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Toyota GR Supra: Driven

The new A90 Supra is finally here, in production format. Can it live up to the billing?

By Dan Prosser / Wednesday, May 15, 2019

What's Japanese about a car that's built in Austria, shares its underpinnings with a German roadster and has the heart of a BMW? And is a Supra really a Supra if so much of its genetic code is anything but? There are so many nebulous questions relating to the new Toyota Supra's identity I could happily fill this space half a dozen times over on those matters alone and not share a single driving impression. Instead, let's ignore those and answer the only question that really matters: is the new Supra a good sports car?

What BMW brought to the table in this joint venture was a powertrain, a substantial amount of interior equipment and an entirely different set of priorities (its new Z4 doesn't aim to be anything like as purposeful as the Supra). Toyota for its part contributed the basic dimensions of the shared platform, which is relatively wide in track but very short in wheelbase. In fact, Toyota was so insistent on those parameters you get the sense the project would have stalled altogether if BMW hadn't eventually been persuaded.

Toyota pushed as hard as it did for the wide track and the short wheelbase because it reckons that's what underpins a dedicated, focussed sports car. And that's exactly what the Supra is, according to chief engineer Tetsuya Tada, who heads up Toyota's Gazoo Racing division. Tada-san describes the Supra as a sports car without compromise, while the press kit reckons it's the 'antithesis of society's current car-related trends'. The message could hardly be any clearer if it were scrawled in marker pen down the side of the damn thing: this is a sports car through and through, not a relaxing grand tourer or a woolly-edged everyday car or a sports car for people who don't actually want one.

It certainly does the numbers. At its core is the BMW-sourced 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six, good for 340hp and 369lb ft of torque. Toyota quotes a 4.3 second 0-62mph time and a 155mph top speed. At 1,570kg the Toyota GR Supra, to use its full name, is no flyweight, but by the second quarter of 2019 we should have long since become accustomed to modern cars being somewhat porkier than we'd like them to be. (I'm told the Supra would be 100kg lighter than it is but for all manner of emissions and safety legislation that has been introduced since the previous Supra went off sale).

Drive is delivered to the rear axle via the ubiquitous ZF eight-speed auto, while the electronically-controlled limited-slip differential can open fully and lock up entirely in the blink of an eye, meaning the Supra greedily pockets all of the benefits of an open diff (crisp turn-in) as well as the advantages of a mechanical LSD (stability under braking and good traction away from a corner).

That stuff is all significant and mostly it points towards a diligently engineered sports car, but as it happens the following three points say even more about the Supra and the care lavished upon it than an entire spec sheet ever could. The first is the weight distribution, which at 50:50 is perfect for a front-engined, rear-driven coupe and achieved only because the engine was shunted as far back in the body as it would go. The second is the centre of gravity, which is closer to the surface of the road than even the boxer-engined Toyota GT86's. Exactly how they pulled that one off is hard not only to say, but even to imagine. Finally, the Supra's body structure is even more rigid than the carbon-tubbed Lexus LFA's. I've no idea either. Tada-san told his engineers to disregard torsional rigidity targets entirely and only down tools when the body felt adequately stiff.

The cabin is generally very good and the seating position just about spot on. What's more, the minor switchgear is excellent, the infotainment system among the best fitted to any new car and the stubby gear lever as intuitive to use as they come. I suppose that's what happens when you lift it all wholesale from BMW, but by not bothering to change the appearance of the switchgear or a single typeface or any of the digital graphics, Toyota is going to leave some Supra buyers feeling shortchanged.

And so we arrive at an important point. Even when you set out to ignore all that identity stuff and focus only on the car in question and its individual merit, it becomes clear in pretty short order that separating the Supra entirely from its collaborative gestation actually isn't possible. But without the BMW tie-in the new Supra wouldn't have happened at all, so maybe there's no more to be said about it than that. Apart from this: there is too much visible BMW within its cockpit, but I'm sure we could live with that if only the Supra handled exceptionally well.

On the motorway and in town it's brilliantly refined and comfortable. Disconcertingly so, perhaps. Unless you need more space you could use this car daily without feeling for a moment like you're having to make allowances. The ride is very good, the steering is light, boot space is very generous and visibility plenty good enough. None of that speaks to me of a sports car designed and engineered without compromise.

Mostly the Supra feels very good when you drive hard on circuit or along an open road. There is enormous mechanical grip, such abundant traction in fact that making the thing slide in the dry actually takes some doing, plus exquisite balance, both in terms of the weight pressing down onto either axle and also in the way the car corners with an inch-perfect neutrality, and very precise and easy-to-judge steering as well. There is a little roll in corners but generally body control is resolute, that despite the suspension being pliant and forgiving enough to smother a bumpy and broken road surface.

And the engine is mostly good too, spinning hard and fast and responding quickly to every stab of throttle. The auto 'box arguably lacks a little snap in manual mode, but the shifts are plenty rapid enough and the sudden engine braking jolt you get with every downshift in Sport mode both feels just right for a sports car as apparently purposeful as this one, while also helping to settle the rear end as you dive into a braking zone.

Clearly, then, there is a great deal to like about this car. It feels cohesive and all-of-a-piece. But it has its limits. You need only an especially twisty hillside road to discover them. Ramp it up a level and you'll find an overlong and spongey brake pedal that gets softer with heavy use a little sooner than you'd like. And you'll feel the car heaving laboriously between very quick direction changes, then shuddering when you jump on the brakes just as the road twists one way or the other, the suspension and its rubber bushing struggling to keep the car's mass in check.

As you discover all of that you'll realise as well that the zippy motor lacks a little edge, being a touch fluffy in the way it spins out rather than forceful like the very best performance car engines. And whereas the sound it makes is growly and even tuneful, you'll never shake the sense that an overly restrictive exhaust system is smothering the more spine-tingling notes (Tada-san himself has admitted as much, pointing to ever-stricter emissions and drive-by noise regulations).

So while the Supra is a very good sports car indeed, there are ways in which it could be made more exciting still. Perhaps you'd erode some of its everyday appeal by making it so, although in that case it would at least be the car Toyota's insisting this version already is. We're told a manual transmission could be on the cards if the demand is there and Toyota accepts that only by introducing new derivatives over time can any hype around the Supra be sustained. So perhaps one day we'll know for sure if there's a harder-edged car lurking somewhere within this one, a car that's firmer, fitter, lighter, leaner, faster, more focussed, far less accommodating day-to-day and altogether more thrilling to drive.

That's the Supra I'll be waiting for. And when does arrive I will gladly overlook the country in which it is built, the platform it shares with a different sort of car altogether, the engine it borrows from BMW and - if I'm feeling especially generous at the time - the plundered cockpit gubbins, too.

2998cc, 6 cyls, turbo
Gearbox: Eight-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 340@5,000-6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 369@1,600-4,500rpm
0-62mph 4.3 secs
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,570kg (with driver)
MPG: 34.5
CO2: 170g/km
Price £52,695


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