New Supra

Toy­ota’s in­ally won Le Mans. Now it’s ready­ing the front-en­gined, nredar-drive, straight-six sports car you’ve been wait­ing for

CAR (UK) - - News - Words Ben Miller | Pho­tog­ra­phy John Wy­cher­ley

BMW straight-six – where do we sign?

Rear-drive, fun-fo­cused, hardcore and set to sport a

LOOK PAST THE white, red and black cor­po­rate race liv­ery, the Le Mans-ready aero and – if you can – those de­li­cious cen­tre-lock forged rac­ing wheels. Blank out the faintly ter­ri­fy­ing rear dif­fuser, the whee­larches pulled wide by broader tracks front and rear and the full-length, turbo-cool­ing bon­net vents. This, the GR Supra Rac­ing Con­cept, is the new Supra: an all-new, fun-fo­cused, rear-drive Ja­pa­nese sports car of a kind widely thought to be ex­tinct – don’t you be­lieve it. When it ar­rives on UK roads next year, new Supra will serve as proof that CEO Akio Toy­oda’s in­fec­tious en­thu­si­ast spirit has fi­nally wo­ken Toy­ota from its vanilla slum­bers.

The Supra saga – re­mind me

The first Supra emerged in the late ’70s as a Dat­sun Z-car ri­val: straight-six power, rear-drive, butch pro­por­tions, hairy. Evolved through the ’80s – first with must-have pop-up head­lights on the Mk2, then with the tech-heavy Mk3 – the Supra cli­maxed with the widely wor­shipped Mk4, launched in ’93. One of a golden gen­er­a­tion of Ja­pa­nese per­for­mance cars, later A80 Supras boasted some 325bhp from their 2JZ-GTE twin-turbo six. Like the ri­val GT-R Nis­san, the mo­tor was a ro­bust blank can­vas for tun­ing (both used an alu­minium head on a cast-iron block and twin tur­bos), help­ing ce­ment the A80’s hero sta­tus. And then… noth­ing. As Toy­ota in­vested heav­ily in hy­brid tech­nol­ogy – and shifted the au­to­mo­tive world on its axis with the orig­i­nal Prius – per­for­mance cars were no longer a pri­or­ity. Toy­ota tried to keep the faith­ful from tears first with 2007’s FT-HS sports car con­cept, then with 2014’s FT-1, a form to which the new Supra re­mains broadly faith­ful.

While a lot of time has passed since the last Supra bowed out, chief en­gi­neer Tet­suya Tada was adamant from day one that the Mk4 should in­spire the Mk5; that the lin­eage should be ex­plicit.

‘The new car had to have an in­line-six at the front, rear-wheel-drive pro­por­tions and a stance that was in­stantly recog­nis­able as Supra,’ says Tada, the man at the heart of Toy­ota’s Ga­zoo Rac­ing per­for­mance divi­sion and its GRMN sub-brand. ‘But we had no in­ter­est in giv­ing you a sim­ple re­vival of a car from yes­ter­year – that’s not what we wanted. Also, with the de­sign, some car­ry­over themes have emerged from the Mk4 be­cause we wanted it to be recog­nis­able at a glance; the wide rear [he’s not kid­ding], which is a sexy part of the de­sign and an im­por­tant Supra de­sign cue.’

Back to ba­sics: what is new Supra?

The 2019 Supra – pro­to­types of which have been test­ing on pub­lic roads for months, and that Toy­ota’s ef­fec­tively hid­ing in plain sight with the car you see here – has been devel­oped along­side the new Z4 as part of a broader tech­ni­cal col­lab­o­ra­tion with BMW. The Supra will be al­to­gether rawer, stiffer and more fo­cused – think Porsche Cay­man with the4

‘THE WHOLE POINT OF OUR GA­ZOO RAC­ING ARM IS TO DE­VELOP FU­TURE SPORTS CARS’

TET­SUYA TADA

en­gine swapped to the front, or the car we wish the Toy­ota GT86 had been all along. Imag­ine the lat­ter’s ad­mirably weight-con­scious, driver-fo­cused ethos twinned with an en­gine suf­fi­ciently po­tent to chase Porsches and light up its rear tyres at ev­ery round­about – sound fun? Of course it does. ‘When we em­barked on this project the phi­los­o­phy was to build a mo­tor­sports car – prac­ti­cal­ity was not re­ally con­sid­ered; it was put to one side,’ says Tada.

