RE­TURN OF THE DRIFTER

The Supra makes a tri­umphant come­back, with a lit­tle help from its ri­vals

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE - JOHN CAREY

H ow do you say “Oh What a Feel­ing!” in Ger­man? Se­ri­ous ques­tion. Toy­ota’s new Supra de­liv­ers a huge dose of at-the-wheel ex­cite­ment, for which Bavaria and Aus­tria de­serve some of the credit.

The Supra is one of the prod­ucts of a 2012 deal be­tween Toy­ota and BMW to de­velop a pair of sports car twins. By us­ing the same ba­sic set of parts, this joint ef­fort will give the Ger­man brand a re­place­ment for its Z4, out of pro­duc­tion since 2016 and pro­vide the Ja­panese gi­ant with a coupe to bring the Supra name back from the dead. Both will be made in a fac­tory in Graz, Aus­tria.

Mak­ing money mak­ing sports cars is tougher than you’d think.

“It is so dif­fi­cult to make a feasible busi­ness model, so we were lucky that we found a good part­ner,” says Masayuki Kai, Supra as­sis­tant chief en­gi­neer.

“With­out BMW we could not re­vive the Supra, and this also ap­plies vice-versa for BMW.”

BMW’s in-line six-cylin­der en­gines and favoured rear-wheel drive lay­out were what at­tracted Toy­ota. The last Supra, the 1993 to 2002 A80 model, was pow­ered by a leg­endary Toy­ota tur­bocharged in-line six but the com­pany no longer makes such en­gines. So the new A90 Supra must use a mo­tor made in Mu­nich. En­gi­neer Kai says this was the only op­tion. “If we had not ac­cepted, there would be no Supra at all,” he in­sists. “We should be happy that we could re­vive the Supra, even if the en­gine is … not a Ja­panese en­gine.”

“BMW’s straight six en­gine … very, very nice en­gine,” Kai adds. He’s right, too.

But the strong, sweet-sound­ing and smoothas-silk six in new Supra’s snout is just one of the things that makes the Toy­ota a de­sir­able drive. It also has steer­ing, sus­pen­sion and brakes to de­liver every­thing from thrilling race­track pace to chill­ing grand tour­ing grace.

There’s even enough space — about 250 litres ac­cord­ing to en­gi­neer Kai — for a use­ful amount of lug­gage.

It’s ex­actly the kind of car that a keen driver will eas­ily fall in love with. The Supra is a quick car, both in a straight line and around a curve, but it also rides rough roads com­fort­ably and is im­pres­sively quiet and calm on the high­way.

Th­ese were the key im­pres­sions taken away from a pro­to­type drive staged in Spain, where Toy­ota pro­vided daz­zle cam­ou­flage-cov­ered cars for driv­ing on snaking ru­ral by­ways north of Madrid and the Jarama race­track on the city’s out­skirts.

Supra pro­duc­tion doesn’t be­gin un­til the first quar­ter of next year and it is sched­uled to go on sale in Aus­tralia some­time in the sec­ond half of 2019. But Toy­ota wants to get the word out early that Supra is on the way back … and worth wait­ing for.

The car will be the first road car to wear GR (for Ga­zoo Rac­ing) brand­ing. This Toy­ota sub­brand is tasked with co-or­di­nat­ing all kinds of rac­ing, where the Ga­zoo Rac­ing name is al­ready well known, plus cre­at­ing road cars like the new Supra. The ob­jec­tive is to make GR to Toy­ota what AMG and M are to MercedesBenz and BMW.

The Span­ish event was all about oh-what-afeel­ings, not ex­act fig­ures. The maker was vague on en­gine power and ac­cel­er­a­tion times, say­ing only that out­puts would be “more than 220kW and 450Nm” and the car would be ca­pa­ble of sprint­ing to 100km/h in “well un­der five sec­onds”.

BMW has been more forth­right. The Z4’s tur­bocharged in­line six — the en­gine that will also power the Supra — will be good for 250kW and 500Nm, pro­pel­ling the con­vert­ible to 100km/h in 4.6 sec­onds.

Toy­ota says the Supra’s six will be paired to a stan­dard eight-speed au­to­matic from Ger­man com­pany ZF.

BMW will also have two four-cylin­der turbo mod­els, but there’s no word from Toy­ota as to whether it will fol­low suit.

Toy­ota’s engi­neers claim the Supra’s body struc­ture is as stiff as the car­bon fi­bre Lexus LFA su­per­car of 2010, that its cen­tre of grav­ity is lower than the cur­rent GT86 sports car, and that its front:rear weight dis­tri­bu­tion is a BMW­like 50:50.

Fur­ther, with the car’s Aus­tralian launch at least six months dis­tant, no-one from Toy­ota would dis­cuss pric­ing in de­tail.

“Of course it will be be­low Porsche (Cay­man),” says en­gi­neer Kai, adding that pric­ing will be based on the Supra’s com­peti­tor set. So ex­pect some­thing in the $75,000 to $100,000 bracket.

The Span­ish Supras were equipped with adap­tive shock ab­sorbers and a com­put­er­con­trolled ac­tive dif­fer­en­tial. Th­ese might be stan­dard equip­ment when the car reaches show­rooms, or they may be op­tions. And th­ese won’t be the only hard­ware choices that have to be made be­fore launch.

Toy­ota Aus­tralia ex­ecs wouldn’t hint which way they’re think­ing of jump­ing, but what­ever they do will in­flu­ence pric­ing.

What is a sure bet is that the Supra model fam­ily will grow. Kai con­firms more pow­er­ful en­gines are be­ing de­vel­oped and that a man­ual trans­mis­sion may be made avail­able if there’s enough de­mand around the world.

And although the Supra will launch as a coupe and the Z4 ar­rives as a con­vert­ible, Kai says there’s noth­ing in the agree­ment with BMW to stop Toy­ota also do­ing an open-top model. The Ja­panese en­gi­neer has worked in Mu­nich on Project Supra since 2012.

Kai spent some of his child­hood in Ger­many, and his abil­ity to speak the lan­guage made him an ob­vi­ous choice to han­dle a li­ai­son role.

At first the BMW and Toy­ota crews worked closely, Kai re­mem­bers. “What we de­cided jointly was pack­ag­ing,” he says, “like where does the driver sit, where is the fuel tank, where is the en­gine and where is the A pil­lar, for ex­am­ple.”

Once the ba­sics had been jointly fi­nalised, things changed. “Un­til that time we were al­ways dis­cussing to­gether and align­ing to­gether, but from that point on we com­pletely sep­a­rated and we did not have any ex­changes.”

Toy­ota sent a team of eight or nine de­sign­ers to work for two years in Mu­nich on shap­ing Supra in­side and out.

The ex­te­rior is to­tally Toy­ota, but the in­te­rior team had to work around com­po­nents that were too ex­pen­sive to change. Stuff like BMW’s dis­tinc­tive cen­tre screen and switchgear, for ex­am­ple. But the Supra at least has a Toy­ota-de­signed in­stru­ment clus­ter to set it apart.

Some will find the idea of a Toy­ota-BMW col­lab­o­ra­tion hard to swal­low. Diehard Supra en­thu­si­asts may sneer at the new model and delight in call­ing at­ten­tion to vis­i­ble signs of its mixed her­itage. But although the new Supra is no pure­bred, driv­ing plea­sure is what it de­liv­ers. And that’s what re­ally makes or breaks a sports coupe, no mat­ter what badge it wears.

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