Drive experience days are fast becoming an ideal way of showing potential buyers or current owners, just what a certain model of car is capable of. This is usually conducted by manufacturers, but now dealerships are realising the potential of taking the car outside of the typical test drive loop, and into an environment that best suits a car.
In what is believed to be a first for a Toyota dealership in Australia, Chadstone Toyota - around half-an-hour southeast of Melbourne - organised a drive day behind-the-wheel of the $84,900 plus on-roads Toyota Supra GR, and CarAdvice received an invite to tag along.
Pulling up to the dealership, a line of Supras is parked out the front, ready to go. After signing in, and a quick driver's licence check, we sit down for a briefing from the dealer manager, who smartly swapped his suit for a more comfortable driving outfit. We learn about our route for the day; a leisurely drive to a winery for lunch in the Yarra Valley.
Disappointingly, the weather has other ideas, so we are reminded to drive to the conditions, but also have fun. We are also introduced to a special guest joining us for the drive; Richmond Football Club player, Tom Lynch; a gentle reminder that Toyota is a major sponsor of the AFL. Also coming along is the dealership Supra technician and regional dealer managers, if anyone needs any questions answered along the way.
Half the group are current owners and half are future owners, with the latter picking up their new Supras days after this event. Luckily for them, the dealership lends them some Supras for the day, with support from Toyota Australia.
The group of five sports cars is led by a HiLux Rugged X, and bringing up the rear is a RAV4 Hybrid, which we are encouraged to swap out of the Supra at any stage for a drive. Nobody takes up that offer. As much as they are great vehicles in their own right, everyone only has eyes for one of the five Supras.
We are all handed a CB radio and pair up so there isn’t a spare seat. A 67-kilometre, 75-minute drive via the scenic route, is ahead of us. The first 20 minutes or so is spent getting out of the rat race, and the Supra handles the drive quite comfortably on 19-inch wheels, with road noise kept to a minimum.
Our first stop is the 1000 Steps Cafe, at the beginning of the Dandenong Ranges National Park, and where the Kokoda Track Memorial Walk is popular with fitness enthusiasts who are up for the steep three-kilometre walk. But today, we are trading our walking shoes for wheels, and after a quick coffee mingling around the cars underneath umbrellas, we are back on the road.
As we begin to climb the mountainous ‘Dandenongs’, the previous day's strong winds are evident with a lot of tree debris still left on the road, and with today’s heavy rain, it’s pushing it all over the road. Upfront, the HiLux happily glides over the detritus and through puddles, but we all take it a little easy in the Supras as one wrong move on the slippery roads could make the day unfortunately shorter.
Yet, even when Sport driving mode is activated in these conditions, the Supra still is a lot of fun. The exhaust note gets louder, the steering is more precise, and the adaptive suspension give it a more stiff ride. If only the rain would give us a break so we could start to push it to its limits.
A toilet break brings us to a quaint town east of the Dandenong Ranges National Park, Silvan. With over 1000 people living there, the church we park out the front of is full of character. While we are parked up, we ask the 200cm-plus Tom Lynch how he fits into the sports car. He is happy with the headroom, but admits it is a bit of a struggle getting in, with the low window line.
The road beckons again, as the picturesque Yarra Valley begins, famous for its wineries, luscious green hills, and cruising roads. We arrive at Levantine Hill winery, and the first thing that greets us are the life-size sculptures spread out across the large property. The most memorable were a horse, rhinoceros, and much to the delight of us, what appears to be a Bugatti Type 35. If only it was the real deal.
We take a seat in a cosy function room, overlooking the Type 35 and the vines, and have a much-earned wine tasting. I am seated next to Edith Wood, who is picking up her new white Supra tomorrow, and her excitement is evident.
“I love my 86, but I felt it was time for an update. I’ve had it for seven years, and I saw the Supra in a photo and just fell in love with it," she says.
"I’ve put the red mirror caps on it, the same as I had seen on a car in the States. I’m so rapt. As you can see, you can’t take the smile off my face,” she adds, proudly showing me a photo of it on her phone.
Sitting across the table from me is Henry Lim, who is in his own Supra today. He owns and operates Cosmic Performance, a tuning business, specialising in Japanese sports cars. While Edith bought her Supra because she loves sports cars, Henry purchased his to learn about it.
“The Supra is definitely a dream of a car to be able to enjoy the engineering and design of the vehicle. We do a lot of performance mods to vehicles, so the Supra is a new platform for us to learn and bring about a more refined sports car in my industry,” he says.
While talking nothing but cars - and how to modify them, thanks to Henry - we are feasting on a delightful 11-dish degustation, such as casarecce pasta, pumpkin and jalapeño croquettes, and caramel-filled donuts. Sadly, we can’t fit every dish in, and it is painful to leave it all behind. Almost everyone mentions the tuna tartare as their favourite.
With our bellies more than satisfied, it’s time to bid farewell to such an enthusiastic bunch of car people. It was magical spending time with Supra enthusiasts, and seeing the dedication they show not only to the model, but to the Toyota brand.
Credit to Chadstone Toyota who not only ran such a seamless day in more than unkind weather conditions, but for giving its current and future customers the chance to experience the Supra on some incredible roads with like-minded people.
Note: This event took place before the current restrictions on social distancing came into effect.