New Supra will launch into a mar­ket sec­tor that, far from dy­ing away, now boasts some sen­sa­tional cars: the afore­men­tioned Cay­man, Audi’s ballistic TT RS and Alpine’s deft and de­li­cious A110. Plus of course Lo­tus’s still-magic Elise. Good times. But a new sports car, in a world hell­bent on buy­ing noth­ing but crossovers and SUVs? Has Toy­ota taken leave of its senses?

‘Af­ford­able sports cars have a longer-term vi­a­bil­ity – it’s not just SUVs that are on peo­ple’s minds,’ con­tin­ues Tada, who was also the man be­hind the GT86. Given his con­fi­dence in the sports car’s glit­ter­ing fu­ture, might other Toy­ota heroes make a come­back?

‘Like Cel­ica and MR2? The whole point of cre­at­ing the Ga­zoo Rac­ing arm [think Toy­ota’s M divi­sion, or Audi Sport] was to spe­cialise in both rac­ing and road cars, and to pro­vide the spe­cific fi­nan­cial re­sources to do so – it will de­velop fu­ture sports cars,’ he says em­phat­i­cally.

What’s more, Tada doesn’t see sports cars as de­funct knuckle-drag­gers that philo­soph­i­cally fly in the face of fu­ture-com­pat­i­ble tech like elec­tri­fi­ca­tion and au­tonomous driv­ing. Toy­ota’s TS050 racer, which fi­nally broke the mar­que’s Le Mans duck this sum­mer, is a hy­brid, and the McLaren P1 and La­Fer­rari long ago quashed the no­tion that mo­tors and bat­ter­ies have no place in a per­for­mance car.

‘EVs and au­tonomous driv­ing aren’t tra­di­tional sports car pa­ram­e­ters, and I am fre­quently asked this ques­tion about new tech­nolo­gies,’ says Tada. ‘But Toy­ota doesn’t be­lieve these things mean the end of the sports car. Tech­nol­ogy devel­oped in the Supra, such as the car’s ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, can be used to in­tro­duce even more fun.’

Tada’s ex­cited about the op­por­tu­ni­ties around data and the meld­ing of the real and dig­i­tal worlds, sug­gest­ing new Supra will of­fer some­thing like Porsche’s lap­time-trim­ming Track Pre­ci­sion app.

‘To­gether with data from pro­fes­sional driv­ers from Toy­ota’s mo­tor­sport ac­tiv­i­ties, the plan is to make use of that link­age between race, rally and road cars,’ he says. ‘This data-logged in­for­ma­tion could be si­mul­ta­ne­ously dis­trib­uted in real time, so you could race against Alonso on your con­sole at the same time he’s ac­tu­ally in the race!

‘In rel­a­tive terms this could have been done two or three years ago but now it’s at a vi­able cost, and the col­lab­o­ra­tion4

with BMW al­lows us to ex­plore new ways in which tech­nol­ogy can be used to en­hance the ex­pe­ri­ence of driv­ing sports cars. Open­ing up this kind of data will en­list a younger gen­er­a­tion into mo­tor­sport, and en­cour­age them to make the leap from vir­tual cars into real sports cars.’

An­other Toy­ota sports car, an­other col­lab­o­ra­tion With the GT86, Toy­ota shared de­vel­op­ment costs with Subaru; for Supra it’s do­ing the same with BMW. But while GT86/BRZ were vir­tu­ally in­dis­tin­guish­able, Toy­ota in­sists Supra and Z4 share just six parts, of which two are the en­gine (a twin-turbo 3.0-litre straight-six) and trans­mis­sion (an eight-speed auto with pad­dleshift, though a man­ual op­tion hasn’t been ruled out).

