SMOKE IN MIRRORS

IT’S TWO TURNIN’, TWO BURNIN’ AS WE STRAP IN FOR A FIRST TASTE OF TOYOTA’S TURBO, RWD COMEBACK COUPE, THE FIFTH-GEN SUPRA

WORDS RYAN LEWIS

IT’S EARLY in 2012, at a racetrack on the outskirts of Madrid, and Toyota’s PR team has a logistics problem. Its all-new, fun-loving coupe called the Toyota 86 is being launched to the press, when the chief engineer is interrupted by a call from HQ. The order? Drop everything and leave. A collaborative sports car project with BMW has just been green-lighted and it is Tetsuya Tada’s job to take point.

Six years of gestation later, and we’re back at the Jarama circuit in Spain on a bright Autumn afternoon. This time Tada-san is armed with prototypes of that very project – a long-awaited fifth-generation Toyota Supra – and in a few moments I’m going to drive it.

CRISP CONNECTION AND LINEAR STEERING FEEL MAKE THE SUPRA BRILLIANTLY INTUITIVE

It’s still hard to believe this is happening after such a protracted release. Only eight of these pre-production vehicles are said to exist, and four of them are here, wrapped in thin dazzle camouflage barely disguising the details of the Supra’s dramatic two-seater form. The bodywork is littered with blanked off cooling ducts and aero features that future-proof it for racing use. An enormous clamshell bonnet opens from halfway up the quarter panels, and its cab-rearward profile bears a distinct resemblance to its fourth-gen predecessor, the JZA80, a car still idolised more than 16 years after production ceased.

What’s instantly striking is how compact the Supra is; lower, and barely any longer than an 86, it creates presence with its width and stance. Clever packaging, and the use of plastic for the rear hatch has given it an even lower centre of gravity and a shorter wheelbase than the boxer-engined 86. A ‘golden ratio’ of 1.6:1 (wheelbase to track width) was the target – a template set by the Porsche 911 – and Toyota’s engineers are proud to have surpassed that, arriving at a figure closer to 1.5:1, for even greater agility.

It sounds like a recipe for twitchy, snappy dynamics, but that’s simply not the case. On track and on the road and the Supra is a joyfully cultured driving experience. Mechanical grip is massive on broad, sticky 19-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber measuring 255/35 at the front and 275/35 rear, with clever aerodynamic features that dial in high-speed stability.

Direction changes are effortless, with crisp on-centre connection and a linear feel to the steering, which makes the Supra brilliantly intuitive, your every input rewarded with a proportional response. There’s an alert and playful character to it, but it doesn’t overstep to become hyperactive or nervous. Even on the circuit, the Supra feels friendly and communicative in a way that encourages confident driving.

Around the fast, downhill right-hander onto Jarama’s main straight, the Supra is hugely exciting. Its poise comes in part from an engine that sits entirely within the wheelbase of the car in a front-mid layout. This helps achieve a perfect 50:50 weight distribution. What’s more, modern construction methods mean the Supra’s steel and aluminium composite body structure is in fact more rigid than that of the carbonfibre Lexus LFA supercar from 2010.

Toyota worked with BMW for two years on the basics of this shared platform, which also underpins the Z4 Roadster. The Japanese brand was able to influence important mounting points and the location of major components, including the driver, to suit the Supra’s intent and its design, which was worked on in Munich during the initial phase by stylists from Japan. An existing BMW architecture was the starting point, one compatible with Toyota’s desired power source; a turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder codenamed B58, as found in the M240i, and the new Z4 in 250kW/500Nm trim. Without a straight six, it wouldn’t be a Supra, and without BMW, Toyota says the project simply would not have happened.

Share portfolio

Toyota and BMW began joint development in 2012 to settle on a platform layout that suited both projects. That work lasted until 2014, but since then the Supra and Z4 have been developed in complete isolation. Powertrain hardware is shared, but the electronic

’box trailer

An eight-speed auto is the only transmission locked in, but a manual is also on the cards. A compatible gearbox exists for the B58 engine and the development work has been done to integrate it within Supra’s platform, but a decision on its introduction is yet to be made. No-brainer? Maybe, but it be reserved for limited or track e ithin rm, on ade. may or a later ck edition.

Yesterday’s hero

Silhouette similarities with the fourth-gen are no accident, though the new Supra is the first to forego 2+2 seating; it’s now a pure twoseater. The JZA80 Supra (above) is worshipped by the games console generation. Thought of as bloated by some, it too has a wheelbase shorter than the Toyota 86 at 2550mm vs 2570, and a similar kerb weight to the A90 based on the 1500kg target weight for the production version.

The Supra’s outputs are yet to be confirmed, though they’re likely to be similar to those above. Toyota has taken the same hardware but developed its own tune for the powertrain, including the eight-speed automatic gearbox from ZF, which will get a launch control mode that is still being finalised. Toyota engineers say the Supra will hit a target production weight of 1500kg, which is sufficiently trim for 0-100km/h acceleration in about 4.5 seconds.

