We take the new Supra for a spin in Spain! ROAD TRIP
THERE ARE FEW BETTER WAYS OF STARTING THE DAY THAN BY GETTING BEHIND OF THE WHEEL OF A TOYOTA SUPRA
It was still dark outside as I stepped through the front door of the Barcelo Imagine Hotel in Madrid, Spain. The temperatures had been somewhat hot, yet there was still a slight chill in the air. The sun was just about to rise over the horizon and the night was slowly fading away, bringing with it a day set to be filled with much excitement and the crackle of a straight-six engine.
I’d hardly crossed the threshold when I was greeted by a staccato line of cars. I could make out the Toyota GT86S, but every second one was dressed in retina-perplexing red, black and white camouflage. That wasn’t fooling me, though: I could clearly make out the lines of the all-new, fifth-generation Toyota Supra.
My inner five-year old squealed with glee. His 37-year-old host tried to hide the excitement.
It had been 25 years since there was a “new” Supra and the last one of its kind rolled off the Motomachi assembly line in Aichi, Japan, over 16 years ago. Since then, there’d been much speculation and rumour about what would succeed it, but the day had finally arrived and I was getting a chance to drive the rebirth of a legendary nameplate.
THE SUPRA LINEAGE
This nameplate traces its root to the Toyota Celica of 1978, where the Supra badge denoted a larger, more spacious version of the Celica, powered by an inline six-cylinder engine. It shared the light with the Celica until its third incarnation, where Toyota split the two models, leaving the Celica to remain a compact, four-cylinder offering while the Supra retained the larger, sixcylinder arrangement.
Both the Celica and the Supra of that era went on to enjoy success in various motorsport disciplines, but ask someone born in the ’90s about the Toyota Supra and they’ll tell you about the hero car in the first Fast and the Furious film of 2001, just a year before Toyota pulled the plug on the Supra project. Speak to an enthusiast and they’ll recount tales about the legendary engine that powered the fourth and final version of the Supra, the venerable 2JZ-GTE 3,0-litre, twin-turbocharged, in-line six-cylinder.
The engine was soon found to be robust enough to handle serious power without requiring too much in the way of supporting modifications. These engines are still revered as among the best ever produced by the firm.
THE NEW SUPRA IS YOUR FAVOURITE BAND, RETURNING FROM A HIATUS. THEIR SOUND MAY HAVE CHANGED A LITTLE BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN THEY CAN’T STILL BLOW YOUR SOCKS OFF.
THE RUMOUR MILL
After the demise of the last-generation Supra, the Internet would generate a fresh rumour about a revival every so often. This continued for nearly 10 years, until someone unearthed a patent which had been filed for the Supra naming rights by Toyota itself. Could this be? Were they finally going to do it? Word was then released that since 2012, Toyota had been working hand in hand with BMW to create a pair of sports cars with a rather interesting connection.
A JOINT VENTURE
The night before my early-morning test-drive, I sat down with
Masayuki Kai, the Assistant Chief Engineer of the Supra project, to find out more about the tie-in with BMW. “Discussions started in 2012 when we approached BMW for assistance in developing an engine for the new Supra,” he explained. “Tetsuya Tada-san was determined to keep the Supra true to its roots, in that it had to have a straightsix engine in front and be a rear-wheel drive. BMW’S the only company that still produces high-performance straight-six engines,” he said.
Tetsuya Tada was the man responsible for the re-imagining of the 86 – a car that would later be labelled the GT86 – and the chief engineer of the new Toyota Supra. Drawing on his experience in the development of the GT86, he and the team at Toyota Gazoo Racing set about achieving true sports car characteristics in the Supra. With the assistance of
BMW, they secured the CLAR modular platform that BMW’S using for the new Z4, along with the B56B30 engine: an inline, six-cylinder, 3,0-litre turbocharged power plant, rumoured to produce 250kw (335HP).
While purists might scoff at the idea of a BMW engine and largely Bmw-derived chassis in the new Supra, Toyota was left to its own devices when it came to finalising the concept. Imagine the joint venture as two kids who’ve been given the same Lego set, but neither of them has the instructions or a picture to work from. What they come up with uses the same components, but the two vehicles are decidedly different.
As a result, Toyota’s crafted a sports car which is marginally shorter than the 86, a touch wider and a smidgen taller, but produces nearly twice the power output. The short wheelbase gives the Supra a golden ratio of less than 1,6:1
– the Supra’s less than 1,6 times longer than it’s wide – a key point in true sports car handling.
“The chassis development, which includes spot welding, seam joining and chemical bonding, has given us a chassis rigidity that’s stiffer than the Lexus LFA supercar. That’s quite impressive,
as the LFA has a chassis comprised almost entirely of carbon fibre,” Kai-san explained regarding the backbone of the car.
MADE TO WAIT
So that was how I came to be staring at the new Supra as it idled on the street. I couldn’t, however, hop on board yet. I’d be sharing the car and would follow the Supra along the highways and byways of Madrid in peak-hour traffic as we set off into the countryside, with me behind the wheel of the GT86.
As we exited the highways, the road wound back and forth, climbing the foothills of the mountain range. Roads doubled back on themselves and a sheer drop awaited overly enthusiastic drivers running shy on talent. At the top of the hill I switched out, handing over the keys to the GT86 and making a beeline for the driver’s seat in the Supra.
COUNTRY ROAD, TAKE ME HOME…
The route to the iconic Jarama circuit outside Madrid saw me barrelling down the mountain passes, through ravines and canyons. It was here that I could test the response of the chassis and the directness of the steering. The cabin’s as camouflaged as the exterior and while there are some tell-tale BMW parts in the switchgear, the ergonomics are exactly what you’d expect from a Japanese sports car.
This cosseted driving position allowed me to feel every nuance of the suspension, which – while supple and malleable – was firm enough to provide ample feedback regarding what the chassis was getting up to. The steering may feel too light in the fingers for some, but it was responsive enough for me to tell where the front wheels were pointing. Combine this with a rather quick steering rack and it’s genuinely steered with your fingers, even as your confidence grows. I soon found myself leaning on the suspension, loading it up as I changed direction on the mountain passes.
When I asked Kai-san who the Supra’s targeting he replied without hesitation: “The BMW M2 and the Porsche Cayman R.” The team know who their rivals are and, as such, we can expect both the pricing and the performance figures of the car to be in that range.
The fifth-generation Toyota Supra captures the essence of the evergreen MKIV with its traditional engine/ drivetrain arrangement, but injects a contemporary digital thread that’s difficult to ignore. Hard-core enthusiasts may sneer at the platform and engine share, but will have a hard time denying that the new Supra still manages to feel analogue in an age when computers do so much of the work.
The new Supra is your favourite band, returning after a hiatus. Their sound may have changed a little, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still blow your socks off.