‘It’s dif­fi­cult to build a vi­able busi­ness case for cre­at­ing the Supra alone, hence the col­lab­o­ra­tion,’ says Tada. ‘It took a long time for us to match our aims: the Supra is a purely driver-fo­cused sports coupe, with a cabin de­signed to give the driver more room than the pas­sen­ger – the Z4 has taken a dif­fer­ent ap­proach.’

Ac­cord­ing to Tada, at one point both sides were forced to pause for a re-think. Nei­ther team was happy with its ver­sion of the car, hence the move away from a GT86/BRZ-es­que iden­ti­cal-twins ap­proach to more fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent ma­chines with pow­er­train com­mon­al­i­ties.

‘The Subaru col­lab­o­ra­tion, with GT86 and BRZ, was the

‘WE DE­CIDED FIRST WHAT WE RE­ALLY WANTED, THEN LOOKED INTO THE COM­MON­AL­ITY THAT

COULD IN­CREASE EF­FI­CIENCY’

TET­SUYA TADA

start­ing point for this – to in­crease ef­fi­ciency by max­imis­ing the num­ber of shared parts,’ ex­plains Tada. ‘But dur­ing the tech­ni­cal dis­cus­sions we [BMW and Toy­ota] weren’t quite talk­ing in the same way. Things didn’t quite match, and I won­dered why this was. Then it struck me that we needed to start with a clear set of ob­jec­tives.

‘We were com­pro­mis­ing for the sake of ef­fi­ciency, and putting parts com­mon­al­ity first. The penny dropped and we de­cided first what we re­ally wanted, then looked into the com­mon­al­ity that could help in­crease ef­fi­ciency – I re­mem­ber that mo­ment clearly.

‘Ef­fi­ciency wasn’t at the heart of this col­lab­o­ra­tion, hence the two cars have very dif­fer­ent ap­proaches in terms of cal­i­bra­tion of en­gine soft­ware and sus­pen­sion set­tings,’ con­tin­ues Tada. ‘Core en­gine and trans­mis­sion hard­ware are two of only a small num­ber of shared com­po­nents. The two cars will not feel the same – for the Toy­ota, prac­ti­cal­ity and com­fort have been set aside in favour of out­right agility.’

Be in no doubt: new Supra’s a balls-out sports car, a

Z3 M with­out the weird sil­hou­ette, or the car the pre­vi­ous Z4 coupes (Z4 M aside) never quite man­aged to be. While the new Z4 will be of­fered as a con­vert­ible, the Toy­ota is a coupe, for in­creased struc­tural rigid­ity for a given kerb weight (set to be well un­der 1500kg). The coupe body style is both a bet­ter fit with the Toy­ota’s keener dy­namic set-up and the Supra’s revered blood­line. The BMW is set to be of­fered with a range of en­gine op­tions, from 20i and 30i ver­sions of Mu­nich’s tur­bocharged petrol four to the range-top­ping M40i 3.0-litre turbo straight-six. Supra will steal that same six, al­beit run­ning unique man­age­ment soft­ware. Fa­mil­iar from fast 1-, 2-,

3-, and 4-se­ries BMWs, it’s a sen­sa­tional en­gine. Smooth, mu­si­cal and with a sear­ing top-end rush that’s be­come rare since tur­bocharg­ing rose to dom­i­nance, it’ll be a sweet fit in the stiff, lean new-gen­er­a­tion Supra, even if Toy­ota purists de­cry the mo­tor’s Mu­nich ori­gins.

Reckon on 350bhp and nearly 400lb ft of torque for a 0-62mph time of around 4.0sec. (The 1520kg M140i de­vel­ops 335bhp and 369lb ft and runs 0-62mph in 4.8sec; the 345bhp Cay­man S man­ages 0-62mph in 4.4sec.)