SUPRA FAMILY

1967-70 2000GT

1978-81 A40

1981-86 A60

1986-93 A70

1993-02 A80

2019 A90

90 PERCENT OF SUPRA DEVELOPMENT TOOK PLACE ON ROADS RATHER THAN RACETRACKS

Cabin baggage

Supra’s intimate cabin is shrouded by black felt in prototypes, but is clearly an amalgam of BMW parts. Familiar climate control buttons, carbonfibre console trim, a joystick-style shifter, iDrive controller and widescreen display all feature, however the interior is not the same as its twin, the Z4 Roadster (below), which has a design all its own.

The muscular six-cylinder engine revs to almost 7000rpm, boasting a thick torque band that starts low in the rev-range, lusty induction sonics as the turbo spools and a velvety exhaust note in keeping with the Supra’s heritage. European models need a particulate filter in the exhaust to meet emissions regulations, and suffer from a suppressed soundtrack as a result. Other markets, including Australia, will welcome a more vocal set of pipes when the Supra reaches showrooms late next year, though whether or not that means doing away with the sound synthesiser that adds fake noise through the speakers in Euro versions is unknown.

There are two drive modes in the Supra: Normal and Sport, and setting the ESC to off really means off. Sport mode sharpens throttle response, adds weight to the steering, tightens up the adaptive dampers (if fitted), intensifies the pops and crackles from the tailpipes, and switches to a gearbox calibration that is impeccable on the track. A full manual mode is available, though downshifts from the slightly dull paddle shifter are sometimes delayed or ignored if requested with too narrow a buffer to redline.

A six-speed manual ’box exists in BMW’s portfolio for this engine, but that transmission option is not yet confirmed for Supra. A greater focus has been put on the buying habits of major markets, such as North America, which means the eight-speed needed to happen first.

A ‘go where the customer goes’ philosophy has seen 90 percent of Supra’s development take place on public roads rather than racetracks. A seeming downside of this is the four-piston Brembo braking package, which showed signs of stress after a number of laps on track, but that won’t be of concern for most buyers. Braking modulation and performance during enthusiastic road driving is impressive.

What’s surprising is how suave the Supra feels as a long-distance cruiser. Ride quality is excellent, with a supple initial bump absorption and tightly controlled rebound. Toyota admits the tune of its 7mm lower adaptive suspension package is still receiving tweaks for production (a passive set-up will also be offered), but the early signs are positive. Even boot space is reasonable at 250 litres. There’s no cargo barrier behind the front seats, but cabin noise is cleverly suppressed for a car such as this, and certainly when compared with an 86.

Jarama Circuit

Circuito del Jarama’s narrow and technical layout was originally penned by Dutchman John Hugenholtz, whose other works include Suzuka in Japan and Zolder in Belgium. It was lengthened to 3.85km in 1991 and includes 13 corners. Sports car racing and motorcycle track days are the norm today, though it was host to nine Spanish Grands Prix between 1968 and 1981.

Toyota says these prototypes are 95 percent representative of the finished product. They’re complete from a hardware perspective, but there’s an array of electronic revisions to be made before the deadline for final sign-off at the end of this year, mere weeks before production starts.

A big part of that work will be reskinning BMW’s infotainment system to look less like its German cousin. Toyota opted against bespoke software and switchgear on cost grounds. Having deemed it unnecessary to change these elements, only a unique digital instrument cluster featuring a large central tachometer is distinctively Toyota in a cabin of BMW bits.

That rev-counter is visible through a steering wheel that has the smallest rim diameter Toyota could specify using the BMW parts available to it, and a slimmer profile than anything found in Munich, with carefully shaped thumb cut-outs for fingertip control. The driving position is generously adjustable within a narrow space, nestling the driver into a slim yet comfortable seat that puts all primary controls within natural reach. The short turret features a shallow, letterbox windscreen, with side window glass that barely extends up to the eye-line of taller drivers, and broad C-pillars behind. It’s fine on the open road, but the design will likely present some challenges in urban driving. A surround-view camera mode would help with that.

But such features add cost, and the Supra’s price remains the biggest question mark. This will be the first car to bring the Gazoo Racing brand (GR for short) to Australia, badged as the Toyota GR Supra. Think of Gazoo Racing as the TRD of today, and you’re pretty much there. At the moment only one Supra variant is being talked about on the record, but expect entry-level and high-spec versions at launch – much like the 86 GT and GTS – with the fully featured Supra receiving the prototype’s adaptive dampers and a tricky active differential as standard. Somewhere around the $75,000 mark seems like a reasonable estimate at this point, but the Supra’s arrival is still a long way off. A cheaper fourcylinder model is also on the cards.

Toyota has an enormously entertaining and impressively resolved car on its hands. Sure, there will be die-hards and detractors who criticise the half-caste Supra, but this coming together of two engineering-led automotive giants is shaping up to deliver a brilliant sports car, and a fitting heir to the Supra nameplate.