As fans prepare to see how the new Subaru BRZ will look in GR-badged Toyota 86 form, the time is right to take another tour down memory lane with an old legend and another one in the making.
I’ll address this first point square on and upfront in the opening paragraph – I don’t care that the new Toyota Supra is a part-BMW half-breed.
In fact, neither does Shane Standley, the chap who brought along his apparent ‘real’ Supra, a series-two JZA80 RZ, for comparison's sake.
For those who don’t know much about Toyota chassis codes, let's quickly break down those numbers and letters. Toyota has always kept awesome technical identifiers, and you can tell a lot about an individual Toyota from just a string of letters.
In this case, JZ stands for what engine family resides under the bonnet. A informs you of what chassis it uses (RWD sport models in this instance), and 80 refers to its generational code, though the last digit may change for models with more than one body style.
Consider it the secret language of Toyota boffins.
In the case of the JZA80, those five digits have become code-speak for owners who wish to inform others that they own the bee's knees version. And to not mistake their car for one of the rather unloved pair that is the mark-one 60 series or mark-two 70 series Supra.
RZ signifies that this version is also turbocharged, AKA the one you want.
Shane owned a JZA80 Supra back when they were still in production, which makes him one of the original, and still remaining, die-hard Supra enthusiasts.
If you’ve had one, or attended any of the original Supra club meetings – the ones that predated Facebook – then you’ll likely recognise that name. He still pokes around the traps and runs a part-time business that imports Japanese used car parts called Gorilla Industries.
If he doesn’t care that the new Supra has a lot of BMW in it, you shouldn't either. It’s that simple, really.
When I originally spoke with Shane of the idea of using his car against the new one, he was instantly excited. Much more so, when I pulled up outside his house in an A90 Supra.
He hadn’t been up close with the new Supra before. In fact, he had only seen one from afar in traffic, once. What a treat it was for him to not only get up close and poke around, but also drive the new car down a few nice roads north of Sydney.
“Gorgeous,” Shane said, as he invited his wife outside to have a quick stickybeak, too.
If anything, he was the most deserving candidate for the opportunity, and to be given the chance to express his honest opinion on whether the new car stands proud with that iconic badge on the back.
While he and his wife checked out the new car, I took the time to familiarise myself with my other old friend.
The JZA80 Supra’s cockpit-style cabin remains one of those truly great vehicle interiors. Everything is angled toward the driver and laid out on a single vast plane, unlike any other car from the era.
A bit of this has been lost inside the new A90 Supra, as the cabin’s ornamental sections now favour the passenger, instead of the driver. It manages this change by now gesturing the hard points towards the other occupant of the cabin. Call it inclusion; however, I do miss the pilot-style nature of the older cabin.
After a quick catch-up and look-see around both cars, we filled up and set off in search of good roads.
The weather wasn’t in our favour as it was slightly damp with a continual light sprinkling, but that actually turned out to be a good thing.
I spent the day driving the older JZA80 Supra, as it’s been a long time between drinks for myself. I’ve owned two JZA80 Supras, both naturally aspirated models, one an SZ R, another an SZ, but this was my first time driving a turbocharged example.
The lag from the turbocharger was hilarious, but borderline nonsensical. Shane’s car has naturally been modified, but not too much to take away from the experience. You really have to wind it up to get it going, but once on song it is quite the powerful experience.
Despite wearing 10.5-inch-wide rear wheels shod with high-quality 275-section tyres, traction was non-apparent.
The six-speed manual, made by Getrag for the application, maintained a classic old-car notchy throw to it. However, it just took what seemed like forever to get the thing going. This is in stark contrast to the new A90 Supra.
Shane and I pulled over for a quick initial chat.
“Mate, the response this thing has is unreal. Power is there, everywhere, all the time!” Shane exclaimed, with a genuine look of disbelief.
“I do miss the manual, and on these sorts of regular, suburban roads, it just feels like any other car, and not really a Supra. I think I need to do a bit more driving.”
He’s right with that lack of instant connection. I honestly felt the same way, too. After 15–20 minutes behind the wheel, I wasn’t instantly head over heels for the thing, either. Only when I began to explore the car properly in the right situation, where it truly comes alive, did I become attached to it.
That’s on a good road, on a brisk morning, with nothing else to do but drive. Which is where we ended up.
