vehicles still had a camouflage wrap, we've knocked together a computer-generated image to give you an idea of the design beneath the wrap. It looks damn good – even down to the traditional Supra branding on the rear of the car.
If you take a closer look at the front end, you'll spot the full LED headlights, the LED daytime running light strip, and the embedded radar cruise-control module. Other safety features include blind-spot monitoring, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and a head-up display with forward collision warning.
Most of the air vents you see on the car are disappointingly non-functional. You'll notice them on the front three-quarter fender, around the door arches and at the rear. Toyota says these will be functional on the race car, but the final version of the road car will retain blanked, faux inlets.
Other points of interest on the outside are the big brakes – Brembo branded with four-piston callipers at the front – while the tyres fitted to the car will be Michelin Pilot Super Sport treads that measure 255mm wide at the front and 275mm wide at the rear sitting on 19-inch alloy wheels.
In terms of the interior – we weren't allowed to take any pictures. But, we can tell you from our previous spy photos, it's a lot of carryover equipment from BMW. The screen appears to be an iDrive unit, while the switchgear and steering wheel are from the BMW range (but the steering wheel isn't quite as bulky in the hand as a BMW M vehicle).
What is different, though, is the screen ahead of the driver. Instead of a full LCD display, it's split into segments with the speedometer and tachometer on the left and visual highlights on the right. They include the trip computer displays, a graphical display for the engine temperature, and highlighted bars for the fuel level.
One of the big benefits of a get-together with BMW is the ability to retain some of the higher-quality parts. Everything in the cabin, even on these late prototypes, feels well built and premium. Even the thud of the door as it closes feels upmarket – in comparison to something like the 86.
Before we get into the engine details – how does it sound? Well, it actually sounds almost the same as a BMW M140i, which definitely isn't a bad thing. There are twin exhaust outlets at the rear with bi-modal functionality, while extra sound is plumbed into the cabin through the speakers when the Sport mode is engaged.
When the car starts, it gets the same 'cold start' functionality as the LCI BMW M140i, so there's increased revs and a small crackle as it starts. Punch it off the line and it sounds good, but not amazing. We were expecting a bit more sound from the outside to really make it sing.
Toyota has confirmed Australia will get the Supra with a 3.0-litre turbocharged (twin-scroll) inline six-cylinder petrol engine with direct injection and variable valve control producing “more than” 220kW of power and 450Nm of torque, for a claimed 100km/h sprint time “well under five seconds”.
While the exact gearbox is yet to be confirmed, we know it’s an eight-speed unit – Toyota says it was picked for its “shift speed and direct feel, as well as for maximising torque converter characteristics for powerful take-off acceleration”.
The use of a torque converter should mean there's no low-speed jerkiness, the likes of which is common in dual-clutch transmissions, with the logical gearbox being the BMW-derived ZF Sachs eight-speed automatic.
Chief engineer, Tetsuya Tada, said the goal of the Supra program was to develop a robust car that would reward the driver.
“Regarding driving pleasure, my target was to achieve extreme handling performance as a pure sport car,” Tada-san said. “Thanks to Supra’s robust body and high-performance suspension, you can enjoy an extremely high level of all performance aspects, including acceleration and deceleration response, ride comfort and cornering.”
Each corner rides on adaptive suspension with front and rear stabiliser bars and tuned spring rates designed for comfort and mid-corner compliance. Part of the reason the suspension works so well is thanks to the 50:50 weight distribution, with none of the engine hanging over the front axle.
In and around the city, there's a nice groan inside the cabin, even in the regular driving mode. The adaptive suspension on the cars we drove was remarkably good and coped well with the bumps and potholes of Madrid.
The gearbox is arguably the highlight of the drivetrain package. Despite offering eight gears, the gearbox never hunts and leans on the engine's meaty torque band to propel it with ease. It can be doing 50 or 60km/h and start accelerating in fifth or sixth gear without feeling laboured.
Stab the throttle for urgent acceleration and the wave of torque is not only relentless, it's also virtually instant. The twin-scroll turbocharger never feels caught off guard, and even in the regular driving mode it's ready to react and get things moving.