Take no no­tice of the rollcage: in­side new Supra

The GR Supra Con­cept’s cock­pit of­fers pre­cisely zero clues as to what to ex­pect from the pro­duc­tion Supra’s. Fit­ted out as a work­ing GTE race cock­pit, with an OMP race seat and har­ness in a gleam­ing white-painted space of rollcage and ex­posed bodyshell, it’s pure sports car racer. Ahead of the seat sits an ex­quis­ite drilled al­loy ped­al­box, a cen­tral car­bon con­trol panel and an F1-style multi-func­tion, quick-re­lease steer­ing wheel.

The new pro­duc­tion Supra will pri­ori­tise the driver, steal­ing space from the pas­sen­ger side to give the pi­lot the4

space to work. The evoca­tive dou­ble-bub­ble roof should also give de­cent head­room in what is a fairly cosy cock­pit, even wear­ing a hel­met.

Supra pro­to­types have been seen run­ning a BMW gear se­lec­tor and iDrive-style cen­tral in­fo­tain­ment screen – given the com­plex­i­ties of mak­ing Toy­ota elec­tron­ics talk to BMW hard­ware, ex­pect them to stay.

New Supra, new price point

Toy­ota’s yet to con­firm pric­ing, but it’s telling that Tada pre­cedes the words ‘sports car’ with ‘af­ford­able’ when­ever he dis­cusses Supra. The ’90s Mk4 Supra was a Nis­san GT-R ri­val, and were the new Mk5 Supra to main­tain that par­ity we’d be look­ing at a 580bhp-ish £80k Porsche 911 ri­val. That kind of po­si­tion­ing would also tally with the ma­chines the Supra is set to bat­tle in GTE sports car rac­ing.

But while the Supra will be more ex­pen­sive than the (£28k) GT86, its per­for­mance par­ity with cars like the £52k Cay­man S, £51k four-cylin­der Jaguar F-Type and £51k Alpine A110 Pre­mier Edi­tion point to a sim­i­lar £50k en­try fee. The Toy­ota also slots neatly into this class on size and road foot­print. At 4380mm long (on a 2470mm wheel­base) by 1855mm wide and 1290mm high, the Supra will be broadly the same length (4379mm), width (1801mm) and height (1295mm) as a Cay­man, and just 5mm shorter between the wheels (2475mm for the Porsche).

What can we learn about Supra from Z4?

We’ve driven pro­to­type new Z4s on road and track and came away im­pressed with the BMW’s new­found agility, throt­tle ad­justa­bil­ity and ride/han­dling bal­ance. The elec­tric power-as­sisted steer­ing, linked as it is on the Z4 with adap­tive dampers and a more com­pact ver­sion of the M5’s M dif­fer­en­tial, is a real star, of­fer­ing easy­go­ing GT-style progress in Com­fort mode while also be­com­ing al­to­gether more alert, weighty and feel­some as you ramp up the drive modes. Teamed with the magic diff and adap­tive dampers, the re­sult is a de­li­ciously re­spon­sive and ag­ile sports car in Sport+ mode. The Z4 as a truly im­mer­sive driver’s car at last? Looks that way, es­pe­cially when most ev­ery­thing in the class has a four-cylin­der en­gine, even the Cay­man, while the new BMW (and Supra) will pack a six.

Toy­ota hasn’t con­firmed the type of dif­fer­en­tial in the Supra, or whether the car will use adap­tive dampers. The lat­ter cer­tainly doesn’t tally with Tada’s ‘get it right and leave it’ phi­los­o­phy, one he de­ployed with great suc­cess on the GT86. A con­ven­tional, pas­sive sus­pen­sion set-up and a sin­gle steer­ing cal­i­bra­tion roughly aligned with the most ex­treme

of the BMW’s drive modes? Sounds promis­ing, es­pe­cially given the Supra’s stiffer plat­form. About the only dy­namic short­com­ing of the new Z4 was a shud­der through the struc­ture prompted by mid-cor­ner bends, some­thing the coupe-bod­ied Supra shouldn’t suf­fer with.

