Toyota GR Supra - 2019
PORT ELIZABETH, Eastern Cape – My memory of the Toyota Supra is a pretty standard one: using a grey PlayStation controller to pilot a pixelated Mk4 (with very little skill) round the simplest tracks I could find in 1997’s Gran Turismo.
My fascination with this particular car was deepened after the Supra appeared in The Fast and the Furious in 2001. For many, this was the movie that kicked off the “JDM” craze that took hold of the automotive world in the years that followed. The poster car for this movement was, of course, an A80/Mk4 Toyota Supra decked out in a Bomex body kit finished in the candy pearl orange hue made famous by the Lamborghini Diablo GT.
Despite being discontinued in 2002, the Supra lived on in the hearts of many enthusiasts, with fans continuously begging Toyota to release a follow-up model. Fast-forward to 2019 and, after many years of development, the Japanese brand has finally answered the call with a sportscar that were anticipating … although not quite in the form that they were initially expecting.
The A90-generation Supra, of course, was developed alongside the BMW Z4 roadster. Many believe this to be a case of Toyota simply dropping a Supra body onto BMW underpinnings, but the Japanese firm insists the two brands worked closely together to bringing their respective cars to life. Interestingly, the new Supra is more of a departure from the formula than previous models as it takes the form of a focused two-seater sportscar rather than a sporty 2+2 GT.
What has upset many a keyboard warrior is the fact the heart of the new Supra is BMW’s esteemed B58 turbocharged 3,0-litre straight-six engine, rather than a similar variation of Toyota’s 29-year-old twin-turbo 2JZ-GTE. And what has upset enthusiasts further is that a six-speed manual is nowhere to be found … despite the B58 being linked to such a gearbox in vehicles like the M240i.
When revealed, the Supra drew some criticism for its styling. In the metal, however, the new model has a certain presence – regardless of the chosen paint colour, although it is perhaps slightly more pleasing in the brighter shades – and is certainly able to turn heads. Inside, of course, the BMW influence is clear.
By now, I’m sure it’s clear there’s plenty of controversy surrounding the new Supra. Still, I think that’s testament to the fact fans have a deep passion for this nameplate. These same fans, though, have made it clear they wanted a truly Japanese sportscar rather than something with obvious BMW genetics.
Still, Toyota’s aim was to create an engaging car (without spending obscene amounts of money on development … and receiving little return on that investment) rather than a chunk of metal relying purely on the nostalgia associated with its storied nameplate. And this it has certainly achieved by refining the Z4’s platform to feel stiffer and more responsive.
It’s a similar case with the engine. Toyota says the straight-six generates the same 250 kW and 500 N.m as it does in the Z4 roadster, but from behind the wheel it’s clear that there’s a little grunt on offer than claimed.
Indeed, dyno tests performed overseas have suggested the Supra’s peak power is in fact closer to 280 kW and after experiencing the newcomer I certainly wouldn’t rule out that possibility. The Supra’s ability to launch off the line and accelerate through the gears is remarkable (particularly considering it’s using only a single twin-scroll turbocharger). The eight-speed ZF automatic transmission, meanwhile, contributes to this car’s longitudinal abilities as it offers responsive shifts without being quite as aggressive in its cog-swapping duties as a dual-clutch ‘box.
The vehicle further impresses in one area that arguably matters the most: corners. Japanese sportscars from the ‘90s are known to be satisfying cars to drive quickly over mountain passes. The new Supra is no exception, combining front MacPherson struts and a rear multi-link arrangement with adaptive variable suspension, a rear e-diff and a set of Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres. Its 50/50 weight distribution plays a role here, too.
The Supra is, of course, rear-wheel drive with a fairly short wheelbase (measuring 2 470 mm) and delivers a composed experience through tight corners. As long as you keep the ESC engaged, the Supra is surprisingly forgiving … but take things too far (with the electronic nannies off) and oversteer is easily provoked. The steering, however, lacks both feel and weight, providing little feedback to the driver.
On the local launch, we had the chance to explore the Supra’s limits on a gymkhana course. Curious about the Supra’s drifting abilities? Well, (and this coming from someone who has very little experience in sideways driving) the sportscar makes this fairly easy … in a controlled environment, of course. Plant the accelerator and spin the tiller (with the electronic assists disengaged) and you’ll set the Supra into a satisfyingly drifty arc that can be easily controlled using the throttle.
Despite being quite exciting to drive, I can’t help but feel the car lacks the sort of aural persona a Supra should have. Admittedly, there are plenty of restrictions on manufacturers in terms of exhaust systems (what with today’s stringent emissions regulations in Europe) but I feel the Supra is lacking a soundtrack that would serve as a tribute to the famous 2JZ. Still, there’s always room to improve this in the aftermarket segment.
Will enthusiasts who own or hanker after an A70 or A80 Supra appreciate the new model? Well, once they’ve driven it, they probably will. You see, the A90 is more of a sportscar than its predecessors.
What it does lack, however, is a certain personality. Sure, the Supra ticks plenty of boxes in the performance department, but there’s a driver-to-car connection – the sort of feeling you have piloting certain other Japanese sportscars, such as the Honda Civic Type R and Mazda MX-5 – missing from the equation. In all fairness, though, living up to the fabled badge was never going to be easy.
Ultimately, the new Supra comes close. So close, in fact, that adding a manual gearbox, more feelsome steering and a more characterful exhaust note would likely result in a Supra capable of matching its legendary predecessors. BMW bits and all.
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