Find yourself a freeway on-ramp and the missile-like acceleration becomes immediately evident. From 80km/h, if you drop the hammer it throws you back in the seat and begins sprinting like a bull that has just seen red.
Two driving modes are available – normal and Sport. A big Sport button on the centre tunnel is the method of switching between the modes. The normal mode offers a soft suspension set-up, while the Sport mode firms up the suspension, adds extra steering weight and pumps more noise into the cabin.
It's through corners that the Supra really shines. We hit Jarama racetrack just outside central Madrid to sample the Supra at higher speeds. This former Formula One circuit boasts a brand-new surface, a long front straight and technical elevation changes. It's the perfect place to hammer the Supra's brakes and figure out whether it can match the engineering claims.
Sending torque to the rear wheels is a complex active differential that features all the benefits of a two-way differential, combined with tailor-made lock ratios and stepless variability from 0–100 per cent lock.
By taking inputs from the stability-control system, yaw and rotation inputs, along with steering and throttle positions, the ECU is able to determine the level of locking required and then adjust it finely using a high-reduction gear that applies tension to a mechanical disc stack. The end result is the benefits of a limited-slip differential, with the flexibility of an open differential.
It works a charm too, with gradual throttle inputs through to full throttle mid-corner resulting in very progressive and linear acceleration without the fuss associated with overly intrusive stability controls. That's also partly thanks to the sticky rubber – it's one of the best tyres on the market, so it's a perfect package to get all of that torque to the ground.
Steering feel both on-track and on-road is excellent. In normal mode it's on the heavier side of light, while in Sport mode it firms up nicely and offers chassis feel through the palm of the hand. Seated in the driver's seat, it feels like you're directly connected to the car and you always know precisely what it's about to do.
The brakes are also excellent with communicative and progressive brake pedal feel. A larger brake booster has been optimised for feel and it never feels dull or spongy, even when you reach fade points with the brakes.
Despite its short wheelbase, there's never a point where it feels anything less than predictable. Switch all the safety aids off and it becomes a drift machine. In fact, Toyota spent a portion of its Supra development time ensuring it would easily perform donuts and would offer drivers the confidence to hang it sideways without risk of it chewing you up and spitting you out.
If there were a criticism in terms of performance on-track, it would just be that the gearbox could hold gears for slightly longer in its Sport mode and that the steering wheel be a bit thicker in the hands. At the moment it feels similar to an entry-level 3 Series, as opposed to the chunky wheel you'll find strapped to an M3 or M4.
What are the exact performance numbers? We don't have that information at the moment – Toyota is still working on final calibration of the vehicle. We also had a VBox with us, but our request to get a performance figure was knocked back, understandably, by the engineering team.
Toyota spent 90 per cent of its product development time on public roads and tracks to emulate what a real road user will do. That included Vmax runs on German roads, long-distance highway driving in the US, and snow driving in Sweden and Finland. And, while the platform is shared with BMW and the Z4, BMW and Toyota co-developed the package early on to the point where dimensions were agreed. From there, the two teams diverged and developed their own products uniquely.
That means the Toyota team hasn't driven or interacted with BMW on the Z4, and the BMW engineering team hasn't driven or worked on the Supra. And it definitely shows – the Supra doesn't feel like just another BMW. It feels like it has Toyota DNA built into it, and that time was spent to ensure it hits the mark for the elements Supra owners of yesteryear are after.
While our time with the all-new Toyota Supra was limited, it's really hard to pick faults with the drivetrain and its on-road and on-track performance. It delivers quick, lag-free acceleration, and gives the driver enough freedom to push it towards its limits without biting back and becoming unpredictable.
Now, the only thing left is to see what it actually looks like beneath the skin, and to figure out exactly what the interior will look like. Plus, the most important part, pricing. While it feels premium, it'll still wear a Toyota badge, so it can't be too over the top.
Does it feel like a car worthy of the Supra badge? Hell yes. We can't wait to have a proper fang of the production car when it launches globally early next year.
What do you think about the all-new Supra? How much would you pay for Toyota's halo sports car?