The A90’s rigidity and front-end composure are exquisite. Once up at some pace, it laughs off swift directional changes regardless of the terrible road surface, and even in slightly damp conditions.
The levels of inherent chassis grip become hugely noticeable when tic-tacking back and forth to the old car on the same stretch of bitumen.
Whereas the old car clearly makes do with whatever tyre grip there is, struggling to deal with forces in a manner that’s hard to describe other than malleable, the new car feels flat, composed and barely flexing in the same situations.
“Just shows you what nearly 30 years does to a car,” Shane concludes. “I’m now beginning to get this car. It feels absolutely magic up here, like a true Supra.”
Big words from the man himself.
The power delivery of the A90 also makes it feel lightning fast on country roads. True to the Supra bloodline, featuring a straight six with forced induction, the new BMW-sourced power plant does do the badge justice.
They sound somewhat similar, but thanks to their cylinder arrangement, both have this cool level of smoothness to the way they spin.
Their naturally balanced composure lays the groundwork for a vibration-free experience. Also, despite the older car being laggy, you can feel continuity between how each delivers its torque.
Straight-six charm – a small point that remains so significant for the new A90 in terms of making it feel faithful to its past. I rest that point on the fact that Toyota’s decision to stick to the same philosophy was equally vital in making this follow-up as good as the past would suggest.
After another brief chat, we headed back down the good piece of road to share our thoughts over a freshly baked pie from a local establishment.
By this time, Shane had risen to my level of dottiness for the new car. He had grown to really, really like it, and maybe now sees one in his not too distant future.
“I believe that after a week with this thing, I'd actually be in love with it. I’d need more time to grow to that level, but I genuinely see myself getting there, no questions asked,” he mentioned.
“I miss the manual, and I’d not give up my old car for a new one. I have too many memories and feelings tied up in it to exchange it, but to be honest, the new car is better, faster, and easily more useful than my JZA80.
"I think both would be the ultimate scenario for me.”
We both met each other on the point that the A90 Supra continues a legacy. It offers a chance for a new generation of owners, one more romantic over the badge than the first, to get the chance to drive their very own new example off the showroom floor.
It’s faithful as a sequel, too. However, the recipe is almost all there, for us two in particular.
The chassis, how it behaves, and delivery of power from that wonderful straight-six engine, all prop up its new mature, sophisticated skin.
Endless compliments were thrown our way during the drive. We had people stopping us at the lights just to say “Whoa, what a car” multiple times.
Gauging public reaction is such a wonderful, untainted testing methodology for seeking wider opinion on the subject matter that is design. Most saw something seriously high-end in the new Supra, first assuming that maybe it was something far more exotic.
Despite looking much more mature, it does so via clever integration of its past. Its segmented full-LED headlights bear similarity to the old multiple-projector items found on the JZA80, which at that time were considered high-tech.
Then there’s the rear haunches, which blister out more so on the new Supra. Out back, the iconic JZA80 high-rise spoiler has now been integrated into the tailgate, looking much smarter and more professional.
Family ties aside, the new A90 has incredible presence in the flesh. I say that as I don’t think pictures really convey how emotive the car actually is.
It’s truly one of those Chris Bangle-style efforts that’s best sampled in real life, as opposed to two-dimensionally on your computer or on a screen.
We’re lucky to have the option to buy something new that bears ‘Supra’ on the back. What’s more a triumph is that they’ve managed to achieve this while retaining intrinsics that make a Supra, well, a Supra.
Stand-apart styling, a buttery-smooth turbocharged six, and a chassis that remains rewarding on a good road, yet becomes eerily regular in every other circumstance, even if now to its detriment. All the classic hallmarks of a typical Japanese sports car.
I’ll bring back my previous comment regarding the new A90 Supra being almost there. That point stems from the transmission offering. We’d both really, really love a manual in this car. Maybe that’s just our outdated thinking. Maybe we need to get with the times.
Nothing’s perfect, however, so consider it a genuine complaint to have, as opposed to some vapourware excuse that the project had been overly influenced by BMW.
In an alternative universe where BMW didn’t supply the straight six, and the A90 Supra was instead equipped with a Toyota V6 of some description, I’m sure the internet and its band of armchair critics would still be on fire with furious condemnation of a new version of their precious poster car.
The retention of a straight six was a solid move. A lynchpin, even.
Long live the Supra, even collaboratively so.