Toyota Supra is back!
The basics behind the Supra are easy to digest. Like past iterations of cars with the Supra badge, the vehicle features a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout, and a turbocharged inline-six, although this one is graciously provided by BMW. Actually, much of the hardware involved in this car is from BMW, but Toyota tweaked and tuned the vehicle with its own flavor, spicing things up as needed.
There’s an eight-speed automatic transmission that sends power to the rear wheels, and a fancy active rear differential that works like a two-way differential and can optimize traction and power delivery while cornering. There’s also an adaptive suspension setup, which features four active hydraulic dampers that can adjust to different drive modes and achieve a solid balance and road feel.
Toyota says this car is designed to appeal to people who weren’t satisfied with the 86’s lack of power, grip, or compromised 2+2 layout. They also want to score points with fans of the last Supra, which is a car that went out of production in 2002, yet became immortalized through video games like Gran Turismo, Need for Speed and movies like the Fast and the Furious franchise.
Forget the fact that the old Supras were all 2+2s. The point here is that the new model is so much more focused as a pure sporting machine. It feels like a front-engined Porsche 718 Cayman in many ways that the Jaguar F-Type Coupe simply can’t.
It might have something to do with weight, but we don’t have exact figures on the curb weight of the car — we just know that they wanted to keep it below 3,300 lbs. It might have something to do with the power of the car, another number we have vague details on, with the engine making between 300 and 400 horsepower. The engineers we spoke with quoted a 0-60 mph time of under 5 seconds, which has to be a conservative figure considering Mustangs do nearly 4 seconds, and this Toyota feels far more responsive than even V8 pony cars.
And this BMW-supplied powerplant feels linear and progressive, with solid, though not over-eager, throttle tip-in, which winds out to a nice high spot on the tach. However, the Supra inauthentically pumps in some noise into the cabin and the exhaust on these prototypes are European spec, where regulations are much stricter. Models in North America should be harder to ignore in terms of noise, we’re told, and that might come with a power boost too, thanks to the removal of a particulate filter.
On the track, the Supra disappears in your hands. That’s a good thing, especially when you’re trying to figure out a new course in a limited amount of time. Along with its good visibility, the car doesn’t nag at you, forcing you to accommodate its weight or hamfisted power delivery to the rear wheels. The short wheelbase leads to an agile feel on the course, even at speed or when putting the power down. The steering is linear, which is fun and natural feeling in tight corners and when unwinding onto a straight. The chassis is wonderfully responsive, with great weight transfer. It settles down predictably under harsh acceleration and braking, meaning it’ll even be a good partner for novices on the track.
The new Supra has a surprising amount of feedback and a dual personality that is made possible by a few of those important components mentioned earlier. In it’s “normal” (or whatever it’ll be called when you start the car) mode, things are subdued and mute, as the car feels fast but not obnoxiously sharp. Press the Sport button and things change dramatically for the better.
It’s like giving the car a shot of adrenaline. The steering becomes crisp and delivers solid response and feedback. It can snap back to center fairly quickly, allowing you to get on with the next input. The chassis is active, yet planted, despite the car’s surprisingly short wheelbase. The transmission fires off proactive gearchanges on hard braking. Simply put, the Supra in this mode feels like a real sports car. It feels fresh on the track and ready to go. The only criticism can be laid at the braking system, which felt inconsistent and numb on the track, but a bit more natural on the road. The transmission is smooth and changes gears at the right time, but isn’t as quick or snappy as other sports cars, like the PDK dual clutch in many Porsches, or even the new automatic in the high-speed Corvettes.
Still, the Supra provides a feeling of precision on the road that brings the Porsche 718 models to mind. It’s quick to change direction and feels like a dancer on the road, providing good smooth rhythm, rather than needing to be micromanaged with hard prods of the pedals.
For track nuts, the engineers also promise that there is a launch control function and that they spent a painstaking amount of time drifting and doing donuts in empty parking lots since they assumed their buyers would participate in such activities. Talk about a dedicated team. Without a doubt, the Supra could rotate and flick its tail when asked to.
The road portion of the drive revealed much more about the car and its relative performance. Seeing and feeling how it covers ground in the real world and not during a perfectly curated track experience exhibits how the Supra will act on different road surfaces. While Spanish countryside roads are far more civilized than the roads in North America, the Supra didn’t feel nervous, harsh or jittery like other focused sports cars frequently can.
The more telling part of the road test is the Toyota 86 chase car that we were given. Because of the limited amount of prototypes and the fact that they are prototypes, which can be moody and finicky, Toyota put one driver with a guide and had journalists follow along with 86s. Full disclaimer, I love the 86, own a first model year Scion FR-S, and feel right at home in the lightweight, rear-wheel-drive sports car. I also think it’s one of the best choices in the market for enthusiasts on a budget, with a steering feel that’s among the best in the industry and a smile-inducing, flickable attitude.
Chasing this new Supra with the plucky 86 was fun… until certain situations arose. A few conditions, in particular, favored the new sports car: uphill and straight sections that made use of the Supra’s extra power, and the curvier bits that favored the Supra’s grip and advancements in chassis technology. The Supra uses Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, which are real high-performance rubber reserved for some high-performance cars (it first debuted on the Ferrari 458 Italia).
The new Supra is the serious sports car that critics have always wanted to see from Toyota. It’s a true demonstration of what the brand can do, albeit with the right partners at BMW. There’s still a lot to be discussed before declaring it as a true winner, including packaging, pricing, specs, and not to mention, an unobstructed look at the interior and exterior design, but the first impressions are strong. We also have its near-twin at BMW, the Z4, a sporty droptop that is sure to be comparable to the Toyota in many ways since they use almost all the same hardware. Expect more details on the final, production version of the Supra to emerge in the coming months.
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