The fu­ture: where Supra goes from here

There are two rea­sons Toy­ota dressed the Supra up as a GTE race car. First, it teases the new car enough to cre­ate a hum with­out giv­ing the game away. Sec­ond, it makes per­fect sense be­cause the Supra will race in the World En­durance Cham­pi­onship in the pro­duc­tion-based GTE class. The vents, split­ters and arch ex­ten­sions the GR Supra con­cept wears are there not just as mo­tor-show candy or cam­ou­flage but be­cause as a race car it’ll need them, and they’ve been con­sid­ered dur­ing de­vel­op­ment, as Ford did so suc­cess­fully with its born-to-race GT.

The Supra will be an in­ter­est­ing de­vel­op­ment for the bur­geon­ing GTE class. Hugely pop­u­lar with fans for its closely fought on-track ac­tion – and with the man­u­fac­tur­ers for the cars’ ‘race on Sun­day, sell on Mon­day’ vis­ual sim­i­lar­ity with their halo pro­duc­tion cars, the GTE class cur­rently boasts en­tries from Ford (GT), Porsche (the mid-en­gined 911 RSR), Fer­rari (488 GTE Evo), As­ton (new Van­tage) and BMW (M8).

You’ll no­tice that, in pro­duc­tion form, the most af­ford­able cars in that lit­tle lot are the 911 (£112k and 493bhp in GT3 guise) and the As­ton (£121k, 503bhp). A 488 GTB will set you back al­most twice as much, and let’s not even men­tion the Ford. Okay, let’s men­tion the Ford: it costs £450k.

At less than £50k and 350bhp, the Supra will need to take full ad­van­tage of GTE’s con­tro­ver­sial Bal­ance of Per­for­mance par­ity mech­a­nism to run with such ex­otic ri­vals. The M8 GTE uses a 4.0-litre V8 to de­velop the nec­es­sary power, some 500bhp, but Toy­ota will have to turn up the wick to com­pete. Ford’s GT is a fron­trun­ner with its 3.5-litre V6, and the en­gine’s rel­a­tive econ­omy brings a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage when races can be won and lost on pit strat­egy.

On the road, the Supra’s next log­i­cal de­vel­op­ment is a lighter, more fo­cused GR ver­sion. Put that idea to Tada and he can’t stop his face light­ing up. ‘We would want to in­tro­duce one, and we are pre­par­ing for it…’

Con­sider just how spec­tac­u­larly fun-fo­cused GR’s pre­vi­ous car – the hi­lar­i­ous Yaris GRMN – is. Pointy, ad­justable, edgy and stuffed with ex­pen­sive go-faster en­gi­neer­ing no right-minded bean counter would have signed off (a su­per­charged en­gine and me­chan­i­cal lim­ited-slip diff – hence the £26k list price), the GRMN Yaris is very clearly the prod­uct of a bunch of en­thu­si­ast en­gi­neers, and be­yond that a com­pany keen to re-es­tab­lish its en­thu­si­ast cre­den­tials. That same at­ten­tion to de­tail lav­ished on the Supra, to cre­ate a reardrive, Ja­pa­nese Cay­man GT4 ri­val? We’re in.

‘WE WOULD WANT TO INT R ODUCE ONE A GR SUPRA

AND WE ARE PRE­PAR­ING FOR IT’

TET­SUYA TADA

Toy­ota’s per­for­mance king­pin Tet­suya Tada with his new baby (and its blood­line)

Not for new Supra the the­o­ret­i­cal su­pe­ri­or­ity of a mid-mounted mo­tor – its pro­por­tions are proudly front-en­gined

(Top right) New Supra storms the Good­wood hill. The car looked sweetly bal­anced – Toy­ota’s promis­ing a neu­tral, ag­ilehan­dler

(Above) Your new Supra will not look like this in­side. Ex­pect BMW in­fo­tain­mentar­chi­tec­ture

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